A Comprehensive Guide to EU VAT Compliance

A Comprehensive Guide to EU VAT Compliance

Find out everything you need to know about EU VAT compliance with our comprehensive guide.

The EU VAT landscape is complicated and ever-changing and can be difficult to wrap your head around. That's why we've put together this comprehensive guide to EU VAT compliance, which lays out everything you need to know about VAT as an ecommerce business operating in the EU, and what you need to do to remain compliant.

Understanding the basics of EU VAT

VAT is a crucial source of revenue for EU Member States and plays a vital role in the functioning of the European Single Market. To understand EU VAT compliance, it's essential to grasp the fundamental concepts behind it.

EU VAT generally applies to businesses engaged in the supply of goods or services, both within and across EU borders. The tax is levied at each stage of the production and distribution process, ensuring that the final consumer bears the burden of the tax. VAT rates vary across EU countries, ranging from standard rates of around 20% to reduced rates paid for specific goods and services.

Who needs to comply with EU VAT regulations?

If you're a business owner operating within or dealing with the EU, it's necessary to know whether you need to comply with EU VAT regulations to avoid legal and financial complications. Let's explore the key factors that determine who needs to abide by these regulations.

Place of Supply

The central principle in EU VAT regulations is the "place of supply". This refers to where a particular service or product is considered to be provided. The rules for determining the place of supply vary depending on whether you're dealing with goods or services, and whether you're trading within the EU or internationally.

For goods:

If you're selling goods within the EU, VAT generally needs to be charged based on the destination country's VAT rate.

If you're selling goods to customers outside the EU, they might be subject to import VAT and customs duties paid upon arrival in their country.

For services:

If you're providing services to non-business customers within the EU, you, the supplier, are responsible for charging and accounting for the VAT.

For business-to-business (B2B) services, the business receiving the services (whether based in the EU or not) is normally responsible for accounting for the VAT on their VAT return.

VAT taxable turnover thresholds

As of July 2021, the distance selling threshold for all EU Member States is €10,000. So, if your annual sales to customers within a specific EU Member State exceed this VAT taxable turnover threshold, you'll need to register for VAT in that country and charge the appropriate VAT rate.

Digital services

The EU implemented special rules for businesses providing digital services to customers in the EU. These rules apply to services such as streaming, software downloads, e-books, and online courses. If your business provides such digital services even to non-business customers within the EU, you must comply with the VAT One Stop Shop (OSS) scheme. This allows you to declare and pay VAT for all EU Member States through a single online portal.

Marketplaces and platforms

Marketplaces and ecommerce platforms that facilitate the sale of goods to EU customers may have VAT responsibilities. New EU VAT rules make these platforms liable for collecting and remitting VAT on behalf of their third-party sellers, ensuring that VAT is properly accounted for.

To determine your specific obligations, you should consult with a tax advisor or the tax authorities in the relevant countries.

EU VAT registration process

EU VAT registration process

Once you've determined that you need to register for VAT, the next step is registering. The VAT registration process can vary from country to country, but here are the general steps involved:

Identify the registration country: If you plan on registering for VAT through the One Stop Shop (one of the EU's specialist VAT accounting schemes), you'll only have to register once (in the Member State where your business is established for the Union Scheme or the Member State of your choice for the Non-Union Scheme). Otherwise, you must register in every EU country where you meet the VAT registration threshold.

Gather the required documents: The registration process typically requires certain documents, such as proof of identity, proof of address, and evidence of your business activities. These documents may vary depending on the country where you are registering.

Complete the registration form: Once you've gathered the necessary documents, you'll need to complete the VAT registration form provided by the tax authorities of the chosen country. The form will require details about your business, such as your business name, address, nature of activities, and anticipated turnover.

Submit the application: After completing the registration form, you should submit it to the relevant tax authorities along with the supporting documents. The authorities will review your application and may request additional information if needed.

Receive your VAT number: Once your application is approved, you'll receive a VAT number from the tax authorities. This number is crucial for invoicing and compliance purposes, so make sure you include it on all your invoices.

Remember, the registration process can take time, so it's advisable to start the process well in advance to avoid any compliance issues.

