VAT and overseas goods sold directly to customers in the UK
How sellers deal with VAT for goods from overseas that they sell direct to customers in the UK.
There are different rules:
Consignments of goods with a value of £135 or less that are outside:
- the UK and sold directly to customers (not through an online marketplace) in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) will have UK supply VAT charged at the point of sale
- the UK and EU and sold directly to customers (not through an online marketplace) in Northern Ireland will have import VAT charged
The £135 limit applies to the value of a total consignment that is imported, not the separate value of individual items that are in a consignment.
These rules will not apply to the import of:
- consignments of goods containing excise goods – find out more about importing excise goods to the UK from the EU
- non-commercial goods (for example, gifts) – find out more about tax and customs for gifts sent from abroad
These rules will also not apply to consignments of goods from Jersey and Guernsey, if VAT is collected and paid to HMRC under the Import VAT Accounting Scheme.
Goods that are outside the UK at the point of sale
The seller must work out the consignment value of the goods by deciding their ‘intrinsic value’, this is the price the goods were sold for, not including:
- any transport or insurance costs, unless they are included in the price and not separately shown on the invoice
- any other identifiable taxes and charges
Unless sent individually, the seller must add the individual values of all items in a consignment together to get the total value of the consignment.
If a seller makes changes to the value of the consignment so that its total value goes above £135 they may be liable for import VAT and Customs Duty, and have to adjust the VAT already accounted for at the point of sale.
Low value consignment relief, which is an import VAT exemption for goods valued at £15 or less, has been removed in:
- Great Britain for goods imported from outside the UK
- Northern Ireland for goods that are imported from outside the UK and EU
Consignments valued at £135 or less
The seller must charge and account for VAT at the point of sale, unless the consignment is a business to business sale and the customer has given them their UK VAT registration number.
To charge and account for VAT the seller will need to:
- know the precise nature of the goods to find out the correct rate of VAT to charge
- register for VAT – sellers that are already registered for VAT do not need to re-register
- keep records of the goods sold, and make sure they get accurate information to apply the correct VAT treatment to them
For goods supplied into Northern Ireland from outside the UK and EU, low value consignment relief will no longer apply and the seller will be liable to account for the VAT on the VAT return instead of at the border.
Business to business sales to UK VAT-registered customers
The seller will not need to charge and account for VAT if the customer gives them their VAT registration number. The seller can confirm it’s correct using the online service.
The seller can add a note to the invoice (for example, by writing ‘reverse charge: customer to account for VAT to HMRC’) then send it to the UK business customer.
The business customer will then be responsible for accounting for any VAT due on their VAT Return, if the goods are supplied in Great Britain – using a ‘reverse charge’ procedure.
Where goods are supplied in Northern Ireland the business customer will be responsible for accounting for any VAT due. They may account for it using postponed VAT accounting or any other means of paying import.
In both cases, the business customer will be able to recover the VAT as input tax on the same VAT Return under normal VAT recovery rules.
Sellers do not have to register for VAT if they only sell goods that are outside the UK at the point of sale to UK VAT-registered businesses.
Consignments valued at more than £135
Normal VAT and customs rules will apply on importation of the goods into Great Britain from outside the UK or into Northern Ireland from outside the UK and EU.
Read Import goods into the UK to find out more about how imported goods are treated for VAT purposes.
Goods that are in the UK at the point of sale
If you are an overseas seller who owns goods of any value that are located in the UK at the point of sale you must register and account for VAT on any sales you make directly to customers in Great Britain or Northern Ireland.
There are different rules if you import goods then sell them through an online marketplace.
Overseas sellers making supplies of zero-rated goods
You do not need to register for VAT if the goods you supply are all zero-rated. You can apply for exemption from registration. See VAT rates on different goods and services to find out which:
- rate of VAT applies
- goods are exempt from VAT
- goods are outside the scope of VAT
The normal rules for the content and format of VAT invoices will apply.
The seller should issue a full paper or digital invoice for goods.
For goods sold in Northern Ireland from outside of the EU, the seller does not need to provide a VAT invoice.
The seller must keep full records (including VAT invoices) for 6 years from the date any goods are sold.
Find out more about VAT record keeping.
VAT and goods returned to you
Read the VAT and overseas goods sent to the UK and returned to the seller guidance to find out how to deal with VAT if you have sold goods sent from abroad to customers in the UK and they are returned to you.
The Flat Rate Scheme
Sellers who are using the Flat Rate Scheme must have decided if they wanted to remain in the scheme by 1 January 2021.
Any sales a seller makes through an online marketplace, where the online marketplace is liable to account for the VAT, will not be included in the Flat Rate Scheme calculation from 1 January 2021.
Sellers who decided to remain in the scheme will continue to be subject to its conditions, including the restrictions on recovering VAT.
A seller can decide to leave the scheme at any time.
Goods sold before 1 January 2021
If a seller received payment for an order before 11pm on 31 December 2020 and dispatched the item after that time, these rules would not apply.
Last updated 14 May 2021 + show all updates