All non-UAE residents above 18 years old will be eligible for tax-free shopping.

The UAE looks set to put an up-to-date system in place for VAT refund to millions of tourists from November. The VAT refund system will be initially available at Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah airports and by year-end, it will be extended to 12 exit points, including the land borders and ports, it is learnt.

Federal Tax Authority (FTA) and Tourist Refund Scheme operator Planet have issued guidelines setting a minimum limit of Dh250 to claim VAT refund.

Planet said all non-UAE residents above 18 years old will be eligible for tax-free shopping. According to its website, tourists will be able to validate their tax-free forms at Dubai International, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah airports until December 16 whereafter the system will be in place at nine more locations – Al Maktoum airport, Abu Dhabi Port Zayed, Al Ain Airport, Al Ain land border, Fujairah Airport, Ras Al Khaimah Airport, Al Ghuwaifat land border, Hatta land border and Dubai Mina Rashid Harbour.

The operator further said tourists could be asked to present their goods to confirm they are unused. It said only the owner of the passport under which the tax free forms are registered will be entitled to collect the refund.

Anurag Chaturvedi, managing partner, Chartered House, tourists will receive 85 per cent of the total VAT amount after deduction of an administration fee of Dh4.80 per tax-free form.

Citing an example, he said if a tourist buys electronic goods worth Dh210 from a store and spend another Dh315 on buying souvenirs from another store, he can claim tax refund of Dh15 on purchases of Dh315 and not against electronics purchase of Dh210 as it’s below the minimum spend limit set by the authority.

“If the tourist spend Dh315 in the UAE, he/she will get refund of Dh7.95,” he said.

Thais Cunha, associate, Aurifer Middle East Tax, said tourists will be able to receive VAT refund for their purchases made from registered retailers.

“Retailer will charge VAT and also ensure that the customer has all the appropriate documentation to reclaim it,” Cunha said.

According to Planet, the tourists’ tax free tag needs to be validated within 90 days of the purchase. If receipts are not validated within 90 days, the tax free tag expires and VAT cannot be claimed.

An invitation sent out last week to retailers and tax consultancies across the UAE by the FTA and the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry to brief them about how to register for the tourist refund scheme revealed that Tourist Refund Scheme will be rolled out in November 2018.

“Tourist can take goods and tagged receipt to the airport, seaport or border crossing. He will be required to visit Planet’s validation point (through self-service kiosks) to validate the invoice. Once validated, the tourist will choose a refund method – cash or credit card,” Chaturvedi said.

Joy Alukkas, chairman and managing director, Joyalukkas Group, also welcomed the step, saying Dubai is known as the City of Gold and this means the best quality and designs at the best possible prices.

VAT refund will help Dubai maintain its position with tourists since one of the biggest shopping attractions for them in Dubai is gold and jewellery. We warmly welcome this strategic step and are sure it will have a very positive impact for both the industry and the tourists visiting UAE,” Alukkas added.

Deepak Babani, executive vice-chairman of Eros Group, welcomed this initiative by the FTA, saying it’s a very a simple and friendly procedure for the tourists.

“It is a very positive step and procedures are simple. We were wondering about how much deduction will be for the tourists refund, but we’re happy that it’s just 15 per cent. It should definitely improve sales locally,” Babani said.

Anil Dhanak, managing director, Kanz Jewels, said tourists VAT refund will essentially put Dubai’s grip on the title ‘City of Gold’ firmly in place.

” Five per cent increase on the finished gold products had dampened demand for jewellery but we expect the tourists who come to buy gold in Dubai now will find a significant price difference between their home country and here as it had been previously,” Dhanak added.

According to a Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry study, tourist spending in the UAE is projected to increase from Dh154 billion in 2017 to Dh205.5 billion by 2022. In Dubai alone, a study by Mastercard had estimated visitor spending at Dh104.6 billion last year, a growth of 10 per cent. According to the annual Mastercard Destination Cities Index, Dubai outpaced all other cities in visitors’ spending in 2016.

UAE, along with Saudi Arabia, levied five per cent VAT on a host of goods and services from January 1, 2018. Bahrain and other GCC countries will implement VAT as part of GCC framework in 2018-2019.

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