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Speech By Mrs Josephine Teo, Minister of State For Finance and Transport At The Launch Of The Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme

09 Nov 2011

Mr Moses Lee, Commissioner of Inland Revenue,

Mr Per Setterberg, President & CEO of Global Blue

Ladies and Gentlemen,

1      I am pleased to join you here this afternoon for the official launch of the worl's first Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme.

2      Tourists to Singapore may get GST refunds on their purchases when they exit the country. Last year, Singapore hosted 11.6 million tourists who spent a record of $18.8 billion. A total of $175 million in tourist GST refunds were claimed for about $2.5 billion worth of goods bought in Singapore. In other words, there are several hundred thousands of refund transactions each year. It goes without saying that a convenient GST refund process will benefit many tourists and retailers. The Electronic Tourist Refund Scheme, or eTRS, in short, aims to do just that, providing a best-in-class GST refund experience for tourists who visit Singapore.

Hassle-free and efficient GST refund for Tourists

3      How does it work? First, we need to understand the paper-based GST refund system, which was introduced when GST started in 1994. With this system, at each retailer, the tourist would be confronted by different types of GST refund application forms. The tourist would have to take time to fill up these forms. Before leaving Singapore, the tourist had to do several things – submit the forms to Singapore Customs at the airport, get the forms stamped, and queue at different counters to claim the cash refund.

4      The eTRS automates all these processes. The receipts are simply scanned, the purchase details at the point-of-sale are captured electronically, and tagged to the credit card of the tourist. When they get to the airport, there's no need for further form-filling and long queues. All that will be needed will be a quick swipe of one's passport and credit card at the eTRS kiosks to retrieve records of the purchases, followed by a few keystrokes to instruct the system to pay the GST refund into a specific credit card account.

5      With the eTRS, the time taken to complete the refund claim process is reduced by at least 80 percent! It used to take about 20 minutes with the manual form-filling system, and an unknown period of time for queuing, depending on how many people are claiming refunds... but will now take only about 3 minutes with the electronic system.

6      Furthermore, tourists may also choose to claim their refunds in cash at the Central Refund Counter at the Departure Transit Lounge after scanning their receipts, which will only take an additional 2 minutes. Tourists will have more cash, and more time to do more duty-free shopping!

A Pro-Enterprise Scheme

7      eTRS enhances the tourism experience. The consistency in the refund process also makes it easier for tourists to understand how to make their GST claims. Retailers can now operate on a single, consolidated system. It means that retail staff no longer need to handle tedious paper-based forms, and can better focus on attending to customers and improving service.

8      We have started eTRS for some time now. Between May and October this year, more than 147,000 claims totaling $11.2 million in GST refunds have already been made by tourists via the eTRS, even before its official launch today.

A Boost to Singapore's Tourism Industry and Economy

9      As the world's first GST refund system that connects multiple Central Refund Agencies and retailers on a single platform, the eTRS enhances Singapore's positioning as a premier tourist destination. The scheme is a major milestone in IRAS' continual drive to foster a competitive tax environment that encourages enterprise and supports economic growth. Tax authorities are not usually known for facilitating refunds. I commend IRAS for bringing to fruition its bold vision of a world-class tourist refund system in Singapore, and for contributing to the success of the business community by facilitating tourist refund in an innovative manner. The eTRS has been made possible through the strategic partnership between IRAS and Global Blue.

10      I would also like to thank the 1,400 retailers who have come on board the eTRS as of October 31 this year. IRAS aims for all the remaining 2,100 retailers who are currently still operating on the paper-based Tourist Refund Scheme to come on board the eTRS by August next year.

11      IRAS will need the support of industry partners and retailers to achieve this ambitious target. I hope to see more of our local retailers taking part in eTRS early, and reaping the benefits of eTRS.

12      Thank you.