The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) is a secret weapon for savvy travellers: essentially, it’s a way to create your own duty-free with goods that you’ve purchased recently. Whether it’s a shiny new Macbook or an updated phone, most general merchandise is eligible.
The scheme is primarily aimed at tourists, who purchase items in Australia and take them back home abroad. However, Australian residents are also able to take part, as long as certain rules and limits are met. We go over how the system works, plus offer tips to ensure you don’t run afoul of the guidelines and incur a hefty bill.
What is the Tourist Refund Scheme?
The TRS is a program that allows outgoing international travellers the ability to reclaim back the Goods and Services Tax (GST) component of goods purchased in Australia. You’ll also be able to claim the Wine Equalization Tax (WET) on wholesale wines, but this won’t concern most passengers.
Both Australian citizens and permanent residents, as well as overseas travellers, are able to take part in TRS as long as all the rules are followed (particularly with returning to Australia with those items).
How do I make a TRS claim?
For most cases, how it works is you bring your eligible items with you as hand-carry. At the TRS counter within the airport, present the items and a valid tax invoice. If approved, the GST amount can be credited directly to your bank card or Australian bank account.
To work out the refund payable, simply divide the total price by 11. For example, an item that costs A$600 including GST may be eligible for a A$54.54 refund via the TRS.
You can use the TRS app (available through this page) to help pre-fill the details and make claiming easier on the day, although you’ll still need to visit the counter regardless. But the app can generate a QR code which the agent scans, which really helps with speeding up the process.
If the items are bulky and can’t be carried by hand, then you will need to have the goods sighted by a TRS agent before check-in, and then take the stamped invoice to the TRS counter on the day of departure.
What are the rules around Tourish Refund Scheme claims?
Here are the basic rules of making a TRS claim:
- You must spend at least A$300 per supplier with an ABN. Multiple invoices with the same supplier are accepted, but they must all be under the same ABN to count
- The goods must be purchased within 60 days of your international departure
- You must present a valid paper tax invoice showing a description of the goods, the date of purchase, the amount of GST paid, plus the retailer’s name, address and ABN. Furthermore, if the invoice is more than A$1,000, it must also show your name which matches your passport. Duplicated and reprinted invoices are not allowed.
- For airport departures, you must present more than 30 minutes before flight departure and show your passport, boarding pass and original tax invoices
- If you bring back the goods to Australia and it’s over your passenger concession, then you must declare the goods and pay the full refund back, no matter how much over the limit you are.
TRS considers general eligible goods to include gifts, souvenirs, cameras, electronics, leather goods, perfumes, jewellery, watches and sporting equipment. Items that are generally free of tax include new clothing, footwear and articles for personal hygiene – you won’t be able to do a TRS claim for those.
What is the duty-free concession limit?
This section is very important for Australian travellers. When you receive a TRS refund on an item and take it out of the country, it essentially becomes a duty-free good. If you then bring that item back into Australia, it will form part of your duty-free concession limit.
If you bring goods over the duty free concession limit, then you must declare it and will have to re-pay the full TRS refund amount plus any extra duty payable on all other taxable items you are carrying. Of course, if you’re buying the goods for friends or relatives living overseas and you leave the items there, then it won’t count when you come back to Australia.
Travellers who are 18 years or over can bring back A$900 worth of general goods into Australia, free of duty and taxes. Children under the age of 18 are allowed a A$450 limit. Families or couples who travel on the same flight can pool their limits together (but not friends or non-relatives).
For example, a family of two adults and their two children can bring back A$2,700 worth of duty-free, while an adult couple travelling together would be entitled to A$1,800 worth of duty-free loot, so that’s the limit that you should claim at the Tourist Refund Scheme counter.
Some examples on the duty free concession limits
- Solo traveller: Say you’re off to NZ for business and bring a new A$1,200 laptop with you. In this case, there’s no point in lodging a TRS claim for A$109.09 back because when you return to Australia, the laptop will be above your duty-free concession limit and you’d need to repay the refund anyway
- Couple: If you’re travelling with a partner together and take your new A$1,500 phone out, then feel free to claim the A$136.36 GST refund as long as you stay under the combined A$1,800 duty-free concession limit upon your return. This also means you can bring in a further A$300 worth of duty-free goods within your limit
While not a points hack per se, it’s still good to know about the TRS when you’re looking at maximising the most value from a purchase. With the trans-Tasman bubble open for business, your next hop over to New Zealand could be a good excuse to also upgrade your gear, knowing you could get some of the payment back through a tax refund.
- If you use ‘Points Plus Pay’ or similar, you won’t get any GST back on the points component of a purchase. Consider paying the full amount on your card if possible, for TRS purposes.
- When collecting the TRS refund, use a debit card or bank account instead of your usual points-earning credit card. This is because a refund on a rewards card may actually cause you to lose the equivalent number of points linked to that refund.