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1. What is international sales tax?

International sales tax: What global sellers need to know

Navigating the complex landscape of international sales tax is pivotal for global sellers keen on expanding their horizons. 

As businesses cross borders, they encounter myriad tax regulations, each with unique intricacies dictated by local governmental and economic conditions. 

Understanding these regulations is not just about compliance but strategically positioning a business for success in foreign markets. 

This guide delves into the essentials of international sales tax, shedding light on what global sellers must know to ensure smooth transactions, avoid legal pitfalls, and foster trust with global branding.

Main takeaways from this article:

  • International sales tax is the tax on goods and services sold across international borders. It varies by country and is influenced by origin vs. destination-based taxes, VAT vs. GST systems, digital services, tax treaties, and additional duties or tariffs.

  • Authorities charge sales tax at the point of sale and primarily fund local projects. VAT is incremental and is collected at each stage of production/distribution, and typically contributes to national revenue.

  • Global sellers must determine if they must register for VAT/GST in target countries. Factors influencing this include sales volume, type of goods, and business's physical presence. Accurate record-keeping is vital for tax compliance.

  • International sellers might need to collect US sales tax from customers if they have a tax nexus in a state, influenced by physical presence or economic activity. The 2018 South Dakota v. Wayfair decision and marketplace facilitator laws are significant considerations.

  • Gelato assists businesses in navigating international marketing and selling, offering localized production and distribution. We automate tax calculation and remittance, tailor product solutions, and help with pricing and delivery strategies, simplifying global expansion challenges.

What is international sales tax?

International sales tax is the tax on goods and services sold across international borders. Individual countries implement these taxes to regulate the sale and purchase of products and services within their jurisdictions and when businesses engage in cross-border transactions. The nature, rate, and application of this tax can vary significantly from one country to another, and businesses must understand these distinctions when selling internationally.

Several factors influence the determination and application of international sales tax:

  • Origin vs. destination-based: Some countries apply tax based on the product's origin (where it was produced), while others apply it based on its destination (where it will be consumed).

  • Value Added Tax (VAT) vs. Goods and Services Tax (GST): While both are indirect taxes on the consumption of goods and services, their structures differ. VAT is applied at each stage of the supply chain (with businesses reclaiming tax on their inputs), while GST is a comprehensive single-tier tax applied to the final consumption.

  • Digital services: With the rise of digital commerce, many countries have introduced taxes on digital goods and services. This is especially relevant for businesses offering international clients online services or software.

  • Tax treaties: Some countries have bilateral or multilateral agreements to avoid double taxation, ensuring that goods or services aren't taxed twice.

  • Duties and tariffs: Besides sales taxes, imported goods might be subject to customs duties or tariffs, which are taxes levied on goods as they cross into a country.

Understanding international sales tax is essential for businesses to ensure compliance, optimize pricing strategies, and manage costs efficiently. Failure to comply can result in fines, legal repercussions, and reputational damage

What is the difference between sales tax and VAT?

Sales tax and Value Added Tax (VAT) are both systems of taxation that are applied to the sale of goods and services, but they function differently. They are implemented in distinct ways across various jurisdictions. Here are the primary differences between the two:

Point of collection

Sales tax: Typically levied in countries like the US, sales tax is collected by the retailer at the point of sale and added to the end consumer's price. Retailers then remit this collected tax to the respective state or local government as per the state sales tax laws.

VAT: Widely used in many countries, especially in Europe, VAT is collected incrementally at each stage of production or distribution of goods and services. Every business in the supply chain collects VAT on its sales and can reclaim the VAT it pays on purchases, meaning that the end consumer effectively pays the tax.

Visibility to the consumer

Sales tax: The tax is usually not included in the shelf price of an item; instead, it's added at the checkout.

VAT: The price displayed typically includes the VAT, so consumers see the final price they will pay upfront.

Rate variation

Sales tax: In the US, sales tax rates can vary widely between states, counties, and even cities. Depending on the jurisdiction, different items can also be taxed at different rates.

VAT: Most countries that use a VAT system have a standard rate for most goods and services, though there may be reduced rates or exemptions for specific categories (like food or books).

Purpose and use

Sales tax: Collected by state or local governments in the US, the revenue often goes towards funding state or local projects and services.

VAT: VAT is generally a national tax; revenues typically go into the national treasury.

Complexity and administration

Sales tax: The burden is primarily on retailers to collect and remit the tax, with compliance varying by state and locality.

VAT: Requires record-keeping by all businesses in the supply chain to track the VAT paid and collected, potentially leading to more administrative overhead.

While both sales tax and VAT are means to generate revenue for governments, how they are implemented, collected, and managed differs significantly. It's also worth noting that some countries may use terms like "Goods and Services Tax" (GST) to describe their VAT-like systems.

