Tax Free Shopping in Japan – A Way to save Money on your Trip!

In October 2014 Japan made some changes in their tax free shopping system, which makes shopping for tourists very interesting. And tell me, who doesn’t want to save money while you are traveling? Here you find all important information you need to enjoy tax free shopping in Japan.

Who can use the tax free shopping?

The tax free shopping in Japan only applies to foreign visitors who are staying in Japan less than six months. For proofing this, you have to take your passport with you that shows your status as a stamp from entering the country or a tourist visa. That means no tax free shopping for Japanese citizens, people who are working in Japan or staying longer than six months with other visa. 

What belongs to the tax free items?

Tax free items can be separated in two categories: general items and consumable goods.
  • General Items
    These are goods such electronic, clothing, bags, accessories, etc. 
  • Consumable Goods
    Here we are talking about food, drinks, medicines, cosmetics and so on. Take care that you are not allowed to open these products in Japan and you have to take them out within 30 days after purchase.

It is depending on the shops, but mostly the tax free shopping starts from 5,000 yen (without tax) and more. Sometimes the limit is higher (around 10,000 yen), so please inform yourself before shopping.  Also, you are not allowed to combine general and consumable items to reach the amount of money you need for becoming tax free – you have to buy either one of these categories at once. For consumable goods they even have a limit in purchase, so that you are not allowed to spend more than 500,000 yen on these. 
All items have to be purchased at one store on the same day. It is not possible to buy articles for 3,000 yen at store A and later for another 3,000 yen at store B. You won’t get any taxes back for this. However, for sure you can buy tax free as often as you want on one day and while your trip. Just take care about the costume rules of your home country when you come back. If you spend too much money you may have to pay taxes at the airport there.

How much money can you save with it?

As the name says: you save the tax! In Japan the consumption tax is 8 %, so if you buy something which usually costs 100 yen, you have to pay 108 yen including the tax. Talking about the tax free system which starts from 5,000 yen, for example, if you shop something for 6,000 yen, it costs 6,480 yen with consumption taxes. The 480 yen you will get back later. Normally there is no extra fee for tax free shopping, but this depends on the single shops, too.  

Where can you find tax free shops and how does it work?

Tax free shops are mostly signed with the following sign or similar looking information plates outside the building. Meanwhile some websites and apps have been launched to find these shops easily. The most popular is Japan Shopping Now ( where you can find an overview over the associated shops by areas and regions. 
Sign for tax free shops in Japan
There are two different ways how the tax free procedure takes place depending on the shops. 
First, at some shops you can already get your shopping tax free at the cash counter. That means you just need to show your passport to the cashier, staff members fill out a form which you need to sign and then you don’t need to pay the taxes. Take care that sometimes not all counters in a shop are available for tax free service and you need to pay at a certain one. Especially at tourist areas this can lead to long waiting lines.
At other shops you need to pay your shopping first and later go to a separated counter – Tax Refund Counter. Show your bills there to claim your taxes back. This kind of systems you often find at department stores with several tax free shops in one building.   

What do you have to do when you are leaving Japan?

At each store you buy tax free items you will get a purchase proof document which is stapled inside your passport. Keep this inside until your departure from Japan. At the airport or other departure places you can give these to the custom office for a short check-up. In case the officers want to see your items you are requested to take them with you in your hand luggage, however, this checks are rarely down.  After the check at the costume office and when the documents are removed from the passport the tax free shopping procedure is completed.

Claudia Mitsu