All You Need to Know About Standard VAT Rates in 2023

The Blue dot Team

The standard VAT rate is the basic rate of VAT that is applied to most goods and services in a country. It is the rate that is most commonly used, and applied to the broadest range of goods and services.

The purpose of the standard VAT rate is to generate revenue for the government by taxing the final consumption of goods and services. The revenue generated from the standard VAT rate funds government expenditures, such as public services, infrastructure, healthcare, education, and defense. 

What is the current standard rate of VAT in 2023?

The current standard VAT rate is 20%. This rate applies to most goods and services, including clothing, electronics, and entertainment. There are a few exceptions, such as food, books, newspapers, and children’s clothing, which are zero-rated, meaning that they do not have VAT applied to them.

The standard VAT rate has been 20% since January 4, 2011, when it increased from 17.5%. There have been calls for the government to reduce the standard VAT rate, but this has yet to happen.

Understanding the Standard VAT Rate

Different countries may have varying VAT rates, which can also differ within a country for a range of goods and services. The different rates commonly used in VAT systems are:

Standard Rate
The standard-rated VAT is the default rate for most goods and services. It is usually a percentage of the final selling price. The standard rate typically falls within the single digits range to around 25% or more.

Reduced Rate
Some goods and services may be subject to a reduced VAT rate, which is lower than the standard rate. Reduced rates are often applied to essential items, such as food, books, medication, public transportation, or specific services. 

Zero Rate
Certain goods and services may be classified as zero-rated, meaning they are still subject to VAT but at a rate of 0%. Zero-rated items include essential food items, medical supplies, exports, and sometimes education or financial services. This means businesses can claim back any VAT paid on inputs related to zero-rated supplies.

Exempt goods and services are not subject to VAT at all. This means that VAT is neither charged on the sale of these items nor can businesses claim back VAT paid on inputs related to exempt supplies. Exemptions are often applied to specific sectors, such as healthcare, education, or some financial services.

Calculating VAT

The standard VAT rate is calculated by multiplying the price of a good or service by the VAT rate. To calculate VAT on a transaction, you typically need to follow these steps:

  • Determine the VAT Rate: Find out the applicable VAT rate for the goods or services in question. This could be the standard rate, a reduced rate, or a zero rate, depending on the jurisdiction and the specific item.
  • Calculate the VAT Amount: Multiply the VAT rate by the taxable amount. The taxable amount is the value of the goods or services to which the VAT rate applies:


VAT Amount = Taxable Amount x VAT Rate


For example, if a book costs £10, and the VAT rate is 20%, then the VAT on it would be £2.

VAT Amount = £10 x 0.20 = £2

The seller of the book would then pay this VAT to the government.

  • Calculate the Total Price: Add the VAT amount to the taxable amount to find the total price, including VAT.


Total Price = Taxable Amount + VAT Amount


In this case, the VAT amount is £2, and the total price for the book, including VAT, is £12.

To determine how much of your paid VAT can be reclaimed, check out this VAT Calculator.

VAT Variations and Exceptions

VAT systems can include variations and exceptions depending on the country or jurisdiction. These variations and exceptions are implemented to address specific policy objectives, support certain industries, or relieve certain groups.

Countries with different Standard VAT Rates

Different countries around the world have varying standard-rated VAT. Here are a few examples of countries and their current standard VAT rates:

  • Hungary: 27%
  • Sweden: 25%
  • Denmark: 25%
  • Norway: 25%
  • Iceland: 24%
  • Belgium: 21%
  • Germany: 19%

Exemptions and reduced rates for specific goods or services

Some goods and services may be subject to a reduced or zero VAT rate instead of the standard rate. Other goods and services may be exempt from VAT altogether. These reduced rates or exemptions are often applied to essential items like food, books, medications, public transportation, or certain services. The intention is to make these goods and services more affordable and support specific sectors or vulnerable populations.

In addition, many countries have thresholds that exempt small businesses from registering and charging VAT until they reach a certain turnover. This threshold varies between jurisdictions and is intended to reduce the administrative burden on small businesses with low revenue.

Compliance and record-keeping

VAT Compliance and record keeping can be a complex and time-consuming process. Still, these practices are essential for businesses to meet their legal obligations, accurately report VAT transactions, reclaim VAT where applicable, handle VAT audits effectively, avoid penalties, and maintain efficient financial operations. It is advisable for businesses to consult their local tax authorities or seek guidance from tax professionals to ensure they understand and fulfill their specific VAT compliance requirements.

VAT registration requirements

VAT registration requirements vary from country to country, but there are some general requirements that businesses must meet to register for VAT. These typically include:

  • Being a taxable person. A taxable person is a person who is required to register for VAT. In most countries, a taxable person is a person, business or entity who makes taxable supplies of goods or services.
  • Having a certain level of turnover. In most countries, businesses must have a certain level of turnover before they are required to register for VAT. The turnover threshold varies from country to country.
  • Being resident in the country. In some countries, businesses must be residents in the country to register for VAT.
  • Having a valid VAT registration number. Every business registered for VAT is assigned a unique VAT registration number. This number must be used on all VAT invoices and returns.

If you are unsure whether or not your business needs to register for VAT, contact your local tax authority. They will be able to provide you with more information about the VAT registration requirements in your country.

Invoicing and documentation obligations

VAT invoices are documents businesses must issue to their customers when selling goods or services. VAT invoices must include certain information, such as:

  • The date of the transaction
  • The name and address of the supplier
  • The name and address of the customer
  • A description of the goods or services supplied
  • The quantity of the goods or services supplied
  • The unit price of the goods or services supplied
  • The VAT rate applied
  • The amount of VAT charged
  • The total amount payable

In addition to issuing VAT invoices, businesses must keep records of their VAT transactions. These records must include information about the goods or services supplied, the VAT rates applied, and the amount of VAT charged.

Reporting obligations and penalties for non-compliance

By maintaining proper records and complying with VAT regulations, businesses can minimize the risk of penalties, fines, or disputes with tax authorities that can result in the suspension of VAT registration or even criminal prosecution. Excellent record-keeping practices demonstrate transparency and a commitment to compliance, reducing the likelihood of misunderstandings or disagreements with tax authorities. 

International Trade and the Standard VAT Rate

When it comes to cross-border trade, the standard VAT rate plays a significant role. 

VAT implications for imports and exports

The standard rate of VAT is often applied to imports, meaning that when goods are brought into a country from abroad, they are subject to VAT based on the standard rate of the importing country. However, exports are generally zero-rated or exempt from VAT, allowing businesses to compete internationally on a level playing field. 

The standard VAT rate in each country can impact the costs and competitiveness of goods and services in international markets, and it is an essential consideration for businesses engaged in cross-border trade.

VAT refund mechanisms for international transactions

VAT refund mechanisms for international transactions are designed to enable businesses or individuals not residents of a particular country to claim a refund of the VAT they have paid on eligible goods or services purchased within that country. This may include:

  • Export refunds allow exporters to claim VAT refunds on goods or services destined for overseas markets 
  • Tourist refunds enable non-resident visitors to claim VAT refunds on purchases made during their stay 
  • Business-to-business refunds may be available for non-resident businesses that meet specific criteria
  • The EU VAT Refund Scheme facilitates the recovery of VAT paid in other member states 

These refund mechanisms aim to support international trade, enhance competitiveness, and reduce the burden of VAT on non-residents engaging in cross-border transactions.

VAT Rate Changes and Updates

Governments may adjust the standard rate of VAT periodically to reflect economic conditions or revenue needs. For example, the EU agreed to a new VAT Directive in 2021, which allows Member States to apply two reduced rates as low as 5% to goods and services in up to 24 categories. 

In addition, several upcoming changes to the standard VAT rate are expected, such as:

  • The standard VAT rate in the UK is scheduled to increase from 20% to 25% on April 1, 2023.
  • The EU is considering a proposal to increase the standard VAT rate in the EU from 20% to 22%.

The standard VAT Rate is a crucial component of taxation systems in many countries.  It is important for businesses engaged in international trade to understand VAT implications, refund mechanisms, and any changes or updates to VAT rates in different jurisdictions.

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