31 Mar VAT FAQ -Released by Ministry of Finance
In the quickly shifting legal environment of the GCC, the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) is the most trending topic this month. In this article, we discuss the general FAQs and what VAT means for your business in GCC.
1. General Questions
1.1 What is tax?
Tax is the means by which governments raise revenue to pay for public services. Government revenues from taxation are generally used to pay for things such public hospitals, schools and universities, defence and other important aspects of daily life.
There are many different types of taxes:
- A direct tax is collected by government from the person on whom it is imposed (e.g., income tax, corporate tax).
- An indirect tax is collected for government by an intermediary (e.g. a retail store) from the person that ultimately pays the tax (e.g., VAT, Sales Tax).
1.2 What is VAT?
Value Added Tax (or VAT) is an indirect tax. Occasionally you might also see it referred to as a type of general consumption tax. In a country which has a VAT, it is imposed on most supplies of goods and services that are bought and sold.
VAT is one of the most common types of consumption tax found around the world. Over 150 countries have implemented VAT (or its equivalent, Goods and Services Tax), including all 29 European Union (EU) members, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.
VAT is charged at each step of the ‘supply chain’. Ultimate consumers generally bear the VAT cost while Businesses collect and account for the tax, in a way acting as a tax collector on behalf of the government.
A business pays the government the tax that it collects from the customers while it may also receive a refund from the government on tax that it has paid to its suppliers. The net result is that tax receipts to government reflect the ‘value add’ throughout the supply chain. To explain how VAT works we have provided a simple, illustrative example below (based on a VAT rate of 5%):
1.3 What is the difference between VAT and Sales Tax?
A sales tax is also a consumption tax, just like VAT. For the general public there may be no observable difference between how the two types of taxes work, but there are some key differences. In many countries, sales taxes are only imposed on transactions involving goods. In addition, sales tax is only imposed on the final sale to the consumer. This contrasts with VAT which is imposed on goods and services and is charged throughout the supply chain, including on the final sale. VAT is also imposed on imports of goods and services so as to ensure that a level playing field is maintained for domestic providers of those same goods and services.
Many countries prefer a VAT over sales taxes for a range of reasons. Importantly, VAT is considered a more sophisticated approach to taxation as it makes businesses serve as tax collectors on behalf of the government and cuts down on misreporting and tax evasion.
1.4 Why is the UAE implementing VAT?
The UAE Federal and Emirate governments provide citizens and residents with many different public services – including hospitals, roads, public schools, parks, waste control, and police services. These services are paid for from the government budgets. VAT will provide our country with a new source of income which will contribute to the continued provision of high quality public services into the future. It will also help government move towards its vision of reducing dependence on oil and other hydrocarbons as a source of revenue.
1.5 Why does the UAE need to coordinate VAT implementation with other GCC countries?
The UAE is part of a group of countries which are closely connected through “The Economic Agreement Between the GCC States” and “The GCC Customs Union”. The GCC group of nations have historically worked together in designing and implementing new public policies as we recognize that such a collaborative approach is best for the region.
1.6 When will the VAT go into effect and what will be the rates?
VAT is likely to be introduced across the UAE on January 1 2018. The rate will be low and is likely to be 5%.
1.7 How will the government collect VAT?
Businesses will be responsible for carefully documenting their business income and costs and associated VAT charges. Registered businesses and traders will charge VAT to all of their customers at the prevailing rate and incur VAT on goods / services that they buy from suppliers. The difference between these sums is reclaimed or paid to the government.
1.8 Will VAT cover all products and services?
VAT, as a general consumption tax, will apply to the majority of transactions in goods and services. A limited number of reliefs may be granted.
1.9 Will the cost of living increase?
The cost of living is likely to increase slightly, but this will vary depending on the individual’s lifestyle and spending behaviour. If your spending is mainly on those things which are relieved from VAT, you are unlikely to see any significant increase.
1.10 What measures will the government take to ensure that businesses don’t use the VAT implementation as an excuse to increase prices?
VAT is intended to help improve the economic base of the country. Therefore, we will include rules that require businesses to be clear about how much VAT you are paying for each transaction. You will have the required information to decide whether to buy something or not.
1.11 When will more details on VAT be available?
We anticipate that more detailed information will be available in the near future.
2. VAT for Businesses
2.1 Will all businesses need to register with the government for VAT?
No, not all businesses will need to register for VAT. In simple terms, only businesses that meet a certain minimum annual turnover requirement will have to register for VAT. That is, many small businesses will not need to register for VAT. We have made this decision to safeguard small businesses from the extensive documentation and reporting that a system like VAT requires. Also, businesses may not need to register with the government if they only provide goods and services which are not subject to VAT.
Please note that we have not yet finalized the specific conditions (such as minimum annual turnover) that will help identify businesses that do not need to register for VAT. Once that information is finalized, it will be shared with the public.
