Is TRS a lot more stricter now?

My parents were on an international flight last week and when processing GST refunds there were a couple of regulations that resulted in them not being able to claim GST back on a couple of items. I've never heard of those before and was wondering if anyone's came across these before:

  • As Australian residents, they were only able to claim GST for items with a total price of $900 if they were bringing them back to Australia. Now, I know that you have to declare anything over $900 when entering Australia but I've never heard of anyone being denied GST refund on items over $900 when leaving Australia. And this wasn't per item, it was price of total items which meant that you could never get more than $90 back.

  • My mum bought some fairly expensive jewellery for her relatives that were over $900 and had to argue that they were gifts in order to claim GST on them. The TRS lady did not believe that they were gifts and marked all the packaging, took all my mum's details and said that she would be thoroughly checked on return to make sure that she wasn't bringing them back to Australia.

  • One of the invoices has the word "reprint" on it (Ted camera's for a GoPro my dad bought thanks to Ozbargain!) and she would not process it because of that. The "reprint" is on the original invoice Ted's camera sent along with the gopro so it's as original as we could get it. She stamped the invoice with 'Rejected' straight away without even consulting my parents.

My parents were pretty upset, not so much because they weren't able to claim back GST on a couple of items since those were just a bonus, but by how rude the TRS lady was. So I thought I'd ask to see if anyone's came across these regulations before or if my parents just came across a more stricter (and definitely ruder) than usual TRS officer?

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  • +35

    Sounds like the TRS lady was having a bad day or your parents had attitude.

    • +6

      I'm pretty sure it was the TRS officer having a bad day.

      • +9

        Yeah I'd agree. I don't blame them for being a bit harsh or frustrated. I've seen the amount of people they deal with and felt sorry for them.

        Make it a simple process for them and you would be out in no time with your refund. I was in and out in less than 5 mins of claiming something small. I used the TRS app which makes it faster and you don't have to line up in the big line.

        • Oh there is a TRS app? TIL!

    • +2

      It was the day of the Red Dragon.

    • -36

      If the op parents can afford to buy the goods then they can afford to pay gst. Everyone here pay tax, why shouldnt you? Its only 10%.

      • +20

        You certainly are opposite to EasternCulture.

    • +22

      from the website

      The TRS allows Australians and overseas visitors to claim a refund, (subject to certain conditions), of the goods and services tax (GST) and wine equalisation tax paid on goods bought in Australia and then taken out of Australia in checked luggage or carry-on bags. Operating air and sea crew are not eligible to claim a refund.

    • +40

      But aren't we all tourists on this crazy rock that's careening through the universe?

      • +8

        I think we are stuck rather than being tourists

        • I think we're moneys on a organic spaceship travling through the cosmos close to the speed of light. Orbiting a star all the way to the Great Attractor.

  • +9

    Did your parents tell them that they were going to bring those items back into Australia? If they did, then those items are not eligible for any GST refund basically because they would be liable to collect the GST when they came back in. From the TRS website, "The TRS only refunds GST on goods that are exported." - so bringing them back in would disqualify them a being export items.

    I do believe that Customs have systems in place where they flag people for random checks when they come back in to the country if they have made large GST refund claims on leaving. Nothing authoritative, just anecdotal from colleagues and acquaintances that have worked at Customs on data matching IT projects there.

    Can't comment on the Ted Camera invoice? It was an invoice and not a receipt, right?

      • +15

        Yes they were asked if they were bringing the items back to Australia and they said yes.

        Case closed. They're not entitled to a refund


        • -11

          Oh please, do you honestly think that most Australian residents who claim from TRS are not bringing back their items? Also you conveniently ignored the rest of my post as well as multiple others who have said that they have claimed more than $900. There's also nothing on the customs website that mention you cannot claim more than $900, just that you have to declare them when you bring them back into Australia.

        • +22


          , do you honestly think that most Australian residents who claim from TRS are not bringing back their items?

          sure, but they kept their mouth shut at the TRS desk.

