You are worried about UK supermarket shelves closing in pre-Christmas madness. Why not make a quick trip to Calais for some superior plonk and presents for your family?

British customers have had the opportunity to take advantage of the single undisputed benefit of leaving EU. They can claim tax credit of up to 20% on all personal purchases made in France since January. 

To see the new tax-back system, I crossed La Manche. I made sure to keep within the post-Brexit duties-free allowances (see Box).

Thomas W Hodgkinson takes the Eurotunnel from Kent to Calais to 'stock up on superior plonk'

Thomas W. Hodgkinson rides the Eurotunnel between Kent and Calais, to “stock up on superior loonk” 


It’s easy to do the first. I take the Le Shuttle to Folkestone (Kent) and drive there. About half an hour later, my exit from Eurotunnel is in Calais. Then, it’s on to Cite Europe, a sprawling mall of more than 120 shops three miles west of the city, and dive into the cathedral-sized Carrefour hypermarket.


My decision to start with France’s biggest supermarket chain is not random. Until the end of November, they have a deal going with Eurotunnel, which gives you an £8.56 (€10) Carrefour gift card back for every €100 you spend.

My trolley bulging with cases of wine and many small bottles of Stella Artois — all on special offer, bien sur — I arrive at the till and deliver the phrase I have rehearsed: ‘Je voudrais le détaxe s’il vous plait’ (‘I would like the tax back please’).

A table shows the savings to be made. 'When I compare what I have shelled out with the cost of the same things in the UK — then factor in my 11 per cent VAT saving and what I’ve saved with Carrefour gift cards — I still feel quids in,' Thomas reveals

Below is a table that shows you the potential savings. ‘When I compare what I have shelled out with the cost of the same things in the UK — then factor in my 11 per cent VAT saving and what I’ve saved with Carrefour gift cards — I still feel quids in,’ Thomas reveals


The young lady in front of the cash register looks blank. It’s my horrible accent. It is my terrible accent again. She also doesn’t know of any Eurotunnel special deals.

I insist on my point. Finally, she calls me and admits that I might be correct.


Having paid full price for my trolley-load, I make straight for the Accueil et Services counter and spend ten minutes filling out a détaxe form for reclaiming the VAT. After I have filled out the detaxe form, I get my Carrefour gift certificate and wave it.

'My car clinking with bottles, I drive back to England,' says Thomas. Pictured is the UK Border Control checkpoint at the Eurotunnel terminal in Calais (file photo)

Thomas says, “My car is clinking with bottles. I drive back home to England.” Photo of the UK Border Control Checkpoint at Calais’ Eurotunnel Terminal in Calais. (file photo).



  • Check the shop offers ‘détaxe’. Some don’t. Be certain to inquire about when you enter.
  • You must spend over £85 (€100) or you won’t qualify for détaxe.
  • Not cash, but by debit or credit card. Within five working days, the VAT will be credited to your account.
  • At check-out, request détaxe and fill in the form. You’ll need your passport.
  • You must keep your détaxe forms and validate them at the special machines at customs before heading home.
  • Similar savings are possible across the EU, but countries’ systems differ.


  • 18 Liters of wine in 24 x 75cl bottles
  • 42 litres beer (168 x 25cl bottles).
  • 9 litres Champagne.
  • 200 cigarettes.
  • £390-worth of other goods.

NOTE:You should not be afraid of having to pay duty. Britons cannot take back unlimited amounts of EU goods for personal usage. Go to


Next, it’s time to explore further afield. All this year I’ve been looking for a new coat, to no avail.

Jules has the perfect shop: A sleek, double-layered funnel-neck peacoat. At the counter, I request the tax refund. The charming manager informs me it is not the first time this has been requested. My happiness is unlimited. I’m a retail pioneer.


The waiting is dismay. My car clinking with bottles, I drive back to England, not forgetting to validate my détaxe forms at a machine at customs — a simple process that takes about a minute. 

Then, five days later, the VAT appears in my account — yet it’s only 11 per cent of my total spend, not the 20 per cent I anticipated.


France has a standard rate of VAT at 20%. It is 5.5% for food and drink and 10% for pharmacy goods. Other products are subject to a 2.1% surcharge. 

You might have several percentages, depending on the items you bought.

Second, the maximum of 20 per cent applies to ‘vat-excluded’ prices — which in effect works out at 16.67 per cent. So, for example, a €100 item comes to €120 when standard VAT is added. 

When this extra €20 is divided by €120, it comes to 16.67 per cent. 

Yes, this is complicated — and there is also a percentage charge for the middlemen. My savings were only 11 percent.


Absolutely. When I compare what I have shelled out with the cost of the same things in the UK — then factor in my 11 per cent VAT saving and what I’ve saved with Carrefour gift cards — I still feel quids in.

  • Eurotunnel day-trip car returns from £62 ( More information at ‘UK residents are now eligible for tax-free shopping in France’ at and at ‘Eligibility for VAT refunds’ at