There may be no more confusing and changeable aspect of international meetings, conventions, and trade shows than the sticky wicket of value-added tax. You must pay the taxes, but you often have the ability to get your money back. Of course, there’s a process involved. And because this is a process you are likely to undertake once or twice a year (or even less), it’s probably not something you’ll be completely up-to-date on when it comes time for you to do it. Even experienced international meeting planners leave this job to the experts.

We contacted one of those experts, Nancy Eide, principal, CEI VAT Reclaim, for a quick primer on VAT and meetings.

Beyond Borders: What is VAT?
Nancy Eide:Value-Added Tax, or VAT, is a tax charged on most goods and services purchased for your business, especially in the countries of Europe. It can be as high as 25 percent. The Goods and Services Tax, or GST, is charged in Australia and Canada. These rates also can be very high and are charged on most goods and services you buy.

BB: Is it really worth the hassle to try to reclaim VAT paid during an overseas meeting or event?
NE: Would you bother to bend over to pick up a $5 bill in a parking lot? With double-digit VAT rates in most of Europe, it’s like throwing money away—a substantial amount in most cases. In exchange for completing a few documents, you get a refund.

BB: In your experience, has the VAT level ever influenced a planner’s site-selection decision?
NE: Yes.

BB: How can a meeting planner know if the VAT paid by her group is eligible for reclaim?
NE: Qualifying business activities that may permit your business to reclaim tax outside the United States include: corporate meetings, board meetings, motivational meetings, trade shows and exhibitions (attending or exhibiting), sales trips, plant visits, product launches, training meetings, or seminars.

BB: What is the cost to use a company like CEI to help with VAT reclaim?
NE: Our fee is 25 percent of the amount refunded. We take our fee from the proceeds so there are no up-front costs to the client and no costs if the claim is unsuccessful.

BB: How far in advance should a planner contact you?
NE: Planners should contact us as soon as possible. Because of invoice requirements, we should be consulted before supplier contracts are finalized. Third-party meeting companies bidding for a piece of business should contact us in time to include the information in their bid. If they need to counsel clients on destinations, they can contact us then.

Nancy Eide is principal with CEI VAT Reclaim in Omaha, Neb. Founded in 1989, CEI specializes in corporate VAT/GST reclaim, with offices in the United States, Europe, Australia, and India.