        • -1

          @Davo1111: So if the TRS officer asked them if they were bringing the item back, they would either lie or not reply?

        • +11

          @nix1016: umm yes, if you want a refund.

        • -1

          @Davo1111: But that's not true, like I said I've said yes to that question and was still able to claim, just told to declare on my way back. Also, one of the posters below who did lie and got caught was fined 3 times the GST. I think it's a pretty grey area and my parents just got unlucky with a picky officer.

        • +5


          You've answered the question.
          Yes they are getting more strict
          If you claim GST refund on an item you can't bring it back to Australia.
          If you bring it back you must repay the GST.
          Previously they've only said it in passing but since your parents say they are definitely bringing it back they are not giving the GST refund because they don't need it since they'll have to pay it on the way back.

        • I've said yes to that question before many times and I was still entitled to the refund.

          Unless they've changed the rules you ARE entitled to make a TRS claim:

          Take the item overseas and claim TRS, bring it back to AUS, declare, if necessary pay the GST with depreciation (E.g. lesser amount - If you're item is $900 and the GST is $90, coming back you might only have to pay $80 instead of $90. Saving $10).

          If you're parents are travelling together, I believe they are entitled to $1800 duty free goods.

        • @nix1016: your answer should be 'i understand that if i bring the items back to Australia i have to declare them'.

    • +10

      The TRS only refunds GST on goods that are exported." - so bringing them back in would disqualify them a being export items.

      No, they definitely are export items because they are leaving the country, it's just that when you bring it back in you may have to pay duty.

      There is nothing illegal about:

      • Claiming GST refund for any amount over $300, single spend, etc (tourists and Australians are treated alike here, and you could really be leaving it overseas)
      • Saying that you will bring it back in (even if you don't change your mind, you can forego the concession if you are over the line)

      What is illegal is:

      • Not declaring you are over the concession on re-entry

      If customs want to make sure people over the concession pay the duty, it's simple, they can make a note and check on return.

      • +4

        geenpossum is correct. Just because you are bringing them back in to Australia is not grounds for rejection. The GST should be refunded upon leaving Australia, but the goods should then be declared on the way back into Australia and GST paid. Upon re-entry depreciation is taken into consideration. For instance, when I travelled abroad for 3 months I got a TRS refund for the GST when I left Australia (and the item total exceeded $900pp). However, when I declared the goods upon re-entry the customs official calculated depreciation and it fell just within the $900pp limit and I did not have to pay GST on re-entry.

        Also bare in mind that it is a combined total if you are travelling with family; 2 travellers can bring in a total of $1800 of goods, 3 travellers $2700, etc.

        It sounds like the TRS lady was being a huge bitch. That or your parents didn't have their full name and address on the invoice. That catches a lot of people out when attempting to claim items over $1000.

        I've never had a TRS claim rejected and have claimed items exceeding $1000 multiple times, though my one from Adelaide airport took over 3 months to actually reach my back account!

  • +1

    When I claimed my iPhone 7 in November last year, I had to present the boarding passes of my parents and sister before they would approve it. They weren't happy about it, but since we were travelling as a family our allowances were pooled. If I was travelling alone I'm sure the story would've played out differently.

    • I claimed my iPhone 6 a couple of years back travelling alone and was allowed but told that I had to declare it on return. I'm not sure if I was lucky or if they've toughened the rules since then.

    • -4

      You are lucky then. I don't think your allowances are supposed to be pooled when you claim GST.

      • +4

        You can pool according to this

        • That is for getting the GST concession on the way back in, not for on the way out.

        • +6

          @geek001: nothing on there says anything about a claim limit, only that if over $1000 you need your address on the tax invoice. I could take $4000 worth of stuff out and bring back $3600 if I was traveling with my immediate family.

