A train ride to the beautiful lake town of Konstanz is a popular getaway for many Swiss and expats who reside near the German border.
In the spirit of Christmas, I decided to mingle with Swiss shoppers to find out why shopping tourism is so popular. At this time of year, Konstanz sparkles with lights, and shop windows are decorated with tempting offers.
The old town offers picturesque alleys, cozy coffee houses and boutiques. A favorite for hot chocolate is Das Vogelhaus on Wessenbergstrasse. The promenade along Lake Constance is usually packed with Swiss people who like to combine shopping and tourism (in short: "shopping tourism").
Right next to the train station is the Lago mall. Many eager shoppers head straight to the more than 50 shops. Christmas trees and other decorations give the mall a festive touch. Leading up to the holidays, activities such as cookie baking keep kids (and adults) engaged.
“So why shop across the border?” I ask one of the many enthusiastic shoppers at the Lago mall. "When it comes to variety, Konstanz offers a lot more than Switzerland. It is a nice outing on weekends, - especially during Christmas when I have to buy a lot of gifts for family and friends. And the best part is, of course, the VAT refund."
VAT Refunds with Global Blue
Global Blue, the company specializing in tax-free shopping, plays a crucial role as the conduit between retailers and consumers. Renowned for refunding the VAT to cross-border shoppers, the ease of the transaction makes the procedure a lot less cumbersome.
Any Swiss resident is considered a tourist here in Konstanz, making them eligible for a VAT refund (up to 19% in Germany).
After a long day of shopping, I headed back to the train station with several tax refund forms. Fortunately, the customs office (Zoll) is inside the railway station. (For people with cars, there is a customs office at main border crossings where forms can get stamped. And remember, no stamp, no refund!)
While waiting in the long queue at customs, I ask a lady who lives in the canton of Zürich about her experience with Global Blue. "Konstanz is my default go-to place for Christmas shopping. My husband and I have a habit of gifting presents during the holiday season. In a way, the tax refund helps us not to worry too much about expenses. We can usually buy all the desired gifts.”
As for the tax refund: "Once I stamp the papers and drop the forms in the mail, I get my refund deposited in my account within a week. With the ease of refunding, we got for occasional mall shopping in Konstanz."
On my way out of customs, I once again spot the decorative lights above the streets. More people are joining the line to get their forms stamped. I ask a gentleman who looks quite pleased despite his hands being full with shopping bags. He is from the canton of Schwyz and has been shopping at Konstanz for three years.
In the past, he never bothered to go through the refund process: "I thought it was time consuming. But my colleagues kept insisting to give the refund process a try. So two weeks ago, I filled out the tax refund forms for the first time. I didn't realize how smooth a process it would be. The tax refund form is all but complicated, and the customs office at the train station is very efficient. I took the stamped forms to the Global Blue refund point at the train station and received my refund instantly."
Fitting the profile of a Swiss shopping tourist, the man lets me in on a trick: "I have opted for the refund to be deposited to my credit card as I am not sure when I will be back in Konstanz."
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(This article was supported by Global Blue)