If you’re a temporary visitor (i.e. staying for less than six months), not working in Japan, and not a Japanese citizen, you can be exempted from paying the 8% consumption tax when shopping at certain shops around the country. They usually have a sign like this at the entrance:
It isn’t just duty-free shops or large retail chains that offer tax-free shopping options; even some small, independent shops now do so as well.
But how does tax-free shopping in Japan work? It’s quite simple.
Tax-exempt goods can be classified as consumables—food and beverages, cosmetics, medicines, batteries, cigarettes, and the like—and everything else. Generally, for consumables, the total spending amount should be from 5,001-500,000 yen (before tax) to qualify for a tax exemption, while general items should cost 10,001 yen or more (before tax). However, some shops may have varying policies. For instance, the discount department store chain Don Quijote sets the minimum purchase amount, whether for consumables or general items, to 5,000 yen before tax, while some do not consider consumables to be tax-exempt and set the minimum amount to be 10,000 yen before tax.
You have to keep these points in mind, though:
- You can’t combine consumables and general merchandise to get a tax refund. So nope, you can’t, for instance, get 4,000 yen worth of consumables and 6,500 yen worth of general merchandise to qualify for the exemption.
- To qualify for a tax exemption, you must meet the minimum eligible amount in a single purchase at the same shop on the same day. That means that you can’t present two receipts from Shop A, even if the purchases were made on the same day, and combine the total to get a refund. You can’t make purchases from Shop A and Shop B and present them to some counter at the airport, either.
- You can’t open consumables while in Japan. Otherwise, you will have “consumed” the item, and will thus have to pay the consumption tax. However, we aren’t sure how authorities enforce this and check for compliance.
Before we get to the next point, it might help to know the terms for “before tax” and “tax included.” You might be wondering why some shops display two prices. The term for “tax included”/”after tax” is 税込 (zeikomi), while 税抜 (zeinuki) means “tax excluded” or “before tax”. Note that the price displayed in a bigger font isn’t necessarily the after-tax price; it’s quite common for the tax-included price to be displayed in a smaller font, so be careful! Some shops may also list their prices as “[Price] + 税,” with the 税 meaning “tax.”
How to get your tax refund
Luckily for tourists, the procedures for getting a tax refund in Japan are uncomplicated; there are two ways to go about it. The first—and simpler—method is to show your passport at the store counter (in some cases, there’s a designated counter/lane for those getting a tax exemption) and pay the price minus tax. The other, which is the more common approach at large department stores like Takashimaya, is to pay for the items and tax, and then to present the receipt and your passport at a separate counter to get the refund. Whatever the case, staff will attach a form to your passport, which Customs will collect once you leave Japan.
With these points in mind, you’re all set! Happy shopping!
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards