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What is VAT and how does it work?
VAT Ai Team

Value Added Tax (VAT) is a term you may have come across when purchasing goods, reading a receipt, or even when considering starting a business. As one of the primary sources of revenue for many governments, VAT has a significant impact on our daily transactions. But what exactly is VAT, and how does it impact both businesses and consumers? In this blog post, we will explore the fundamentals of VAT, its purpose, and how it functions in practice.

What is VAT?

VAT is an essential component of the modern tax system used by many countries worldwide. It is a consumption tax placed on a product whenever value is added at each stage of the supply chain, from production to the point of sale. Unlike sales tax, which is only charged at the final sale to the consumer, VAT is collected at multiple points in the production and distribution chain.

What's the Purpose of VAT?

VAT serves as a significant revenue source for governments and plays a vital role in financing public expenditure, such as infrastructure development, healthcare, education, and other essential services. It is a fair and efficient tax system as it ensures that the tax burden is distributed across all stages of production and consumption, rather than solely on the end consumer.

How Does VAT Work?

1. Production Stage:

At this stage, a manufacturer purchases raw materials to produce goods. When acquiring these materials, the manufacturer pays VAT on the purchase price. This VAT is referred to as input VAT.

*Input VAT: The VAT paid on purchases made by businesses during the production process.

Simultaneously, the manufacturer adds value to the raw materials through the production process. Once the goods are ready, the manufacturer calculates the VAT on the value they have added and adds it to the selling price. This additional VAT is called output VAT.

*Output VAT: The VAT charged by businesses on the sale of goods or services.

2. Distribution Stage:

The manufacturer sells the goods to a distributor, charging output VAT on the selling price. The distributor, in turn, pays the manufacturer the selling price plus the VAT charged.

The distributor can now reclaim the input VAT paid to the manufacturer by deducting it from the output VAT collected on subsequent sales.

3. Retail Stage:

The distributor sells the goods to a retailer, charging output VAT once again. The retailer pays the distributor the selling price plus the VAT charged.

Similar to the distributor, the retailer can reclaim the input VAT paid to the distributor by deducting it from the output VAT collected on sales to the end consumer.

4. End Consumer:

Finally, the retailer sells the goods to the end consumer, charging output VAT. The end consumer pays the selling price plus the VAT charged, but unlike businesses, they cannot reclaim any VAT.

The VAT collected by the retailer is then remitted to the government.

To better understand how VAT works, let's imagine a simple supply chain: a logger sells wood to a furniture maker, who then sells a finished table to a consumer.

1. Logger: The logger doesn’t pay VAT when purchasing seeds or tools because they’re at the start of the supply chain. When the logger sells the wood to the furniture maker for $100, a VAT (let's say 10%) of $10 is added, making the total $110.

2. Furniture Maker: The furniture maker pays $110 to the logger. When the furniture maker sells the table to a retailer for $200, a 10% VAT ($20) is added, making the total $220. However, the furniture maker can claim back the $10 VAT paid to the logger, so the net VAT payment to the government is $10.

3. Consumer: The retailer sells the table to a consumer for $300. A 10% VAT ($30) is added, making the total $330. Again, the retailer can claim back the $20 VAT paid to the furniture maker, resulting in a net VAT payment of $10 to the government.

In this chain, the government collects $30 in total ($10 from each of the three stages), and each business in the supply chain gets a refund for the VAT previously paid.

VAT Registration - Why Register for VAT?

For businesses, VAT registration is essential for a couple of reasons:

1. Legal Requirement: In many countries, it's a legal requirement for businesses exceeding a certain annual turnover to register for VAT. This threshold varies by country.

2. Claiming Input Tax: Only registered businesses can reclaim the VAT they've paid on their purchases, known as input tax.

How to Register?

1. Determine Eligibility: Check local regulations to see if your business exceeds the annual turnover threshold.

2. Submit Documentation: This typically includes business details, bank account information, details of business activities, and expected annual revenue.

3. Receive VAT Number: Once registered, the business will receive a VAT number which must be displayed on all invoices, receipts, and other financial documents.

4. Reporting and Payments: VAT-registered businesses usually must submit periodic VAT returns (monthly, quarterly, or annually), which detail their output and input tax. Any difference is then either paid to or claimed back from the tax authorities.

VAT Rates

Standard Rate: This is the default VAT rate applied to most goods and services. For example, the UK's standard rate is 20% and Germany is 19%.

Reduced Rate: Some essential items, such as children's clothing or home energy, might have a reduced VAT rate. For instance, the UK has a reduced rate of 5% for certain goods and services.

Zero Rate: Some goods are zero-rated, meaning they're still VAT-taxable, but the rate is 0%. Examples include most food items and books in the UK. Businesses can still reclaim the VAT they've paid on their purchases related to these sales.

Exempt: Some items are exempt from VAT altogether, like postage stamps or financial and property transactions in many countries. Businesses can't claim back the VAT on purchases related to exempt sales.

Special Rates: Some countries have special rates for specific regions or circumstances. For example, a different rate might be applied in a tourism-heavy area or for luxury goods.

VAT Number Validation

You can verify the validity of a VAT number via VAT Ai VAT Number Validation Tool.


VAT plays a pivotal role in many economies worldwide. Currently, over 170 countries have implemented VAT or GST (2023), making it one of the most common types of tax worldwide. Therefore, understanding its mechanics can help businesses navigate tax obligations more efficiently and allow consumers to be more informed about the taxes they pay. As always, it's advisable for businesses to consult with a tax professional when navigating the intricacies of VAT.