What is the difference between VAT recovery, VAT reclaim and VAT refund?

When it comes to Value-Added Tax (VAT), the terminology can often be confusing. Terms like “VAT Recovery,” “VAT Reclaim,” and “VAT Refund” are frequently used interchangeably, leading to misunderstandings. This blog post aims to clear up any misconceptions by breaking down the distinct meanings and usages of these terms.

What is the Difference Between VAT Recovery, VAT Reclaim, and VAT Refund?

The three terms refer to three different things. VAT recovery refers to the overall process, from start to finish. VAT reclaim refers to the actual process of requesting a claim from the tax authority. And finally, VAT refund refers to the funds that are being received back from the relevant tax authority.

VAT Recovery: The Broad Overview

Definition of VAT Recovery

“VAT Recovery” is a broad term that describes the entire process of recouping VAT that has been paid on goods, services, or imports. This term is not limited to any specific type of transaction or payer, and can apply to both domestic and international dealings. It covers a variety of payment mechanisms, including but not limited to, direct refunds, tax credits, and offsetting future tax liabilities.


An image of dollar notes... VAT Recovery, VAT Reclaim and VAT Refund are different aspects of the same overall idea.

In a business context, “VAT Recovery” often refers to a company’s systematic efforts to reclaim VAT on a range of business-related expenses, such as raw materials, overheads, and even some types of services. For individuals, it may refer to the process of getting back VAT paid on personal purchases, especially when travelling abroad.


A company might say it is “engaged in VAT recovery” to describe its ongoing efforts to reclaim VAT on business expenses.

VAT Reclaim: The Procedural Aspect

Definition of VAT Reclaim

“VAT Reclaim” specifically refers to the actual process of applying to the tax authorities to get back the VAT that has been paid. “VAT Reclaim” zeroes in on the formal, administrative process of applying to tax authorities for the return of paid VAT.

This involves a series of steps, including the gathering of relevant invoices and receipts, filling out specific forms, and sometimes even undergoing audits or inspections to validate the claim.


VAT Reclaim is often used when discussing the paperwork and administrative steps involved in getting a VAT refund. It’s more procedural and is commonly used in the context of business travel, trade shows, or large-scale projects and expenses.


A small business owner attending a trade show in another country may need to carefully collect all relevant invoices and fill out specialised VAT Reclaim forms within a stipulated time frame to successfully recover the VAT paid.

VAT Refund: The Actual Return

Definition of VAT Refund

“VAT Refund” is the actual return of the VAT amount to the payer, whether it’s a business or an individual. “VAT Refund” refers to the actual financial return of the VAT amount to the payer.

This is the natural end of the VAT Recovery and Reclaim processes, and is the stage where the money is either transferred back to the payer’s account, or offset against future tax liabilities.


The term VAT Refund is most commonly heard in the retail and tourism sectors, where immediate refunds at the point of exit are often possible. However, it’s also applicable in business settings where a successful VAT Reclaim process results in financial reimbursement. It refers to the actual money returned to the individual or business after a successful reclaim process.


In some countries, a tourist may receive approval of the VAT Refund at the airport through a desk or a quick automated kiosk. However, in other countries, it could take a few days or weeks and even months for the refund to be processed. It varies.

Meanwhile, a business may receive the refund as a bank transfer several weeks to months after submitting a successful VAT Reclaim application.


To sum it up:

  • VAT Recovery: A comprehensive term that covers the entire spectrum of mechanisms and processes aimed at recouping paid VAT.
  • VAT Reclaim: Focuses on the administrative and procedural steps required to successfully recover VAT.
  • VAT Refund: The final stage where the actual financial return of the VAT amount occurs… The actual money returned. A term more commonly used in the context of retail and tourism, but that applies to businesses too.


Understanding the nuances between VAT Recovery, VAT Reclaim, and VAT Refund can be a game-changer for both individuals and businesses. It’s essential to know these terms to navigate the complex landscape of VAT effectively.

At Coromandel SAS, we specialise in recovering VAT from overseas trips for corporates that frequently send employees abroad for business activities. Our expertise lies in navigating the intricate procedures and requirements to maximise your VAT recovery.

If your organisation often engages in international business travel and you’re looking to optimise your VAT reclaim process, we invite you to get in touch with us.

Let us help you turn the complexities of VAT into opportunities for financial savings.


Image Credit: Alexander Grey & Giammarco Boscaro.