A sign or sticker saying “Tax Free” is a fairly common sight when sightseeing in Tokyo and Japan. As Japan is experiencing an influx of tourists and visitors from abroad, more and more shops and malls offering tax-free shopping are appearing all over the country and especially in Tokyo. In May 2016, the Japanese tax exemption system was revised to make shopping for international tourists even more convenient! Let’s take a look at what “tax free” means, how it works, and what you need to know for your Japan shopping spree!
Which Shops Offer Tax-Free Shopping?
Only shops that have the necessary permission offer a tax-free shopping experience. Those are most commonly shops in and around airports, large retailers, and department stores. Recently, many shopping streets and malls have set up tax-free counters and many smaller shops have started to offer the service as well. To know whether a shop is tax free, look for this symbol:
Who Can NOT Shop Tax-Free?
・ When the date of entering Japan is not stamped into the passport (f.ex. when using an automated gate at the airport)
・ People who stay in Japan longer than 6 months
・ People who work in Japan
・ When certain conditions, such as maximum purchase price, are not fulfilled
The tax exemption system mainly targets international tourists to Japan and applies to everyone who comes to Japan as a non-resident and stays less than 6 months. Even Japanese people who live abroad and visit Japan for less than 6 months can enjoy tax-free shopping!
What is the Minimum Purchase Amount to Shop Tax-Free?
In general, the total purchase amount of wares bought in the same shop on the same day must be 5,000 yen or more, tax excluded. At shopping malls and department stores that have a tax-free desk, the sum spent at all shops of the location is added up for tax exemption. However, certain things (that will be introduced later on) cannot be bought tax-free, even if all the conditions are met.
What Goods can be bought Tax-Free?
Tax exemption applies when the purchased goods are brought out of Japan and are meant for use or consumption by individuals, not to be sold or used for business purposes. Furthermore, they are divided by general goods and consumable goods.
Things to Note about Consumable Goods
Consumable goods are wrapped in special disposable bags that are sealed upon the purchase. They should not be opened before leaving Japan. Keep in mind, however, that you cannot combine general goods and consumables to shop tax-free – the sum of each category much reach at least 5,000 yen in total.
The Procedure of Tax-Free Shopping
There are two different types of tax exemption procedures, depending on the store.
(A) Present your passport at the time of your purchase and pay for your wares with the tax already being deducted.
(B) Pay the full price, including the consumption tax, and head to the tax-free counter on the same day of your purchase. There, present your passport, your purchase, and the receipt to get a tax refund.
At the Store:
1) Show your passport.
Copies are not accepted. Confirm your name, nationality, birth date, status of residence, date of entering Japan, and your passport number.
2) Ask for a Record of Purchase
Ask the cashier or staff at the tax-free counter to create a Record of Purchase; although, at most shops, the staff will know what to do and write it without the need to be asked for it. This slip will be attached to your passport – be careful not to remove it, as it will be taken by the airport’s customs officials when you leave Japan.
3) Sign the Purchaser’s Pledge
This is a pledge in which you promise the following:
- that you take general goods out of the country
- that you will not use the purchased consumable goods and take them out of Japan within 30 days
- that you will pay a supplementary consumption tax if you cannot present the goods at the time of leaving Japan
In the case of (A), you will pay the sum with the consumption tax already taken out.
In the case of (B), you will pay the full sum, including the consumption tax.
If the sum should fall below the minimum amount for a tax refund because of returns etc., the tax exemption is canceled for all items and you will be required to pay the full amount.
At the Airport:
5) Submit your Record of Purchase
The customs officials will confirm your passport and the goods you bought tax-free. They will also collect the Record of Purchase attached to your passport. In general, you need to carry the tax-free things you bought with you when you leave Japan.
After the customs procedure, the tax exemption process is completed.
Main Shops that Offer Tax-Free Shopping
As already mentioned, the number of shops offering tax-free shopping to international visitors has increased dramatically over the last years, indicated by the logo shown above. From malls to convenience stores, all sorts of locations offer not only tax-free shopping but various other deals and services for international visitors. Some of the most prominent brands and shops are as follows:
- Over 760 stores throughout Japan offer tax-free shopping.
- Yamada Denki
- While tax-free shoppers cannot use points, various discounts are available via coupons and credit cards.
- Don Quijote
- Tax-free shopping is possible at over 310 stores all over Japan. A member’s card with special bonuses called the “Welcome! Discount Passport” is given to international tourists.
- Matsumoto Kiyoshi
- Over 220 shops throughout Japan offer tax-free shopping.
- Over 630 shops throughout Japan offer tax-free shopping. Aeon Mall specialty shops are not part of the program (varies by store). Coupons and other deals can be found on the official home page, etc.
- Convenience Stores
※limited to certain stores
※present your passport to the cashier
- Seven Eleven
What is the different between “duty free” and “tax free”?
There are two different kinds of tax exemption. “Tax free” means that the Japanese consumption tax will not apply to your purchase, while “duty free” refers to an exemption from the government tax. “Duty Free” shops are most commonly found at airports, and T Galleria in Okinawa is famous for this service as well.
What do you need to do or know at the time of purchase and the customs procedure?
When buying goods, it is important to present your own passport – this cannot be a copy. The passport, the purchased goods, and the receipt are all necessary when seeing customs before leaving Japan.
I forgot my passport at the hotel! Can I do the tax-free procedure on the next day?
Sadly, no. The law requires the tax-free procedure taking place on the day the goods are purchased. Also, you have to do it at the same store you shopped at.
Can I ask someone else to do the tax-free process for me?
Only the person who purchases the wares can complete the procedure.
When I entered Japan, I used an automatic gate so I have no stamp in my passport. Can I still do tax-free shopping?
Sadly, it is not possible to shop tax-free without an entry stamp. What you can do, however, is to ask an attendant for a stamp after using the automated gate at the airport!
Can I use my purchases while still in Japan after going through the tax exemption process?
You can, as long as it is general goods. Consumables, on the other hand, will lose their tax-free status once the special seal is opened.
Do I have to carry my tax-free wares as hand luggage or can they go in the regular suitcase?
At the airport, the customs counter is located behind the security check and baggage inspection. Therefore, your tax-free purchases should generally be stored in the hand luggage so that you can present them at the customs counter.
Cosmetics, alcohol, and so on aren’t allowed as hand luggage, so what do I do with those goods?
Indeed, there is a 100 ml limit for all liquids in hand luggage. Everything that exceeds 100 ml can be put in your suitcase, simply notify the officials at the customs counter.
Can I give the tax-free goods that I bought to others so that they take it back home?
Tax-free goods may not be transferred to third parties, so only you yourself are allowed to take the goods out of Japan.
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