I was at Milan/Madrid last year, and well, I had to buy some good quality leather products while I was at THE country that makes good quality leather products, ya? And these things don’t come cheap, so I also made sure I read up on the tax refund procedures prior to my trip.
Unfortunately, the information was scarce on internet. Even on the official website of Milan Malpensa Airport (which was my last point of departure from the Schengen region), the instruction was vague. It was as if the authorities didn’t want tourists to get their tax refunds… *cue conspiracy theory sinister music*
Can I Get Tax Refunds?
First things first, as with all tax refunds, there are criteria you must meet before you can even think of starting the refund process. You must first be a non-EU citizen. Then, if you are travelling around the EU countries (like I did, between Spain and Italy), you can only claim your refund at the last point before you leave the EU (a.k.a Schengen region).
The exception is if, eg. You are taking SQ377 (BCN-MXP-SIN) that leaves Barcelona and transits through Milan, such that even though Milan is your last point of departure from the EU, but you effectively left the region at Barcelona (because at Milan, you won’t be picking up your bags and doing re-check-in), then you have to process your tax refund at Barcelona.
For me, I arrived from Madrid via Air Europa, a budget airline that does not connect to my onward SQ flight at all. Therefore, I had to “check out”, pick up my bags, then check in again, thereby making Milan my last point of departure.
Lastly, your purchases must be over €158 from shops that provide tax refunds. Do note that different EU countries have different spend amount; in Spain, the minimum spend is €90.16. However, as in my case, as I was claiming tax refund in Italy, I had to meet Italy’s minimum spend requirement, instead of Spain’s, where I bought my stuff.
How Do I Do It?
If you search on its official website, Milan Malpensa Airport does not seem to want you to get your tax refund. There was no accompanying map indicating the location, neither did they mention if you are to check in your bags before or after you got your tax refunds.
If you proceed to look at the terminal map (link HERE), you will realise that the description on the tax refund page was not helpful at all in finding the tax refund counter!
If you scrutinise the maps (for Level 1 and Level 2), you will get very confused; the check in counters are at Level 1, but they said to proceed to the tax refund counter at Level 2 check-in counter. But… didn’t you just check in at Level 1?
An Overview of the Process
So, here’s my walk-through, which I hope can clarify everybody’s doubts.
- Check in and get your boarding pass at Level 1
- Clear the centralised security screening
- After security screening, look for the customs counter. i.e. Do NOT go through the passport control
- Clear the customs
- Process your tax refund
- Go through passport control
- Board your plane
1. Check in and get your boarding pass at Level 1
At this point, just check in your goods, especially if they are bulky. The tax refund staff did not even look at the stuff I bought. And, as you will realise later, there is no avenue for you to check in your luggage after the tax refund.
2. Clear the centralised security screening
The security screening area is located at the centre of the terminal, with its entrance facing the apron. i.e. you have to go round to the back of the terminal to enter the bag screening area. Leave 15 minutes to clear the queues and checks.
3. After security screening, look for the customs counter. i.e. Do NOT go through the passport control.
After you clear the security screening, you will go up an escalator. Facing the apron, you turn right (towards the European Domestic boarding gates). It will be a long walk, but unlike the tax refund counters, the customs counter is more visible. Hand in your receipts and passport and remember, SMILE and be polite!
The customs officer was very friendly and expeditious. But then again, there was no queue at the counter, so I might be just plain lucky!
4. Process your tax refund.
To get your tax refund, you have to back-track from the customs office, though the customs office and tax refund counter are not far apart.
The tax refund counter is NOT off a publicly-visible area. You have to look out for the sign very carefully. Once you find the sign, you turn into the corridor (much like if you were to go to one of the back-end offices in an airport). After about a 10m walk, you enter an open space where you can see the counters of various tax refund companies before you. The counters are set out like the bank tellers of the 80s, so it won’t be hard to miss.
It was here that my luck ran out. I had to get my tax refunds from both Global Blue and Premier Tax. I chose the queue of one and by the time I went for the other (I forgot which company it was), the staff was missing. She only appeared after 15 minutes, and without saying a word of sorry, she very slowly processed my tax refunds. Because of her, my actual process of tax refund took more than half an hour!
Therefore, always leave at least 30 minutes for this segment of tax refund; you never know if you would be held up by the queue or a very sloppy staff.
5. Go through passport control
The passport control itself is another time-killer. Leave 15 minutes to clear passport control.
6. Board your plane
Be very sure of how far your gate is from passport control. I was taking the SQ flight (then SQ367) back to Singapore, and the gate was right at the end of the terminal; the signs indicated that it would be a 15-min walk, but as I was running short of time, I rushed through the terminal and reached in about 5 minutes. Do take note of this unless you plan on missing your flight!
As you can see from my description above, the torture of tax refund in Milan Malpensa Airport is a big mixture of various reasons, ranging from ambiguous instructions, obscure placement of counters, staff that goes MIA and plenty of walking and queuing up to do. My whole process of checking-in to boarding of plane took about 1.5 hours; I was transiting from a budget domestic flight, and boy was I glad I gave myself 3 hours of transit time!
Therefore, if you are transiting through Milan Malpensa Airport (on the pretext that it will be your last point of departure as I mentioned above), make sure you leave at least 3 hours for transit time, which will also factor in delays and waiting time to pick up your check in bags.
If you are leaving Milan directly, leave at least 2 hours between check in and boarding.
On a last note, I observed that Italians/Spaniards start queuing up to board the planes 20 minutes before the gates were opened, and they bring plenty of carry-ons. Unless you are travelling on First/Business class, you may want to factor this in, so that you reach the gate in time to start queuing!
Bonus! Make Time To Explore The Airport!
Although I said to allocate 2 hours for tax refund before boarding, it doesn’t mean you can’t spend more time at Milan Malpensa Airport!
First, it is a small airport/terminal building, so the departure check-in area looks out to the apron. During my transit (SIN-MXP-BCN), I had to spend about 5 hours in the airport (well, I wanted to make sure I had sufficient time to clear customs in a place I know nuts about the language and culture…), and I got to sit by the window and watch the sunrise across the runway!
That being said, this is a very good place for casual planespotting. There is a variety of planes, from B777 to A320, decked out in livery that are very much different from what we can see in Changi Airport.
The airport has a very nostalgic architecture (I think in the style of brutalist; any architects out there can advise?), therefore, spend some time in the driveway to take pictures of the architecture like XK!
The décor of the interior is also very retro. I reckon it was left unchanged since the 80s. I felt like I was walking down memory lane (literally!) as I shuttled to and from the boarding gates. In other words, their corridors and tiled flooring are very instagrammable!
As mentioned, it is a small airport, with not much shopping and eating to do. However, if you are taking a budget flight like I did, you can drop by the café on the south wing (if you face the apron, it is on the right end of the terminal) for a quick bite.
Finally, it is true when you hear people say that Italians and Spaniards are very laissez-faire. Queues are long not because there is a crowd, but because the servers are not kanchiong spiders like Singaporeans! Therefore, when I say “get a quick bite”, expect to spend at least 15 minutes, of which 10 minutes are spent in the queue XP
That’s all on my how-to for tax refund at Milan Malpensa Airport! Do let me know if you think this is helpful. If you know parts of my post that is outdated/erroneous, do drop me a note too!
Read my other posts for my review on staying at H10 Tribeca Hotel in Madrid, short itinerary to seeing the best of Madrid, as well as recommendations for some quick fix to your hunger in between your busy schedules!