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Canada - a great value destination, can be even better value with a GST refund!

Many people go to Canada for shopping visits, especially with the Canadian dollar as weak as it currently is. This article explains how easy it is to get an extra 7% saving on most things you purchase by claiming a refund on the GST.

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Canadian GST Refunds for Visitors

The 7% Solution

Whether you're flying, driving, taking a bus, train, or ferry, it is easy to get your Canadian GST refunded.



Like almost everywhere in Europe, Canada has a GST (Goods and Services Tax) - usually 7%. In addition to allowing refunds on the GST on goods taken out of Canada by visitors, Canada - unique among countries that levy GST - also allows a refund of GST paid on hotel stays.


The New Rebate System

As from 1 April 2007, the earlier method of getting tax rebates on goods and accommodation purchased in Canada by a visitor and taken out of Canada was repealed.

A substantially more limited form of partial rebate was introduced in its place.  This new system allows for a one half refund (rather than full refund) of the GST/HST paid on the accommodation component of packaged tours to Canada.

A packaged tour has to comprise a mix of airfare and accommodation (and potentially other things) all sold for one price without a price breakdown of the components.

Refunds are claimed back through the tour operator you bought the packaged tour from, and are to be claimed only after you have returned from Canada.

For more details as to the eligibility for any refund when you are buying travel packages to Canada, ask the company who is selling the package to you.

Sadly, this new arrangement is vastly less generous than the earlier arrangement.

The following information is retained purely as a historical record/archive of the previous rebate system.

What Qualifies for a Refund

Basically, anything you buy in Canada and take out of you when you leave can qualify for a refund of the 7% GST (or the higher 15% HST or a lesser amount of the 7.5% TVQ in Quebec).

This means that a meal you eat, or a play you attend, is not eligible for a refund, because you have 'used' or consumed the item while in Canada. But most other items (such as clothing, gifts, etc) that you do not 'use up' while in Canada are eligible.

Plus, the one delightful exception to the 'you can't claim on things you use while you are in Canada' rule is hotel accommodation. You can get a full refund on the GST on hotel room stays, as long as you do not stay for more than a month in a single hotel.

Each individual receipt must be for a minimum of C$50 before tax, and contain at least C$3.50 in GST (which actually means that the receipt should be for $53.50 in total), and in total there must be a minimum of C$200 of receipts in your claim. Note that a C$50 receipt can be for several different items, each costing less than C$50, but, in total, adding up to more than C$50.

Hotel receipts need to show on them the number of nights you stayed in the hotel. There is no special format or requirement for other receipts.

Goods must have been purchased within sixty days of leaving Canada.

What to Do to be Eligible

In most cases you will need to get your receipts validated when you leave the country, either by a Customs Officer (eg if flying out of an international airport) or through a participating Duty Free Store (here is a list).

You should have the following items available at this time

  • The original receipts to be validated

  • The actual items you purchased

  • Proof that you are a non-resident of Canada (eg US driver's licence)

  • Proof that you are leaving Canada (eg bus or train or air ticket if you are not driving yourself)

If you are traveling by ferry or in some other method (eg cruise ship) rather than crossing a land border or flying, and there is neither a Customs officer nor a participating Duty Free Shop available to validate your receipts, then you can send in unvalidated receipts along with an original of your boarding pass or ticket to prove you left the country in that manner.

Hotel receipts do not need to be validated.

Note that Canada has nine major international airports with Customs offices and officers available to validate receipts : Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto (Pearson), Ottawa, Mirabel, Montreal (Dorval) and Halifax.

How to Claim Your Refund

The easiest way to get your refund is by stopping at one of the various participating Duty Free Stores as you leave Canada - in most cases they can process your refund and give you immediate cash back (a fee may apply for the refund service). Note that this service is for all qualifying goods, not just for anything you might buy in their store, and typically they will only refund up to C$500 directly - anything more needs to be sent to Canada Customs.

Otherwise, you can mail in an application for refund upon your return home. Several different companies will process a refund for you, in return for an 18-20% commission, with a minimum fee of approx US$10.

It is difficult to see how such companies offer any additional help compared to simply completing a form and sending it direct to the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Canada Customs says that it takes 4-6 weeks to process your application; the commercial services vary in lead time (some take much longer!).

Duplicate Originals

(A delightful oxymoron!)

Note that, when mailing in an application for refund, you need to send the original receipts, not copies. These original receipts are not returned to you. If you also need original receipts for warranty or other purposes, you will need to ask for the store to give you a 'duplicate original' receipt.

Border Crossings Easy Once More

When re-entering the US by car most recently (on 25 February) I noted that the long lines and detailed inspections of all vehicles seem to now be a thing of the past. No cars were being inspected and the Customs Officer asked only the briefest of questions before waiving us on. So travel to and from Canada is once more an easy and convenient experience. (This experience has been reconfirmed on the several subsequent crossings I've made.)

Postscript : Reader Robin reports being able to claim a refund on local Manitoba state taxes as well.

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Originally published 1 March 2002, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.



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