That’s it, you are done with your shopping and ready to leave the EU! All your invoices have been uploaded in the app, your ZappTax tax-free form has been sent to your email box and all your purchased goods are in your luggage. You are all set to claim your VAT back. But there's a last yet very important step left to get your tax refund... The tax-free form validation at Customs! How do you go about it? Let us guide you through it.
What is Customs validation?
In order to ask for a VAT refund, you must prove to the authorities that first you bought goods in the European Union and second that you will “consume” them in your residence country (which MUST be outside the EU). How do you prove this? By validating your tax-free form at Customs before leaving the territory of the EU.
What is a tax-free form? It is an official document - which can be delivered in printed or digital formats - edited by either a merchant or a certified tax-refund operator (like ZappTax) and that lists the goods you want to claim a VAT refund on. Each tax-free form is unique and must be validated by Customs. If your form is not validated, the goods will be considered as not having left the EU and, thus, not eligible for a tax refund.
What do I need to have at hand at the time of Customs validation?
- Your passport.
- If you are a EU national (i.e. if you hold a passport from an EU country): a proof of residence (Consular card, resident permit, etc.).
- All your tax-free forms (in digital version on your smartphone and/or printed).
- The invoices we sent you by email along with your tax-free forms (in case a Customs officer asks you to show proof that you purchased those goods).
- The goods themselves (in case a Customs officer wants to check them).
⚠️ According to the Customs rules and regulations, officers are entitled to examine your purchased goods.
How to validate my tax-free forms in France ?
For tax-free forms issued for purchases made in France, the main - and easiest - way to validate your document is to scan the form barcode at a self-serving electronic kiosk (also called a “PABLO” kiosk or terminal).
PABLO stands for “Programme d'Apurement des Bordereaux par Lecture Optique de code-barres”, which can be translated in English by “optical barcode reading clearance program”. It was first implemented in 2014 and since then it has made the VAT refund procedure much easier and faster. PABLO terminals are located at multiple French EU exit points like airports, railway stations, ports and other border checkpoints. We list the places where you can find PABLO terminals later in this article.
If there is no PABLO terminal at your EU exit point or if the terminal is out of service, you must go to the nearby Customs office, where your document will be validated directly by a Customs officer, most of the time electronically with a scanning device.
If for some reason your form cannot be electronically validated, the officer will physically “stamp” it.
Important note: since December of last year, it is no more mandatory to present a printed tax-free form at Customs in France. Showing the PDF version of your form directly from your smartphone is now accepted. The PABLO kiosk or the electronic scanning device of the Customs officer will read your barcode through your phone screen. Alternatively, the Customs officer will input your barcode manually in the system. This process is still in test mode, so we strongly recommend that you print your forms just in case. Better safe than sorry, right?
Still for your purchases made in France, if your last exit point of the EU is from an EU country that is not France, you will need to have your forms validated by a Customs officer of that country. Since PABLO terminals are not available outside of France, the Customs officer will physically stamp it. That means that in such cases you MUST print your forms before leaving.
⚠️ Remember: no tax-free form validation, no VAT refund!
How to use a PABLO kiosk?
It’s really easy.
- First, you need to find the PABLO kiosk at your point of departure (see the exact locations in the list below).
- Follow the instructions on the screen and scan the barcode of your tax-free form by presenting it under the barcode reader.
- Once your document has been scanned, a green sign will appear on the screen with the message “OK, form valid”. This electronic approval is your Customs validation. ZappTax will automatically receive an electronic confirmation that your form has been validated by Customs.
- If a red cross shows up on the PABLO screen instead, you must follow the instructions shown on screen and present your forms at a Customs office nearby.
Once we receive the automatic message from Customs confirming the validation of your tax-free form, we will process your refund most of the time within 24 hours, using your preferred refund method - be sure to fill your refund details in the ZappTax app before leaving the EU if you want a fast refund.
Where can I find PABLO kiosks to validate my tax-free form?
PABLO kiosks are usually located close to Customs offices. You will find a list below, organised by means of transportation: plane, train, car, boat.
Please note that if an exit point does not have PABLO kiosks, that does not mean that you cannot validate your tax-free form there!
