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  • Issue 10 - GST-free sales to travellers

    Description: Tourism and Hospitality Industry Partnership issue.

    Can a traveller make GST-free purchases of goods that are to be exported or taken out of Australia?

    Non-interpretative – straight application of the law.


    There are four schemes where, under certain circumstances, travellers can purchase goods GST-free where the goods are to be exported or receive a refund of the goods and services tax (GST) paid in respect of such goods purchased prior to their departure from Australia.

    The type of goods and the circumstances of the purchase will determine which scheme is available. All four schemes can be utilised prior to departure and travellers can utilise schemes three and four even when overseas.


    • there are no provisions whereby a refund can be claimed from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) once the traveller and goods have left Australia
    • there are no special provisions for the refund of any GST included in the cost of supplies (such as accommodation, meals, domestic flights or car hire) used by a traveller whilst in Australia.

    1. Tourist refund scheme

    The tourist refund scheme (TRS) allows Australians and overseas visitors to claim back the goods and services tax (GST) and the wine equalisation tax (WET) paid on goods bought in Australia. Consumables such as wine, perfume and chocolates must be unopened to receive a refund. Travellers must wear the goods or carry them onto the aircraft or ship when leaving Australia. Customs officers at the TRS verification centre will need to see the goods and the tax invoice before approving a refund. Refunds cannot be paid on goods packed in hold luggage.

    The major advantage of the TRS is that travellers can use non-consumable goods such as clothing, cameras and jewellery in Australia before departure. Travellers can purchase goods from any Australian retailer that is registered for GST and has an Australian business number (ABN). There is no requirement for retailers to register for the TRS.

    To be eligible for a refund, travellers must purchase goods totalling A$300 (GST-inclusive) or more, from the one store, no earlier than 60 days before leaving Australia.

    The retailer must give the traveller a tax invoice. A traveller may make more than one purchase from a single GST registered retailer but the tax invoices must total A$300 (GST-inclusive) or more. Note that a tax invoice is different to some cash register receipts. It is in the best interest of the traveller to request a tax invoice and retailers must provide a tax invoice on request. Goods may be purchased from several stores provided purchases from each individual store totals A$300 (GST-inclusive) or more. On the day of departure, travellers must present passport, tax invoice, international boarding pass and the goods to Customs officers at the airport TRS booths to claim a refund. Refunds will be available until 30 minutes before the aircraft is due to depart.

    TRS booths are located after Customs and Immigration processing at major international airports. Similar arrangements are in place at major cruise liner terminals for travellers leaving Australia by ship.

    The following items are not eligible for a refund:

    • services such as accommodation and car rental
    • hire of taxis, motor fuel, repair of cars, use of phones, data processing, telecommunications or training
    • beer, spirits and tobacco products - these goods can be purchased from duty-free stores
    • GST-free goods - no refund can be claimed if no GST was paid
    • consumable goods which have been opened and wholly or partially used in Australia such as wine, perfume or chocolates
    • goods which fail to meet aircraft or ship cabin-size restrictions
    • goods such as knives, gas cylinders, fireworks and aerosol sprays which are prohibited in aircraft or ship cabins for safety reasons even if they meet aircraft or ship cabin-size restrictions (airlines and cruise liners can provide further details)
    • unaccompanied goods
    • goods packed in hold luggage.

    2. Sealed bag system

    Travellers departing Australia can buy goods free of GST from stores which participate in the sealed bag export verification system. Goods bought GST-free from these stores must be sold to travellers in a tamper-proof sealed bag. Travellers can purchase GST-free no earlier than 60 days before departing Australia.

    The major advantages of this scheme to travellers are that there is no minimum purchase price limit (but see below) and larger items can be checked in as hold luggage.

    Individual retailers may set minimum purchase price limits within their stores. Travellers should check if a retailer has any limits before purchase.

