About VAT, Florence
As I needed a nice jacket for the wedding, I went to a local store and purchased one. In Italy, and the rest of Europe for that matter, purchases over 150 Euro are eligible for a VAT refund.
The procedure goes like this. At most eligible stores, there is a counter that handles VAT refunds. After you purchase your item, you go to this counter and you fill out a form, which you then take to a VAT refund office, or you can mail it in. What's good about Florence is that it has several instant refund shops. The one I went to, and the easiest to find is on Ponte Vecchio. You bring the form and your passport, and the refund will be given to you in USD. The only catch for the instant refunds, is that you HAVE to get it stamped by a customs official when you exit the EU. You mail that form in and you are done.
Dont get excited leaving the shops without your VAT forms especially if you spend more the 160 euro and up... There is a form that needs to be filled out by the store in order for you to get at least 10% sales tax (already added in their merchandise) which you need to present to customs before leaving Italy... You would need your passport shown to the shop owner (some countries do not avail VAT) before they can issue the VAT form...
Upon departure, In the customs area, these merchandise shd be shown UNUSED to the customs officer. You would need to CHECK IN first with your boarding passes - do not give your bags to the airline - go to the custom officer and show your merchandise with your forms - he/she will stamp the forms - you will mail them (a mailbox is located after exiting the customs area) - then return your merchandise to your luggage for check in since these items cannot be HAND CARRIED in the airplane - even if it is an expensive 4000 euro watch!!
I encounted a Japanese tourist who bought a watch but cannot handcarry the item with him in the airplane. His luggage were pulled out so he can put the watch back for check in... It's a risk you have to take if you want the VAT in an expensive item...
When you buy any merchandise in Italy that is more than 155 Euros, you can claim a VAT refund. Here's what you do. Make sure you shop at a store that has the appropriate paperwork to claim your refund (stores will have a sticker or sign displayed). Fill out the paperwork at the store because the merchant has to fill out part of it. Then, when you are ready to leave the country (not necessarily the city that you bought the merchandise), look for the VAT refund signs at customs. You must present the unused merchandise to the official along with the paperwork and he or she will stamp it and either give you the cash or you can collect the cash when you get home by mailing the form to the appropriate address (on the paperwork). I received a pretty nice check back for the leather jacket I bought in Florence.