Updated : 28/09/2017
As a private individual shopping in the EU, you should only pay VAT once, in the country where you make your purchase.
You can bring home anything you buy in another EU country, without stopping at the border or making a customs declaration. The only condition is that your purchases must be for your own or your family's personal use, and not intended for resale.
If you are visiting from outside the EU you are entitled to a VAT refund on goods you have bought during your stay in the EU if the goods are shown to customs on departure within 3 months of their purchase together with the VAT refund documents. These are normally prepared by the seller although, as the scheme is voluntary, not all merchants participate. Some countries set a minimum value of purchases to qualify for a refund.
Special rules may apply when you buy goods from another EU country for delivery to your country of residence. If the company you buy from sells goods over a certain value to your country, where the goods are delivered, they cannot charge VAT in the country where you make your purchase.
Instead, they have to apply VAT in the country where the goods are delivered – VAT of destination. The total ceiling for cross-border sales is set by each EU country at EUR 35 000 or EUR 100 000. This means that most major online retailers delivering within the EU will have to apply the VAT of destination rule.
Lucie, from Belgium, orders a book from a large online retailer in the UK. When she pays for the order and enters her address, she notices that the price has suddenly gone up. She checks the reason and discovers that the company has charged her Belgian VAT at 6% instead of UK VAT at 0%.
In Belgium, the threshold for the country of destination rule to apply is EUR 35 000. This means that a company who sold more than EUR 35 000 in goods to Belgium during the previous financial year must apply the VAT rate of the country of destination. The company Lucie has ordered from delivers frequently to Belgium and therefore has to charge her Belgian VAT, even though her book is being shipped from the UK.
VAT on telecommunications, broadcasting and electronic services is charged in the country where you live (the country where you are established, have your permanent address or usually live), and not in the country from where you purchase the service. These rules apply to services supplied both within and from outside the EU.
Senta, lives in Sweden and purchases eBooks from a Finnish online book seller. The Finnish supplier must charge her Swedish and not Finnish VAT.
For new cars bought in another EU country, VAT is paid in the country where you import and register your car (your country of residence). This VAT scheme also applies to other new means of transport, such as large motorbikes, boats and aircraft.
For VAT purposes, a new car means one which has travelled less than 6 000 km or is less than 6 months old. A used car means one which is more than 6 months old and has travelled more than 6 000 km.
Find out more about paying VAT when you buy a vehicle in another EU country.