In 1789, Benjamin Franklin said the now iconic idiom, there are only two certainties, death and taxes. This was true then and it still reigned supreme these days. There are few things in this life that are the equivalent of paying taxes. At times it feels the same as you giving money to the mafia, however this is how a society functions. Taxes are the government’s way of fulfilling the will of the people. it doesn’t feel that way though when you are the one paying.
This all seems to change when you’re on vacation. Yes, I’m visiting a beautiful country such as Colombia. I am helping out the economy here, but I’m also paying taxes and receiving no benefit from it. At least that’s how it feels to some, but we all know that’s not true if you drive on the roads, if you are helped out by the police, or God forbid you have to go to the hospital and don’t pay us prices, you are using the services of the government.
But still, it seems a bit excessive to pay the 19% IVA in Colombia when you purchase things. There are plenty of tourists who come to Columbia to shop, to receive Medical Treatments, and to eat and all other sorts of Commerce. For these folks, the Colombian government and DIAN (the tax collecting arm of the Colombian government) have a way for you as a vacationer to receive a refund for the sales tax you have paid while visiting the beautiful country of Colombia.
If you are here on a tourist visa, which the majority of visitors have, you can take advantage of this benefit provided to you by Colombia. with that said, if you have an extended stay visa, or you have had one in the past you are not eligible for this benefit. This is a big misconception and is not covered enough. The Colombian government and DIAN see this as tax fraud, and everyone that applies that has had a Extended Stay Visa within 10 calendar years, is guilty of tax fraud. This is punishable by up to 5 years in prison, and will earn you a permanent ban from visiting Columbia ever again. So, I’d recommend avoiding that if you can.
What can be claimed? I’m glad you asked, you always ask such good questions. Well, any item that is considered a souvenir, most anything handcrafted and most luxury items. Let’s say you come here and lose your new iPhone, no problem. First things first, you will pay a considerable amount more to replace it, but at the minimum you will be able to get the IVA back. Same goes for most electronics. If you buy a very expensive Botero statue and pay the 19% IVA, you will get a refund on that, necklaces, clothing, artwork, etc. fall into this category as well. Typically food is not covered, however the gray area is coffee. Since it’s one of the biggest exports and roasted coffee beans are not considered a food product, you can request an IVA refund on it. The other gray area is medical tourism. If you come here to get veneers for your teeth, those are considered luxury items, however the cost of installing them is not covered, since it’s not taxes. The same goes for botox, lip injections, stem cell therapy, cryotherapy, etc. It’s also important to note that the items MUST be purchased with 60 days of your departure date. Other less than reputable sources have reported that it’s 180 days, and that will end with your purchases getting rejected.
If you’ve spent any time in the corporate world, you are drilled regularly to save your receipts. If this is you, you will be well on your way to getting a refund of the IVA you paid while visiting. Here are a few recommendations that are coming directly from the DIAN office:
- Only printed reciepts are accepted. If you went somewhere where they do not provide a machine printed receipt, your chances of getting a refund are very low. These are far too easy to fake, and DIAN will 9 times out of 10 reject these. The reciepts MUST be from registered businesses, meaning the business must be registered with DIAN for you to recieve a refund.
- Only original items are considered for this tax refund. If you purchase items that are replica items, such as clothing or shoes, these will not be considered for a refund.
- If you purchase multiple items, highlight the items you are claiming and note the line item on the 1344 form on the copies of your receipt. This will help the agent processing your refund to speed up the process.
- Try and keep the receipts of your purchases in the best condition possible. This is just a nice thing for the agent processing it for you. DIAN will also not accept partial receipts, so don’t cut off the bottom of the receipt to save space.
So let’s talk about how you can take advantage of this benefit, and not risk your freedom or freedom to travel within Colombia. first and foremost there is a very specific procedure when it comes to filling out. In the past, you could bring a printed copy of this form to the DIAN office at the airport and you could save yourself time. As of November 2023, this is no longer an option. You will want to budget extra time in your trip to the airport for this. DIAN is a government office and is not designed to be quick like Migracion is at the airport.
1. Making the Purchase
When buying eligible items:
Ensure that the seller provides a proper sales invoice. The invoice should clearly detail the items, the total amount paid, VAT amount, and the date of purchase. Keep the original receipts safe, as they are required during the refund process.
2. Claiming the Refund at the Airport
Most VAT refunds are processed at international airports. Before your departure:
Reach the airport well in advance, considering the extra time needed for the refund process.
Look for the “Tax Refund” or “IVA Refund” counter. At MDE, it is located in locale a11, on the first floor, between national arrivals gates A and B. At BOG, it is located adjacent to the older food court in locale 49. At CTG, the refund counter is located inside of the international departures terminal.
Present your original passport, boarding pass, original invoices, and the goods for which you’re claiming the refund. The items should be unused and in their original packaging.
3. Filling Out the Refund Form
At the refund counter:
You’ll be provided with a refund form. Fill in the necessary details, attach the original receipts, and provide any other required documents. Once processed, your refund will usually be credited to your credit card or given in cash, depending on the refund policies in place. Each location is different. To best be prepared for this, it’s a good idea to ask the refund office in advance how they issue refunds. If you are leaving the country and given Colombian pesos, but the exchanges are not open, you will have to take them to your bank, so planning accordingly is next.
4. Understand the Limitations
As stated above, not all goods are eligible for a VAT refund. Always check in advance if your intended purchase qualifies. The limit of refunds is $8,482,220 Colombian Pesos. Also important, some smaller airports may not have a VAT refund counter, so plan accordingly.
5. Other things to keep in mind
Maintain a record of all your purchases, especially those that are of higher value.
Remember that the refund process might require some waiting time, so be patient.
If purchasing from larger stores or tourist areas and plan to request a IVA refund, don’t be shy about asking if the purchase you’re making is something that likely to be covered by this policy.
Remember that world travel is a privilege, and we should all remember this at all times. IVA refund is something that the Colombian government has put in place to help attract tourism to the region. I would ask that you simultaneously use this benefit afforded to you, but do so respectfully. Let’s face it risking your freedom just to save a few thousand pesos is not worth it.