Govt cracks down on airport TRS rebates for Australian travellers

By David Flynn, March 6 2018
Govt cracks down on airport TRS rebates for Australian travellers

The Federal Government is tightening its watch on Australian passport holders who claim a 10% tax rebate on expensive items before flying out of the country.

The Tourist Refund Scheme (TRS) allows for a full rebate of the 10% GST on goods worth $300 or more and purchased within 60 days of leaving Australia.

Read: Seven easy ways to speed through your TRS airport GST refunds

While the program is obviously aimed at overseas visitors to Australia, the Department of Home Affairs – through its Australian Border Force arm – is acting on concerns that the generous scheme is being abused by residents to claw back 10% on everything from smartphones and laptops to jewellery and clothing.

Australian residents are permitted to claim the TRS refund before flying overseas, but are required to declare the goods on their return.

According to the Dept of Home Affairs website: "If you return to Australia with goods for which you have claimed a GST refund under the TRS on departure, you must declare those goods at Question 3 on the Incoming Passenger Card (IPC) if their value exceeds the passenger concession of AUD900."

"GST refunds received on goods exceeding the passenger concession will have to be repaid if the items are brought into Australia."

Australian Business Traveller reader Craig Reiner said he was questioned by ABF officials at Melbourne Airport's TRS office while claiming the GST rebate on a new Apple iPad Pro and keyboard.

"The officer asked if I would be bringing the goods back into Australia, to which I replied no, it was for my Asian sales agent," Reiner said.

"She took a photocopy of my passport and said that my return flight next week had been noted and my bags would be flagged for inspection, in case I brought my purchases back into Australia but didn't declare them."

Reiner said the TRS officer added that this was part of a "clampdown" on Australian passport holders claiming the GST rebate on expensive items.

While declining to comment on specifics, a spokesperson from Australian Border Force told Australian Business Traveller "the ABF actively targets anyone they suspect of attempting to defraud the TRS scheme."

"If an ABF officer considers that this may occur, they will retain copies of claim documents, including passports."

Have you had a similar experience at any Australian airport TRS rebate offices?

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

Hmm

Im planing to claim my new phone in a few weeks which is $1300. But with 3x family pooling i was hoping not to have any issues coming back in.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Nov 2016

Total posts 14

sdtravel, you're in a good position being that you're travelling with family.

The TRS refund is claimed in YOUR name, but another family member brings it back in their luggage. Where's the problem ? :)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Jun 2017

Total posts 6

sdtravel - if you don't declare the item on your return to Australia, then you are clearly one of the people defrauding the government. You're not entitled to a rebate if you are bringing your phone back into Australia, so why do it?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Jun 2015

Total posts 107

I never said i wasnt planning to declare on the way back in. I was simply expressing my annoyance at it likely being flagged in the system when i arrive and being forced to use the Red Channel.

I think you need to check the current rules before accusing someone of fraud there csmart.

As i stated in my post i have 3x family pooling. So the incoming limit would be $2700 which will clearly cover my phone.
Check out the AUSBT article titled "Seven easy ways to speed through your TRS airport GST refund". No 7 confirms this.
I will likely now ensure that when i claim the GST back i make it clear im using pooling so it doesnt get flagged.

22 Oct 2014

Total posts 13

Aussie taxpayers are being rorted out of millions. Scrap the program and put the staff back on the front line the airports

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 98

Sounds heavy handed to me. "You are being watched". I think it's emblematic of an attitude: we have power and we don't believe anyone will do the right thing, so we'll detain you to see if you can prove your innocence.

07 Oct 2012

Total posts 1259

And how would you do it instead?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 351

This is not surprising. If you are foolish to claim more than your entitlement and still bring the goods back into the country then you are running the gauntlet. If it’s an expensive item then no doubt they will “flag” your return. If you buy the goods overseas however, you are still expected to declare it. Not sure anyone would though as they would have no way of knowing...

