VAT lesson in Namibia

This item appears on page 15 of the August 2010 issue.

On a birding trip to Namibia in March-April ’10, my wife, Kathy, and I had to purchase some safari clothing. We went to Safariland/Holtz (Gustav Voigts Centre, 129 Independence Ave., Windhoek, Namibia; ), which is a medium-sized store crammed with a wide selection of safari clothing and other gear.

On our travels overseas I have never applied for a VAT (value added tax) refund, but since the VAT of 15% was a fairly significant amount in this case, I saved the receipt on the chance that we might be able to get a refund upon our departure.

When we arrived at the Windhoek airport for our departing flight, a conspicuous sign advised that VAT refund requests had to be approved prior to checking in.

I went to the Customs officer a few feet away (it is a very small airport) and showed him my receipt. (The VAT refund is offered only for items being exported, so the receipts for lodging, food and beverage on which we had paid the 15% VAT were not eligible.)

He gave me a form, which I filled out. He then stamped the form and my receipt but waived the physical inspection of the actual items being exported. (He was engrossed in a cell-phone conversation.)

After clearing Immigration and security, I took the form to the VAT office in the departure area, where my refund was promptly refused!

The agent produced a list of some eight or so conditions that had to be met before I could get a refund, pointing to one in particular: I should have obtained a tax receipt from the vendor at the time of purchase.

What I had was an itemized receipt, with prices and VAT calculation and even the tax identification number of the vendor, plus my charge card receipt, but I was missing a particular form.

After pointing out that the Customs officer had approved my purchases, I gave up in disgust.

The lesson — if you anticipate purchasing any significant items to bring home, check out the VAT refund rules prior to travel.


Los Angeles, CA