Shipping Terms Glossary

VAT Number

A Value Added Tax (VAT) number is used to identify a person or business registered for VAT.

What is the VAT Number?

A Value Added Tax (VAT) number is used to identify a person or business registered for VAT.

A valid VAT number is required when you import goods into the EU.

EU VAT Number Structure:

Every VAT number begins with a country code followed by a block of digits or characters.

For example, a French VAT number  will look similar to this: FR 12345678901

French VAT Number

Who needs a VAT number?

Most businesses with goods that are applicable for a Value Added Tax should register for a VAT number with the EU.

In particular, a business is required to register for VAT in the following cases:

A foreign company is buying and selling goods in an European country when it carries out the supply of goods or services taxed with VAT;

When it acquires goods from different EU countries;

When it receives services for which it is liable to pay VAT (under Article 196 VAT Directive);

When it supplies services for which the customer is liable to pay VAT (under Article 196 VAT Directive).

See EU's VAT identification numbers page for more information.

Do you need a VAT number for every EU country? What about the UK?


Every EU country has its own VAT numbers, so if you are a business importing to multiple EU countries, you will need to register for a VAT number with each country.

The UK also requires a VAT number, which you’ll need to apply for with the UK government.

Do you need a VAT Number for non-EU countries in Europe?


Even non-EU country such as the UK, Switzerland, or Iceland has its own VAT system which you’ll need to register for with their local government.

If your business is not registered in Europe, can you still apply for VAT?

Yes you can!

An application must be submitted to the local tax authority using the correct registration forms.

You can apply yourself or you can appoint a VAT agent to file the registration form on your behalf.

How long does it take to register for a VAT Number?

It usually takes about 4 to 8 weeks to apply, verify, and get your VAT Number. But keep in mind that countries operate differently, so it could take longer than 8 weeks.

📝How to apply for a VAT number in the EU?

You can apply for VAT numbers with the local governments of EU countries. Each EU country has a local governing authority that is responsible for the VAT registration process.

🥐 Let’s say you’re registering for a VAT Number in France as a foreign business (not registered in the EU).

Step 1: You need to go to the EU National Tax Website and find their tax authority website.

National Tax Website screenshot

Step 2: Go to “France - Tax Administration”

France Tax Administration

Step 3: Search “VAT Registration”

VAT Registration

Step 4: Click on “Registering with the Foreign Business Tax Department”

Registering with Foreign Tax Department

Step 5: Follow the process of registering for the VAT Number. They will indicate the information and documentation that you’ll need to submit.

In the case of France, you’ll first need to request the form that you need to fill in from their Foreign Tax Department

Registering with foreign business tax department

If you’re applying for a VAT number in any country (EU, non-EU, or any other country) where a sales tax is applicable, you can refer to the Worldwide Tax Guide for the registration procedures.

How much will a VAT Number cost?

If you decide to use an agency, charges can be around €60.

Cristian Ungureanu

Logistics nerd and resident marketing guy of Bookairfreight. I love writing content that simplifies old-fashioned industry processes and provides solid, accurate information you can base your decisions on. Outside of logistics, I enjoy nature, hanging out with friends, electronic music and spirituality.

Say goodbye to industry jargon.

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