I had previously bought new earphones and accessoriee while overseas which cost me $1800 Aud i declared on my way back in and as the person said below. They were nice to me that i declared and didnt need to pay a difference plus my queue for this declaration only had 1 person ahead of me. Where as the nothing to declare line was a couple hundred people long. They didnt even end up bag searching me or x ray my luggage because i declared. They just said welcome back to australia

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 May 2015

Total posts 6

Last year I claimed a bit over $4k (across two of us). Declared it on the way back in and the agent said 'as you were honest no need to pay the difference'. So I think always safer to err on the side of caution and declare it.

MarkJohnSon Banned
MarkJohnSon Banned

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 89

Australians have been treating this scheme as their own piggy bank for far too long. Kudos for the boys over at the ABF for finally doing something about this.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Nov 2016

Total posts 14

And how many times have you claimed a TRS refund ?

MarkJohnSon Banned
MarkJohnSon Banned

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 89

Never. The idea of standing in a queue for half an hour to illegally save $100 on an iPhone sickens me.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 593

It's not illegal to claim a GST refund so I dunno why you're so "sickened" by it. In the weekend before xmas i queued up for 2 mins to claim $85 refund and found it well worth the effort of a total of 5mins of my time. I didn't have to declare it on return as my item was just under the $900.

MarkJohnSon Banned
MarkJohnSon Banned

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 89

It's not illegal until you bring goods back in the country exceeding $900 in value and fail to declare them. If you've made a TRS claim for a new iPhone, like many do, you've certainly committed a crime by not declaring it and re-paying the tax upon entry back to Australia.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 282

Strange. The idea of standing in a queue for 2 minutes (recent experiences) to make a genuine $100 on an iPhone is sweet for me.

Rav
Rav

18 Aug 2017

Total posts 40

I got $64 back for my new camera, took about 35 seconds, well worth it to me, someone could have too much money.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Aug 2012

Total posts 8

I purchased a MacBook Pro $2200 and claimed the GST back. The good news is was traveling with my wife and daughter. $900 per adult and $450 for children can be claimed. The ABF officer questioned me when I was making my claim. I explained that I was $50 under my limit of $2250, he congratulated me for knowing the rules! ;-)

24 Dec 2013

Total posts 88

So one ABT reader's passport was photocopied and you create the headline that there is now a crackdown. I think that this article has been exaggerated. There is nothing new about TRS agents asking if you are bringing goods back into Australia and I wouldn't say that one incident means that there is now a crackdown.

MarkJohnSon Banned
MarkJohnSon Banned

19 Jan 2018

Total posts 89

anonymous, obviously I can't speak from AusBT, but I know they don't publish stories like these lightly. I have personally started to hear anecdotes of people who have made TRS claims getting pulled up upon their return. No doubt David and team have heard the same chatter. The account of the specific AusBT reader is a useful journalistic flourish to provide a "real world" experience to the reader.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2425

Hi Anonymous – actually we've had many reports of this happening, it's just that none of those people except Craig wished to be named and quoted in the article, and we've had it confirmed 'off the record' by an ABF employee that yes, they are clamping down. Melbourne appears to be getting especially strict.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

In Brisbane, the office has been closed for many months now and you're required to fill out some paperwork and pop it in an envelope that they then process at a later date.

Often that process date several days so those going over for say a weekend/day trip to NZ etc wouldn't have even had there form processed or looked at by the ABF by the time the get back. So I struggle to see how this crack down will really work (espically from Brisbane).

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2425

Hernus: I've heard that about the Brisbane TRS office, what a time-saver that would be compared to standing in line!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Oct 2013

Total posts 714

I thought it was standard procedure until I last flew out of Sydney and saw the office still open.


In the last 6 months, I've also flown out of the Gold Coast and Cairns airports as well and they both operate the drop your forms in a box system.

You fill out a form with the amount you are claiming and your card details (or address for a cheque in the mail) and then simply drop in in the box. There are also additional envelopes which you can put inside the main one which they can use to send the receipt back to you if needed (for warranty etc).

09 May 2011

Total posts 21

I am surprised this TRS scheme is open to Aussie passport holders in the first place. In most other countries (ie the ones I've mainly used it such as Singapore, EU) it is only open to tourists/non-residents. Seems to work well there without any issue.


