Trade in services in the EU: What you need to know

Blogs 12 Feb 2021

From work permits to digital services, discover what you need to know about delivering services either in-person or digitally in the EU.

What is trade in services? 

From architects to engineering consultants, the services industry is a major part of global trade. Independent professionals or contractual service suppliers delivering services either in-person or digitally in the EU have needed to familiarise themselves with the new rules of the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). 

Whilst the UK and EU have made commitments on market access for the provision of services, there are restrictions to be aware of if you’re providing services cross-border. The most important thing to remember is to check the rules before you do anything.

What do I need to consider?

You’ll need to meet certain conditions and requirements depending on the member state you’re doing business in. These vary between sectors, and can include requirements around work permits, residency, qualifications, and more.

The Government has guidance on providing services for countries in the EU, as well as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. You will also need to check the rules for each member state you do business in to make sure you fulfill the criteria.

Don’t forget, you might still need to tell HMRC that you’re working in the EU for tax and National Insurance purposes.

Do I need a work permit for business trips?

Some short-term business travel without a visa or work permit may be allowed when you’re visiting for less than 90 days in a 180 day period, for example to attend a business meeting. However, there are restrictions on the activities permitted and who can qualify for access – for example, independent professionals must have a degree and have six years of experience. 

Some member states will require you to obtain a work permit for some business activity. However, these rules differ between countries, so you should check before you do this and factor in any additional costs of permits.

For example, in France, you would be allowed to attend a trade fair and meet customers on a normal visa exemption. However, if you actively assemble your exhibit or stand at the trade fair, then you would need a work permit. Always check on a member state basis to understand what you can and can’t do without a work permit.

Will my professional qualification be recognised?

Previously, UK qualifications in certain industries, like engineering or legal services, were automatically recognised across EU member countries. If your qualification had already been recognised prior to the end of the transition period, this decision remains valid and you don’t need to do anything.

If you’re offering services to EU clients, or those based in Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Liechtenstein and your qualifications have not already been recognised, they will now need to be officially recognised by the relevant regulator in each country where you intend to work. Rules will be different depending on your sector and the individual country’s regulations. This applies even for temporary services. Read more in the Government guidance here.

As part of the TCA, professional qualification authorities in the UK and EU can submit recommendations for mutual agreements to the UK-EU Partnership Council but until these mutual agreements have been put in place, you should continue to check individual countries’ requirements.

I deliver digital services. Will these changes affect me?

Digital services cover a broad range of business activities, from online magazines to software. Here is a list of services defined as digital services. Whilst a visa is not required to provide digital services, there are other considerations to keep in mind, such as contracts and VAT.

VAT on digital services

The UK’s VAT MOSS service was previously used to declare the sales of digital services to EU customers. Now, the place of supply rules apply for VAT purposes, which set out the rules for determine in which country a transaction should be subject to tax.

When you’re providing cross-border digital services to consumers, you should check their location and if they’re a business or private consumer. You will need to check the rules in the country where your customer is based, as you might have to register for VAT there.

Alternatively, you may be able to register for VAT MOSS in one EU member state. For information, please consult the European Commission page on VAT MOSS here.

The EU has provisions on mutual assistance for VAT which removes the requirement to recruit or appoint a fiscal representative in certain member states, but there are some exceptions. You should talk to your accountant and check the government guidance for more information.

FSB Trade Advisory Hub

Just starting out with international trade or looking to expand into new markets? Our Trade Advisory Hub is home to resources and expert guidance to help your small business operate in global markets.

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