Canadian GST Refunds for Visitors
The 7% Solution
Whether you're flying,
driving, taking a bus, train, or ferry, it is easy to get
your Canadian GST refunded.
Like almost everywhere in
Europe, Canada has a GST (Goods and Services Tax) - usually 7%.
In addition to allowing refunds on the GST on goods taken out of
Canada by visitors, Canada - unique among countries that levy
GST - also allows a refund of GST paid on hotel stays.
April 2007 - THIS HAS NOW ENDED - SEE DETAILS BELOW ABOUT
The New Rebate System
As from 1 April 2007, the
earlier method of getting tax rebates on goods and accommodation
purchased in Canada by a visitor and taken out of Canada was
A substantially more limited
form of partial rebate was introduced in its place. This
new system allows for a one half refund (rather than full
refund) of the GST/HST paid on the accommodation component of
packaged tours to Canada.
A packaged tour has to
comprise a mix of airfare and accommodation (and potentially
other things) all sold for one price without a price breakdown
of the components.
Refunds are claimed back
through the tour operator you bought the packaged tour from, and
are to be claimed only after you have returned from Canada.
For more details as to the
eligibility for any refund when you are buying travel packages
to Canada, ask the company who is selling the package to you.
Sadly, this new arrangement
is vastly less generous than the earlier arrangement.
The following information is retained purely as a historical
record/archive of the previous rebate system.
What Qualifies for a Refund
Basically, anything you buy
in Canada and take out of you when you leave can qualify for a
refund of the 7% GST (or the higher 15% HST or a lesser amount
of the 7.5% TVQ in Quebec).
This means that a meal you
eat, or a play you attend, is not eligible for a refund, because
you have 'used' or consumed the item while in Canada. But most
other items (such as clothing, gifts, etc) that you do not 'use
up' while in Canada are eligible.
Plus, the one delightful
exception to the 'you can't claim on things you use while you
are in Canada' rule is hotel accommodation. You can get a full
refund on the GST on hotel room stays, as long as you do not
stay for more than a month in a single hotel.
Each individual receipt must
be for a minimum of C$50 before tax, and contain at least C$3.50
in GST (which actually means that the receipt should be for
$53.50 in total), and in total there must be a minimum of C$200
of receipts in your claim. Note that a C$50 receipt can be for
several different items, each costing less than C$50, but, in
total, adding up to more than C$50.
Hotel receipts need to show
on them the number of nights you stayed in the hotel. There is
no special format or requirement for other receipts.
Goods must have been
purchased within sixty days of leaving Canada.
What to Do to be Eligible
In most cases you will need
to get your receipts validated when you leave the country,
either by a Customs Officer (eg if flying out of an
international airport) or through a participating Duty Free
is a list).
You should have the
following items available at this time
The original receipts to be
The actual items you
Proof that you are a
non-resident of Canada (eg US driver's licence)
Proof that you are leaving
Canada (eg bus or train or air ticket if you are not driving
If you are traveling by
ferry or in some other method (eg cruise ship) rather than
crossing a land border or flying, and there is neither a Customs
officer nor a participating Duty Free Shop available to validate
your receipts, then you can send in unvalidated receipts along
with an original of your boarding pass or ticket to prove you
left the country in that manner.
Hotel receipts do not need
to be validated.
Note that Canada has nine
major international airports with Customs offices and officers
available to validate receipts : Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary,
Winnipeg, Toronto (Pearson), Ottawa, Mirabel, Montreal (Dorval)
How to Claim Your Refund
The easiest way to get your
refund is by stopping at one of the various participating Duty
Free Stores as you leave Canada - in most cases they can process
your refund and give you immediate cash back (a fee may apply
for the refund service). Note that this service is for all
qualifying goods, not just for anything you might buy in their
store, and typically they will only refund up to C$500 directly
- anything more needs to be sent to Canada Customs.
Otherwise, you can mail in
an application for refund upon your return home. Several
different companies will process a refund for you, in return for
an 18-20% commission, with a minimum fee of approx US$10.
Examples of such companies are
Official Tax Refund Inc and
National Tax Refund Service.
It is difficult to see how
such companies offer any additional help compared to simply
completing a form and sending it direct to the
Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. Canada Customs says that
it takes 4-6 weeks to process your application; the commercial
services vary in lead time (some take much longer!).
(A delightful oxymoron!)
Note that, when mailing in
an application for refund, you need to send the original
receipts, not copies. These original receipts are not returned
to you. If you also need original receipts for warranty or other
purposes, you will need to ask for the store to give you a
'duplicate original' receipt.
Border Crossings Easy Once More
When re-entering the US by
car most recently (on 25 February) I noted that the long lines
and detailed inspections of all vehicles seem to now be a thing
of the past. No cars were being inspected and the Customs
Officer asked only the briefest of questions before waiving us
on. So travel to and from Canada is once more an easy and
convenient experience. (This experience has been reconfirmed on
the several subsequent crossings I've made.)
Postscript : Reader Robin
reports being able to claim a refund on local Manitoba state
taxes as well.
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1 March 2002, last update
19 Dec 2013
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.