Tax-free shopping in Seoul – The right way to do tax refunds

1 April 2014

We’re back from our 10-day Seoul trip! It was definitely an interesting experience, but I won’t get into the details in this post. Not with 2 full luggages sitting around me and loads of laundry waiting to be done… D:

I just wanted to quickly write this down because I’m still feeling a little pissed over it… and also so that other people won’t make the same mistake as I did! (doubt any one will though… :C )

In Korea, you can do tax-free shopping at shops with either of these logos:


Generally, any purchase above 30,000 won in a single receipt is eligible. You will get the VAT (value added tax) amount back, which is about 8% after a cut is taken as service fees.

I didn’t realise the amount was so low to qualify. 30,000 won is like 3,000 yen or SGD $36 only! :O

My impression of tax-free shopping is like have to spend a few hundred dollars, and I never spend that much at those shops anyway, so I was unaware of it till halfway through the trip.

I was also happy to discover that many of the skincare/cosmetic brands I was buying were all entitled to tax refunds. Nature Republic, Etude House, Innisfree, Holika Holika, Beyond, Tony Moly, Skin 79, etc.

BLISS!!! It’s like having an additional 10% off!

Note: I did read somewhere that Nature Republic requires a minimum spending of 50,000 won instead of 30,000 won though. I spent above 50,000 though, so I’m not sure.

Since then, I diligently collected all my receipts and even organised my luggage for optimal checking and clearance at the airport.

We arrived at Gimpo Airport 3 hours ahead of our flight to have ample time for clearance and I proceeded to the counter quite excitedly. First time doing tax refunds!

I proudly took out my neatly stacked receipts and she looked through them one by one. I figured she was checking to see the amount qualifies.

When she reached the last receipt, she looked up at me and said:

I’m sorry. None of these are tax-free receipts. You can’t claim any of them.

I heard the words, sort of.
But I couldn’t process them.

Why is she apologising? What is “can’t” and “claim” in the same sentence? I think I made her repeat herself another two times.

Then she took out the form with a sample receipt to show me.


UGHHH. My first thought is, “WHY THE SALES STAFF NEVER TELL ME?!?!!” They definitely know I’m a tourist, but didn’t even ASK me if I wanted a tax refund receipt. Not a peep from them!

But in the end, it’s my own fault for not checking more carefully ._.

Well, it’s “only” a SGD $50 mistake, but I can’t help feeling cheated of my money :I You can also back-calculate how much I spent on skincare products :O

That, and I’m also upset that my first time attempt to do tax refunds is spectacularly superfail.

If you’re laughing at me, kindly go slap yourself for being so rude and laughing at somebody else’s despair. Karma will get you.

I’m guessing nobody will be noobshit like me, but just in case, please remember to ask for the VAT refund receipt! Regular receipts WON’T cut it.

You should receive something like:

This is for EU, but you get the idea.

This is for EU, but you get the idea.
There should be the barcode, retailer details, etc.

More information about VAT refunds in Seoul here and here.


  • Reply Eric 3 April 2014 at 7:07 pm

    It’s a global thin, always ask for the tax refund receipt. Also you don’t get the full amount back Global Blue takes a cut of it. In Singapore you’ll get only 5% even thou tax is at 7%. Close enough.

    • Reply Rin 3 April 2014 at 7:31 pm

      Sigh, if only I knew then what I know now >_>

      Oh then it’s probably the same in Korea! Maybe just 8% instead of 10% back! Ok, I feel a bit better now :D

  • Reply Candy 1 September 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Rin,
    All your posts to Seoul is so helpful, thank you for taking the time to write them! :)

    With Love,

    • Reply Rin 3 September 2014 at 3:49 am

      Hi Candy,

      You’re most welcome! Thanks for taking the effort to comment as well. It’s extra meaningful when I know what I wrote helped someone :)

  • Reply Sylvia 7 September 2014 at 2:07 am

    Hi Rin, I just came across your site and love it. Thanks for posting.

    I’m traveling to Seoul in five days for food, shopping, and touring. Where is that shop in Edae with all of the bags for 10,000 won? I must go there!

    Are the haircut prices at Juno the same in all locations? I wanted to try the main shop in Gangnam, but like you, want value for my money.

    • Reply Rin 9 September 2014 at 5:14 am

      Hi Sylvia,

      Thank you! ;D

      I didn’t take down the location of the 10,000 won bag shop (too busy shopping!), but I remember it’s nestled inside (meaning, not along the main streets) and I *think* it was near a “It’s Skin” shop.

      Sorry, I’m not sure if the prices are uniform across the branches. Perhaps you could schedule to go to Gangnam before Edae? And if the Gangnam branch feels a lot more expensive, then you can go to the branch at Edae at the same time when you’re shopping there?

  • Reply Isabel 17 October 2014 at 10:11 am

    Hi Rin,

    Thank you for posting everything that you do. I’m going back to visit the ‘motherland’ (that’s what our family calls it) but either way thank you for this information. for the past few years i had no idea about this and i realised i’ve been spending big bucks without the tax refunds… T.T

    i also had a question about the receipts. on the sample picture you posted, it has the retailer details and tourist details, etc. on the sample it has credit card number… can i pay cash and still get this receipt?

    • Reply Rin 17 October 2014 at 1:53 pm

      Hi Isabel!

      Ugh, it must be a horrible feeling knowing you could have had money back on your purchases! But better late than never!

      I believe tax refunds are not constrained to any particular form of payment, but just to be sure, check with the sales staff before you pay. Have fun shopping! :)

  • Reply Sunny 28 May 2015 at 11:44 pm


    Super late post on your blog but I only realized about the Global Tax Free thing AFTER purchasing a bunch of makeup and skincare at different locations of Innisfree, Etude House, Bankila Co., etc. Is it possible that I could add my purchases with the same makeup brand and get tax free that way? Thanks!

    • Reply Rin 29 May 2015 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Sunny,

      The store needs to issue the global tax refund receipt, so I’m not sure other branches of the same brand will be able to simply add on your previous purchases. It’s best to check with the stores themselves!

  • Reply Korean fan 10 June 2015 at 10:57 pm

    What are the things that i buy in korea needs a VAT refund receipt? ( other than cosmetic products)
    Thank you!! :)

    • Reply Rin 10 June 2015 at 11:49 pm

      Participating stores are designated by the “Global Blue Tax Free” or “Global Tax Free” logo. So just look out for that before you make your purchases, or simply ask the sales staff.

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