    Travellers must sign a declaration indicating their intention to take the goods overseas. The retailer attaches a copy of a special invoice to the outside of the sealed bag. Travellers must carry the sealed bag in full view of authorised collection officers when leaving Australia. These officers will check the sealed bag on the day of departure at the airport to ensure the goods are being taken overseas and collect the invoice after the traveller has passed through Customs and Immigration processing.

    Travellers with larger goods will have this invoice removed by airline check-in staff, provided the goods are not inside a suitcase. These goods can then be checked in as hold luggage. Travellers leaving Australia by ship will have the invoice removed from the sealed bag in a similar way.

    3. Supplies for export

    Subsection 38-185 (1) provides that exports are GST-free if the supplier exports them before or within sixty days (or such further period as the Commissioner allows) from the earlier of either the day the supplier issues the invoice for the goods or the day the supplier receives any consideration for the goods. For information on the sales of new recreational boats see GST-free sales of new recreational boats - suppliers.

    Hence, travellers can purchase goods GST-free from any retailer who can arrange the export of the goods to an overseas address. Larger items can be purchased under this scheme and sent directly to the traveller’s address overseas. Goods must be purchased no earlier than 60 days before the goods are exported.

    Note that if the locked mailbag system at the international mail centre (IMC) Redfern, NSW or any other similar mail system is used where the goods are sent to a holding area in Australia before being exported overseas, the supplier should be advised to address the goods to the overseas address, c/o the IMC mailbox or holding area address. The Customs declaration which the supplier completes must show the same overseas address. This is for the protection of the supplier who may be required to prove to the satisfaction of the ATO that he exported the goods to an overseas destination. Note that the ATO advises suppliers to retain copies of all documentation, mail receipts, bills of lading, consignment notes, Customs declarations or other documentation as proof of export for audit purposes.

    4. Supplies for export to an entity who is not registered nor required to be registered for GST

    Subsection 38-185(3) provides that the supplier is deemed to have exported the goods if the supplier is satisfied that each of the following conditions is met:

    • The supplier supplies the goods to an entity that is not registered for GST or required to be registered.
    • That entity exports the goods from Australia;
      • If documentary evidence indicates that the goods have been exported, but (in fact) the goods have not been exported, the supplier will be liable to remit GST to the ATO.
    • The goods have been entered for export within the meaning of section 113 of the Customs Act 1901.
    • After the exporter enters goods for export (export entry), Customs acknowledges with an export entry advice that includes an export entry advice number (commonly referred to as an export clearance number or ECN), and,
      • the goods are not altered or used in any way, except to the extent necessary to prepare them for export.
    • Part of the evidence could include a statement from the entity who exports the goods, and
      • the supplier has sufficient documentary evidence to show that the goods were exported.
    • This could include several documents such as invoice, bill of lading, evidence from Customs.

    Note that the 60 day rule of subsection 38-185(1) also applies. If an extension is required, the supplier needs to apply, stating the period of extension required and providing full reasons.

    The supplier is required to retain the proofs of export because, if the ATO audits the supplier, the ATO will need to be satisfied by the documentation that all requirements for a GST-free supply have been met.

    Note also that a signed statutory declaration of intention to export is not sufficient evidence of actual export.

    If all these conditions are met the supplier:

    • might be prepared to sell GST-free in the expectation that sufficient documentation to substantiate each condition will be provided in due course, or
    • might include an amount for GST in the price and, when sufficient documentation has been received, later refund the GST. (Note that, if the documentation is not received until after the supplier has remitted the GST to the ATO, the supplier can recover the GST by revising the previous activity statement for that transaction.)

    Note that it is the supplier's commercial decision to choose this option and therefore it is advisable for both parties to agree on the process before the sale is finalised.


    For more information or a copy of a pamphlet containing full details of the tourist refund scheme contact the Australian Customs Service:

    See also the guide:
    Making GST-free sales to travellers departing Australia (NAT 7378).

      Last modified: 28 Jun 2013QC 17674