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VAT Explained: What Is VAT And Do Dropshippers Have To Pay It?

By Timur Yuldashev

Learn about value added tax (VAT) whether dropshippers should pay it in the US, the UK, and the EU.

Sooner or later anyone who’s thinking about launching a business faces an issue that causes severe headache – taxes! In this particular article, we are going to talk about value added tax (VAT).

What is VAT?

Value added tax, or VAT, is a type of tax that is levied on the value of goods or services added at each stage of production, distribution, or sale to the end customer (consumer). Also known as the goods and services tax in some countries, it’s a consumption tax that is paid by the final consumer who ‘consumes’ products and services, but in practice, VAT is paid at each stage of the supply chain.

Sounds too complicated? Let me explain it in simple terms.

How does VAT work?

Let’s imagine a supply chain that consists of three stages: a farmer who grows apples, a food-manufacturing plant that makes apple juice, and a retail store that sells the juice to end customers. Now let’s get to numbers.

For simplicity, let’s suppose the farmer only puts his own efforts into growing apples. He doesn’t buy anything from other businesses. In this case, he has no expenses and his added value equals the price at which he sells the apples to the plant. So, if he sells the apples for $100, the VAT is applied to this sum.

If the value added tax rate is 20%, the farmer will have to pay $20 to the government. But he doesn’t want to lose money and includes this sum into his final price which increases to $120.

The food-manufacturing plant buys the apples from the farmer and pays him $100 + $20 that goes to the government. The plant makes apple juice and wants to earn $200 as profit (added value). In this case, the plant will have to pay $40 as VAT.

But the plant has already paid $20 to the farmer, so it sells the juice for $360: the cost of apples ($100) + the farmer’s VAT ($20) + the profit ($200) + the plant’s VAT ($40). In this case, $40 goes to the government, while $20 goes to the plant as compensation for the farmer’s VAT.

Next, the retail store pays $360 for the juice and wants to make a profit of $400. But it has to pay $80 to the government as VAT and wants compensation for the plant’s VAT. So, it sells the juice to an end customer for a total of $840: the cost of juice ($300) + the plant’s VAT ($60) + the store’s profit ($400) + the store’s VAT ($80).

As for the end buyer, he or she pays $840 for all the juice bottles including $140 as VAT, but he or she cannot get this sum back.

So, as a result, the customer doesn’t pay the money to the government. Instead, the businesses in the chain do it. But the end consumer pays the tax to businesses so that they could hand the money to the government. The VAT that the customer must pay equals $140. It is the sum of the VAT the businesses have already paid to the government: $20 + $40 + $80 = $140.

A drawing explaining how value added tax works

But what about dropshipping? Do you have to pay value added tax? In most cases, you do.

When you purchase a product from a supplier, the price already contains VAT he/she pays to its government. So you don’t have to worry about it. But you must also collect VAT from your customers to compensate for your expenses and hand the tax to the government.

The AliDropship plugin lets you include taxes in the total price of your products. You can set the tax name and rate, apply it to the price alone or to the cost of shipping as well, and even bind the settings to countries, regions, or cities. Here you can learn more about tax settings in the AliDropship plugin.

Let’s take a look at tax systems in the most popular countries for dropshipping – the UK, the US, and the EU.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be regarded as legal advice on any subject matter. We strongly recommend consulting a professional tax advisor before taking any action.

Value added tax in the United Kingdom

After the UK left the European Union, its tax regulations changed. Here’s what you need to know.

If you want to sell products in the UK from overseas, you have two options. You can either use an online marketplace or sell goods from your own website.

And since this is the case for dropshipping, you have to register your business for VAT in HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). You can do it online or by post. After that, you’ll get a 9-digit VAT number.

If the cost of the consignment of goods doesn’t exceed £135, VAT is calculated based on the price at which you sell products to customers. If the cost exceeds £135, VAT is calculated at the point where the products cross the border.

The standard VAT rate in the UK equals 20%. But for some categories of goods, the government applies the reduced rate (5%). Some product categories are VAT-free. To see the full list of VAT rates in the UK, follow this link.

You can also read our article on dropshipping in the UK to learn about other taxes and customs regulations in the kingdom.

Sales tax in the United States

First of all, the government of the United States doesn’t collect value added tax. Instead, end customers pay sales tax.