        • @geek001: As below, niggard is right, there is no claim allowance limit. They initially didn't approve the claim probably because they suspect that the traveler would bring it it back into Australia upon their return. So that's how in niggard's case that by pooling the allowance with his family for the way back in did they allow the claim on the way out.

        • @trex: definitely no claim allowance limit. I know of someone who has claimed a $12k engagement ring on TRS.

      • I purchased the goods and claimed them for myself.

    • +3

      That's strange. I'm pretty sure there isn't a limit LEAVING the country but rather a duty-free limit bringing it back in. However you see it, the "unethical" trick is to claim on the way out and pretend it isn't new in the way back in - ie, remove from the box, destroy the receipt.

      I claim my iPhone this Jan and the officer didn't even want to see the phone. Pre-filled the form via their online form + had a tax invoice for a good above $1000 ie buyer and sellers details as per ato requirement.
      Ps I've had friends who claimed bags >$5000 no worries. Just be prepared to show them that though - ie don't check it in.

      • +1

        Yea, I think they ask you the "Are you bringing it back in?" follow up question if you live in Australia. I think if you are actual tourists, they won't do that.

  • +1

    Point 2,you just need to say yes if I bring them I will report and pay back tax when I'm coming back to Australia.

    Point 3,yes happened to me, they need original. Lucky the officer was nice and processed. But in your case, no luck.

  • +1

    I lost $60.00 on a claim because I had sent a purchased item c/- workplace. TRS lady said that it could be claimed by the business on BAS. She said I could dispute it when I returned to Australia and submit the claim, but I never bothered. To be totally correct, it was a bug with the Seller's online purchase process that didn't allow the buyers address and delivery address to be different. I discovered this when I got the invoice, but didn't think it would be a problem as it was still purchased in my name. From what I could tell, if my home was in the buyers address, she would have accepted the claim. TBH, I will just get things delivered to home for any future TRS claims just to avoid the possible argument.

  • +2

    Officers worked in the TRS office deal with language barrier day to day, I'm sure it's a pretty frustrating experience. So they aren't exactly going to be nice to you.

    Were you parents Asian by any chance? Because the amount of condescending attitude I've seen usually directed toward Asian.

    I even claimed GST off an expensive watch, told them it was a gift. No other question asked.

    • +1

      Yeah, they are Asian but they've lived in Australia for over 25 years and can speak pretty good English. I can definitely see her behaving that way because of my parents race but there's seriously no reason to take your frustration out on all Asians just because you have to deal with a lot of non-english speaking ones.

      Anyway, I've also never had problems myself going through TRS so I'm pretty surprised my parents ran into so much issues with their claims. I'm not sure if it's due to toughened regulations or if it's just that one lady being difficult.

      • +7

        probably just that one lady being difficult.

        I've seen TRS officer behave disgracefully towards a Chinese young lady in Sydney Airport, went home after the trip and filed a complain. Got a response saying they reviewed the CCTV and can confirmed by complaint and the staff member has been "talked" to.

        Think they should put more officer with dual language on.

        • That's a good story at least. I'm sure TRS officers get away with a lot of things seeing that most of those that they mistreat don't know enough English or ever come back to Australia to complain.

          Definitely agree that they should put more dual language officers given the amount of Chinese tourists that buy things in Australia.

      • +3

        Asian here, can agree with that experience. Won't jump to any conclusions but the lady was extremely condescending and patronising to my partner and I. English is my first language and our Ielts were 8.5 and 9. We had everything prepared and tried to make things easy for her (3 items) but it felt like walking through peanut butter.

        • +5

          Funny you mention IELTS results - they are meaningless. However, from the English in your post it is obvious you speak English well. No need for meaningless scores (which can be obtained by relentless training without learning anything along the way - just memorising things).
          I think it will take at least another hundred years until that situation improves unfortunately.

        • @Lysander: I'm not jumping to conclusions because firstly I don't like to engage in this identity stuff and secondly, I'm treated impartially everywhere else. The TRS counter is one of the few places I get treated like a crime suspect (and it is possible to "guess" why from how the other travellers are treated).

