For those of you who is planning (or have friends who are planning) a shopping trip to Europe, here are our favourite tips and tricks:
- What to buy 1: If your main purpose is to save money, most European brands are roughly 10% cheaper in Europe (including UK) than Hong Kong after VAT refund. Of course, you would then have to decide whether it's worth the trouble. For example, a pack of Nespresso Fortisso Lungo capsules costs HK$55 in Hong Kong, versus £3 (approx. HK$39) in the UK - but you need to drink quite a lot of coffee to save a substantial monetary amount. That also explains why most people go for the super luxurious items (e.g. Chanel and Hermes bags).
- What to buy 2: Surprisingly, even today, there are still a lot of things you cannot buy in Hong Kong. These include some of the clothes and accessories we mention on this website (which you can buy online), as well as skincare and cosmetics products (not all of which offer international shipping for regulatory reasons). This time, Miss Curator has gone a bit crazy on hair products. [Tip: Boots has a huge hair section with lots of amazing products not available in Hong Kong. Also, note that some brands (e.g. Schwarzkopf) manufacture their Hong Kong products in China or other South East Asian countries, rather than their European origin.]
- UK vs Continental Europe: Depending on the exchange rates, the UK is currently marginally cheaper than continental Europe (e.g. Italy and France).
- Heathrow VAT refund: There is ALWAYS a long queue for VAT refund at Heathrow Airport, and the minimum waiting time is usually 30 minutes. If your timing is tight, check that your terminal has a VAT refund counter after immigration and pack your new purchases in your hand-carry luggage. Most tourists go for the "pre-check in" queue, which is a lot longer than the "post-immigration" queue. So if it becomes obvious that there is no way you could make the "pre-check in" queue (which could literally go for 2 hours), simply grab your hand-carry luggage and pray that you could get your refund after immigration.
- VAT refund (cash vs credit/debit card): Travelex charges a steep administration fee for every VAT refund form. So if you don't mind waiting 4-6 weeks and taking up some FX risks, the credit/debit card option would give you a bigger refund.
- Duty free shopping: Finally, if you have a bit of extra time after immigration, have a wander around the shops inside Heathrow Airport. Being spoiled by zero VAT in Hong Kong, duty free shopping never means anything to Hong Kongers like us. But it does mean a lot in countries where VAT is as high as 20%!