WENSHAN DISTRICT, TAIPEI — Shopping in Taiwan is an accountant’s dream, because there’s always a paper trail. My personal favorite? A NT$9 receipt for a small package of roasted chicken-flavored Cheetos. To put this in perspective, NT$9 is the equivalent of about $0.30 USD.
In fact, if you make a purchase — of nearly any size, in nearly any locale — and you walk away without a receipt, you’ll likely be chased down.
Every two months, that one receipt could be worth as much as NT$10M, or about $330,000 USD. It’s a system called the uniform invoice lottery, and each purchase is an automatic entry.
The system is a remarkably clever one, that has been in use for nearly 70 years. First started in 1951, the lottery was created as a way to compel shopkeepers in the newly formed Taiwan to keep their purchases on the books and thus, ensuring that all companies were paying their fair share of taxes. According to several sources, the theory behind the lottery was that if shoppers new that their receipts could be worth millions of dollars, they would demand receipts with every purchase and thus, shopkeepers would have to document all of their sales. By some reports, tax revenues for the Taiwanese central government increased nearly 75% in 1952, after implementing the lottery.
Perhaps even more interesting? The uniform invoice lottery can be one by anyone, including foreigners and visitors to Taiwan.
The lotteries generate a good deal of media attention, including in English-language Taiwanese media. A recent story in Taiwan News reported that from the November/December sales, 11 of 18 major prize tickets were still unclaimed, including two NT$10M tickets.
My favorite parts of the media coverage? Reports of the items purchased on each winning ticket. For example, the TN article above reports winning tickets for some pretty pedestrian purchases — each one worth in the millions of dollars.
- a receipt for a single bottle of mouthwash, for NT$159 (about $5 USD; New Taipei City)
- one milk tea, for NT$10 (about $0.30 USD; from a 7-Eleven in Taipei City)
- a parking space, for NT$60 (about $2 USD; Taipei City)
For many people however (and I’d classify myself as this person about 75% of the time), the receipts find a home in any one of many, many donation bins throughout the city.
I make a few donations to the GSWF box … but I do keep a few with me, just in case. =)