          Yea I do agree IELTS is meaningless (I took mine with 1 day prep from my partner and only because she took the test before and I was the one with the lower score). However, it seems to be the go-to standard/barrier that the government and the "you-know-who party supporters" like to refer to when talking about foreigners.

          Sorry, this has turned into a rant. =) I mean, if I can jump through the hoops, at least treat me like a person who has jumped through the hoops right?

        • +1

          I'm curious, why would you need to take IELTS if English is your first?

        • +1

          @ldq: I'm not from USA, UK, Ireland, New Zealand or Canada (My country is not officially considered Anglosphere anyway).

        • @lolbbq:

          Wait Singaporeans need to take IELTS too?

        • @friedrais:

          I suppose for some visas they would need to as well.

    • +17

      so she's a bi*ch because she followed the correct procedure and you actually intended to break the rules ?

      • -14

        Nope, rules are only broken upon you re-entering the country and not declaring it. I had every opportunity to gift my camera gear when overseas, she has no right to judge me for what I can and can't do, that's why she didn't deny my claim despite some bad attitude she had towards me (was spoke to condescendingly). And yes I did gift a few of my gear to friends as they were teaching me photography.

        You can't fault someone on speculation.

        • +32

          You managed to get the camera back in, so she judged you correctly.

        • +1
          • "Nope, rules are only broken upon you re-entering the country and not declaring it."

          Sooo… you did break the rules then?

          You're complaining because she judged you because she had a notion that you were rorting the system…. and you did rort the system.

          So wtf are you complaining about exactly?

    • +7

      So you're committing tax fraud and risking a criminal conviction for doing this? You realise customs at post can talk to airport? All this really isn't worth it.

  • There may be more to this but my experience with TRS is quite simple.

    Use the TRS App or claim online and just go the counter and don't say anything. Never be friendly with anyone who works in Immigration or anyone similar.

    I claimed laptop which is >$1000 and it was ok.

    Also as with $900 and residence thingy, technically speaking, if the above story is true from the inspector's point of view, you could be in a situation where you truly bought those goods for gift which means it will never be re-exported back and the customs still denied the GST refund… which would be a procedural violation as the law is quite precise about this.

    Just because you "accidentally" said you may bring it back does not mean you would ACTUALLY be bringing back to Aus. For example, if you decided to give it away while visiting your relatives. The change of mind scenario that is. In that case, you would and should be given the full refund back because you genuinely exported the goods away from AUS but the inspector would still deny your GST. I'd say that's a technical violation of the law.

    • +1

      Never be friendly with anyone who works in Immigration or anyone similar.

      Hmm curious. Why so?

      • +2

        well they are not your friend. not saying treat them as the enemy. more like. you go about your business as you let them go about theirs.

        • Exactly what I meant.

          To be precise, make your interaction with them as quickly and as few as possible and that is achieved by using Apps or Online Claiming and when you are their desk, just say "Good Day. Here's my claim number" and then "thank you" then walk away. Answer any question with closed end answers.

  • Both happened to me few years back and I don't see any unfairness there.

    For claiming gift part, all they will do is flag your passport and mark G on your arrival card after passport control then they will escort you to separated area for through bag search to see if you bring back the goods.
    Surely it takes extra time but so does random bag screening etc. This happened to me when I claimed TRS for over $10k item so I'd say its fair.

    For reprint reject, there's regulation written somewhere and what you need to do is simply get the tax invoice without reprint marked and send it via post when you return.
    (there's instruction for this somewhere)

    • Ok, she never mentioned anything about sending the original via post on return. Simply said not claimable, stamped it as rejected and would not let my parents speak.

      As I mentioned, my parents were more peeved about her attitude than about not being able to claim if that's the protocol.

  • How often do they check your bags coming back in though? The last few times I've come back home through Sydney international I got waved through the line, I simply had to have my stuff x-rayed. Customs seemed more interested in the non-Australian passport holders.

