Selling online: What you need to know about VAT in Europe

Selling online: What you need to know about VAT in Europe

Paid partnership

Broadstreet has been advising professionals, entrepreneurs and expats on reaching their personal and financial goals for over 25 years. In this article, they explain how VAT in Europe works.

What is VAT?

VAT stands for value-added tax, a tax that is added at every step of the supply chain where value is added. It starts from raw materials, on to manufacturers, suppliers, the wholesalers, and finally on to the final customers. The VAT goes all the way down the supply chain where it reaches the end consumer. The end consumer will be carrying the VAT and cannot reclaim VAT. Over 140 countries around the world use this system, in the EU, the European Union guidelines are used. In the Netherlands, it's called BTW.

It is important to realise that VAT is not a tax burden for you if you have a business liable for VAT; an EU registered business can always reclaim or offset VAT charged to the business on purchases.

What triggers VAT liability?

There are five main triggers:

1. Holding stock in an EU country

If you move goods into a fulfilment centre in an EU country, this will trigger a VAT obligation. Make sure to register before importing your goods, so you can reclaim import VAT on your VAT return.

2. Selling via an online marketplace in the EU

This doesn’t technically trigger a VAT registration, since it is not covered in the EU VAT directive. However, over the last few years, the tax authorities have been scrutinising online marketplaces, since fraud has occurred. There are changes in the EU legislation at hand to make online marketplaces liable for VAT.

Some marketplaces already shift the responsibility for VAT collection to the sellers, therefore, you have to be VAT registered before you can sign up. Amazon sellers: keep an eye on the different requirements, they will vary from country to country.

3. Exceeding an EU distance selling threshold

The EU distance selling thresholds help sellers to sell cross-border within the EU, without the high cost of VAT compliance. It allows you, as a seller, to test the different markets and to see where your end customers are before you put in the time and costs into compliance. The distance selling thresholds apply if you hold stock in one EU country and sell to private individuals in another EU country. You can sell products worth up to 35.000 euros.

Germany, the Netherlands and Luxembourg use a 100.000 euros threshold per calendar year. If your sales stay below this threshold, you will charge the local VAT rate. If you exceed the threshold, you need to register for VAT and pay VAT in the inbound country. So, the VAT obligations shift from the sales departure country to the sales arrival country. In July 2021, the threshold will be lowered to 10.000 euros for all EU countries.

4. Dropshipping from a supplier within the EU

Dropshipping is a retail fulfilment method where a store doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, it purchases the item from a third party and has it shipped directly to the customer. As a result, the seller doesn’t have to handle the product themselves. The biggest difference between dropshipping and the standard retail model is that the selling merchant doesn’t stock. Instead, the seller purchases inventory as needed from a third party, usually a wholesaler or manufacturer, to fulfil orders. As the seller is still the owner of the goods before they are transported to the final customer, they are liable for VAT in the country the stock is held.

5. Importing goods from outside the EU to the final customer

For instance, if you hold your stock in the US and your customer is located in Italy, VAT and duties will have to be paid. You need to decide if this will be done by you or by your customer. The one who pays will be the importer of record. Duties are non-reclaimable, but the VAT is. If you want to be the importer of record and want to reclaim VAT, you need to be registered in each country you are importing into. You cannot reclaim without a VAT registration in that country.


As an online seller, it is very important to know your VAT obligations. Not being compliant will lead to paying the VAT plus a penalty, which is always a percentage of the VAT owed. 

If you would like to work out where and when you will need to VAT register in an EU country, please contact Thierry Martens from Broadstreet for more information or use the contact button below.

Thierry Martens


Thierry Martens

Thierry is an international tax advisor and works for Broadstreet in Amsterdam and The Hague.

Read more



Leave a comment