VAT on imports from France


It is important to understand that it is the movement of goods that is relevant. A transfer of stock by a business from a warehouse that it owns in France to the UK will normally be classed as an import for VAT purposes, while the receipt of goods by a UK business from the UK warehouse of a French supplier will not automatically be classed as an import. The general position will be looked at, and then some further explanations and exceptions will follow at the end of the page.

Imports when the UK business is not registered for VAT

A UK business, which is not registered for VAT, will usually be charged TVA by the French supplier on its imports from France. It may instead be charged UK VAT, depending on whether the French supplier has a UK VAT registration. Unless the UK business is registered for VAT, there is no way to reclaim either the TVA or VAT.

Imports when the UK business is registered for VAT

The UK business should give the French supplier its UK VAT registration number (including the GB prefix) when importing goods from France so that French TVA does not get charged. If TVA is charged, the UK business cannot reclaim it on their UK VAT return, or by a direct claim to the French tax authorities under the EC 8th Directive refund scheme.

The UK business should usually pay UK VAT on the import by including VAT in box 2 of its regular UK VAT return, at the appropriate UK VAT rate (it may be at the standard rate, zero-rated or exempt in the UK). It may then reclaim that same amount by including it as input VAT in box 4 of the same VAT return, subject to the normal rules about recovering input VAT. The reason for this apparently circular exercise is to avoid VAT distortions between buying goods in the UK and importing them from France.

This adjustment is not required if the French supplier is not registered for TVA.

This adjustment is still required if the UK business is on the Flat Rate Scheme. The business must account for a UK VAT liability at the full rate (rather than at the discounted flat rate), so that imported goods include the same amount of VAT as those bought in the UK.

Terminology

Strictly, for VAT purposes the sale of goods from France to the UK are not called imports, but are instead called acquisitions or arrivals into the UK. The term imports is reserved for the movement of goods from places outside the EC. However, to avoid technical jargon and to make the information more accessible, this website uses the term imports for the movement of goods from France to the UK.

Special rules for importing goods

Different rules may apply in certain less-common situations:

Transfers of own goods from France to the UK;
Receiving installed or assembled goods in the UK from a French supplier;
Goods received from France for process, repair etc;
Triangular business transactions;
News means of transport;
Supplies received by privileged persons in the UK;
Call-off stocks;
Goods received on sale or return, or approval;
Excise goods;
Samples and goods received for testing;
Mobile telephones and computer chips;
Gas and electricity;
Freight containers;
Supplies on board ships, aircraft and planes.