Who should file an Intrastat, EC sales list or EC purchase list return? What are the thresholds? What type of operations apply? Are these returns mandatory in all EU Member States?
Can VAT exemption be rejected if these obligations are not carried out? What information do I have to declare? What are the statistical and fiscal obligations?
Clear answers from our experts.

Intrastat, ESL, EPL, what are they?

An obligation born of the European single market

Prior to 1993, VAT was settled at customs as part of the customs formalities for each import. With the creation of the single market in 1993, the principle of free movement of goods abolished internal customs borders and an Intra-Community VAT system was introduced, which placed new obligations on traders.

What are Intrastat & ESL returns used for?

These statements serve two different purposes:

  • A Statistical purpose – to make the external trade statistics of EU member countries more reliable. > This is the purpose of the Intrastat declaration.
  • A Tax purpose – to ensure compliance with the Intra-Community VAT rules > This is the purpose of the EC Sales List (ESL).

Some countries have merged these two obligations into one; this is the case in France, with the Declaration of Exchange of Goods (DEB) and the European Services Declaration (DES), or in Italy with the Repielogho di Scambi di Beni.

The EC Sales List (ESL) return

The seller of goods or services shall declare the values of the Intra-Community supplies of goods or services and the Intra-Community VAT numbers of their customers.

This tax obligation, centralised at the European Union level by BREM (Member States Reconcilliation), allows cross-checks between sellers and buyers to ensure that buyers pay VAT in the destination Member State. The aim is to fight against VAT fraud.

The Intrastat return

Sellers and buyers of goods above a certain threshold (Intrastat threshold, defined in each country), must declare all the taxable and non-taxable movements of community goods or third party goods which have been subject to customs formalities on importation, when these goods move between the State where these operators are registered for VAT and another Member State of the European Union.

The information here serves a statistical purpose: information about the type of goods (customs nomenclature or intrastat code), their weight, quantity, mode of transport, where they depart and arrive in terms of regions or departments in the Member States etc.

Intrastat reference codes

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To check the nomenclature applicable to your products, see our articleIntrastat & Combined Codes.

Who has to file these returns?

These returns are mandatory for companies registered for VAT in the European Union for certain operations, and according to certain thresholds.

Companies established within the EU

Companies established within the European Union who carry out Intra-Community goods transactions with another Member State (Intra-Community purchases or sales) must file their returns in the country where they are established, and in each of the countries where these transactions require registering for VAT (see our article).

Non-EU companies

A company that is not established in a Member State but is registered for VAT, may have to file an intrastat and/or EC SALES LIST return for its transactions with other entities registered for VAT within the EU, for example:

  • Intra-Community deliveries or acquisitions and/or stock transfers from a storage platform
  • distance selling/E-commerce
  • some goods processing operations
  • operations related to a construction site
  • delivery operations with assembly

Intrastat returns are compulsory for operators when turnover thresholds are reached during the period defined in each country (current or previous calendar year):

  • on acquisition (entry into the territory of the Member State concerned)
  • on dispatch (sent from the territory of the Member State concerned).
Updates to Intrastat thresholds
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To check the thresholds which require the filing of Intrastat returns in each country, see our article Intrastat thresholds in Europe. It is updated every year.

How do I file an Intrastat or ESL return?

Who do I file my return with?

Returns must be submitted in each of the countries where a company is registered for VAT. In the vast majority of Member States:

  • the EC Sales List return is an annex to VAT returns and must therefore be filed with the local tax authorities.
  • the Intrastat return must be filed with the local customs authorities.

The procedures for filing Intrastat returns differ from one Member State to another.

  • In some Member States, an electronic certificate is required to file intrastat declarations. In Spain, for example, for a company not established in that country, an application for an electronic certificate must be made in person at a Spanish consulate with various company documents.
  • In other Member States, such as Germany, you need to register for a ” Steuernummer” in addition to the intra-community VAT number to be able to file INTRASTAT returns.
  • File formats and software may differ from one Member State to another.
  • Lastly, for some Member States, usernames and passwords are required, while for others, sending the Intrastat return by e-mail is sufficient.
  • In France, the Customs offers a dematerialized tool to send your DEB on its website prodouane.

What are the timings for filing returns?

Intrastat & ESL returns are generally required monthly, in some countries they are filed quarterly or annually.
Filing dates vary from country to country (they can range from the 10th to the 24th of the month).

What transactions do I need to report?

All intra-community acquisitions and intra-community deliveries (and similar transfers) should be included as transactions on the returns, but transactions such as returns, replacements, contract work and free goods should also be included.
This does not include imports from, or exports to third countries.
For intra-community transactions, the term “dispatch” or “introduction” is used, not “export” or “import”.

The types of transactions you must declare on the intrastat return depend on the legislation and doctrines of each Member State.

  • So, the return of goods following intra-community deliveries or acquisitions must be declared on intrastat returns in France (known as Declarations of Exchange of Goods).
  • The amount of data to declare on intrastat returns depends, for some Member States, on the volumes of introduction and dispatch carried out.
  • Intrastat returns in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Austria switch to a detailed level when a certain threshold is exceeded.
  • In some Member States, such as Belgium, Spain and Portugal, Intrastat returns must show the incoterm (international sales conditions) for each transaction declared.
  • Intrastat returns in the Netherlands, Spain and Austria must show the statistical value ( “border value”  of the goods).

What are the penalties for errors or omissions?

Each country has established a system of fairly heavy penalties for non-compliance with these obligations:

  • In the event of non-compliance with Intrastat filing dates, Member States apply penalties of varying severity (from €75 to €50,000). For example, fines can reach up to €1500 per month for DEB in France.
  • Since the application of the “Quick Fixes” in 2020, a company that has not filed its EC Sales List will have their VAT exemption rejected.

Are the returns the same in different countries?

The formats, methods and structures of the returns vary greatly from one State to another, so does the data to be declared and the periodicity of submission dates. For example, Intrastat returns, points that vary are: 

  • The amount and nature of data to be reported
  • Types of transactions to report
  • Filing procedures
  • Filing dates.

Why use a
fiscal representative?

A tax representative who handles your Intrastat, ESL, DEB and DES returns safeguards your declarations, and reduces the risk of sanctions in the face of complex and volatile national regulations, relieves your accounting department of a rather restrictive monthly obligation.

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