Japan's Expanded "Tax Free" system for tourists
Tourists to Japan can take advantage of tax free shopping at over 5,000 shops in Japan.
If you are coming to Japan on a tourist visa (or if the stamp in your passport says "temporary visitor") and in Japan less than six months, you can take advantage of Japan’s tax free system. Save 8% on Everything from electronics, alcohol, clothes, and more. Just for tourists.
Currently, Japan has over 5,800 "export sales" stores (tax free shops) with most being located in the larger cities; however, the government is looking to expand the number to 10,000 with a push on regional areas to increase the sales of local specialty goods.
From Oct 1, the tax-free system will be expanded from general goods such as home electrical appliances, clothing (kimonos) and handbags to include ALL ITEMS such as consumables including groceries, beverages (sake, alcohol), medicine, cosmetics, etc.
The monetary range for consumables falls between 5,001 yen and 500,000 yen purchased on the same day in the same store for one non-resident. So if you are buying things with the family, pool all the receipts together.
What is difference between “tax free” and “duty free”？
Being from the United States, I only knew of “duty free” and was confused. While they are both designed for travelers to remove various taxes on goods to be taken out of the country, Duty Free takes away the custom (boarder) taxes while Tax Free just takes away the sales tax.
If you are going to be buying luxury or famous brand tobacco, alcohol or cosmetics, you’re best off buying them at the airport’s duty free section, but the Tax Free shopping is more wide ranging and many department stores and shops will offer this service which essentially saves you 8%. This isn’t a refund that you have to apply for, they don’t charge you the tax at the point of purchase or refunds it onsite at the store (some stores just make one section to refund the money as having all staff know about this and speak different languages is just too much ).
The stores should have a large sticker saying “Tax Free Shop” in the window and will probably be a more major store (procedures for stores to get this status is difficult and smaller shops usually can’t qualify for all the regulations).
What happens you buy “Tax Free”
The shop will put the goods in a sealed clear plastic bag with two stickers on it. One is the contents of the bag and the other is a “seiyakusho” which is basically something that you sign saying that you are taking the goods out of Japan. They will staple a document to your passport listing up the contents. This is to keep things as honest as possible and to prevent you from using tax free shopping for your consumables while in Japan.