Different types of EU VAT rates

VAT rates vary across EU countries and are categorized into different types. Understanding these rates is essential for accurate VAT calculations and compliance. Let's explore the different types of VAT rates you may encounter:

Standard rate: The standard VAT rate is the rate applied to most goods and services. It varies across EU Member States and ranges from 16% to 27%. It's important to verify the standard rate in the country where you are selling your products or services.

Reduced rates: Reduced rates are lower VAT rates applied to specific goods and services deemed essential or deserving of special treatment. Examples of goods and services that may qualify for reduced rates include food, books, pharmaceutical products, and public transportation. Reduced rates are typically lower than the standard rate and can vary from country to country.

Zero rate: Some goods and services may be subject to a zero VAT rate, meaning no VAT is charged on their sale. Zero-rated goods and services include international exports, certain food items, medical supplies, and education services. It's crucial to ensure you meet the necessary requirements to apply the zero VAT rate correctly.

Exempt supplies: Certain types of goods and services may be exempt from VAT altogether. Exempt supplies include financial services, insurance, healthcare, and education services. Exempt supplies differ from zero-rated supplies in that VAT cannot be reclaimed on exempt supplies.

Understanding the different VAT rates applicable to your business activities is vital for accurate invoicing, reporting, taxation, and compliance with EU VAT regulations.

VAT records and invoicing

Accurate record-keeping and proper invoicing are crucial components of EU VAT compliance. As an ecommerce business, it's important you know what the requirements are for VAT invoicing and record-keeping to ensure smooth operations and compliance.

VAT invoices

When selling goods or services to customers within the EU, you must issue the customer with VAT invoices that comply with the requirements set by the tax authorities. A VAT invoice should include essential details such as your business name, address, VAT number, the customer's name and address, a description of the goods or services supplied, the date, the VAT rate applied, and the total amount charged.

Electronic invoicing

The use of electronic invoicing is becoming increasingly common in the digital age of taxation. Many EU Member States allow for electronic invoices, provided they meet certain technical and authenticity requirements. Electronic invoicing can streamline your invoicing process, reduce administrative burdens, and ensure compliance with VAT regulations.


EU VAT regulations require businesses to maintain adequate records of their VAT transactions for a specified period. These records should include information such as VAT invoices, purchase invoices, import and export documentation, and any other relevant documents related to your VAT transactions. It's crucial to retain these records in a systematic and organized manner to facilitate VAT reporting and compliance.

Proper VAT invoicing and record-keeping ensure compliance with EU VAT regulations and enable you to track your business's financial performance and make informed decisions.

Distance selling and VAT thresholds

Distance selling refers to the sale of goods by a business to customers across EU Member States. It's a common scenario for ecommerce businesses, and understanding the VAT obligations related to distance selling is crucial for compliance. Let's explore the concept of distance selling and the VAT thresholds associated with it:

Distance sales

When your ecommerce business sells goods to customers in an EU Member State, you may be required to register for VAT in that country once you exceed the distance selling threshold. In July 2021, the state-by-state EU distance selling thresholds were abolished. There is now an EU-wide threshold of €10,000 per annum. Once you exceed the threshold, you must register for VAT in the customer's country and charge VAT at the local rate.

Import threshold

The EU's "low-value import" threshold (which exempted goods imported into the EU with a value of €22 or less from VAT or customs duty) was also scrapped in July 2021. Now, businesses may have to pay customs duties for goods above €150. It also means that all EU imports are subject to VAT, although businesses signed up to the Import One Stop Shop can charge and collect VAT on items valued at €150 or less at the time of sale rather than at the point of importation.

Monitoring your distance sales and import thresholds is essential to ensure timely VAT registration, accurate invoicing, and compliance with EU VAT regulations.

VAT compliance for cross-border ecommerce

Cross-border ecommerce presents unique challenges when it comes to EU VAT compliance. Selling goods or services to customers in multiple EU countries can complicate your VAT obligations and requires careful planning. Here are some factors you should be considering carefully when it comes to VAT compliance in cross-border ecommerce:

VAT registration

As an ecommerce business selling to customers in multiple EU countries, you may need to register for VAT in each one where you exceed the distance selling threshold. It's essential to monitor your sales in each country and proactively register for VAT to ensure compliance.

