Value Added Tax (VAT) is chargeable on boats purchased and owned by residents of the EU “VAT Zone”. VAT is also chargeable on vessels, irrespective of ownership, that spend more than six months in any calendar year cruising in EU VAT Zone waters.
However, some form of legitimate mitigation of potential VAT liabilities is generally available for both pleasure and commercial yachts, particularly when the yacht is purchased through a corporate structure. The options will depend on a comprehensive assessment of the yacht ownership, the operational requirements, as well as the personal financial circumstances of the owner.
A VAT paid yacht will encounter no difficulties for VAT in EU waters;
Pleasure yachts that are built pre-1985 and were in EU waters as of 31 December 1992 are treated as VAT paid. Evidence will be required to show that the vessel was in EU waters on this date;
An EU national can establish residence outside the EU VAT Zone (e.g. Gibraltar) and therefore avail themselves of the Temporary Importation laws.
Temporary Importation / Admission
There is scope for non-EU residents to cruise EU waters VAT-free. Normally, a formal application must be made for a Temporary Importation Certificate. This permits the boat to cruise EU waters for a maximum of 18 months provided that it is owned by a non-EU resident and EU residents do not cruise aboard the boat without the owner’s representatives.
What are the basics?
Non-EU vessels that are intended for re-export may be temporarily brought into and used for private purposes in the EU – or more strictly in the ‘customs territory of the Community’, which includes territorial waters – without customs duties or Value Added Tax (VAT) needing to be paid. But this can only be done by persons who non-EU residents – in legal terms, people who are “established outside that territory”. This facility is therefore NOT available to EU residents.
The vessels concerned have to be placed under the “temporary importation procedure” (TI) with Customs and the period of use in the EU is limited in time. When the time is up the vessel has to leave; known as “the period of discharge”. The re-exportation of the goods from the customs territory of the Community is the usual way of ending or “discharging” a temporary importation procedure. If the vessel does not leave before the end of that time then customs duty and VAT will become due.
Because a vessel is temporarily imported into the EU as a whole, rather than a particular Member State, it is permitted to move from one Member State to another with no further customs formalities during the 18-month period allowed.
How can a yacht be placed under TI?
Just crossing the frontier of the customs territory of the Community is in general sufficient. But, you may be required to use a route specified by customs and they may require you to make an oral or written customs declaration. It is possible they may require the provision of some kind of security or guarantee to cover the payment of the customs duties and VAT that would become due if the vessel does not leave the EU.
How long can the yacht stay in the EU?
Normally, you can use the vessel in the EU for 18 months. In technical terms, “the period for discharge for privately used means of sea and inland waterway transport is 18 months”. This is laid down in Article 562(e) of the implementing provisions of the Customs Code. If the boat is “laid up” (put in bond) for a time, the possibility exists for not counting the period of non-use (see below).
Can the 18-month period be extended if the yacht is not used?
Yes, the 18-month period may be extended for the time during which the yacht is not used. Article 553(2) second sub-paragraph of the implementing provisions of the Customs Code allows for this. However, the maximum overall period during which the yacht can remain in the EU is 24 months (Article 140(2)(76 Kb) of the Customs Code).
Are you permitted another period of Temporary Importation? How long must you wait?
Yes, you are not limited to a single period of temporary import. You can sail the yacht out of the EU and when you came back again for another holiday a new period of temporary importation can begin. The customs rules do not provide for a “minimum period” during which the goods must remain outside of the customs territory of the EU.
Where can you find the legal texts?
The legal provisions on temporary importation are found in:
• Articles 137 to 144 of the Customs Code
(Council Regulation (EEC) N° 2913/92 of 12 October 1992 establishing the Community Customs)
• Articles 553 to 562 of the implementing provisions of the Customs Code.
(Commission Regulation (EEC) No 2454/93 of 2 July 1993)
Genuine yacht chartering structures are able to reclaim any VAT paid on the supply of the yacht or may even be zero-rated depending on the applicable intra-community rule. The yacht chartering entity must be VAT-registered and therefore it must be demonstrated that the yacht will be operated on a commercial basis. The commercial aspect of the company is not only important to obtain VAT registration but also for the on-going operation of the yacht.
Conditions for commercial exemption to apply
The vessel must hold a commercial yacht registration and therefore comply with the safe manning requirements of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Code of Practice;
It should be evident from the records of the business that the chartering entity seeks either to make a return on the investment in the yacht over a reasonable period, or at least seek to recover the capital outlay and the costs incurred in repair and maintenance over the period of the business venture. The type of evidence required would take the form of specific charter contracts with agents who undertake to advertise and introduce clients for chartering;
The vessel is supplied with a permanent crew;
It is available for high season charter;
It is acknowledged that in some instances the beneficial owner of the company may wish to use the yacht. In such circumstances the owner is in effect the charterer and should expect to be charged by the company at the normal commercial rate, plus VAT. However the beneficial owner should not in any case be the preferred charterer.
The most popular jurisdictions for setting up a chartering business operating in the EU are Malta and the Isle of Man.
This page is only a simple explanation of the law and the information provided is only for illustrative purposes. Professional advice must be sought when considering such structures.