Trading in goods

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An introduction to trading in goods, and how to handle customs and VAT when trading inside and outside the EU.

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You must know whether you are trading in goods or services in order to do the right thing when it comes to VAT and customs. Goods are usually things you can touch. The question of whether you are trading in goods or services has an impact on the assessment of the country of taxation, tax liability and tax rate. 

The EU has a common market with mostly common rules. Within the EU, goods can essentially move freely across borders without customs checks or customs duties.  

When trading in goods within the EU, you should know the following:  

Is trade free for all goods within the EU? 

Although the EU has a common market, there may be special provisions for some goods when brought into Sweden or another EU country. This applies to pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs of animal origin, live animals and firearms and ammunition. No matter which country you intend to trade with, find out what applies in that country and for your kind of goods.   

What rules apply for customs? 

There is free movement of goods within the EU, so you do not have to pay customs duties or submit a customs declaration. There are, however, parts of the EU that are outside the EU’s common fiscal territories, and different rules apply for them. 

Buying and selling goods outside the EU’s fiscal territory 

  • If you buy goods from, or sell goods to, an area that is not part of the EU’s fiscal territory, you must declare the goods to the Swedish Customs. You must then report import VAT to the Swedish Tax Agency. You do not have to pay any customs duty.
  • To declare goods at customs, you need a special registration number. This is called an EORI number. You apply to the Swedish Customs for an EORI number. 

What are the rules for VAT in the EU?  

The EU is a common market, and the same VAT rules apply in all Member States, except for certain areas outside the EU’s fiscal territory. If you buy goods from, or sell goods to, a company established in such an area, you must pay import VAT and VAT on export respectively in accordance with the VAT rules that apply for trade outside the EU.  

The Swedish Tax Agency’s guide to trading in goods with other countries gives you an overview of the rules on VAT. The Swedish Tax Agency’s brochure VAT on foreign trade provides you with more details and offers help to calculate the amount of VAT. 

VAT on purchases of goods within the EU

If you buy goods from other countries within the EU, under certain conditions you do not have to pay foreign VAT to the seller. You must, however, calculate Swedish VAT yourself on the purchase, report it and pay the VAT to the Swedish Tax Agency. 

Buying goods without VAT within the EU

You can buy goods free of VAT if: 

  • the seller is registered for VAT in another EU country 
  • you provide your VAT number to the seller, who in turn states both their own VAT number and your own VAT number on the invoice
  • the goods are transported from one EU country to another 

When you buy goods VAT-free, you must calculate the VAT on the value of the goods yourself and report it to the Swedish Tax Agency via your VAT return. 

VAT on sales of goods within the EU

If you sell your goods to companies within the EU, you do not have to add Swedish VAT. But if you sell to private individuals, you should add Swedish VAT to the invoice. 

Selling goods without VAT within the EU

In certain cases, you can sell goods without VAT. This applies if: 

  • the buyer is registered for VAT in another EU country 

  • the buyer quotes their VAT number, and you in turn enter both the buyer’s and your own VAT number on the invoice 

  • the goods are transported from Sweden to another EU country. 

It is then the buyer who must report both output and input VAT in the EU country where the buyer is registered for VAT. 

Is the product subject to rules on excise duty? 

There are special consumption taxes on certain goods and services, such as tax on alcohol, energy and tobacco. These taxes are known as excise duties. Most excise duties, like other taxes, provide the State with income but have often been introduced for other reasons. 

According to the main rule, excise duty is payable in the country to which the goods are moved and at the tax rates applicable in that country (destination principle). In order to avoid double taxation, it is possible to reclaim the excise duty paid in the country of dispatch. 

Are there specific product requirements?  

Regardless of whether you buy goods from, or sell goods to, countries within the EU, check that the goods are CE-marked when applicable, and that they otherwise meet the requirements of the Swedish Product Safety Act or any national rules and technical requirements. 

The rules of trade differ when you trade inside or outside the EU. World trade is regulated by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Sometimes free trade agreements are concluded between countries in order to further facilitate trade. 

When you import or export goods outside the EU, it is a good idea to consider the following: 

Is a permit required? 

For certain kinds of goods, special rules and provisions apply if you are importing from, or exporting to, countries outside the EU.  

When it comes to imports of goods into Sweden, there are special restrictions on, for example, food, agricultural products, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, iron, steel and aluminum. Examples of goods subject to export restrictions are agricultural products and food, certain types of waste, cultural artefacts, weapons and products that can be used for military purposes. 

If your goods are subject to restrictions, you must generally have an import or export license, or some other permit. 

What rules apply for customs? 

When you import goods from, or exporting goods to, countries outside the EU, you need to apply for an EORI number and declare your goods to the Swedish Customs.  

Apply for an EORI number

You do not need a permit to start importing or exporting. But you do need a special registration number, an EORI number. 

Classify goods and quote the correct goods code

In the import or export declaration, you must enter a number-based code that describes your item. You use this goods code to classify your goods. 

When importing – calculate the customs value of the goods 
Declaring imports and exports

You can submit an import declaration manually or electronically. 

