Everything You Need to Know About Distance Selling Regulations EU

Everything You Need to Know About Distance Selling Regulations EU

Do you plan to expand your ecommerce business into the EU? Then read our guide to distance selling regulations.

Are you planning to launch or extend your distance selling business in the EU? If so, understanding the complex world of distance selling regulations EU will be crucial for your success. These regulations exist to protect consumers and ensure fair business practices across the European Union.

In this post, we'll provide a comprehensive overview of distance selling regulations EU, their key aspects, types of distance sales, and how to comply with consumer contracts regulations, VAT, and other tax rules. By the end, you should be well-equipped to navigate the complexities of distance selling and avoid potential pitfalls.

Short summary

  • Understand and comply with the EU Distance Selling Regulations to protect consumers.
  • These regulations cover information obligations, cancellation rights, payment consent requirements, and VAT & tax rules for digital products.
  • Businesses must provide comprehensive information, confirm data in writing and offer a cooling-off period to ensure compliance.

Understanding EU distance selling regulations

Distance selling refers to the sale of goods or services to consumers who are not physically present at the seller’s premises, meaning there is no face-to-face contact between the buyer and the seller. This type of selling has become more common in recent years, particularly with the rise of ecommerce. To safeguard consumers and guarantee equitable business practices, the EU has designed distance selling regulations, which are a part of the broader distance selling laws, to regulate these kinds of transactions.

Such regulations are aimed at providing protection to European consumers from potential scams, fraud, and misrepresented products. They cover various aspects, such as minimum contract length, consumer rights, and delivery requirements. In addition, sector-specific regulations may apply, addressing aspects like delivery costs, returns, and other consumer rights. It's essential for any business selling at a distance to ensure that goods or digital content supplied to consumers are of satisfactory quality, as described, and fit for purpose. Leisure services provided must also meet the required standard.

Key aspects of EU distance selling regulations

The key aspects of EU distance selling regulations include consumer protection, information obligations, and cancellation privileges. For example, businesses are only permitted to charge the basic rate for telephone helplines, and consumers who have paid more than the basic rate are eligible to make a claim for the additional amount from the business.

The two sets of regulations that apply to distance sales are the Consumer Contracts Regulations and the Electronic Commerce Regulations. If a seller fails to furnish precise information to the customer prior to a sale, the customer has the entitlement to annul or return within a period of three months.

Moreover, businesses are required to obtain explicit consent from the consumer for any additional payment associated with the primary contract, such as gift-wrapping or expedited delivery. Default selections, such as pre-selected boxes on a website, are not permitted.

Types of distance sales in the EU

While online sales have become the most prominent form of distance selling, there are various other types of distance sales recognized in the European Union. These include phone sales, mail order sales, TV shopping channel sales, and interactive TV sales.

Each of these methods has its own set of regulations, which we will explore in the following sections.

Online sales and marketplaces

Online sales encompass transactions through a business website, a third-party website such as Amazon, Etsy, or eBay, or even ‘click and collect’ purchases. Online sales and marketplaces play a significant role in distance selling, and it's important to be aware of the specific regulations that apply to them.

For example, businesses selling products via internet auction sites are still subject to the same distance selling regulations. When selling through an accredited online marketplace such as Amazon, businesses must adhere to the platform’s specific terms, including details regarding the storage and delivery of goods, and the handling of VAT. In some cases, marketplaces may be held accountable for charging and remitting VAT on sales.

Mail order and telesales

Mail order and telesales are alternative forms of distance selling that involve contacting prospective customers by mail or marketing products over the telephone, respectively. Though different in their approach, both methods involve remote selling and are subject to distance selling regulations.

In the case of telesales, it's crucial to compose scripts in accordance with distance selling regulations, providing a verbal explanation of all product information and contract terms during the same phone call, with a written version to follow. Distance selling through television shopping networks and in-TV movie rentals also falls under the scope of distance selling regulations.

Complying with Consumer Contracts Regulations in the EU

Compliance with Consumer Contracts Regulations in the EU is essential for businesses engaging in distance selling. These regulations provide extra privileges to individual customers, ensuring that they are well-informed and protected throughout the transaction process.

Failure to comply with these regulations can have serious repercussions for businesses, and it's crucial to understand the specific requirements and obligations that apply to your industry.

Information requirements

Before and after a distance sale, businesses must provide certain information to consumers. This includes details of any trade organizations or professional bodies to which your business belongs, as well as information regarding any authorization scheme applicable to your business. Other required information includes a trading address, which serves as your business premises, pricing, a complaint-handling policy, and cancellation rights.

In the case of online distance selling, additional obligations must be fulfilled in accordance with the Electronic Commerce Regulations. These include providing details regarding any trade organizations or professional bodies affiliated with the business, as well as information concerning any authorization scheme applicable to the business.

