VAT for exporters

VAT for exporters

Value-added tax (VAT) plays a central role in international trade, directly influencing the operations of exporters. This tax, levied at every stage of production and distribution, is in principle neutral for companies, as it is recoverable and ultimately borne by the end consumer. For exporters, understanding VAT rules is essential, not only to optimize costs but also to comply with international tax regulations. VAT exemption on goods exported outside the European Union is an advantage, as it enables prices to be aligned with those on the international market without the tax surcharge.

Legislation governing VAT on exports has recently evolved, simplifying procedures and clarifying exemption conditions. Notable changes include the modernization of processes through dematerialization, the introduction of the computerized Community Export Control System (ECS), and legislative adjustments, such as Decree 2010-233. The aim of these reforms is to facilitate the proof of export required to qualify for VAT exemption, while ensuring more effective control and reducing tax evasion. For exporters, it is therefore important to keep abreast of these developments to maintain competitiveness and ensure tax compliance in their international transactions.

General principles of VAT on exports

Definition of territories considered as exports for VAT purposes

VAT on exports is subject to specific rules depending on the recipient and final destination of the goods. The territories taken into account for VAT exemption or adjustment on exports include :

  • Countries outside the European Union: These destinations are considered to be outside the European tax system, and exports to them are therefore eligible for VAT exemption. VAT on these exports is reported in full on the CA3 as exported VAT.
  • European Union countries: Although exports within the EU are not exempt from VAT in the strict sense, they do require specific declarations. Exports to other EU countries must be declared via the Declaration for the Exchange of Goods (DEB) and the Declaration for the Exchange of Services (DES). These declarations enable VAT to be adjusted between sender and recipient, taking into account the VAT rates specific to each country (e.g. VAT FR 20%, VAT DE 19%).
  • Specific territories excluded from EU tax territory: Certain territories, such as the Channel Islands and the Canary Islands, although geographically in Europe, are excluded from EU tax territory. Exports to these areas are also exempt from VAT, provided that the rules specific to each territory are respected.

VAT exemption for goods exported outside the European Union

VAT exemption for goods exported outside the EU is a key principle that supports the competitiveness of European companies on the global market. To benefit from this exemption, the following conditions must be met:

  • Conditions for exemption: The exporter must demonstrate that the goods have been physically shipped out of the European Union. This process often involves the presentation of transport documents such as bills of lading or commercial invoices, accompanied by proof of exit from the territory, such as customs stamps or electronic declarations validated by customs.
  • Importance of proof that goods have left EU territory: Proof of exit is crucial to justify VAT exemption. Without this proof, the tax authorities may refuse exemption and demand payment of VAT. In this case, the exporter will have to pay the VAT and will not be able to reclaim it via the sales declaration (CA3), which could represent a significant cost. Proof must be irrefutable and comply with customs requirements to avoid tax adjustments and penalties.

Adherence to these principles enables exporters to effectively navigate the VAT export regulatory framework, ensuring tax compliance while optimizing the financial benefits of their international operations.

Procedures and documentation

Changes in export declaration procedures since 2010

Since 2010, export declaration procedures have evolved to incorporate significant technological advances. Theintroduction of dematerialization with the ECS (Export Control System) marked a major turning point. This system enables declarations to be managed electronically, making it easier to monitor and validate exports in real time. Exporters benefit from a considerable reduction in processing times and greater transparency in customs operations.

In the event of failure of the ECS system, alternatives have been put in place to ensure continuity of operations. Exporters can use traditional paper procedures or other forms of temporarily accepted electronic declarations to substantiate their exports. These measures ensure that exports can still be proven and validated, even in the event of a computer breakdown.

Documents required to justify VAT exemption

To qualify for VAT exemption on exports, exporters must provide a list of accepted supporting documents. These documents generally include commercial invoices, transport documents (such as bills of lading or consignment notes), and customs declarations with the appropriate status. These documents must clearly indicate that the goods have left the European Union, thus ensuring compliance with tax requirements.

  • Commercial invoices: These must detail the goods exported, the price and information on the consignee.
  • Transport documents: Bills of lading, consignment notes, or any other document proving that goods have been transported outside the EU.
  • Customs declarations: These declarations go through several successive statuses, such as "sent", "Bon à Enlever", "Bon à Enlever Sortie". The final status must indicate that the goods have actually left EU territory.

Decree 2010-233 has had a significantimpact on proof of export. This decree clarified and broadened the types of documents that can be used to prove export, allowing companies to present alternative proofs such as electronic customs declarations or certificates validated by the customs authorities of the destination country. This change has simplified the procedure for exporters, enabling them to better manage their tax obligations and minimize the risk of non-compliance.

These adjustments in procedures and documentary requirements have improved the efficiency of export processes, reducing administrative costs for companies and strengthening the control framework for the movement of goods out of the EU.

Special regimes and tax implications

Community Economic Regime (CER)

The Community Economic Regime (CER) is an important facility for companies engaged in cross-border operations. This scheme allows VAT to be suspended on goods while they are under certain customs procedures or in specific zones. The functions and conditions of this regime are specifically defined: it can be applied for the storage, processing or transport of goods prior to export. Companies must obtain prior authorization from the tax authorities, and guarantee that the goods will remain within the defined area and be tracked according to the specified guidelines.

