Cross-border E-commerce

EU VAT: New rules for cross-border e-commerce

Published on 11 November 2019
Maxi Lina Weber
Maxi Lina Weber
Social Media Manager

Is your company selling goods or services online?  And across borders? If so, you have probably heard of the new EU VAT regulations.  Some changes have already gone into effect in the beginning of this year. More are about to take the leap in 2021. In this article, we have collected the already established as well as the upcoming VAT rules that will significantly impact your cross-border business. 

Distance sales within the EU 

1. €10,000 threshold for all goods

On the way to establishing a simplified system, the EU introduced an annual €10,000 threshold for EU-established sellers of digital goods in 2019. As of 2021, it will also apply for physical goods. If a trader’s annual cross-border revenue does not exceed €10,000, they can simply charge the VAT rate of their home country. This single-tax-rate policy can save companies the costs of VAT compliance, especially if the company is a SME.

After all, it is not mandatory. A trader can make use of the OSS scheme (introduced below). They may also choose to charge the VAT in the member state of the customer. If they do so, they commit themselves to this choice for two years. Yet, this will only be attractive and justify the effort, if the rate is significantly lower. If the annual turnover exceeds the threshold, only the two latter options are available. 

As of 2019, the EU Commission introduced another threshold for the field of electronic services. When a trader’s cross-border revenue stays below €100,000, they only need one piece of evidence (instead of two) to identify the customer’s location, e.g. an invoice address. From January 2021 on, this applies for all goods. Furthermore, for more simplification, the invoicing rules of the EU country of the trader apply. 

2. The new One-Stop Shop (OSS) 

As a further step, the so-called One-Stop Shop (OSS) will be established. It is an extension to the MOSS scheme*, that simplifies the distance sales of electronic services since 2015. As of January 2021, it will include the distance sales of physical products as well. This rule should create a fairer competition and eliminate disadvantages for local, EU-based companies. Sellers charge the local VAT of their customers, while handling the process with their own VAT administration. In a single quarterly declaration, vendors can state their revenues. The local VAT amount is then transferred to the consumer’s member state.

Import into the EU

Abolishment of the VAT exemption for low value goods

As the regulations for distance sales have been established long before the internet has taken over our daily lives, it was quite foreseeable that current rules and exemptions were sooner or later to be redefined. Hence, as of January 2021, the EU will abolish the frequently used VAT exemption for the import of consignments of a value lower than €22. This means, every single shipping from a non-EU country is subject to VAT upon importation. Indeed, it sounds like a massive bureaucratic and financial burden for international traders importing into the EU. Fortunately, there are a few options slimming down the declaration process for low value consignments. 

1. Value < €150: The new Import One-Stop Shop (IOSS) 

To omit extra hassle, the One-Stop Shop is also applicable for import sales. A company that is not based in the EU can appoint an intermediary. They further sign up for an IOSS EU VAT identification number in an EU member state of choice. When providing this number to the customs authorities, the consignments are then “import VAT exempt” upon importation. On basis of the monthly OSS VAT return, the responsible party declares VAT. This is then transferred to the customer’s VAT administration.

2. Value < €150: Special arrangement

If sellers do not make use of the simplified IOSS scheme, the system still falls back on special arrangements in the declaration process and payment of import VAT. In this case, a third party (postal or logistics operator) can take care of the import formalities and the VAT payment on the (EU-based) final customer’s behalf. The operator will charge the customer and pay VAT via monthly return. In this scenario, the member states can subject these transactions to the standard VAT rate. 

3. Value > €150: Full declaration

Only if the intrinsic value of the imported goods exceeds the threshold of €150, the OSS cannot be applied. Then vendors need a full import declaration. Nonetheless, the rule still applies, that the VAT rate of the final customer’s country is required. Consequently, the company needs individual VAT identification numbers for every EU member state they have customers in. 

New responsibilities of online marketplaces

A new role comes to the operators of online marketplaces. Since the beginning of this year, they are held responsible for the correct declaration of VAT and the corresponding compliance activities. When a sale is made through an electronic interface, such as a marketplace, platform or portal or similar, they are deemed to have received and supplied those goods. In other words, the platform becomes “the seller”. 

This marketplace liability implies, that a sale from a non-EU trader to an EU-based end-customer via an electronic interface is divided into two supplies. The first one is the supply between the seller and the electronic interface (without transport). The second one between the interface and the end-customer. If the goods are already located inside the EU (e.g. in the platform’s warehouse), they are deemed to be sold from the seller to the electronic interface within the EU. They are therefore subject to local VAT.  In the case of high value sales (> €150), the non-EU seller must register for VAT in all EU member states of consumption. 

German tax law changes

Since each and every marketplace (EU/non-EU) is theoretically liable for unpaid VAT of their sellers, German interfaces cover themselves by demanding a §22f UStG (VAT Act) certificate of their vendors. If vendors do not provide this certificate, they will likely be blocked from the marketplace. Electronic procedures are planned but not implemented yet. 


Aiming to strengthen the European single market and offer a more level playing field for EU businesses, the Commission continues to rewrite the rules of global e-commerce. Here one must note, that for EU customers, imports of low value goods may become less attractive due to customs clearance costs and import duty. Considering the process, there are real simplifications, yet also new obligations and challenges for electronic interfaces and logistic operators, that are quite significant. For example, when it comes to delivery times, storage capacities, and the recover payment of import duties.

Feeling a bit overwhelmed? We feel you! The best thing to do is to make arrangements and get in touch with your logistics operator / intermediary in advance. Then you will be perfectly equipped and prepared, when the changes and new rules apply!

*2015: MOSS for electronic services

Since 2015, the “place of consumption policy” already applies for electronic, telecommunication, and broadcasting services, such as mobile apps. It aims to ensure a more level playing field for EU based businesses: E-services sold online from another country are taxed the same amount, domestic providers are. The so-called Mini One-Stop Shop (MOSS) scheme was established to simplify the process. Traders do not have to register for VAT in every country of their customers individually. In a single quarterly declaration to their home administration, vendors can state their revenues. The local VAT amount is then transferred to the consumer’s member state. Non-EU traders only have to register in one EU country of choice, which will henceforth be their member state of identification. Looking ahead, this scheme is to pave the way for further rules for cross-border e-commerce. 

Maxi Lina Weber
Maxi Lina Weber
Social Media Manager