I had this same thing happen to me at Melbourne for an iPhone 8 Plus and was warned to declare it on my return. On the return trip I declared it expecting to pay duty but the customs officer looked at it and said "Well you've used this so it'd be second hand, wouldn't have as much resale value would it? Probably less than $900?" He was clearly citing the $900 duty-free limit and wanting to avoid the paperwork and hassle. I agreed with him and he said "Well thanks for declaring it but it's all good" and waved me through to the exit.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 282

Is it the TRS? Or is it the TRS Scheme? Even the ABF's media release to AusBT says: "the ABF actively targets anyone they suspect of attempting to defraud the TRS scheme." So it's now the Tourist Refund Scheme Scheme! Haha.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Nov 2017

Total posts 24

Good. Seeing people talking openly about defrauding it on the frequent flyers FB groups & forums has frustrated me to no end. About time they start getting the fear of god put in them for lying

08 Jul 2017

Total posts 21

Anecdotally, there's an default 20% depreciation on used items.


So that $1100 item where you claimed $100 TRS rebate on departure, when coming back would be valued at $800.

($1100 has $100 GST, valuing it at $1000, depreciate 20% off that.)

06 Mar 2018

Total posts 7

I cannot for the life of me, understand why Australian residents are allowed to claim refund of GST, under a scheme called TOURIST refund scheme.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 282

But *I* travel from Australia to other countries as a tourist. So what's the problem?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Feb 2013

Total posts 54

The Australian traveller’s choice is to buy the item in Australia under the TRS, or to buy it duty-free overseas. The Australian government prefers the sale to be occur in Australia, creating retail Australian jobs, and generating profits and wages they can tax.

One of the ideas is so if you buy presents/gifts for people overseas you can claim it back like as if you were a tourist in the country buying presents for people back home while holidaying here

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 351

They have a similar scheme in South Africa but it’s a bit of a scam. They give you a MasterCard and tell you the funds will be loaded within three months. I am still waiting after six months on a Tag watch I bought in September.

06 Mar 2018

Total posts 7

Phily, you are not a tourist in your own country. You can however claim tax refund if you buy and remove goods from countries you are a tourist in.


Using technicalities in terminology will not proffer logic in the loophole.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2017

Total posts 1

They definitely can’t clamp down in Darwin given the TRS desk has never been manned when I’ve flown out of the country. It is always closed and you have to manually file a form and attach your receipt. Which I have twice done and not received the refund either time. I’m certain they just turf the box of them once a week. Generally fly to Singapore every couple of months and I always check if it’s manned, never has been.

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

16 Oct 2017

Total posts 98

Rorting the system is unacceptable. Full stop. But flagging baggage for inspection just because someone has made a TRS claim is equally unacceptable. By all means ask the question when people come back, but don't detain travellers without reasonable cause.

15 Feb 2013

Total posts 162

So how would they prove it anyway? Do they actually record the serial number or IMEI of the device to then check it on return? If they don’t, they couldn’t prove that the device was the same one you claimed before and that you didn’t leave the country with two iPads.


The staff at customs also don’t look up every passenger to see if there’s a note, so if you’ve gone through the electronic immigration gates, and have nothing to declare, the chances of them inspecting your luggage are virtually zero as it is, and even if they do it is very unlikely they will look you up in the system unless you’ve got something in your bag you shouldn’t have.

When you cross the border, a certain letter (or combination of letters) is written on your incoming passenger card if you're processed by a person through passport control, or printed on your SmartGate ticket when you remove it from the border gate. These letters help the officer manning the exit checkpoint determine whether to send you straight out, ask further questions or send you to one of the additional screening queues for one of many different reasons. This is why you have to present your SmartGate ticket with your incoming passenger card when you exit, as they're looking for that letter (one of which could flag an issue with duty/tax to be investigated). These letters change very frequently, and the meaning of each letter at each point in time isn't something shared publicly by Border Force (for obvious security reasons).

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

03 Oct 2013

Total posts 5

Actually they have recorded the IMEI the few times I've claimed over the past years. Even checked the box to ensure it matches.


Maybe I just look dodgy but now I just show them my employment pass for SG and say I'm no longer a resident of AU.

Qantas

22 Oct 2012

Total posts 282

Not correct peteshep. TRS staff can flag your electronic record for the full inspection upon your return. When you go through the e-gates on your return a ticket is printed for you, and you hand that into customs. That ticket can have a code on it that signals that you will be directed to a full search.

