The importation of goods into the European Union is subject to import VAT. The rate of import VAT varies from EU country to EU country. The rate also varies depending on the type of goods.

Unless an exemption applies, the importer of art, antiques and collectibles is liable to pay import VAT. In some EU countries, the standard rate of import VAT applies. The standard rate (depending on the EU country) varies between 15% and 25%. In other EU countries, a reduced rate of import VAT applies. The reduced rate (depending on the EU country) varies between 5% and 18%. If an exemption applies, no VAT is due at the time of importation.

Since 1999, the importation of art, antiques and collectibles items into the UK has been subject to import VAT at the rate of 5%. This is the lowest EU rate. Hungary applies the highest rate of import VAT at 27%, followed by Denmark and Croatia each with a rate of 25%.

Until the end of 2011, the rate of French import VAT for art, antiques and collectibles items was 5.5%. The rate went up to 7% on 1 January 2012. It will go up to 10% on 1 January 2014.

The rates of import VAT for art, antiques and collectibles items in the most relevant EU countries are:

CountryRate of import VAT for art, antiques and collectibles items
Austria10%
Belgium6%
France7%
Germany7%
Greece13%
Ireland13.5%
Italy10%
Luxembourg6%
Netherlands6%
Spain10%
Sweden12%
United Kingdom5%

 

The principle of free movement of goods applies throughout the EU. This means that, in principle, there is no VAT on intra-community movements of goods. You do not pay import VAT if you move an artwork from the UK to France, for example.

Above a certain value, it can be cost effective to ship an artwork from a country outside the EU to the UK even if the artwork is destined to another EU country. By importing the artwork into the UK, the importer will be liable to pay import VAT at 5% (unless an exemption applies) and the artwork can then move freely within the EU without any further liability to tax.

Updated 18 November 2013

The proposed increase of French import VAT from 7% to 10% triggered a row of protests from French art market professionals.  In a U-turn welcomed by the French art trade, the French government proposed a reduction of the rate of import VAT from 7% to 5.5%.  The rate reduction was approved by the French National Assembly in October 2013.  Unless the Senate objects (which is unlikely), the French rate of VAT will be 5.5% from January 2014.

Pierre Valentin

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