Claim Back GST with the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS)
TRS office at Sydney Airport. Photo: Matt Graham.

The Australian government has reversed an unfortunate change it made to the Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) last year that would have made the scheme virtually useless to most Australians.

With the TRS, anyone departing Australia on an international flight can claim back the GST or Wine Equalisation Tax (WET) on products with a combined value of at least $300 that have been bought in Australia within the previous 60 days. The items must be carried out of the country.

Previously, any items for which a tax refund had been claimed could then be brought back into Australia as part of the standard duty-free allowance. They would count towards a passenger’s duty-free concession, which is $900 for adults or $450 for children and air crew, but the tax would not need to be repaid as long as the total value of items being imported was under the duty-free limit. (Personal items like clothing and shoes don’t count towards this.)

The 2021 rule change

In around September 2021, the Australian Border Force (ABF) quietly changed the rules so that the tax refund on any items brought back into Australia would need to be repaid in full – even if their value was under the duty-free concession.

Below are screenshots from the ABF website from August 2021 (left) and October 2021 (right):

The TRS rules on the Australian Border Force website in August 2021 (left) and October 2021 (right)
Before and after: The TRS rules on the Australian Border Force website in August 2021 (left) and October 2021 (right).

Following this change, the following notice was also being printed on TRS receipts:

If TRS goods return to Australia they must be declared and the full refund paid back. TRS goods are not included in your passenger concession. Penalties apply to undeclared goods.

This change has been reversed

A lot of people were obviously unhappy about this change, with many travellers pointing out they would choose to shop overseas rather than supporting Australian businesses if this is how the TRS would now work.

The good news is that the rules have been revised again. This is the new wording on the Border Force website, as of 14 April 2022:

TRS website screenshot as of April 2022
TRS website screenshot as of April 2022.

Goods for which TRS has been claimed can now be brought back into Australia, and the GST refund no longer needs to be repaid if the total value of all goods being imported is under the duty-free concession. However, you are now required to declare these goods by marking “yes” to Question 3 on the Incoming Passenger Card.

There was some confusion about this over recent days while various pages on the Australian Border Force website contained conflicting information. But all pages have now been updated with the new rules.

 

Join the discussion on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: New TRS rules? Goods no longer included in cap?

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Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at [email protected]

Community Comments

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So after being stuck in Fortress Australia for last 2 years I've managed to finally get out of the country with a short trip to Singapore. At the airport, I claimed the GST refund on a mobile phone worth $850 and was on my merry way. I then had a careful look at the TRS receipt and it looks like any TRS goods are not included in your incoming passenger concession:

"If TRS goods return to Australia they must be declared and the full refund paid back. TRS goods are not included in your passenger concession. Penalties apply to undeclared goods"

The ABF TRS site seems to confirm this wording

The officer who processed my claim at the airport made no mention of this. It looks like TRS for Australians returning with the original goods claimed is no longer possible, am I missing anything or has someone who has claimed TRSand returned recently got any experiences to share?

I think that this is just slightly clumsy wording. You do not need to declare these goods if they fall under your TOTAL $900 concession and as such no GST would be payable. This is as per the incoming Passenger Card and I assume the new electronic one. If you exceed the $900 then the full GST would have to be repaid. This is the same as it has been for a number of years.

Of course this is only my opinion. Only Border Force can give you a firm ruling.

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When returning its the current value of the good that matters not the purchase price before departing. As oon as you use a phone or computer it is used and therefore of lower value ;)

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When returning its the current value of the good that matters not the purchase price before departing. As oon as you use a phone or computer it is used and therefore of lower value ;)

It used to be 20% after first use but I am not sure what they use today.

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The officer who processed my claim at the airport made no mention of this. It looks like TRS for Australians returning with the original goods claimed is no longer possible, am I missing anything or has someone who has claimed TRSand returned recently got any experiences to share?

You're not missing anything - unfortunately, the rules have in fact changed. You're now required to declare any goods for which you claimed TRS if bringing them back into Australia, and pay the tax back on them.

This change wasn't publicised by the Australian Border Force but I did some digging and as far as I can tell, their website was updated with the new rule around 28 September 2021.

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That does seem odd since we’ve always been able to buy local DF and bring it back either within your limit or declare it. Even before TRS was introduced.

A work around would be to go a DF store (if they still exist?) and do the old sealed bag routine? Or purchase at the airport….

Unfortunately, DF shops were never particularly price competitive (compared to TRS where you can buy from just about anywhere) but for something like an iPhone it could work. But you don’t get to set it up and use before you travel - the other big advantage of TRS.

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Interesting. Was comparing between buying something here or overseas. Thanks for the update. Wouldn't have picked that up. Without the concession, it's cheaper overseas. I can see this will impact local retailers to some degree, but I guess it was a loophole before and therefore not the intent of the concession.

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Possibly I will sell the duty free to a fellow traveller, who happens to be on the same return flight prior to arrival, but it will be interesting to see the cost of enforcing this, against the GST lost. In my last 6 overseas trips I have yet to see a baggage checker from customs except for the card collectors. And with no more cards, it will only be the traffic wardens at the exit barriers

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Possibly I will sell the duty free to a fellow traveller, who happens to be on the same return flight prior to arrival, but it will be interesting to see the cost of enforcing this, against the GST lost. In my last 6 overseas trips I have yet to see a baggage checker from customs except for the card collectors. And with no more cards, it will only be the traffic wardens at the exit barriers

There are definitely still cards.

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but I guess it was a loophole before and therefore not the intent of the concession.

I thought the reasoning was so that Australians spent their duty free allowance in Australia rather than overseas. I mean it will now ultimately hurt Australian retail. Whether its by much i'm not sure, but I'll certainly now look to buy overseas on my trips instead of buying from an Australian store and taking OS.

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Nice way to disincentivise going to local stores to get your GST exemption (and also incentivising purchases over the limit overseas and not declaring them on the way back in)...

What a silly decision.

Reply 6 Likes