VAT reporting

VAT reporting requirements vary across EU Member States. Some countries may require you to submit regular VAT returns, while others may have simplified reporting mechanisms for cross-border ecommerce businesses. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the reporting obligations in each country where you're VAT registered to avoid any compliance issues.

VAT compliance software

Managing VAT compliance for cross-border ecommerce can be complex, especially when dealing with multiple VAT rates, rules, and reporting requirements. Utilizing VAT compliance software can streamline your operations, automate VAT calculations, and ensure accurate reporting. Taxually offers a VAT software solution that can cater specifically to the needs of your business.

To navigate the complexities of VAT compliance in cross-border ecommerce you need to plan well, monitor proactively, and use the right tools and resources. Stay informed, seek professional advice, and leverage technology to ensure seamless VAT compliance.

VAT compliance challenges and common mistakes to avoid

VAT compliance challenges and common mistakes to avoid

VAT compliance can be challenging for ecommerce businesses, especially with ever-changing regulations and complex requirements. To avoid potential pitfalls, it's good to be aware of common mistakes and challenges.

Failure to VAT register

Failing to register for VAT when required can have serious consequences, including penalties and legal implications. Monitor your sales carefully, understand the relevant VAT thresholds, and register for VAT in a timely manner.

Inaccurate VAT calculations

VAT calculations can be complicated, especially when dealing with different VAT rates, rules, and exemptions. Mistakes in VAT calculations can result in under or overpayment of VAT, leading to financial and legal implications for your business. Utilize VAT compliance software or consult with a tax advisor to ensure accurate VAT calculations.

Poor record-keeping

Inadequate record-keeping can hinder your ability to comply with VAT regulations and may result in penalties or difficulties during tax audits. Maintain organized and comprehensive records of your VAT transactions, including VAT invoices, purchase invoices, and import/export documentation.

Late or incorrect VAT returns

Timely submission of VAT returns is crucial for compliance. Late or incorrect VAT returns can lead to penalties and additional scrutiny from the tax authorities. Familiarize yourself with the VAT reporting requirements in each country where you're VAT registered and ensure you submit accurate VAT returns on time.

Lack of VAT knowledge

VAT regulations can be complex, and it's easy to make mistakes without a thorough understanding of the rules. Invest time in educating yourself about EU VAT regulations, consult with professionals when needed, and stay updated with any changes or updates to the legislation.

By being aware of the potential challenges and avoiding common mistakes, you can navigate the world of EU VAT compliance confidently and ensure smooth operations for your ecommerce business.

Tools and resources for EU VAT compliance

Managing EU VAT compliance can be overwhelming, but there are various tools and resources available to help you. Some of the resources you can leverage to streamline your VAT compliance include the following:

VAT compliance software

As mentioned earlier, VAT compliance software can automate VAT calculations, generate compliant invoices, and facilitate accurate reporting. Look for software solutions designed specifically for VAT compliance that offer seamless integration with your existing systems.

Online VAT resources

Many tax authorities provide online resources and guides to help businesses understand and comply with VAT regulations. These resources often include FAQs, guidance documents, and information about VAT rates, thresholds, and registration processes. Consult the websites of the relevant tax authorities for valuable information.

Professional advice VAT

There are many things in life where the advice of an expert is invaluable, and VAT is no different. By engaging the services of a tax advisor or an accountant with expertise in EU VAT you can be sure that they'll have a handle on the intricacies of VAT regulations.

Stay informed, and make use of technology and professional expertise to simplify your EU VAT compliance journey. That way you can focus on growing your ecommerce business.


The EU VAT system is complex but crucial for businesses operating within the European Union or companies engaging in cross-border trade. By understanding the fundamental concepts of taxation, registration requirements, and compliance procedures, businesses can navigate the complexities of EU VAT and ensure they meet their obligations while optimizing their financial operations.

Do you need help with your VAT compliance? Book a free call with one of our VAT experts to find bespoke solutions for your business, optimize your VAT costs, and reach millions of new potential customers.

January 18, 2024
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