I couldn’t get a customs stamp — is a refund out of the question?

A stamp for you. / Photo by Sarah Parrott – Flickr Creative Commons

Note: You’ve probably noticed two things about today’s post. 1) It wasn’t available this morning; and 2) We’re back to Disqus 2012. The two are not related. We had server problems this morning. Disqus removed the ability to view comments on mobile from the “old” version, so we were forced to upgrade. (I am very unhappy with Disqus, but feel I have no choice.)

What’s an immigration stamp worth? If you said $61.55, you must know Nancy Bestor. She’s been fighting with her credit card over a tax refund after a recent trip to Italy, and she wants me to help.

I’m not sure if I can, and since this is the day on which we take a completely unvetted case and decide whether it should be mediated — I like to call it “Can this trip be saved?” — I’m asking you, dear readers, for help.

Bestor’s problem is interesting on several levels, because it involves immigration, a credit card and a third party that, taken together, make this one of the most difficult kinds of cases to mediate. You’ll see why in a second.

First, I’ll let Bestor explain her problem. When vacationing in Italy this past summer, she bought five scarves that qualified her to receive a refund for the tax that she paid the retailer.

She decided to make a claim through Global Blue, a third-party service that helps travelers process refund.

We walked to the Global Blue office and received our refund in cash, as well as the paperwork and contract (which we signed) that stated we had to show “proof” of leaving the country.

In other words, we had to prove we were not living in Italy, as this tax refund is specifically designed for tourists.

Bestor told a Global Blue representative that she would be leaving by train during the next two days. She was told that she needed to have the tax exempt documents stamped by the customs agent on board our train, when she left Italy.

Related story:   Is this enough compensation? Orbitz splits the difference on departure tax

“Once we had the documents stamped, we were to mail them in a postage paid envelope, back to Global Blue,” she says.

That’s when things headed south.

We left Italy as planned. When the ticket agent came around to check our tickets, we told him we needed to get our tax exempt document stamped by the customs agent, to prove we had left the country.

The ticket agent chuckled, and told us there was not a customs agent on the train, saying “sometimes there is an agent on the train, sometimes there is not.”

We asked him how to proceed. He told us to simply send our train ticket that showed us going from Italy to Switzerland along with the tax exempt document, and write a letter accompanying it that said there was no customs agent on our train.

Global Blue then appears to have charged her $61.55, effectively reversing her refund.

Bestor disputed the charge, but her credit card company sided with Global Blue.

Global Blue is crystal-clear about its rules: “Remember: Incomplete Tax Free Form = No refund.”

Still, a Global Blue rep told Bestor to get the stamp on the train, and none was available. That’s gotta count for something, right?

Bestor thinks her credit card should help.

“I believe Capital One should stand behind me in this matter, because there was nothing I could possibly do to obtain a customs stamp upon leaving Italy,” she told me.

And if it doesn’t, then she asked if I would advocate for her.

I mulled this case for a few days. One immediate problem, from my point of view, is that this is that this case originated in Italy. It’s extremely difficult to mediate a conflict with an international company, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they don’t know who I am or who National Geographic Traveler is.

Related story:   Charge this: 7 tips for a successful credit card dispute

The other issue is the credit card dispute. I wasn’t sure Capital One could help, since the Fair Credit Billing Act gives it a broad license to ignore purchases made overseas.

And then, a breakthrough:

Capital One has agreed to take off half the charges, in the amount of 27 euros, which was the portion of the $61.55 that was the tax refund.

The other amount, 22.82 euros, was Global Blue’s “debiting fee”. Capital One says they will not take that portion off. I figure half a credit is better than nothing.

That’s good news, and when I followed up with Bestor, she said Capital One had assured her this was a permanent credit.

Should I pursue Global Blue for the rest? Something tells me it won’t do anything. After all, it’s based in Sweden and the last time I checked, there was no Swedish edition of my site.

Still, I’m not opposed to trying. It is, as Bestor notes, not the money, but the principle. Should Global Blue have to take responsibility for giving her bad advice?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

%d bloggers like this:
Get smart. Sign up for the newsletter.