I am leaving France by plane ✈️
France’s 4 major international airports have PABLO kiosks.
Airport Roissy Charles de Gaulle:
- T1: 6 kiosks
- T2A: 2 kiosks
- T2C: 2 kiosks
- T2D: 1 kiosk
- T2E: 6 kiosks
- T2F: 2 kiosks
- T3: 2 kiosks
Paris Orly Airport:
- South Terminal: 3 kiosks
- West Terminal: 3 kiosks
Lyon Saint-Exupéry Airport:
- T1 Hall B: 4 kiosks
- T1 Arrival 27: 1 kiosk
- T1 Arrival 28: 1 kiosk
Nice-Côte d’Azur Airport:
- T1: 2 kiosks
- T2: 6 kiosks
- TAA: 1 kiosk
- “French zone” of the airport
There are also PABLO kiosks available at the following airports: Bordeaux Merignac, Bergerac, Biarritz, Limoges, Caen, Carcassonne, Montpellier, Béziers and Nîmes. Check here for more details.
I am leaving France by train 🚆
Since the withdrawal of the UK from the EU as of January 1st, 2021, travellers leaving France and bound to the UK must now validate their tax-free forms at a French exit point. Also noteworthy is that as from that same date, UK residents are now eligible for tax-free shopping in all EU countries.
Travellers bound to the UK can now validate their tax-free forms at 3 railway stations.
Tunnel sous la Manche, Coquelles:
- Dickens Building: 6 kiosks
Note: this railway tunnel connects Coquelles, France with the Folkestone, UK.
Gare Lille Europe:
- Eurostar Boarding: 2 kiosks
Paris Gare du Nord:
- Eurostar Terminal: 6 kiosks
I am leaving France by car 🚗
- Bâle-Weil autoroute
- Bâle-St Louis autoroute
- Boncourt-Delle autoroute
- Central Customs Office: Avinguda Fiter i Rossell 2, AD700 Escaldes - Engordany, Andorra
- DCNJ Porta: Border Pas de la Casa, AD200 Pas De La Casa, Andorra
- Customs Office Sant Julià de Lòria: RIU Runer Border, AD600 Sant Julià de Lòria, Andorra
I am leaving France by boat ⛴️
Dunkerque Marine Terminal:
- 4 kiosks
Port de Calais:
- Export Tourism: 6 kiosks
Port de Cherbourg:
- Gare maritime piéton: 1 kiosk
- VL site entrance: 2 kiosks
Grand Port Maritime Marseille:
- Hangar 18: 1 kiosk
- Gare maritime de la Major: 1 kiosk
- J0: 1 kiosk
You can also find the French Customs official list of PABLO kiosks here.
What if there is no Customs office at my point of departure?
If you are leaving from an exit point where there is no Customs office or PABLO kiosk (national airports or some land borders for example), please note that you have 3 possibilities to validate your tax-free form:
- Contact us at email@example.com or via the in-app chat a few days before leaving! We’ll give you the nearest Customs office phone number and email. You can contact them to see which solution they can offer you to have your forms validated.
- If you leave from a French national airport with a flight connection in another international airport (Paris CDG mostly), you can try, if time permits, to leave the transfer zone and explain your situation to a Customs officer. This might be a solution but be aware that the officer may ask you to show him some of the goods listed on your forms (and these goods will most probably be in your hold luggage and not with you at this point).
- In case neither of the two options above work for you, you can try the - somehow cumbersome - “a posteriori” (i.e. ex post) validation procedure. In this case, you must go to the French Consulate upon arrival in your country of residence with all the goods to obtain a “certificate”. You then need to send this certificate by email to French Customs. Please contact us since we can help you with this process.
Anyway, if you have any problems or questions, our customer support team is available 24/7 to help you get through the Customs validation process!
Whereas tax-free shopping is a wonderful opportunity for those who are eligible for it, the process can quickly get out of track if you don’t have the proper information at hand. At ZappTax, our goal is to provide you with the best tax-free shopping experience. Thanks to our app, you’ll never see tax-free shopping as a hassle again! If you want to know more, check our website or visit our FAQ page. Do not hesitate to contact us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for specific questions!