2.2 What are the VAT-related responsibilities of businesses?
All businesses in the UAE will need to record their financial transactions and ensure that their financial records are accurate and up to date. Businesses that meet the minimum annual turnover requirement (as evidenced by their financial records) will be required to register for VAT. Businesses that do not think that they should be VAT registered should maintain their financial records in any event, in case we need to establish whether they should be registered.
VAT-registered businesses generally:
- must charge VAT on taxable goods or services they supply;
- may reclaim any VAT they’ve paid on business-related goods or services;
- keep a range of business records which will allow the government to check that they have got things right
If you’re a VAT-registered business you must report the amount of VAT you’ve charged and the amount of VAT you’ve paid to the government on a regular basis. It will be a formal submission and it is likely that the reporting will be made online.
If you’ve charged more VAT than you’ve paid, you have to pay the difference to the government. If you’ve paid more VAT than you’ve charged, you can reclaim the difference.
2.3 What does a business need to do to prepare for VAT?
Concerned businesses will have time to prepare before VAT will come into effect. During that time, businesses will need to meet requirements to fulfil their tax obligations. Businesses could start now so that they will be ready later. To fully comply with VAT, We believe that businesses may need to make some changes to their core operations, their financial management and book-keeping, their technology, and perhaps even their human resource mix (e.g., accountants and tax advisors). It is essential that businesses try to understand the implications of VAT now and once the legislation is issued make every effort to align their business model to government reporting and compliance requirements. We will provide businesses with guidance on how to fully comply with VAT once the legislation is issued. The final responsibility and accountability to comply with law is on the business.
2.4 When are businesses supposed to start registering for VAT?
Registration for VAT is expected to be made available to businesses that meet the requirements criteria three months before the launch of VAT. Businesses will be able to register online using eServices.
2.5 How often are registered businesses required to file VAT returns?
Registered businesses will be expected to submit VAT returns on a regular basis. It is expected that the default period for filing VAT returns will be three months for the majority of businesses.
Registered businesses will be able to file their returns online using eServices.
2.6 What kind of records are businesses required to maintain, and for how long?
Businesses will be required to keep records which will enable the authorities to identify the details of the business activities and review transactions. The specifics regarding the documents which will be required and the time period for keeping them will be communicated in due course.
3. VAT for Tourists and Visitors
3.1 Will tourists also pay VAT?
Yes, tourists are a significant source of revenue for the UAE and will pay VAT at the point of sale. Nevertheless, we have set the VAT rate deliberately low so that VAT is a limited burden on all consumers.
3.2 Will visiting businesses be able to reclaim VAT?
It is intended that we will allow foreign businesses to recover the VAT they incur when visiting the UAE. This is important as it encourages them to do business and also, because a lot of other countries have VAT systems, it protects the ability of UAE businesses to recover VAT when visiting other countries (where the rates are a lot higher).
4. UAE VAT Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
4.1 How can someone access UAE Tax Law?
UAE VAT law is currently being finalized, and will be published once approved. Announcements regarding the Tax Law will be made to the press and details will be published on the Ministry of Finance website. The primary source of information regarding the UAE VAT Law is the Ministry of Finance website. We recommend that you bookmark the page and visit it frequently to stay up to date on VAT related information.
5.1 What other taxes is the UAE considering?
As per global best practice, the UAE is exploring other tax options as well. However, these are still being analysed and it is unlikely that they will be introduced in the near future. The UAE is not currently considering personal income taxes, however.
5.2 Will this impact economic growth of the UAE?
Our analysis suggests that it will help the country strengthen its economy by diversifying revenues away from oil and will allow us to fund many public services. This is a sign of a maturing economy.
5.3 Where can I learn more about the UAE’s plan to implement VAT?
Over the course of 2016, the government will launch awareness and education campaigns to educate UAE residents, businesses, and other impacted groups. Our aim is to help everyone understand what VAT is, how it works, and what businesses will need to do to comply with the law.
We will also set up a website in 2016 where you can find information to understand the new tax in detail. A telephone hotline will also be established so that you can call and speak to one of our employees directly about VAT.
5.4 Are there any groups (individuals or organizations) that will be exempted from paying VAT?
VAT is a broad based tax and it is not intended that there will be special exceptions for individuals. However, there may be some special rules on VAT for organizations such as government entities as well as refunds available in some circumstances, especially where international obligations require us to make those refunds.
5.5 Changing my business systems for VAT reporting will cost money. Can the government help?
When VAT is introduced, the government will provide information and education to businesses to help them make the transition. The government will not pay for businesses to buy new technologies or hire tax specialists and accountants. That is the responsibility of each business. We will, however, provide guidance and information to assist you and we are giving businesses time to prepare.
5.6 What are the penalties for not complying with a business’s VAT responsibilities?
Everyone is urged to fully comply with their VAT responsibilities. The government is currently in the process of defining the exact fees and penalties for non-compliance.