Blog
What Is a VAT Number? And Why Do You Need One?

What Is a VAT Number? And Why Do You Need One?

Explore the essentials of the VAT number in our comprehensive guide and find out why they're so important to businesses.

Understanding Value Added Tax (VAT) is crucial for businesses operating within and outside the European Union (EU). A key component of this is the VAT number, a unique identifier that plays a critical role in VAT transactions and compliance. In this post, we take a closer look at VAT numbers, with a particular focus on EU VAT numbers, their format, and their importance.

Key takeaways

  • A VAT number is a unique identifier for tracking Value Added Tax transactions.
  • It consists of a country code prefix followed by a letters and numbers format which varies between countries.
  • Businesses must obtain a VAT number to comply with respective tax systems and avoid penalties.

VAT numbers explained

A VAT number, also known as a VAT registration number or VAT identification number, is a unique identifier used for all Value Added Tax-related purposes in the country in which the number was issued. It is instrumental in tracking the tax amount a business pays and collects from purchases and sales, also referred to as VAT taxable turnover. In essence, VAT numbers ensure that tax authorities can efficiently track VAT transactions within a country’s tax system.

For example, a UK business involved in intra-European trade may be required to obtain a UK VAT number, which will be essential for issuing invoices and reporting VAT transactions to tax authorities. Likewise, businesses operating within the European Union need an EU VAT number for appropriate handling and payment of VAT in intra-European trade transactions.

Structure of VAT numbers

VAT numbers consist of a country code prefix followed by a series of numbers and letters, with their appearance varying depending on the issuing country. This format enables tax authorities to swiftly identify the country that issued the VAT number, facilitating efficient cross-border VAT transaction tracking.

Below is a list of the EU member states and the format of their VAT numbers:

Austria (AT): U12345678 (9 characters)

Belgium (BE): 0123456789 or 1 0123456789 (10 characters)

Bulgaria (BG): 123456789 or 1234567890 (9 or 10 characters)

Croatia (HR): 12345678901 (11 characters)

Cyprus (CY): 12345678X (9 characters, last character is a letter)

Czech Republic (CZ): 123456789 or 1234567890 or 12345678901 (8-10 characters)

Denmark (DK): 12 34 56 78 (8 characters)

Estonia (EE): 123456789 (9 characters)

Finland (FI): 12345678 (8 characters)

France (FR): 12 345678901 or X1234567890 or 1X 234567890 (11 characters)

Germany (DE): 123456789 (9 characters)

Greece (EL): 123456789 (9 characters)

Hungary (HU): 12345678 (8 characters)

Ireland (IE): 1234567X or 1X23456X (8 characters, second or last character is a letter)

Italy (IT): 12345678901 (11 characters)

Latvia (LV): 12345678901 (11 characters)

Lithuania (LT): 123456789 or 123456789012 (9 or 12 characters)

Luxembourg (LU): 12345678 (8 characters)

Malta (MT): 12345678 (8 characters)

Netherlands (NL): 123456789B01 (12 characters)

Poland (PL): 1234567890 (10 characters)

Portugal (PT): 123456789 (9 characters)

Romania (RO): 12 345 678 (2-10 characters)

Slovakia (SK): 1234567890 (10 characters)

Slovenia (SI): 12345679 (8 characters)

Spain (ES): X1234567X or 12345678X (9 characters, first or last character is a letter or a number)

Sweden (SE): 123456789001 (12 characters)

Who needs a VAT number?

Businesses and individuals involved in economic activities within the European Union, including non-resident companies selling in an EU country, require a VAT number. These VAT numbers enable tax authorities to track VAT transactions within their respective tax systems and maintain adherence to VAT regulations.

Businesses must abide by the VAT registration requirements of individual countries to avoid potential penalties for non-compliance with tax laws. For example, the current VAT registration threshold in the UK is £85,000, and businesses operating in the UK exceeding this threshold must obtain a UK VAT number. In other EU countries, VAT registration thresholds and exemptions may vary, making it essential for businesses to consult local tax advisors or authorities to guarantee compliance.

Registering for a VAT number

Businesses need to submit an application to their local tax authorities using the relevant registration forms to register for a VAT number. The application should include:

  • Pertinent documentation regarding the business.
  • Evidence of the legal representative’s authority.
  • Comprehensive information concerning intended activities.

The process of registering for a VAT number may vary by country, with online registration being the most common option nowadays. Once the application is submitted, the process can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. To ensure accurate and timely registration, businesses can also consider automating their VAT duties through VAT software or seeking assistance from specialized services like Taxually.