    • I'm not sure, I think border security are more interested in catching illegal items being bought into Australia rather than a couple of hundred dollars worth of tax evasion. But my mum is likely to get checked now that they've flagged her. I'm hoping it's just this once and not every time she re-enters Australia.

      • Does she hold an Australian passport?

        • Yes

        • @nix1016: it's highly likely she'll just get waved past if there's a huge line waiting to clear customs

        • @nix1016: It really depends where she is returning from. They,ll check your incoming passenger card to see you last port of call. If you're coming back from western Europe, no hassles. Coming back from China is a different kettle of fish.

  • as far as i know, the $900 cap for products coming back to aus has been there for quite awhile, but you can always just say that it is a gift for someone oversea.

    I think some of the staff are just being a B for not letting people (esp if you are asian) claim, despite policy allows. And I really doubt that they check if you bring the stuff back upon your return - mainly just to scare people off.

    Luckily i had no problem with my most recent experience.

  • Three weeks ago I left Melbourne Airport with a $17K diamond ring and had no issues in making the TRS claim. The officer was extremely professional and courteous and the whole process did take no more than 10 minutes. He inspected the ring with a magnifying glass and considering the value I totally understand the reasons behind the thorough examination.

    • $17K would make many people courteous.

    • They COULD then flag you and search you on the way back in to see if you brought it back and therefore exceeded the $900 limit however I'm pretty sure the odds are low that would happen. But it COULD… I'm dying to know what the stats are on the number of people flagged in this way!

      • +1

        Even if they did search on the way back, how can they prove it was the exact same ring brought back?

      • if they 'flagged' someone, how would they know on return? you complete the arrival card and pick 'nothing to delcare' or declare some chocolate and get sent on your way.

  • +1

    The invoice has to be original.

    My problem is the endless queue that does not move. I gave up trying to claim $40-50 of GST.

    • Yep. I arrived at the TRS line 2 hours early (Sydney) line last time and there were probably 300 Chinese tourists crammed into that little room and the line crawled. I stuck around because had nothing else to do in the terminal, but wound up cutting the flight very close.

      • yea i try to book early flights now if possible to avoid crowds, got first flight out of Bris > Auckland (06.30 depart) last Sunday on mothers day and the TRS booth was closed, but they had the drop box to fill out forms etc, received refund within a week

  • +21

    I claimed a $3000 laptop upon departing Australia for an overseas holidays. On return I did non declare the Laptop, got searched and customs found my GST refund in their system. I had to pay three times the GST, so $900, and $200 processing fee. Not going to do that again.

    • +1

      Oh wow. Thats crazy man.

    • +4

      I think the lesson here is, if you travel with someone else, give the expensive stuff to them to carry, and exit separately!!

      • We need more tips like this.

        I used to be taught to always say "Personal Effects" on everything. Like for example if you bought a walkman and took it overseas… make sure you then make it look worn like putting labels on it or getting a case so it looks more like personal effects.

  • I had the opposite problem with how easy it was.
    I carefully packed my carry-on to make TRS claim expecting they will want to see the item.

    Went through TRS at Sydney airport and the guy just took my online submission, quick check of receipts and sent me on my way.
    I had to ask to make sure it was done and even said what you don't want to see the item… he was like nah it's fine… have a nice trip.

    • +9

      he was like nah it's fineā€¦ have a nice trip.

      And then you tripped over.

    • same. i had the item in a plastic bag ready for them to see the items im claiming trs on. all they were interested in was the prefilled form and receipt. the qr code was saved on my phone so i simply scanned my phone and handed them the receipts. five minutes later i was on my way to the boarding gate.

    • Likewise my experience.

      Maybe they will see you in a better light if you travel with spouse/kids etc (ie: not alone)

    • I've had mixed experiences. Some were where they are happy to take a quick glance at the item, other times they've wanted me to locate serial numbers on the item and confirm it matches the serial numbers on the invoice.

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