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5 steps to decoding the VAT for your next European escape

Whether you purchase a pair of oversized Ferregamo sunglasses in Milan or an Aran sweater from Blarney Woolen Mills in Ireland, you are entitled to get the value-added tax (VAT) refunded. In Italy, you have to spend 155 euros ($198) at one store to be entitled to the 23 percent VAT refund (as of September). The VAT in the Emerald Isle is also 23 percent, but there is no minimum purchase.

The VAT is like a sales tax, except it is already built into the price you pay instead of being added at the cash register. Each country has its own VAT rate, ranging from 15 to 25 percent, about 20 percent on average. To get any refund, your purchase usually has to be above a certain amount at any one store — ranging from about $30 to several hundred dollars, depending on the country. Refunds must be collected within three months of purchase.

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