If I can return to BCN, I’d come during warmer seasons. And next time, I’d love to catch a FC Barcelona match, brown my bum on the beach and drive out to some wineries for cava tastings! We visited at the end of November, and though the sea keeps its climate fairly temperate, I was surprised by how many visitors came to chilly BCN. We had plenty of company. My companion and I repeatedly whispered to each other, “I can’t even imagine how this [subway, rambla, other attraction] must be in the summer.” It must be wonderful madness.
If you’re nearing the end of your trip, you might be thinking of snagging a trinket or four to remember Barcelona by when you’ve long since returned home. You may be interested to know, dear shopper, that the European Union provides its visitors (“non-resident tourists”) with a refund of the Value Added Taxes (VAT) paid on durable goods. I’m not talking about your lunch bill – that would be a consumable – I’m talking about the nice scarves you pick up for Mom. Or the leather boots you get for yourself. I’m not an enabler, really.
In Spain, if you spend at least EUR 90.15 at a single establishment that participates in the VAT refund (not everyone does), get the proper paperwork from the vendor and file it with the customs office, you will be refunded 18% of your total bill. When I say paperwork, it’s just a couple extra forms that the vendor prints out from the register and that you file at the customs office; they make it very easy. It’s kinda like a built-in sale if you’re looking to drop some serious money. (Each of the EU countries does this a little differently, so if Spain is just one of the stops of your European tour, you’ll want to see how the other countries do it, too.) You’ll need to give the receipts and the paper work from the vendor to the customs office at the airport, so allow yourself more time to do this. When I was there in November, we were the fourth ones in line, but keep in mind that everyone else probably wants money back, too, so there could be a very long line. Sometimes they will ask to see the items that you bought, so you will want to go to the customs office before you check your bags in and place the items in question where you can easily access them for the officers. It sounds like a lot of trouble, but hey: It’s money in the bag, son. Check the related articles linked at the bottom of this post for more detailed information.
Finally, here’s a bit about the Barcelona El Prat airport. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s minimalist and vast. The second – and more awesome – notable is that it’s REALLY QUIET. This is directly related to the fact that the airport does not make public announcements. Your boarding pass may specify your departing gate, or it may give you a broader “boarding zone” within a larger terminal. Travelers at El Prat are expected to confirm their flight’s assigned gate, usually an hour before the flight departs, and to be there on time, no boarding calls. At first, I felt unsettled, uncomfortable – the not knowing at which gate to park myself. I nervously checked my watch. But then, we wandered around a bit. Ate our last ham sandwiches. Slowly the quiet grew on me, the lovely silence calming my frazzled nerves. Even though I wasn’t ready to leave Barcelona, El Prat made it a little nicer to return home.
- Travellers leaving the EU (Taxation and Customs Union, European Union)
- [PDF] Minimum value of purchases to qualify for a VAT refund on goods purchased by non-resident tourists while visiting the European Union and carried home with them within three months of the purchase. (Taxation and Customs Union, European Union)
- Value-Added Tax (VAT) Refunds in the EU (Rick Steves). This is a great read, and provides many useful details. I’d disagree with Steve that you need to bring your passport to get the paperwork from the shop/vendor. Keep the passport at home and bring your photocopy if you really want. We only needed to show our passports at the airport when we visited the customs office at the end of our trip.
- Where to process your VAT refund at Barcelona El Prat Airport. (Aena Aeropuertos)
Other posts in this series on Barcelona.
- Roja! Xinesa! Barcelona! Part 1: Antoni Gaudí. (sarahlynnpablo.wordpress.com)
- Down, Dirty and Real: Christmas and Flamenco. Barcelona Part 2: Barri Gòtic (sarahlynnpablo.wordpress.com)
- The Morning After. Barcelona Part 3. (sarahlynnpablo.wordpress.com)
- Dalí Day Trippin’ to Figueres. Barcelona Part 4. (sarahlynnpablo.wordpress.com)