Understanding Value-Added Tax

Going abroad? Here's a primer on those pesky "fees"

Value-added taxes can be as high as 25 percent in some countries.

In many destinations, partnering with a reputable professional congress organizer can lift the refund burden from your shoulders.

Have patience: The VAT refund process can take more than a year.

Your contract should require that your vendors supply necessary documents for the refund process.

When meetings are held outside the United States, a slew of levies, known as value-added taxes, routinely are applied that might not show up on the master bill. VAT has been a backbone of financing European governments for decades. The charge is added automatically to the cost of goods or services prior to the time of acquisition. It is intended to be a system of taxation that applies to the country's residents, not the visitor, allowing governments to collect revenue without broadcasting "tax."

In the European Union, the tax can be as high as 25 percent but generally is around 20 to 21 percent, levied on hotel expenses, meeting materials and more, varying from country to country. Not everyone is subject to VAT, so be aware that you might be entitled to a refund for various charges.

Getting It Back It can take a Ph.D. to figure out how to get VAT money back. As we here in the States do by April 15 every year, you have to apply and go through government red tape to get a refund.

Some countries, such as Mexico, make the process a bit easier. You need only to deal with a government-certified coordinator and supplier. The paperwork is handled by them, thus allowing organizations holding meetings not to pay the tax at all.

In other countries where you have to seek the refund, it can take up to a year and a half to get your money back. And it's not always obvious which charge is the one you need to go after. In Canada, for example, you have to apply for a rebate of the general services tax, or GST.

Contract Detail When negotiating with a foreign vendor, always ask, "Is there a value-added tax, and what do I need to do to get it refunded or not applied in the first place?" Part of your contract should require the vendor to provide you with adequate information and support documents sufficient to enable you to seek the refund of the VAT in the venue country, and an agreement to provide any additional information necessary for the process.

Get Help Numerous companies both within the United States and the country where you are holding your program will assist in recovering or avoiding the VAT. Generally, these experts work on a percentage of the amount recovered, usually about 25 percent of the refund.

PCOs, or professional congress organizers, aside from being able to help you plan your meeting in the country you've chosen, often are schooled in understanding what is refundable and what needs to be done to get the money back. To find a firm, visit the International Association of Professional Congress Organizers, which has members in many destinations, including Argentina, Australia, Austria, Singapore, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

World travelers know how annoying the VAT refund process can be. Luckily for meeting professionals, with the right help, it is often easier to get a refund for your entire event than it is to get it back after purchasing a cherished item overseas.