Understanding varying sales tax regulations

Sales tax regulations exhibit stark differences across countries, reflecting each jurisdiction's unique economic, social, and legal frameworks. At its core, sales tax is a consumption tax levied on selling goods and services. However, the exact nature of this tax varies. Some nations impose a Value Added Tax (VAT) system where tax is collected incrementally based on the value added at each stage of production or distribution. Others might implement a General Sales Tax (GST) or a similar model.

Registering for VAT/GST in different countries

A global seller's primary step is ascertaining whether they need to register for VAT or GST in a particular country. The necessity can hinge on various factors, such as sales volume, type of goods sold, or the business's physical presence.

  • Remote vs. physical presence: Countries have diverse regulations on this. Some may demand a physical business address, while others are more lenient, allowing foreign entities to register remotely.

  • Digital services: The rise of digital services has prompted many countries to introduce "digital VAT" or "e-services VAT," obliging international sellers to register, collect, and remit VAT on digital services provided to consumers.

  • VAT refunds: In certain scenarios, if a business incurs more VAT on its purchases than it collects on its sales, it may be eligible for a VAT refund.

Efficient record-keeping for global transactions

Accurate record-keeping is not just good business practice; it's often a legal requirement. It becomes exponentially crucial for global sellers, given the complexities of international transactions and the need to adhere to the tax regulations of multiple countries.

  • Digital record-keeping: Modern businesses are leveraging digital tools and cloud-based systems to maintain and access their transaction records, making it easier to track, analyze, and present when needed.

  • Document requirements: Depending on the jurisdiction, sellers might need to maintain specific documents like tax invoices, credit notes, or import/export paperwork. Each of these can have unique formats and information requirements.

  • Audit preparedness: In an audit by tax authorities, well-maintained records can be a savior. They provide evidence of compliance and can significantly streamline the audit process.

International sales tax is intricate but navigable with informed decisions and meticulous practices. By understanding the nuances of tax regulations, ensuring proper registration, and maintaining impeccable records, global sellers can ensure compliance and optimize their financial strategies.

Do international sellers have to deal with sales tax in the US?

Yes, international sellers often have to deal with sales tax in the US, especially if they have established a tax nexus within a given state. The concept of sales tax nexus has evolved with the advent of ecommerce and the changing landscape of global business operations. Here's a breakdown of the situation:

Understanding sales tax nexus

A sales tax nexus traditionally meant a physical presence in a state, like a store or office. However, recent laws have expanded this definition to include economic activity. This means that if an international seller has a certain amount of sales or transactions within a state, they may be required to collect sales tax even if they have no physical presence there.

Economic nexus

Following the 2018 US Supreme Court decision in South Dakota v. Wayfair, many states adopted economic nexus laws. These laws require sellers to collect sales tax if they exceed a certain sales threshold or transactions in that state. The specifics of the threshold vary by state. For example, some states might require sales tax collection if a seller has $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions within a year.

Marketplace facilitator laws

Some US states have laws that shift the responsibility of sales tax collection from third-party sellers to the marketplace platforms that facilitate the sale. This means that if an international seller uses one of these platforms, the platform might collect and remit the sales tax on their behalf.

Registration and compliance

If an international seller establishes a tax nexus in a US state, they typically must register for a sales tax permit. After registration, they collect the appropriate sales tax from US customers and remit it to the respective state authorities. They must also ensure proper record-keeping and file sales tax returns as required.

Use tax

If a sales tax isn't collected at the time of sale, the buyer may be responsible for paying a 'use tax,' which is similar in rate to the sales tax and applied to products used, stored, or consumed in a state where the sales tax wasn't collected.

Potential challenges

International sellers might face challenges tracking sales across different states, understanding varying tax rates, and keeping up with changing sales tax laws. Partnering with tax professionals or utilizing tax software can be beneficial.

International sellers must be aware of US sales tax laws and seek expert advice or use specialized tools to ensure compliance if they have significant sales in the US.

Partnering with Gelato for simplified international selling

With its extensive global network, Gelato offers businesses the unique advantage of producing locally while operating globally. By partnering with Gelato, sellers can tap into local production facilities and distribution hubs, ensuring faster deliveries and reducing shipping costs. This localized approach can also aid in navigating region-specific preferences, enhancing customer satisfaction.

One of the most daunting aspects of international selling is managing the labyrinth of varying tax regulations and compliance needs. Gelato provides automated solutions that calculate, collect, and remit taxes pertinent to each region. By leveraging our platform, sellers can remain compliant without getting bogged down by the intricacies of international sales tax.

Whether a business sells print on demand products, digital goods, or physical inventory, Gelato offers tailored solutions to the diverse needs of localized production of various products, including t-shirts, mugs, phone cases, and wall art. Our expertise in various product domains ensures that sellers get optimal strategies for pricing, packaging, and product delivery.

Gelato is a strategic ally for businesses aiming to expand their global footprint. Our comprehensive suite of services, combined with market expertise, positions businesses for success in the international market, simplifying the complexities that often deter sellers from venturing beyond borders. Sign up for Gelato today!


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