a group of people in a room with monitors

Why Are EU Tax Refund Counters So Rude To Asians?

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Hello from Brussels Airport! I’m currently sitting down with a beer at the British Airways lounge waiting for my Qatar Airways flight to Doha. And I’m not going to lie – I’m pretty mad.

Two years ago, at the tax refund counter at Munich Airport, I had a borderline traumatic experience where we were mocked and laughed at since we didn’t have our goods out. Following experiences at Zurich and Geneva we assumed we didn’t actually need to take our goods out to show customs, and that backfired on us big-time – not only were we mocked, but we also almost missed our flight, as they were deliberately trying to waste our time by making fun of our inability to read the German on our receipts.

a group of people in a room with monitors

Mentally prepared to face something similar at Brussels Airport, we had prepared everything to show the man at the counter. So instead of leaving traumatised, I was just left…ticked off.

Either way, I’m concerned about the blatant discrimination of Asian-looking people at tax refund counters.

What happened?

At Brussels Airport, worried that we’d have our time wasted and played with again, we made our way to the customs area and was surprised to find it empty. We waited in front of an empty desk for five minutes, well aware of the sign that asked us to:

  • take our passports out
  • have our receipts filled out and taken out of the envelopes
  • take our goods out

While we were waiting, we could hear laughing inside the tax refund counter, and heard a bell ring, followed by “If you ring the bell again, you wait two hours!”, followed by more laughing. Soon a bald man came out – he seemed to speak German, though I wasn’t sure.

Obviously the tax refund counter was empty so we weren’t going to lay the goods out like a buffet – though we did once he rolled his eyes and gestured at the sign next to the counter.

My dad wasn’t near the counter, so he didn’t read the signs; so when I asked him for the receipts, he gave me the receipts, in their Global Blue envelopes. While I was taking the receipts out of the envelopes, the man said, “Since you can’t read English, I’m going to ask you to take the receipts out of the envelopes.”

It’s not like we were holding up a queue – we were the only ones in the tax refund counter. And it’s not like we weren’t waiting for someone to show up in front of an empty counter for five minutes straight?

Not wanting to put up a fight like I did last time, I simply matched all of the receipts to their respective goods, and he asked if I was going to put all of the goods in our big luggage, to which I said yes. I put a bag of clothes aside in an open small bag so I could fit something else inside my bigger bag, and he said “no, you said big luggage, so you put it in big luggage.” What a bellend.

On the plus side, the process was quick, and I thanked the man after (somewhat sarcastically), to which he said “Yes”.

What ticked me off the most was when I saw the same guy smiling at the white couple that were lined up behind us.

a glass wall with a sign on it
My sister caught me angrily typing up this post that I’ll raise to the airport’s attention, in perfect English

Others’ experiences

After being ridiculed at Munich Airport, the experience I had at Brussels Airport came as no surprise. It taught me that especially if you’re of Asian descent, the next time you approach a tax refund counter, you should follow instructions with immediacy, even if it means laying goods out in front of an empty counter as if you were running a buffet.

But I’m not the only person I know who’s had a traumatic experience – it turns out that other Asian friends I know have had similar experiences. For example, our cowriter Jason got into an argument with a derogatory tax refund counter assistant at Heathrow Airport after she denied the existence of a VAT refund counter for items in hand luggage after security and insisted on processing all purchased goods.

Bottom Line

I won’t take this experience to heart, and I’ll learn from it, and will make sure everything’s out of my bags next time. I’m also thankful that the entire experience took less than 10 minutes, even though I’m insulted by what the guy said. After all, English is my first language, and the only language I’m fluent in – unfortunately, I speak common sense too, so there was a bit of a language barrier there.

However, something needs to be done about ill-treatment of Asians by tax refund counter members in the EU. This isn’t the first time I’ve been looked down upon by someone at the tax refund counter, and I know it won’t be the last. That being said, if something can be done about it, it needs to happen.


  1. I totally understand how you feel – it’s these people exercising their “power” over you and making you feel beneath them, and it’s just not what normal ordinary decent human beings should do. I also hate having to do VAT refunds – all the time and hassle for not a lot (after their deduction of admin fees). So unless I really have bought a lot on a single receipt, I don’t bother (the admin fees are charged per refund, and as a percentage of the refund amount, only become bearable if you have spent quite a bit). I figure that the amount I get refunded isn’t worth losing my sanity over. Hope you feel better soon.

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