Tax-Free Shopping in Singapore
The tax-free concept may not have been founded by Singaporeans, but the perfection in which it has been applied is just but another wonder of the world. The city-state is practically littered with huge luxurious shopping malls that have been linked to a 7 percent Goods and Service Tax (GST). As a Singapore visitor you are allowed to apply for GST only if:
- Have stayed in Singapore less than 365 days in the last 12 to 24 months prior to the purchase date
- You’re not a permanent resident of Singapore or Singapore citizen nor do you hold a permanent resident status except if you’re a student pass holder in Singapore.
- Have not been employed at any one point in Singapore in the last six months prior to the purchasing date
- You are not below the age of 16 at the period of purchase
- You’re not a member of the cabin crew of the plane departing Singapore
- You’re a pass holder (student) who bought goods for the last four months, before your student pass’s expiry date and fulfilled all the above-mentioned conditions and finally, you intend to depart from Singapore with the goods 2 months after the purchasing date and remain out of Singapore for a duration of at least 12 months.
The Singapore Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) reduces the number of steps required to claim refunds. For travelers in the cruise terminals intending to leave through international cruises, they may not be able to request a GST refund over purchases made during or before 30 June 2017 because of the new changes in regulations. However, the old paper system will remain in place for individuals who have not yet signed up to the new system.
When making the eTRS purchases, you will be required to specify a single debit or debit card which will act as a token regarding your tax-free purchases. You may still make the purchases with the cards, but the token will be useful during the refund process later.
The Convenient stores
Find stores that have a blue sticker written ‘Premiere Tax-Free’ or Tax-free Shopping and begin your shopping there. The goods should total up to SGD 100 or US$64 including GST in any given shop. The process may take the form of one single receipt or three same-day receipts from one shop.
If the shop happens to be on the eTRS system, the store must provide you with an eTRS ticket for all your purchases upon leaving. Be careful with the receipts and the corresponding eTRS pass for they shall be needed later during the refund process.
If the shop is not on the eTRS system, upon checkout, hand in your passport and request for a Premier Refund Voucher or Global Refund Cheque depending on the agency in charge. The retailer should fill out the form for you. You can then keep it safely along with the receipt in preparation for the presentation at the customs when you leave.
At the Airport
For eTRS licensed purchases, you will need to walk into the self-help kiosk. At the airport, there are two kiosks, one before check-in for luggage and the other at the departure lounge that checks hand carried materials like phones. You will swipe your passport and then swipe your ‘token’ or scan the eTRS ticket whichever way you find straightforward and convenient.
You may then choose whether you prefer having the balance stashed in your card or directly receive a cash refund at the transit lounge located at the departures. A notification slip printout will be availed to you showing your refund details. Then finally present the slip, the receipt, and the goods at the customs counter, and you’re good to go.
If you did not shop at eTRS licensed stores, first get the voucher or cheque validated at the customs counter. You will have to present your passport and other traveling documents like the boarding pass. The receipts and the goods should also be ready for presentation– not having any of them automatically disqualifies you from getting a refund.
At the Refund counters
There are refund counters that you can walk to which have been put up specifically to serve as refund centers. After checking in, you may make claims on your GST refund at the Central Refund counter which serve the eTRS backed shoppers or the Global Refund counter or the Premier Tax-Free counter located at the departure lounge for refunds that are not eTRS enabled. The refund for both of these depends on the refund agency in charge.
Refunds can be claimed in various ways. One may claim them in the form of cash, airport vouchers direct transfer to credit cards. A service fee is charged and deducted from the amount. However, not all goods qualify for tax redemption. Such products are:
- Items that are to be transported by freight
- Hotel expenses and accommodations
- Items intended for commercial or business purposes
- Items that have been partly or have been completely consumed in Singapore—you cannot claim a tax refund on opened canned foods or bottles of drinks
A noteworthy point to take into consideration here is that the actual amount refunded to you is less than the amount you paid in GST because there are handling charges. The charges vary per person as the purchases may not be equal. All the details concerning the fees are displayed on the eTRS ticket issued to you.
You are required to depart the country with your merchandise within two months from the purchase date and within 12 hours after receiving approval of the GST refund. The GST refund can be claimed by the individual from the approved central fund counter two months from the date of approval of the application.
For a smooth or fuss-free refund experience, always get your passport with you when shopping. A wide range of shopping malls provide tax refunds although they will need proof of the purchases as well as the consumer’s original passport as enough proof of identification.