If You Try to Sit, I’ll Tax Your Seat

by Nancy Bestor

When visiting Venice, Italy this past summer, we bought five scarves for our five employees at Fortuny, a famous purveyor of Venetian silk. The excellent customer service at Fortuny included informing us that residents living outside the European Union (EU) can get their value added tax (VAT) refunded on single purchases over 150 euros. Since we paid an additional VAT of 27 euros on the transaction, we decided it was worth it to walk across town to claim our savings at the tax refund office.

It was easy. There was no line, and our refund was processed quite quickly. The tax refund office gave us back in cash our 27 euros tax. We were also given instructions on the final steps we needed to take to ensure our refund. As we left the country, we would need to have a customs official stamp our refund tax form. We would then need to mail the form back, with the postage-affixed envelope provided by the refund office. When we explained that we would be traveling the next day via train to Switzerland, the woman at the office said that it wouldn’t be a problem, as there would be a customs officer on the train who could stamp the form for us. If we did not follow the instructions, however, the credit card we provided the office would be charged the 27 euros, plus a chargeback fee.

Well when on the train to Switzerland the next day, guess what? There was no customs officer aboard. When the conductor checked our tickets we asked him how to get a stamp for our VAT refund form. He informed us that there is rarely a customs officer on the train. He also advised us to simply send in our train ticket, which showed our departure from Italy into Switzerland, and note that there was not a customs officer on the train. We did exactly as he suggested, and mailed our refund form from Zurich.

I completely forgot about the VAT refund form until September, when I saw a VAT charge of $60 (the 27 euro tax, plus the chargeback fee) from Global Blue on my credit card. I contacted Capital One, and explained the story to them. They reversed the $60 charge, and contacted Global Blue on my behalf. Global Blue forwarded Capital One our signed contract, which stated that we must get a customs officer to stamp our refund form. Then Capital One reversed the reverse charge (putting the $60 back onto our card). I then emailed Global Blue, and told them we had followed the instructions of their official but there was not a customs officer on our train, thus we had no way to get a stamp. I also explained that we followed the instructions of the train conductor. Too bad, I was told. It was my responsibility to get a customs stamp. They didn’t explain how I could have done this, they only said I was responsible.

I contacted Capitol One again, and explained my story to another person in the customer resolution center. This time, the agent told me they would reverse the tax portion of the charges (about $30), but could not reverse Global Blue’s chargeback fees associated with the tax refund. I decided to quit while I was ahead, figuring half is better than nothing. Besides, if I charged by the hour, it had already cost me far more than $30 (because of course my hourly fee is priceless).