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To keep in mind

One of the most frequently asked VAT related questions on search engines is: "I am a foreign business, how do I know if I need to register for VAT purpose in another European country? »

And this is only natural: European businesses involved in international trade of goods or services want to understand the complex rules of cross-border VAT and are looking for relevant information to help them determine whether or not they have VAT obligations abroad.

The answer to the question: "Do I need to have a VAT number abroad? " is unfortunately not as simple as it sounds.

Is it legally possible to avoid the obligation to register for a VAT number abroad?

In order not to increase the administrative burden for businesses unnecessarily, it is possible in certain situations to legally avoid VAT obligations abroad:

  • The VAT Directive provides for specific situations in which businesses do not have to register for VAT in another European country: simplified triangular scheme, consignment stock arrangements, non-transfers, etc.
  • Over the years,  European countries have agreed collectively (through the VAT Committee) on specific situations where VAT registration, which is in principle compulsory, is not required: contract work, breakdown of an intra-EU supply of goods into two transactions (a transfer of goods followed by a domestic supply), etc.
  • Some European countries have made internal arrangements and do not require the VAT registration of a foreign company due to exceptional circumstances when such registration is normally compulsory: occasional transactions, etc.

Is it possible to be granted a VAT number abroad on a voluntary basis even if it is not compulsory?

Some European countries (e.g. Belgium, Sweden, Slovakia or Portugal) allow foreign businesses to identify themselves voluntarily for VAT purposes in certain defined situations.

Advice from a VAT expert?

Your company is involved in international trade in goods and services and you are wondering whether or not it should apply for a VAT number abroad?

Our VAT expert advice: don't underestimate the answer to this question. Any mistake could cost you dearly. Most European countries apply fairly heavy financial penalties if the company has not registered for VAT or has registered late. Some countries (e.g. Germany and Italy) no longer hesitate to take legal action against the managers of defaulting companies.