If you sell digital products in Europe your business may be trading illegally and you risk a big fine…

internet, computer, digital products


Founder of KoffeeKlatch

If you sell digital products in Europe your business may be trading illegally and you risk a big fine…

From 1st January 2015 if you sell a digital product to a customer in the EU (not a business but an individual) you have to charge them VAT at the rate where they are (not where you are)

From 1st January 2015 if you sell a digital product to a customer in the EU (not a business but an individual) you have to charge them VAT at the rate where they are (not where you are) and you will have to register for VAT in that individual country, or in all of them via the EUVATMOSS scheme.

Nobody told you?

Spain has published the laws, but as far as I can see hardly anyone knows about it. You may be thinking well if nobody told me it can’t apply to me, but it does.

There is nil threshold – so 1€ of digital sales outside Spain but inside the EU is enough to trigger this.

You will also notice if you buy from digital sellers such as Amazon that you will be paying the VAT rate for Spain – not the lower 3% Luxembourg rate you previously paid. This is no coincidence. Since global companies were registering in Luxembourg and paying the lower VAT rate (and so were you) and thus the Spainish and other EU Governments were losing the VAT revenue.

All this came to an end on 1st January 2015 when it became the responsibility of the business to:

  • find out where the customer is located
  • produce two pieces of non conflicting evidence to support that
  • find out the appropriate VAT rate for digital products where that customer is
  • charge that rate
  • account for EU VAT through the appropriate non national VAT scheme

What is a digital product?

One of the problems is there is no common definition throughout the UK. it is not clear whether you should be using the definitions that apply in the county where your customer is, or where you are.

What is clear is that anything you sell that is automatically downloaded such as an e-book, a knitting pattern, music, video and so on, is a digital product. Whilst individual EU member countries have strange definitions the central EU one is clear enough.

internet, computer, digital products

Do I have to charge it?

If you sell through a platform such as Amazon, they are responsibility for VAT and will register and charge it. Confusion has reigned with some of the major platforms announcing they were not liable. Some like ETSY have now agreed they are, but are still not operating in an EUVAT compliant way.

If you are on a platform you need to check if they are, or plan to be EUVAT compliant.

If you use Paypal on your own web site you have to charge VAT and account for it. Paypal is not currently able to provide you with the two pieces of non-conflicting data that is required by the EU legislation.

In the UK, we have campaigned for a short term easement that means we can use Paypal with one source of information. This runs out in June and no-one knows what is going to happen after that. As far as anyone knows no such easement exists anywhere else in the EU.

If you have your own shopping cart you will need to get it to comply – that will cost you time and money.

Many US based shopping carts such as 1shoppingcart have simply announced they are not going to create a compliant option – despite the fact that EUVAT applies to anyone selling into the EU – even if they are not based in the EU.

Why is this an issue?

There are more than 85 rates of VAT in the EU, some of which are regional, some of which are by product. There is no free central place from which to extract reliable data. Any EU county can change any of its VAT rates on any day and there is no way you can automatically update your cart. So this means manually inputting the VAT rates and checking the data.

You also need to advertise prices for individual customers at VAT inclusive rates. The rates of VAT across Europe vary from 3% to 27% (and may have varied more over night for all any of us know!). So you will have to fix one price and get a variable price after VAT is calculated. Or you will have to have county specific pages (like Amazon do) and show a rate for that country. Most of us don’t have the time or the money to set this sort of thing up.
Many shopping carts can add VAT but cannot handle an inclusive of VAT price, nor automatically input the multiple rates you may need to use.

Then you have to store all the relevant validating and VAT data for 10 years on a server located within the EU. If you use many of the common cloud or email services you will find your data is behind held in the USA!

Get any of this wrong and you will be liable to a fine.
For more information on EU Digital vat (in a technical language) click here

Can I just block sales outside of Spain?

Some businesses are already blocking sales on the grounds they can’t afford to comply. You will see USA based sellers saying you can’t buy their product once they find out where you are based. You may want to look at the cost of compliance vs the revenue you get and see if it is legal and appropriate for you to block sales.

But most of us need all the revenue we can get and turning off whole countries is not the answer. Canada, South Africa and others have already announced their implementation dates for their own version of Digital VAT, so unless you want to be locked into Spain for your market – we have to find a way to go forward.

A wild digital frontier?

No-one objects to paying their fare share of tax – without it we would have no roads or schools, but the EU seems to have entirely missed how the digital world works. I may be in Spain, ordering an EU book, using my UK address paying on a US credit card. That is exactly what I was doing last November. Can you really expect us to handle that and work out which EU rate of VAT may apply? The EU lives in a world of physical boundaries and is not up to speed on how the digital world works – the idea we may realistically assess by any known combination of data where our customer is based, resident, or purchasing is a laughable one unless we are given the power to gather and retain intrusive amounts of personal data about people who do business with us.

Level playing field?

The EU idea was that this would create a level playing field. But it doesn’t.

First of all many sellers outside the EU are taking the view they are not affected or won’t comply. Even yesterday, I bought a pattern from a US based seller that had nil sales tax or VAT on it. This means that those sellers are 20% cheaper to me in the UK than anyone who is obeying the law and charging my local 20% VAT rate.

Second, having a variable VAT rate is not a level platform since you won’t know till after you made a sale (and found out where your customer was) how much that sale was worth to you.

Third, the big platforms have the money to sort all this out (and arguably triggered this in the first place) and as a proportion of their income a new shopping cart is just a nuisance. For someone selling a few thousand Euros of digital sales a year or less, the compliance costs are really high.

Fourth, the big platforms are all lawyered up and can afford to argue whether a knitting pattern is a digital product (yes in the UK, not in France, who knows in Spain) but we have neither the time nor the money for that sort of nonsense – we have bills to pay and families to raise.

Not your problem?

When they have finished with digital products they are going to apply this to physical ones. So if you are thinking but I sell shoes, how does this apply to me – then it doesnt now but it will.

But even if you don’t sell B2C, or don’t sell outside Spain, this will affect you, as the starting point for thousands of businesses is now the digital world. Making the tiniest start-up comply with this will make starting a digital busier far harder than it needs to be. Many will never get going when faced with all of this. And your daughter, your sister, you cousin, your mother, will have less choices on how to balance work and family, less money – and there will be less competitors in the market, leaving the big boys free to do what they want.

Please help

  • Complete our anonymous survey as we urgently need data on the level of awareness in Spain. Here is the link:
  • Sign the Euro petitions here
  • Join the Digital VAT facebook group and let us know your experience. Here is the link
  • Join us in taking action about this – check out what we are doing here
  • Against all the odds, the women who run tiny tiny businesses from their kitchen tables, are tackling the EU and campaigning for a threshold to remove the tinest businesses from this nightmare – and many other things.

    Annabel Kaye

    2 thoughts on “If you sell digital products in Europe your business may be trading illegally and you risk a big fine…”

    1. Thank you so much for bringing this legislation to my attention - I receive an old age pension and have very recently started a business selling a product to supplement my pension in order to survive here. If the legislation were to be applied to physical products I would not be able to offer my  products outside of Spain and part of my new business  along with any potential income would suffer .
      I have signed the petition - taken the survey and joined the Facebook group.

      I would welcome the opportunity of attending a seminar the day before the International Women's day  to learn more about the legislation and the consequences to an online business .

    2. Hello Eunice
      Annabel will be joining us for the Business Breakfast on 10th March to talk about VATMoss - hope you can join us at El Gusto?
      Ali x

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