What satisfies HMRC “Evidence of the export”?

It’s well known that VAT is only applied to sales within the EU, and for any goods exported outside the EU, VAT isn’t charged. HMRC say that you can zero-rate the sale, provided you get and keep evidence of the export.

Today Tamebay reader Bernard today asks exactly what evidence he should be keeping. Here’s his situation and VAT questions:

HMRC FeatI’d like to grow my international sales but my international shipping costs are high. I realised recently that Vat on exports (outside EU) can be zero rated (effectively subsidising lower shipping charges) according to HMRC and here. Yehay, this seems like a bonanza!

However, on researching I read evidence is required to verify exports – I suppose for a VAT audit. The HMRC information is quite lengthy and uses language of systems I’m not familiar with. I rang the VAT helpline and the person I contacted was helpful although inexperienced helping online sellers (familiar story) confirmed the evidence of dispatch of goods (order and dispatch documents) would be key requirements and recommended printing as a six year record would be needed.

I wonder what how other resellers handle this and how HMRC treats ecommerce sellers in practice. Is it sufficient to reference my digital orders in my sales order management software system and PayPal (or similar) payments as evidence? Or do I also need proof of dispatch such as my digital courier shipping documents or Royal Mail customs documents? Would this rule out small packets sent by standard mail with no tracking?

NB Whilst we know Tamebay readers have a wealth of information, if you are unsure about record keeping we’d advise taking the best advice and then phone HMRC to check your proposals are sufficient. Make a record of the call and the person you spoke just in case of queries down the line.