15 Feb 2013

Total posts 162

Which goes back to my first question “do they record the IMEI or serial number?” If not, they couldn’t prove it’s the same device.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

13 Dec 2014

Total posts 81

I bought an iPad Pro last year from MYER and I think I did see an IMEI printed on the receipt. I assume the ABF officer would’ve taken note if required. We travelled as a family of four and wouldn’t have been flagged anyway, but it is a legitimate question. I’m currently overseas and will test this on my next trip very soon when I’ll have a few purchases.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Mar 2018

Total posts 6

Happened to me YEARS ago because I was too honest with my new MacBook. You don't return ALL the GST you were refunded, but you pay duty on the USED cost of your device, because it's no longer new. It was a weird experience. They wasted more money on the paperwork/effort than they received back from me.

06 Dec 2013

Total posts 10

Another example of the government taking a small issue and blowing it out of proportion.


The scheme only has one reason to remain. To encourage visitors to purchase in Australia instead of their home country, and to encourage Australians to purchase here instead of overseas.

It has far more benefits that saving the small amount of tax one would save on purchases over $900. And to police the scheme would cost more than it would earn.

For arguments sake someone purchases an item costing $1100 and travelling alone. The bring it back into the country. They received a $100 TRS refund when they left.
They are required to pay tax on the difference ($1100 - $900 = $200). Tax to have back = $18 ($200/11).

How many Australians are coming back breaching the $900?
How much does the additional paperwork, software to track and staff cost split over the money recovered.

Further to this, they usually take depreciation into account. So the $18 they're about to recover vanishes, because the $1100 item is deemed with use to have devalued and is possibly worth $950 on return. Now we worry about claiming $4.50.

01 Feb 2012

Total posts 2

Just a correction, if the goods are valued above $900, you actually pay for the whole value and not just the difference. From the Home Affairs website:

"What happens if I exceed the duty free limits?

If you exceed Australia’s duty free limits, duty and tax will apply on all items of that type (general goods, alcohol or tobacco), not just the goods over the limit."

China Airlines - Dynasty Flyer

22 Sep 2012

Total posts 71

I am often declaring at the TRS but then I don't live in Australia anymore (Australian citizen). I hope it wont mean if I come back 3-6 months later after leaving I wont get flagged and have to use the red lane each time. Usually the items are things like vitamins that my family request or friends.

I hope people get notified on the news about this and then it is their choice if they try to do this cheeky tax cheat.

KLM - Flying Blue

26 Mar 2015

Total posts 4

Of course there is always the point that if you are in business and registered for GST then you can already claim back the GST on items that would be used in business such as phones, tablets and computers etc. You can't claim it from TRS and ATO so I would think that for many of the people commenting on this thread that the TRS wouldn't even come into question?

22 Nov 2018

Total posts 1

I purchased an apple iPhone 8 plus from Apple Chadstone, Melbourne Store and paid via my personal credit card, the apple salesman asked me my email address so I gave him an old business card, which had all the details of my email address, I am retired now.

I asked for a tax invoice as I was just a visitor to Australia. I asked for a hard copy and an electronic copy receipt.

When I went to the tax claim desk at Melbourne Airport, they refused to give back my tax of $104.55 as my printed receipt had my company name on it. This was Apples Fault, (they should have not printed my Company name and also they should have know only the person can collect). So I showed them my electronic receipt which did not have my company name. They refused this receipt as the electronic receipt had Re-Issue on the heading. They said the receipt must be an original.

I telephoned Apple In Melbourne who had given me the incorrect receipt and asked to forward on immediately the correct receipts.

Unfortunately for me Apple at Chadstone sent a copy of the ineligible receipt.

People should be aware of the difficulties of claiming your tax back and Apple should refund my failed tax claim.

06 Oct 2019

Total posts 1

Hi everyone,I am from India,recently I purchased one Apple iPad pro from Harvey Norman,which cost me around $2550 AUD.So my query is can I claim GST refund at Tullamarine Airport for this purchase. I am in tourist visa and will return to my country after 2 weeks.Really needs some genuine reply.Thanks


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