Required documents for VAT registration

The documents required for VAT registration may differ across EU countries. However, they generally include business and personal identification documents, proof of economic activity, and tax-related paperwork. For instance, the documents required for VAT registration in France comprise a photo ID, incorporation certificate, articles of association, bank statement, local country VAT certificate, registration documents, and a VAT registration certificate with your local tax agent in France.

It's advisable to contact the respective tax authorities for accurate and updated information on the required documents. This ensures a smooth and compliant VAT registration process, minimizing the risk of penalties or delays.

Verifying VAT numbers

It's vital to verify VAT numbers to confirm their authenticity and prevent VAT fraud. Validation of an EU VAT number can be done through VIES, the VAT Information Exchange System, or the VAT Information Exchange System UK for UK VAT numbers. These tools help businesses ensure that VAT numbers are valid and registered with the relevant tax authority, promoting trust and transparency in their transactions.

To verify a VAT number using VIES, follow these steps:

  1. Access the VIES VAT number validation tool on the EU’s official website.
  2. Enter the VAT number to be checked.
  3. Select the member state from the drop-down menu.
  4. Click on the ‘Verify’ button.

VIES will then check the registration status of the VAT number against the records maintained by the respective member state.

Displaying VAT numbers on invoices and websites

It’s mandatory to display your VAT number on invoices for transactions within the EU and on your business website to abide by tax regulations. The proper display of VAT numbers on invoices ensures that tax authorities can efficiently track VAT transactions and maintain accurate records of taxable turnover.

Failure to display your VAT number correctly on invoices or websites may result in penalties or other consequences. Hence, adhering to the guidelines and requirements of the relevant country regarding the specific format, length, and structure of VAT numbers is mandatory. This ensures that your business remains compliant and also fosters trust with your customers and partners.

Managing VAT accounts and returns

Businesses must maintain separate accounts for input and output VAT to accurately track and report their VAT taxable turnover. This is important for businesses to adhere to tax regulations and ensure accurate VAT payments to tax authorities.

In addition to managing VAT accounts, businesses are also required to:

  • File VAT returns
  • Submit transaction reports
  • Submit Intrastat returns
  • Submit ECSales List returns

These requirements are necessary as per the regulations set by local tax authorities.

Automating VAT duties through VAT software or seeking assistance from specialized services can greatly simplify the process of managing VAT accounts and returns. These tools and services help businesses stay compliant with tax regulations, accurately report their VAT taxable turnover, and minimize the risk of penalties or audits.

Navigating VAT thresholds and exemptions

VAT registration thresholds and exemptions vary by country and product type, making it crucial for businesses to understand when they need to register for VAT and comply with tax laws. For example, the current VAT registration threshold in the UK is £85,000, and businesses operating in the UK exceeding this threshold must obtain a UK VAT number. In the EU, the VAT registration threshold for companies conducting distance sales to EU member states is €10,000 per annum.

Understanding VAT thresholds and exemptions is vital for businesses to adhere to tax regulations and avoid fines. Services like Taxually's can assist businesses in staying informed of thresholds and new tax registrations by monitoring sales in each country and alerting them when a registration threshold is reached. Upon registration, these services can further aid businesses in adhering to tax laws across the globe.

The role of fiscal representatives

In some countries, non-EU businesses are required to appoint a fiscal representative for VAT registration. A fiscal representative is a business or individual appointed locally to serve as the local agent of the foreign trader, managing administrative duties, VAT affairs, and VAT reporting on their behalf. They are usually held jointly responsible for any VAT owed by the non-EU taxpayer, ensuring that foreign businesses remain compliant with local tax regulations.

Non-EU businesses can navigate the complexities of VAT registration and compliance in foreign countries with the help of a fiscal representative. Ensuring that they have a knowledgeable and reliable representative can minimize the risk of penalties or audits, and promote trust and transparency in their transactions.

Conclusion

A VAT number is a vital tool for businesses, facilitating compliance with tax laws and enabling smooth intra-community trade within the EU. Understanding the importance of VAT numbers, as well as their formats across different EU member states, is essential for any business operating in or with the EU. By ensuring that VAT numbers are correctly used and verified, businesses can enhance their credibility, comply with legal requirements, and contribute to the efficient functioning of the EU’s single market.

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.

February 22, 2024
Test text
Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries
Test text
Test text
Test text
Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s,
Test text
when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries
Test text