Bringing Home Italian Gold: A Tourist’s Guide to Buying Jewelry Tax-Free in Italy

Photo by Marcus Anthony of the Ponte Vecchio bridge over the Arno river at dusk, in Florence, Italy.
Photo credit: Marcus Anthony / Solespire

As you stroll across the iconic Ponte Vecchio bridge in Florence, it’s hard not to be dazzled by the glittering displays of gold jewelry in the shop windows lining the ancient stone passageway. Italy has a long and storied tradition of goldsmithing and jewelry making, with cities like Florence and Vicenza home to world-renowned artisans and schools dedicated to the craft. For many travellers, bringing home a special piece of Italian gold jewelry is the ultimate souvenir.

Claiming the VAT Refund

The good news is, if you’re a tourist visiting from outside the EU, you can claim back the 22% VAT (value-added tax) on your jewelry purchases over €154.94. This effectively makes buying jewelry in Italy tax-free for foreign visitors. However, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure you get an authentic, high-quality piece at a fair price.

Finding Reputable Shops

First, stick to reputable shops, especially in highly touristed areas. The jewelry stores lining the Ponte Vecchio in Florence are known for their exquisite craftsmanship and use of real gold, even if prices may be higher than in less prominent areas. Well-established shops like Ugo Piccini on Via Por Santa Maria are classic options recommended by trusted locals, including myself, as I live in Florence’s historical centre, steps away from the Ponte Vecchio.

If you venture to smaller towns, prices may be more reasonable, but be sure to patronize legitimate goldsmiths and jewellers rather than souvenir stalls or temporary vendors. A city like Lucca, where I also lived, is near Florence and is known for excellent jewelry at better values compared to the most popular tourist spots.

Evaluating Authenticity and Price

When evaluating a potential purchase, keep in mind that all genuine Italian gold jewelry will be 18 karat. You can discreetly test if a piece is truly gold by seeing if it sticks to a magnet – real gold will not be magnetic. However, this won’t tell you the karat purity.

In terms of budget, expect to pay based on the weight of the gold plus some markup for the artistry and craftsmanship of the piece. Prices in Italy may not be drastically cheaper than at home, especially with the exchange rate, so buy a piece because you truly love it, not just in hopes of a deal.

Discovering Unique Artisan Pieces

One way to find unique jewelry at great prices is to look beyond the typical tourist shops and explore Italy’s many artisan markets and fairs. Events like the International Handicrafts Trade Fair in Florence showcase emerging designers and independent brands with one-of-a-kind pieces you won’t find anywhere else. Up-and-coming lines like the Spencer Barbosa jewelry line are making waves with their trend-forward yet timeless designs.

Getting Your VAT Refund

When you make your purchase, be sure to get an invoice or receipt that clearly states the item price before VAT, the amount of VAT paid, and the store’s tax-free shopping ID number. You’ll need this to get your refund at the airport before departing Italy. Stores will also often have “tax-free shopping” stickers on their windows or signs indicating they participate in the refund program for tourists.

At the end of your trip, arrive at the airport with some extra time before your flight. Locate the customs office or VAT refund booth, present your purchased item, receipt, and passport, and have the agent stamp your documents. Then proceed to the refund operator to get your money back, which may be done via credit to your card or cash refund. Note there is usually a small administrative fee deducted from your refund amount.

A Meaningful Memento

With a little savvy shopping and preparation for the tax refund process, you can bring home a gorgeous piece of Italian gold jewelry that will forever remind you of your travels through this captivating country—without paying an inflated tourist premium. Whether it’s a classic chain from an artisan on the Ponte Vecchio or a modern statement piece from an indie designer, Italian jewelry makes for a meaningful, luxurious, and tax-free memento on a trip of a lifetime.