When you import goods, you must pay customs duties and other charges in connection with declaring the goods. You can also pay the charges later via a customs invoice instead of in connection with importing the goods. For this, you need to apply for a deferral of payment with the Swedish Customs. Once you have been granted permission, you will be registered as a credit holder. 

You submit the export declaration electronically. The export declaration must be submitted a certain time before the goods are dispatched. When the declaration must be submitted depends on the mode of transport. 

Many companies hire a customs agent to take care of the declaration, such as a freight forwarder. This costs money, but saves time. 

Supporting documents

If you import goods from, or export goods to, a country outside the EU, you must be able to produce various documents supporting the information you provided in the customs declaration, if requested by Swedish Customs. If you are importing goods, it could be, for example, an invoice, a customs value declaration and any proof of origin certificates. If you are exporting, it could be an export permit, export license and export certificate. 

Bringing goods into the EU temporarily

If you bring goods into the EU temporarily to repair or process them, you can make use of inward processing. If you bring in goods to display at a trade fair or an exhibition, you can register the goods for temporary admission. 

Temporarily shipping goods from the EU

If you need to ship your goods outside the EU temporarily, you can make use of outward processing if, for example, you send goods for repair or temporary export for a trade fair or exhibition. The ATA Carnet document can make it easier to arrange a temporary export. 

How does it work with VAT? 

The EU is a customs union that has a customs border with non-EU countries. This means that EU countries have common rules on customs duties and VAT. 

The Swedish Tax Agency’s guide to trading in goods with other countries gives you an overview of the rules on VAT. The Swedish Tax Agency’s brochure VAT on foreign trade provides you with more details and offers help to calculate the amount of VAT. 

VAT on imports of goods

If you are registered for VAT and import goods from countries outside the EU or from EU areas that are outside the EU tax fiscal territory, you must report and pay import VAT to the Swedish Tax Agency via your VAT return. If you have not registered for VAT, you must pay import VAT to the Swedish Customs. You must pay VAT for dutiable goods. 

VAT-free imports 

If you import goods that will be deliver to a recipient in another EU country after you have paid customs duty on the goods, the VAT must be reported in the EU country where the recipient is registered for VAT. 

Exemption from import VAT 

Some goods that are duty-free or have lower customs duty values are also exempt from VAT. In this case, you do not have to report the tax assessment basis or any output or input VAT in your VAT return. 

Apart from duty-free goods, there are other goods that are exempt from VAT under the VAT rules that apply in general. If you import such goods, you should not pay import VAT either. 

VAT on exports of goods

If you export goods to non-EU countries, or to EU areas outside the EU fiscal territory, you do not have to add VAT, regardless of whether the buyer is a company or a private individual. Exports are thus VAT-free, although you can still deduct input VAT. 

Exports include Swedish companies’ sales from branches in other countries, sales of goods to export shops and sales in Sweden to private individuals who are resident outside the EU, so-called duty-free sales. 

Are the goods subject to rules on excise duty? 

There are special consumption taxes on specifically selected goods and services such as tax on alcohol, energy and tobacco. These taxes are known as excise duties. Most excise duties, like other taxes, provide the State with income but have often been introduced for other reasons. 

According to the main rule, excise duty is payable in the country to which the goods are moved and at the tax rates applicable in that country (destination principle). To avoid double taxation, it is possible to reclaim the excise duty paid in the country of dispatch. 

Are there specific product requirements? 

In the EU, there are common product requirements for certain goods, such as toys and electronics. If you import such goods to Sweden, you must make sure that they meet EU requirements and are CE-marked.  

If there are no common EU product requirements for the goods, you must make sure that they meet Swedish product requirements.  

When exporting, you should carefully examine the terms that apply in the country to which you want to sell.  

When exporting, you must observe the Swedish invoicing rules for VAT. This applies regardless of whether a product is sold in Sweden or in the buyer’s country, and regardless of who the buyer is. 

When you send an invoice abroad, it makes things easier if it is in a language that both you and the buyer understand. Some information must be included by law, and the invoice should also contain payment details, such as your IBAN number and BIC/SWIFT. 

Download an invoice template from Business Sweden’s website (in Swedish)  

Contact the National Board of Trade Sweden about trade barriers 

If you encounter problems when trading with other countries, you can report it to the National Board of Trade Sweden. They works to resolve trade barriers in many different ways, both inside and outside the EU. Help is provided free of charge. 

Contact the Swedish Customs about customs-related issues 

Call the Swedish Customs for help with customs-related issues. The phone number is 0771-520 520. If you are calling from abroad, the phone number is +46 771-520 520

Contact the Swedish Tax Agency’s tax information service 

The tax information service at the Swedish Tax Agency answers all kinds of questions relating to tax. The phone number is 0771-567 567. If you are calling from abroad, the phone number is + 46 8-564 851 60

Contact the Swedish Tax Agency’s information service about excise duties 

Get in touch with the Swedish Tax Agency if you have any questions about excise duties, such as deferral procedure, collateral, EMCS, e-AD, repayment of excise duty and double taxation. 

More about trading with other countries

Trading in services

Learn more about trading in services with countries inside and outside the EU.

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Responsible: Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth

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