What are the specific VAT registration requirements for a new UK import/export business?

11 June 2024

You may have decided to set up a new import/export business in the UK, and it's clear that you've got a lot on your plate. One of the many aspects to consider is registering for Value Added Tax (VAT). Many of you may be wondering, "What are the specific VAT registration requirements for a UK import/export business?" This article will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the procedures and implications of VAT registration for your new venture.

VAT Registration: An Overview

Before diving into the intricacies of VAT registration, let's understand what VAT is all about. VAT, or Value Added Tax, is a form of consumption tax levied in the UK on most goods and services. This tax is typically borne by the final consumer, while businesses act as tax collectors on behalf of the government.

For import/export companies, VAT registration is mandatory if your VAT taxable turnover exceeds the £85,000 threshold within a rolling 12-month period. However, if your business only sells goods or services that are exempt from VAT, you can’t register for VAT. But, the question still arises: what are the specific steps involved in this registration process?

Step-by-Step VAT Registration for Import/Export Businesses

Once your business has hit the VAT threshold, you must register for VAT. This isn't just an optional step—it's a legal requirement. Here's a step-by-step process to help you navigate through this:

  1. Check if you need to register: Although the general rule is that you must register once your VAT taxable turnover exceeds £85,000, there are certain exceptions. Ensure that your business falls under the VAT registration requirement before proceeding.

  2. Prepare all necessary documents: You'll need your business’ unique taxpayer reference, business bank account details, and details about your business, including its turnover, business activity, and the registered address.

  3. Register online: You can register for VAT through the Government’s online portal. You'll receive a VAT registration certificate within 30 days of submitting your application.

  4. Charge VAT: Once registered, you must start charging VAT on all services and goods that aren't exempt. This is done by adding the appropriate VAT rate to your prices.

VAT Reporting and Payments

Once your business is registered for VAT, you need to follow stringent reporting rules. It's crucial to keep precise records of all transactions. Each VAT accounting period (typically every three months) you must submit a VAT return. This return details your total sales and purchases, how much VAT you owe, and how much VAT you can reclaim on purchases.

Paying your VAT is straightforward. The most common method is to pay online via Direct Debit, but other methods are available.

VAT on Imports and Exports

When dealing with the international movement of goods, you may think that VAT calculations would be a bit tricky. However, the rules are quite clear.

For imports from outside the UK, you'll typically need to pay import VAT. This is usually charged as a percentage of the total value of the goods, including costs such as shipping and insurance. Import VAT can usually be reclaimed in your VAT return.

For exports to non-UK countries, goods are generally zero-rated, which means no VAT needs to be charged. However, it's important to keep detailed records of these transactions, as they need to be included in your VAT return.

VAT Schemes for Import/Export Businesses

The UK Government has introduced several VAT schemes specifically designed for small businesses, which many import/export companies may find beneficial.

One such scheme is the Flat Rate Scheme. This allows you to pay a fixed rate of VAT to HMRC and keep the difference between what you charge your customers and pay to HMRC. However, you can't reclaim VAT on purchases, with a few exceptions.

Another is the VAT Cash Accounting Scheme. This scheme allows you to delay paying VAT until you've been paid by your customers. It's beneficial for businesses with cash flow issues, but your turnover must be £1.35 million or less to join.

In conclusion, as a new import/export business in the UK, navigating the VAT registration process and understanding its implications is crucial. It not only ensures you're operating within the law but also provides potential financial benefits. So, comprehend these VAT requirements and gear up to take your business to new heights.

Comprehensive Guide to VAT Exemptions and Reliefs

Understanding VAT exemptions and reliefs is essential for businesses as it can significantly impact the amount of VAT they pay. Certain goods and services are exempt from VAT, which means your business can’t charge VAT on them or reclaim VAT on related purchases.

Some examples of VAT-exempt goods and services in the UK include insurance, postal services, health services provided by registered health professionals, education and training, certain types of property transactions and more. It’s critical to be aware of these exemptions as it affects whether or not you need to register for VAT, how you invoice customers, and how you complete your VAT returns.

In addition to exemptions, there are also reliefs that can help reduce your VAT bill. An example of such VAT relief is Bads Debt Relief. If you've sold goods or supplied services to a customer and they haven’t paid you, you may be able to claim bad debt relief and get a refund of the VAT you've paid to HMRC.

Another common relief is Capital Goods Scheme which allows businesses to adjust the VAT they've reclaimed on certain high-value capital assets, over a period of years, in line with the proportion of taxable use of that asset. Other reliefs include Annual Accounting, Cash Accounting and Retail Schemes, which allow businesses to account for VAT in different ways to suit their needs.

Understanding which goods and services are exempt from VAT, and how to apply reliefs, can make a significant difference to your business's bottom line. Therefore, you should seek professional advice to ensure you're not overpaying VAT and taking full advantage of available reliefs.


Starting a new import/export business in the UK comes with a myriad of considerations, one of which is understanding and complying with VAT requirements. From knowing when to register for VAT, how to charge VAT, and submitting accurate VAT returns, to comprehending VAT exemptions and reliefs, every aspect is integral to ensuring your business operates within the law.

Moreover, exploiting the benefits of VAT schemes specifically designed for small businesses can prove to be financially beneficial. Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of the VAT requirements is imperative for the growth and success of your business.

While this article has aimed to provide an overview of the VAT landscape for a UK import/export business, VAT is a complex area of taxation with many nuances. Therefore, professional advice should be sought to ensure your compliance with VAT legislation and to maximise the tax efficiency of your business. This will allow you to focus on the core aspects of your business, confident that the VAT side of things is in good hands.