Our Whine Wednesday topic this week is about long lineups at VAT Refund Counters at major airports where processing is extremely slow and inefficient such as at Bangkok Airport this week.
Travelers should always be prepared to budget some extra time in order for their VAT Refund to be processed at the airport but some counters are so inefficient that I often saw people abandoning their money because they’d otherwise miss their flight.
It’s always a hard decision from what point onward it’s worth it to actually go through the hassle and do the tax refund because it always requires time and effort plus most of the time you have to hand over your original receipts and can only retain a copy.
I have previously written an article about Global Blue VAT Refunds in Europe (Germany) where I generally have good experience with rather prompt processing by the customs officers and Global Blue counters even though sometimes I see long lines there as well, especially around the time for the Asia flights departure bank.
When I was in Bangkok I purchased some computer items and the VAT Refund was approximately 1,400 THB (~US$40) so I didn’t want to leave that money on the table. Thailand requires you to get the customs stamp OUTSIDE the departure area even though you only keep the items in your carry on (this is opposite to how it works in Germany for example). So that’s your first lineup.
Then once you passed immigration there is another lineup at the actual VAT Refund Counter as pictured above and the lineup was mayhem. Knowing how slow they are and given the massive amount of receipts people had in hand I had to move to another processing counter at the end of the terminal where there was no line at all.
Again only half of the counters in the picture above were actually staffed and there was screaming going on as people had to leave for their flights and airline representatives were there to push people to go to their flights. Some of them had a bunch of receipts and given their overall attire I can imagine quite a bit of money was in play.
Thailand has a severe problem with understaffing their airport facilities which concerns both immigration counters and these VAT Refund counters as well. The only thing that works somewhat properly there are the priority lanes for First/Business Class and sometimes (depending on the airline) elite passengers. Those really save a lot of time.