Tax-free shopping may have been invented elsewhere, but Singapore perfected the concept. The island-state is literally riddled with shopping malls (many malls are linked through air-conditioned underground passages); on top of that, the 7% Goods and Service Tax (GST) levied on shopping in Singapore can be refunded at Changi Airport before your outbound flight.
Singapore's Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS) cuts down on the number of steps needed to claim a refund.
The old paper system will stay in place for retailers who are not signed up to the eTRS system.
For eTRS purchases, you'll be asked to specify a single credit or debit card to serve as a "token" for your tax-free purchases. You can still make purchases using other credit or debit cards, but the "token" will be used later in the refund process.
Step One: At the Store
Look for stores with a blue "Tax Free Shopping" or "Premier Tax Free" sticker up front, and shop there.
You must buy at least SGD100 (US$64) worth of merchandise (GST included) at any one shop. This can take the form of either a single receipt, or a maximum of three same-day receipts from the same shop.
If the store is on the eTRS platform, the store will provide an eTRS ticket for your purchases upon checkout. Keep all receipts and corresponding eTRS tickets; they'll be used later in the refund process.
If the store is not on the eTRS platform, present your passport upon checkout and ask for a Global Refund Cheque or a Premier Refund Voucher (depending on the participating refund agency - see below).
This form will be filled in by the retailer. Retain it together with the receipt, for presentation to customs on your departure.
Step Two: At the Airport
For eTRS-enabled purchases, go to the eTRS self-help kiosk at the airport. There are two kiosks at the airport - one prior to check-in (for items to be checked in along with your luggage), and another at the departure lounge (for hand-carried items).
At the kiosk, you will swipe your passport, then either swipe your "token" or scan your eTRS tickets. You can then choose your refund options: either have the balance credited to your "token" card, or get a cash refund at the departure transit lounge.
You will then receive a notification slip printout bearing your refund details. Show this slip at the Customs counter, together with the goods and the original receipt.
If you didn't shop at eTRS-enabled stores, you should first have the cheque or voucher validated at the Singapore Customs counter. Show your passport and travel documents (boarding pass, confirmed outbound ticket). Have the goods and the receipt ready for identification.
Having incomplete documents or failure to show the goods will disqualify you from receiving a refund.
Step Three: At the Refund Counter
After checking in, you can claim your GST refund either at the Central Refund Counter (for eTRS), at the Global Refund counter, or Premier Tax Free counter in the departure lounge (refunds for the latter two will depend on the participating refund agency - see below).
Refunds may be claimed in the form of cash, direct transfer to your credit card, or airport shopping vouchers.
A handling fee will be deducted from the amount due.
GST Refund Agencies in Singapore
Most shops in Singapore are affiliated with one of two central refund agencies - Global Blue Singapore (+65-6225-6238; www.global-blue.com) and Premier Tax Free (+65-6293-3811; www.premiertaxfree.com), both of which specify a minimum purchase of SGD100 to qualify for a refund.
Shops not affiliated with either agency administer their own GST refund schemes. The minimum purchase amount for GST refund varies between un-affiliated retailers, so be sure to ask for specifics before making your purchase.
GST Refund Exceptions and Disqualifications
Any legal visitor over 16 years of age may claim refunds on their shopping, with the following exceptions:
- The visitor must not be a citizen of Singapore Citizen, nor hold Permanent Resident status in Singapore (exceptions apply for Student Pass holders - see below)
- The visitor must not have spent more than 365 days in Singapore in the preceding 24 months before making the purchase
- The visitor must not have worked in Singapore within six months before the purchase
- The visitor must not be a member of the flight or cabin crew of the plane departing Singapore
Singapore visitors with Student Passes are allowed to claim refunds, only if they meet the criteria above, and if:
- Purchases must have been made 4 months or less before the Student Pass expires
- Merchandise must be brought out of Singapore within 2 months of purchase
- Student Pass holder must leave Singapore and stay out for at least 12 months
Certain goods do not qualify for tax redemption:
- Items that have been wholly or partly consumed in Singapore (i.e. you can't claim a tax refund on an opened and partially consumed bottle of Scotch)
- Items intended for business or commercial purposes
- Items to be exported by freight
- Accommodations (hotel expenses)
No more than SGD500 (US$320) in taxes may be refunded per person. Merchandise must be brought out of Singapore within two months of purchase.
The GST refund cannot be redeemed if you're leaving Singapore by land or by cruise.
For more details, consult these sites:
- Singapore Customs - Tourist Refund Scheme
- Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme (eTRS)
For more on shopping in Singapore, read these articles:
- Great Singapore Sale - One Month of Cut-Rate Shopping in Singapore
- Money in Singapore
- Gallery of Shopping Centers in Singapore