Tax refund scam in Seoul – “the world’s best airport”
3rd July 2013. Seoul Incheon International Airport waves flags stating to be the world’s best airport. I have seen those claims before. In various other countries when entering airports.
The term world’s best airport does not actually mean that it is THE world’s best airport but one of a list of 25 best airports, ranked according to a study by SkyTrax. Which should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Seoul’s airport is new and modern and if you travel by day, it may offer you all travel comforts. If you travel by night, you will be lucky to find something to drink.
At 10 pm all duty free shops, restaurants and food courts close down. All cafés, places like Starbucks and convenience stores (if there are any in the first place). No stands with snacks or food. Despite flights running all night.
Our flight was at 11 pm with an unplanned (aren’t they all) delay of two hours. We just made it into a closing food court to grab a drink at 10 pm and got acquainted with the idea that we would have to order food on the airplane. We ended up paying for an on board meal in Euro to get back Singapore dollars (useless currency, while going to Taiwan).
Sign at the food court. Delisky (?) and Korean bulgogi (grilled beef) are till 11 pm.
Let me tell you about the tax free service at Seoul’s airport.
We had tax free receipts we thought we would cash in just like at any other airport in any other country where tax free shopping is possible. We were planning to spend the money for food at the airport.
The brochure you get at the airport states the tax refund system is easy and done in three steps. The tax refund info-booklet is sort of extensive, a sign that this was anything but going to be easy.
The first challenge is to find the tax refund place at the airport. Unlike at any other airport there were no signs to find the way on our own.
An incredibly annoyed airport info-counter employee carelessly marked the way to the tax refund on the brochure. It wasn’t her first time that day, I guess.
Seoul’s agenda on the tax refund is to make it as discouraging as possible.
This is the seven step tax refund system at Seoul’s airport:
Number seven says ‘receive the money’. But this wasn’t going to happen for us.
The tax refund procedures:
1. Check in at your airline’s check in counter but do not check in your bags. Is that weird?! You check in but then you pull off your bags from the luggage belt again to walk to…
2. …the tax refund goods control place. Which is where you are going to show your tax free goods and get your receipts stamped.
3. Now you can check in your luggage at another check in counter (next to the goods inspection place).
4. Walk to the tax refund place to get you money or to find the counter closed.
10 pm. Tax refund does not operate at this hour.
When we first saw the lady behind the counter (about 9:50 pm) she was already closing down, telling us to post our receipts through the plastic box. We were to write down our home address (we don’t have one!), alternatively write down our credit card details.
We were confused.
“When and how are we going to get the tax refund?”
“It is going to be transferred to your credit card or sent to you via mail.”
“You mean won bills and coins are going to be sent in an envelope?”
I was wondering about the value of Korean Won in my home country and the legal implications involved when sending currency via regular mail.
The next puzzled customer being told off while Tomek was working the forms and receipts.
Writing down personal details on the receipts and filling out the tax refund form.
I cannot imagine going through that process correctly if on your own. There is no way to know what to do if the counter closes. Their system is complicated and impossible to follow, if you don’t have anyone to ask for procedures.
There are two counters. Two different companies operate the tax refund system at the airport. You gotta know which one to go to, how to fill out the forms and which plastic container to use for your receipts. (Check on your bills, it should say which company is the right one.)
What a well organised mess!
A group of confused girls were next, approaching us, as the counters were already closed. Despite spending some time at the tax refund boxes, they did not know what to do with their receipts.
The tiny stickers on the plastic boxes really do not do justice. I can see most people just throwing their receipts into the box without having left their details on the receipts, or simply throwing them away not knowing what to do with the refund forms…
Well done best airport in the world. Saving South Korea some tax money.
These are our tax free refund bills. I do not know if any additional fees for the airport’s tax refund service apply. Let’s see, if the money really gets home one day.
Because so far (it is the 25th July today), we have not received a won.
Update: today, 05 Nov 2013, we’ve contacted Global Blue regarding our tax refund status. What’s worrying, is that their refund tracker page does not even recognize our “DOC ID” (identification number stated on the refund form). Global Blue was supposed to handle one receipt from us.
We’ve also tried to contact the other company, Global Tax Free. This company was supposed to handle two receipts from us. Their Contact Us page only lists the offices in Seoul and Busan – there is no email address or online contact form which we could use. Their Customer Service page just says “no data was entered”. In the end, we’ve sent an email to email@example.com.
Update 2 (25 Nov 2013): after exchanging a few emails with Global Blue, we’ve finally received the refund. We also received a refund from Global Tax Free – yay!