Cancellation rights and exceptions

Consumers generally possess the right to terminate a contract at any juncture and for any reason within a 14-day cancellation period using a standard cancellation form. Certain goods, such as sealed items like CDs, DVDs, and software discs, are exempt from cancellation rights. Products that must be sealed for health and hygiene reasons also do not come under these rights. Regardless of these exemptions, the purchaser is still entitled to return any goods deemed to be faulty.

It's important to note that if a consumer handles the goods more than is necessary to determine their suitability, the seller may be able to recover compensation from the consumer up to the contract price. This emphasizes the importance of providing accurate and detailed information to consumers before and after the sale to minimize the likelihood of mishandling and disputes.

Navigating VAT rules for EU distance selling

VAT rules for EU

VAT rules for EU

Understanding and correctly applying EU VAT rules is a crucial aspect of distance selling within the EU. Businesses must be aware of the specific taxation regulations that apply to their products and services, as well as the registration and reporting requirements that come with distance selling.

In the following sections, we provide guidance on navigating VAT thresholds, registration, and other tax rules specific to distance selling in the EU.

EU VAT thresholds and registration

For EU distance selling, Value-Added Tax should be applied in the EU nation where the customer is located, as opposed to the country in which the seller is based. Once the distance-trading threshold of €10,000 is reached, a business is obligated to register as a non-resident trader in that country and apply local VAT.

Prior to July 2021, the EU distance selling threshold for VAT Registration varied depending on the member state. However, these thresholds were decreased to €10,000 for all EU countries in July 2021. This change highlights the importance of staying up-to-date with current regulations and adjusting your business practices accordingly.

One-Stop Shop (OSS) and Import One Stop Shop (IOSS)

The One-Stop Shop (OSS) and Import One Stop Shop (IOSS) schemes are mechanisms for streamlining VAT obligations for distance selling businesses. They simplify the process of accounting for VAT due in multiple EU countries by allowing businesses to account for VAT in a single EU country.

The VAT One Stop Shop (OSS), for example, is an optional scheme available to businesses that provide certain digital services to customers within the EU. By utilizing schemes like OSS and IOSS, distance selling businesses can save time and resources while ensuring compliance with VAT regulations.

Digital content and services in EU distance selling

Digital content and services are a growing segment of distance selling in the EU, and they're subject to the same regulations as those applicable to other goods and services sold at a distance. However, there are some additional taxation regulations that apply specifically to digital products.

We will explore these regulations in the following section.

VAT rules for digital products

In the context of distance sales, digital products are subject to certain additional taxation regulations, mainly focusing on the collection of location evidence and the maintenance of records. These additional rules help ensure that businesses selling digital products remain compliant with EU distance selling regulations and provide the necessary consumer protection.

One scheme that caters specifically to digital products is the VAT One Stop Shop (OSS) mentioned earlier. By participating in this optional scheme, businesses can greatly simplify their VAT obligations for digital services provided to customers within the EU. This ultimately saves time and resources while ensuring compliance with the relevant VAT regulations.

Ensuring compliance with EU distance selling regulations

Ensuring compliance with EU distance selling regulations

To ensure compliance with EU distance selling regulations, businesses must follow the rules and guidelines set forth by the EU and their respective countries. This includes providing comprehensive information to customers prior to the agreement being executed, confirming specific data in writing, offering a cooling-off period, and satisfying contractual obligations within thirty days or the agreed delivery date unless otherwise specified.

Consulting a commercial solicitor is recommended to help businesses adhere to distance selling regulations and scrutinize business operations and sales records. By staying informed and proactive about the latest distance selling regulations, businesses can avoid potential pitfalls and provide a seamless experience for customers, ultimately fostering trust and loyalty.


Understanding and complying with EU distance selling regulations is paramount for businesses operating in this space. By familiarizing yourself with the key aspects of these regulations, including consumer protection, information requirements, and cancellation rights, you can ensure a positive customer experience and avoid potential legal pitfalls.

Also, staying up-to-date with VAT thresholds, registration processes, and tax rules specific to digital products will help streamline your distance selling operations and maintain compliance. With the right knowledge and approach, your business can thrive in the world of distance selling and succeed in an ever-evolving digital landscape.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do distance selling regulations apply after Brexit?

Yes, distance selling regulations still apply after Brexit, with new customs regulations and other changes in place for sales of physical goods to the EU.

These changes include the need for businesses to register for an EU EORI number, and to complete customs declarations for goods entering the EU. They also include the need to pay VAT on goods entering the EU, and to comply with EU regulations.

What is the distance selling threshold for VAT in the EU?

The new EU distance selling threshold for VAT is €10,000, applicable to all sales within the EU territory excluding the seller’s country of establishment, effective from July 2021.

What is the purpose of EU distance selling regulations?

The purpose of EU distance selling regulations is to protect consumers and ensure fair business practices within the European Union.

What types of distance sales are recognized in the European Union?

The European Union recognizes online, phone, mail order, TV shopping channels, and interactive TV sales as types of distance sales.

April 17, 2024
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