How to get your VAT refund in Europe

This post was a request so if you aren't planning a trip to Europe that includes shopping, go ahead and skip this post.  But for all those who are interested about the process read on :) . Also I'm no expert so please let me know if I got something wrong, thanks!

So first of all, VAT stands for "value-added tax" and it basically means all products sold in Europe already have their tax baked into the price of the good.  This is unlike the US, where we add an additional percentage of tax to the retail price.  So in the EU, the price you pay includes the tax, which you are eligible to get back if you don't live in the EU.  This is where the VAT refund process comes into play.

So depending on the country, the VAT tax rebate percentage varies.  In France it was about 10% and in the Netherlands it was up to 13%.  Some countries, like the Netherlands also increase the percentage the more you spend on the good.  There are also differing spending thresholds, so for example you have to spend at least 175 euros in France before the refund kicks in while in the Netherlands it was 50 euros.  I went online to see what the various VAT percentages per country are and for the most part the real VAT percentages are a lot lower (I think it also depends on what you buy).  Just ask the sales person before you purchase to find current VAT rates.

Also most stores will ask for your passport to fill out the VAT refund pages so you do have to bring your passport with you while shopping.  If this makes you nervous, just make sure to leave a copy of your passport in the hotel and carry your passport securely (as in a cross body bag that you keep in front of you at all times--this is what I did; or use one of these).   

So when you're buying something over the threshold amount for the refund, ask the sales clerk to prep your VAT refund documents.  If you're buying something at a department store, they usually have their own tax refund office so you can get your refund immediately (you'll still have to get your papers stamped, but more on that later).  If you're at a regular store, they'll give you the refund papers and the receipt.  Keep these together.

And the last step is to go to the VAT refund office at the last stop within the EU to get your papers stamped and get your money back.  You do the VAT refund process all at once at the very end of your trip even if you bought things from different countries.  So for me this was Heathrow Airport in London even though I purchased my things from France and the Netherlands.  There's a VAT refund counter at every terminal in Heathrow.  Check where the refund office is at the airport you're flying out of online.  Allow time before you check-in to get this done.  When I went I was able to do it all in less than 10 minutes but I had no lines.  If there's lines I heard it can take up to an hour.  They basically take all your papers, check your passport and then calculate what you get back.  They didn't ask to look at what I bought but it's a possibility so be prepared for that (either pack it in your carry on, or at the top of your stuff in your checked bags).  That's also why you want to do it before you check into your flight.

And here's my biggest tip for doing the VAT refund.  Get it back in cold hard cash if you can, not a refund via credit card.  I'm still waiting for my VAT refund from the department store in the Netherlands that 'guaranteed' it would get charged back to my card in 3 days.  It's been over a week and still nothing (boo!).  And at this point there's nothing I can really do about it.  So even if they take a commission for giving it back to you in cash it's worth it.  (My friend also said they didn't get their VAT refund from the airport when they did it via credit card so be warned).  Oh and I was able to get my VAT refund at Heathrow in dollars and they didn't charge a commission.  

So that's it!  If you guys have any questions just shoot me a comment below!

Holiday Tech Gift Guide

So as many of you know I live in San Jose, which is pretty unglamorous (well compared to where I used to live, San Francisco).  But San Jose is part of Silicon Valley and with a lot of my friends working in tech and my husband being a gadget nerd, I learn more than I need to about tech and I have a lot of pretty cool gadgets.  Here is my list of tools (not all are considered tech but I lumped these in since they're super useful) that I use weekly if not daily.  Consider them for yourself or for your friends

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1) Apple AirPods

I purchased a pair of these after my husband got his pair and I saw just how awesome they are.  I've tried wireless bluetooth earphones before but they were always bulky and falling out of my ears.  Well not these!  I have yet to have one fall out of my ear, even when working out.  But that's not even the best part.  The thing I love the most is the simplicity of these earbuds.  You just have to open the case and it will automatically pair with your phone (well it did for me because I have an iPhone but I'm not too sure how they'll work with other brands).  And once the bluetooth is connected, the connection never drops (never!).  To charge, just put them back in the case (the case will need to be charged periodically).  To find out how much battery is left, just open the case and cool graphic pops up on your phone letting you know how much juice is left in your airpods as well as the case.  Oh and if you take out the earbuds, the music/sound will automatically pause, and when you put them back in your ears it starts back up again.  It's like magic, lol.  The earbuds can also be used for talking on the phone (and they have noise interference cancelling so you sound super clear on the other end).  The only drawbacks to these is that they don't have the soft rubber tips, which usually fit my ear the best.  And the sound quality isn't amazing, but to me they're just fine (but I'm no music/sound aficionado).  