It’s a consumption tax imposed on goods and services sold within a state’s jurisdiction. While VAT is collected at each stage of production, sales tax is collected only at the final stage (consumption). Still, from a retailer’s point of view, sales tax is basically the same as VAT.

The problem here is that the federal government doesn’t collect sales taxes. It is the responsibility of the states. As a result, sales tax rates are different in each state, and so are the rules (to some extent).

For example, California has the highest sales tax rate equaling 7.25%, while Delaware imposes no sales taxes at all. You can see all sales tax rates by state here.

Previously, a business didn’t have to pay sales taxes unless it ‘had a nexus’ in the given state. To have a nexus means to have a physical presence in a state: to own a brick-and-mortar store, a warehouse, etc. However, after the new Supreme Court ruling (South Dakota vs. Wayfair,  Inc.), this requirement is no longer in force.

In simple terms, it means the following. Previously, if your business didn’t have a large enough presence in a given state and a customer from this state purchased something from you, you didn’t have to pay the sales tax. The same goes for businesses registered outside the US.

But now, according to the new ruling, it doesn’t matter whether you have or have not a nexus in a given state – you do have to pay the sales tax anyway.

Nevertheless, to collect sales taxes, your business must be large enough: to have annual sales not less than $100,000 or make not less than 200 separate transactions in a given state per year.

It means that if your dropshipping store receives less than 200 transactions from this particular state and makes not more than $100,000 from this particular state, you don’t have to pay the sales tax to the government of this state.

But if your business exceeds this limit, you will have to register your business with the given state’s tax authority. Unfortunately, each state has its own requirements, so it’s impossible to give a general recommendation here. Just visit the corresponding state’s website to learn the details.

Value added tax in the European Union

Goods imported into the EU countries with a value of up to €10-22 (depending on the country) are exempt from import VAT. But if their value exceeds this limit, import VAT must be charged.

If your business is located outside the EU, the responsibility to pay VAT lies on the importer of record. Usually, it is the end customer. The problem here is that the customer must pay the tax when he or she receives the parcel. It often becomes a very unpleasant surprise and can lead to more refunds.

To solve this issue, one can register for VAT in the country where the products cross the EU border. It’ll make you the importer of goods liable for collecting and paying VAT. In this case, the consumer will pay the full price (including import VAT) at the checkout. Or you could just warn customers that they will be charged with VAT.

But different EU countries have different VAT rates (from 17% to 21%), while some countries exclude mail orders from this exemption. What if you sell goods to an EU country different from your country of registration?

If your business is registered in the European Union and sells products to end customers living in another EU country, you apply the VAT rate of the country where you are registered.

But it works only if the sales generated in the given import country do not exceed the threshold of this country. These thresholds vary from one EU country to another:

List of VAT threshold limits in EU countries

If you exceed the threshold, you will have to register for VAT in that country and charge its own VAT rate instead of domestic VAT. VAT rates differ depending on the country as well:

List of VAT rates in EU countries

From July 1, 2021, these rules will change. EU and non-EU businesses importing goods with a value up to €150 will be able to join the Import One Stop Shop (IOSS) Scheme. It will let you declare and pay VAT in a single monthly VAT return.

You must collect the tax when accepting the payment for the goods (i.e. at the checkout). Then you pay it to the country where you registered your business for the Import IOSS.

Otherwise, the customs broker will collect VAT.

If the imported consignment of goods has a value exceeding the €150 threshold, import VAT is paid to the customs. It may also require a regular VAT registration in the country of importation.

The government will replace the old VAT thresholds with a new uniformed threshold. Small businesses registered in an EU country and selling less than €10,000 of goods to other EU countries, will be able to charge domestic VAT. Otherwise, they will charge the VAT rate of the country of import.

As you can see, the tax system of the EU is probably the most complicated because each country has its own rules and tax rates. So, consulting a tax advisor is a must here.

We hope this information has proved useful and now that you better understand how to collect and pay VAT, you are ready to launch your dropshipping business!

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By Timur Yuldashev
Timur holds a Ph.D. in Philology and works as a senior copywriter at AliDropship. He's been writing articles on ecommerce and dropshipping for more than 3 years and is keen to create easy-to-read educational content for ecommerce newcomers and beginners in dropshipping.

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