Practical uses of the CDR include the storage of goods awaiting export, the processing of products prior to shipment abroad, or use in international transactions involving several EU countries where the goods do not leave EU territory immediately.

A suspensive procedure, like the REC, generally requires the posting of a bond to guarantee compliance with customs requirements, similar to a simple transit, which is also considered a suspensive procedure.

Duty-free counters

Duty-free counters are sales outlets located in international areas such as airports or certain ports, where goods can be sold VAT-free to travelers heading for destinations outside the European Union. The operation and regulations of these counters are strictly controlled: goods sold must be intended for carriage outside the EU, and buyers must prove their non-resident status. These counters must also ensure that all transactions comply with customs and tax requirements, including the proper documentation that must accompany the goods sold.

Not only does this scheme help to attract international customers by offering more competitive prices, it also ensures that companies comply with tax standards by avoiding VAT fraud. Economic operators thus benefit from a clear legal framework to increase their sales while making an effective contribution to international trade.

Practical difficulties and challenges

Challenges faced by companies in managing export VAT

Managing VAT on exports presents many challenges for companies, not least because of the complexity of regulations and the need to comply with various international tax systems. Common problems include difficulty in obtaining the appropriate supporting documents to prove that goods have left the EU, understanding the specific rules of different third countries, and managing the requirements for VAT exemption.

Unlike private individuals, companies do not receive VAT refunds on exports. For private individuals, VAT is refunded by the seller when the tax-free invoice is validated on exit, as explained with the Pablo system and the volante.

Practical solutions for overcoming these obstacles include the adoption of advanced IT systems for export tracking, ongoing training for customs and VAT teams, and the use of specialist international tax consultants. These measures help to ensure compliance, optimize customs and tax processes, and reduce the risk of costly errors.

Legal implications and disputes

The legal implications of VAT on exports are significant, and disputes can arise from non-compliance with tax regulations. The most frequent disputes concern the non-validation of export documents, errors in VAT declarations, or disagreements over the status of goods as exports qualifying for VAT exemption.

Conflict management often involves negotiations between the exporter and the public finance authorities. The responsibilities of the parties involved require absolute clarity in transactions to avoid misunderstandings. When disputes do arise, they are often resolved through audits, documentary clarifications or, in some cases, legal proceedings. Setting up a robust compliance file, including all transport documents and proof of exit from the country, is essential to prevent such disputes and to defend the company's position in the event of a tax audit.

These challenges and implications call for constant vigilance and proactive adaptation to legislative and regulatory developments, in order to maintain efficient VAT export management.

Mastering VAT for exporters

As we conclude our guide to VAT for exporting businesses, it's clear that mastering this tax is crucial to international business success. Throughout this article, we've explored the essential rules of export VAT, the documentation needed to qualify for exemptions, and the special regimes that can offer significant advantages.

The importance of understanding and complying with complex VAT requirements cannot be underestimated, particularly when it comes to supporting documentation and managing customs procedures. There is no shortage of challenges, not least managing proof of goods leaving EU territory and navigating the various suspensive tax regimes, which can vary considerably from country to country.

Looking to the future, exporters need to remain vigilant and proactive in the face of legislative and technological developments that could impact export VAT rules. An informed and strategic approach is essential to maximize benefits and minimize risks, ensuring sustainable competitiveness in the global marketplace.

This guide aims to provide you with the keys you need to confidently navigate the complex landscape of export VAT. Stay informed, consult experts regularly and update your practices to continue to thrive in your export business.


  1. What is the export VAT exemption?
    VAT exemption is a tax measure enabling companies not to pay VAT on goods they export outside the European Union. This exemption aims to encourage international trade and make European companies more competitive.
  2. How do you prove that goods have been exported to qualify for VAT exemption?
    qualify for VAT exemption, exporters must provide documentary evidence that the goods have left the European Union. This can include transport documents such as bills of lading, international commercial invoices and official customs documents.
  3. What are the common challenges associated with export VAT?
    challenges include the complex management of supporting documents, understanding different customs regulations by country, and delays in processing VAT refunds. These challenges require good preparation and sometimes the assistance of specialist international tax consultants.
  4. Can an exporter reclaim VAT on export-related purchases?
    , exporters can often reclaim VAT paid on purchases related to their export activities, such as materials and services necessary for the production of exported goods, provided that these purchases are directly related to export operations.
  5. What technological innovations help exporters manage VAT?
    such as the computerized Community Export Control System (ECS) and various online VAT management tools enable better traceability and more efficient management of export VAT requirements.
  6. What happens if the supporting documents are not accepted by the tax authorities?
    the supporting documents are not accepted, VAT exemption may be denied, resulting in additional costs for the exporter. It is crucial to ensure that all documents are correctly completed and validated by customs before the goods are shipped. In the event of non-acceptance, VAT is not charged abroad, which implies a VAT debit. Although the term "exemption" is commonly used in customs, it is important to understand that this is not a refund, but a non-invoicing of VAT to foreign customers.

In the complex landscape of customs operations, Nabu is the solution that enables companies to be more efficient, fast and competitive. By centralizing, unifying and controlling shipping data, Nabu simplifies processes and ensures that every system and stakeholder has the right information, in the right format, at the right time.

Optimize your customs processes with Nabu.

We will contact you soon!
Oops! Something went wrong.