Your guide to Australia’s GST Refund Scheme (TRS)

Claiming back your locally-paid taxes through the GST Refund scheme can make the end of your stay a little less painful.

By Matt Lennon, November 28 2022
Your guide to Australia’s GST Refund Scheme (TRS)

Souvenirs are some of the best parts of an international trip; taking home something that encapsulates those unforgettable days or weeks spent down-under.

Whatever you’re taking home, there’s a financial sweetener available if your items are leaving the country. Ten percent of the price you paid, otherwise known as Australia’s Goods and Services Tax (GST) can be recovered at the airport before you board your flight. The same applies for the Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) paid on bottles of white, red or bubbly.

But this little cashback opportunity comes with a few rules, as this handy guide will explain.

The TRS counter (and potentially long line) at Sydney Airport.
The TRS counter (and potentially long line) at Sydney Airport.

What is the TRS/GST Credit Refund?

Part of the Australian taxation system, the Tourist Refund Scheme is a lesser-known extension of the traditional Duty-Free retail structure. With Duty Free, tax isn’t paid at all on items from stores selling items purely for the purpose of taking them out of the country. As such, they’re usually packaged up ready for you to pack into your luggage.

How much must you spend to get your TRS rebate?

There are several strict rules in place which apply to the Tourist Refund Scheme. To avail the kickback, you need to spend at least AUD$300 at any individual retailer and obtain an invoice with your name on it, reading the same as on your passport.

This minimum $300 spend doesn’t have to be on a single item. You can shop until you drop in one visit or return multiple times, and as long as your total outlay is $300 or more (and you have invoices to match), you’re eligible to claim back the GST.

Pursuing the cashback on larger ticket items over $1,000 will require the invoice to also contain your home address, which isn’t normal practice for many retailers. You’ll need to ask the store to prepare a special invoice.

If you’re in Australia for a long holiday, save your spending until you’re within 60 days of your flight home as purchases made earlier don’t qualify.

You can claim back the GST on eligible purchases if taking them out of the country.
You can claim back the GST on eligible purchases if taking them out of the country.

How can you claim your TRS refund?

First and foremost, you can only seek your tax back on items for personal use. There’s no GST credit refund for business purchases made in Australia.

Executive Traveller readers have told us that flights departing in the morning peak period can result in long queues at the TRS window of more than an hour; yet another reason to arrive at the airport well ahead of your departure time. The cut-off for a claim is 30 minutes prior to departure but if you’re running that late, chasing your money might become a stress best absorbed.

To settle your refund, you’ll need to be departing on an international flight. If you have a domestic connection first, ask your airline if you can get your bags back between flights or you’ll need to carry your items with you, while still meeting your airline’s carry-on limits.

Approach the TRS desk at your final point of departure, which will be after immigration and security, and present your invoices and goods for inspection. It’s wise to have printed copies of your invoices as not all facilities can accept a digital version.

Invoices approved for a rebate will then see the transaction applied onto your credit or debit card, funds sent to an Australian bank account or a cheque mailed to your chosen address.

Items must meet certain conditions to be eligible for a TRS rebate.
Items must meet certain conditions to be eligible for a TRS rebate.

Can I claim the GST refund on oversized purchases?

This is a tricky one. Some stores will offer you the service of shipping your purchase home and if you accept this, you can’t claim back the GST. Australian Border Force authorities must sight your items before issuing your rebate.

If you’ve bought items too large for carry-on, such as golf clubs or skis, you can visit an Australian Border Force office to have them inspected before security. You’ll be issued with a verification slip which will satisfy TRS officials as the proof needed for your refund, even though the items have since been checked through.

Is there a way to simplify the TRS refund step?

Processing your claim is a data-heavy task, especially if a traveller isn’t prepared and slows down the rest of the line.

Australian Border Force allows travellers to expedite their refund by entering details before arriving at the TRS desk through iPhone and Android apps.

The apps are not actually a claim, but instead remove the need for all of your personal information to be entered manually. Simply enter the travel and payment method information needed and you’ll be presented with a QR code. Not all airports have QR code readers, while it may also not be operational when you need it. Many readers can attest to the need to have printed copies of all your invoices as a back-up, in case the manual process is needed.

If the QR code can be read, all you need to do is present your items and the original paper invoices and you can be on your way with your funds much faster.

Can you process your TRS tax refund online?

As items may need to be personally inspected by Border Force officials, there is no online system that allows for the full procedure to be conducted independently.

The TRS provides a little relief on souvenirs or items you're taking overseas.
The TRS provides a little relief on souvenirs or items you're taking overseas.

What if I bring goods back into Australia?

The Tourist Refund Scheme is designed primarily for travellers taking items back to their overseas homes or for locals taking purchases on a one-way trip, such as gifts for overseas family and friends.

As part of a duty-free concession, returning Australians are each allowed to bring up to $900 worth of goods back into Australia (or $450 per child) without declaring them. 

If you’re travelling with others, this allowance can be pooled. For example, a couple travelling with a child is permitted a total duty-free concession of $2,250.

An item’s value is based on the price paid on its receipt. The murky argument of depreciation doesn’t apply on goods claimed under the TRS, so any effort claiming your new technology is now worth a fraction of its original purchase price will be futile.

It’s also unwise to claim a refund on any items through the TRS system with the intention of sneaking items back in as you may have your passport photocopied and luggage flagged for a more thorough examination and potential penalties.

Why hasn’t this seemingly obvious loophole been closed?

The Australian Tax Office has been pushing for Australians to be excluded from the TRS scheme for several years, claiming in 2019 that the loophole has cost up to $557m over the past 20 years in lost GST by people ‘rorting’ the program.

According to data estimates provided by the Department of Home Affairs, the scheme suffered “a large level of non-compliance from Australian citizens and residents and significant revenue leakage” of between $244m and $557m since July 2000.

The department also stopped issuing penalties for undeclared re-importation of TRS-claimed goods between 2013 and 2018, issuing them “infrequently” since then.

Recent attempts to restrict availability of the TRS to foreign residents and short-term visitors only was met with pushback, with Executive Traveller readers saying they would instead shop overseas instead of supporting Australian businesses.

Further efforts to force returning Australians to repay the GST on all items they had previously claimed through the TRS, irrespective of the duty-free threshold, were also reversed to the delight of local travellers.

More information on the GST rebate system can be found on the Australian Border Force website.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 7

As someone with a home overseas, it would be great to be able to purchase things for there when coming back to Australia for a visit. But, I concluded that the system, by design, requires so much effort so as to discourage using it.

22 Sep 2020

Total posts 14

It just makes no sense that you have to carry your goods in hand luggage for inspection post immigration. You should be able to take your goods pre-check in for inspection, and then check the goods into your checked luggage. You can do this throughout Europe, the UK, South Africa, etc.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2020

Total posts 12

you can put claimed goods in checked luggage, just need to show ABF office the goods before checking in and ABF stamp the relevant receipts signifying that they have sighted the goods.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

03 Feb 2018

Total posts 1

The Australian process by design is to make it difficult to reclaim tax under TRS. 

The fact that the inspection takes place AFTER security and border control is ridiculous. Other countries have the inspection prior to check-in and is far more convenient for oversized items and just general items that you don't need to carry around with you at the airport and place in those already under-sized cabin storage bins. 

And why exactly is the claim process so heavily manual and time consuming?? I could easily design a system to make this pain-free for both travellers and border staff. 

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