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2) Awair

My husband purchased this for me as a present and to be honest when I first saw it I thought 'what the heck is this?  another sleek looking useless gadget?'  But we've been using it for several months now and I love it!  So what is it you ask?  It's an air quality monitoring system that measures temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, chemical levels and dust levels.  Since I've been suffering from crazy allergies, my husband though this monitoring system would help.  And well it's been pretty essential since our Airstream is so small that air quality can quickly go down if we're cooking or in the winter months when we keep all our doors and windows closed.  You can connect your Awair to your Nest or Alexa to automatically control say your air purifier, but for the most part whenever I see a low air quality score on Awair I just open a window to ventilate.  This is a great tool to be mindful of your general air quality.

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3) Voloom Volumizing Hair Iron

I've been using this hair iron for probably 5 years now and it's a pretty essential hair iron for those with thin hair that tends to lie really flat (like me).  Also since I have a round face, my hair just looks better when I have a lot of volume surrounding it.  But I'm not one to tease my hair or use hair spray (I don't even blow dry my hair).  But if I want to get my hair looking good and I have about 5 minutes to spare, this hair iron gives me about twice as much volume than my normal hair when air dried.  The trick is it's like a crimper but better (due to the really odd-looking but effective square iron shapes) and you essentially crimp the layers under the top layer of hair.  It's basically like teasing but twice as fast.  I usually just crimp about 3-4 thin layers of hair on each side and since I've been using this for so long, I'm quite fast at it.  I've also tried using a regular crimper in the same way but I don't get as much volume for the same amount of work.  The qaulity of the hair iron is also really good and I haven't had any issues with this even after 5 years of weekly usage.

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4) Coravin Wine System

You might have seen this on my Insta-stories but basically since my husband doesn't drink alcohol and I drink a little too much alcohol, this Coravin wine system has been essential.  This fancy gizmo has a needle that draws wine out of the bottle and a trigger system that replaces the displaced wine with argon gas so that the wine inside won't oxidize.  It allows you to try a glass of wine without committing to opening the whole bottle.  It's also a great way to enjoy several glasses of different wines for tasting without wasting!  You can easily buy replacement argon capsules from amazon and once you get used to it, it's really easy to use.  Also since the needle is so thin, the cork reseals itself (but only if it's natural cork and not the rubber faux cork).  The only drawback to using this wine system is when you use it for wine that tastes best when opened and let sit (but you can always let your one glass pour sit before imbibing so really it's not that big of a deal).  This is the perfect gift for a wine-loving friend or family member!

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5) Amazon Echo Dot with TP-Link Smart Plug

Amazon echo and Google home are both really good voice-command systems.  We just used the Amazon Echo Dot since we don't need the added speaker that the regular Echo and the Google Home have (we connect the Echo Dot to our built in Airstream speaker system through bluetooth).  I usually ask Alexa (the woman personified by the Amazon Echo system) the time, the weather and have her set a timer when cooking.  But my favorite function for Alexa is telling her to turn on/off the light in our Airstream, and that's where the TP-link smart plug comes into play.  If you want your house light to turn on/off with Alexa then you will need to use a smart switch like this one.  With this function, it's like the clap on/off system except you're not stupidly clapping for lights.  Instead you can just tell Alexa 'turn off the light' and presto you don't have to get up to turn off the light.  It's great for lazy people like me!

Anyway I hope you enjoyed this short gift guide and I know that some of these items are discounted for the Black Friday-Cyber Monday shopping period so hope you're able to snag one at a discounted price.  I swear by all 5 of these items and they are all super useful.  What are some of your favorite tech/gadgets that you swear by?

P.S.  The results for the giveaway will be up later today!  Thanks to all those who entered!