Smart VAT Strategies When Importing Art in Europe

Yes, the art market has become truly international. The US, China and Europe are where the bulk of art sales take place with sellers and buyers being matched in every imaginable geographical combination. More often than not, art bought in one country is transported to another.  

The principle of free movement of goods applies throughout the EU and consequently the movement of goods within the EU's borders is not subject to import VAT. So, shipping a painting from Germany to Greece is VAT-free.

But what happens when European-based buyers acquire a work of art from the US or China and want to enjoy it at home? In this case, import VAT becomes an increasing consideration. Why?

Unless an exemption applies, importers of art, antiques and collectibles will be liable to pay VAT for importing a work of art in the EU. Depending on the country, a standard VAT rate (between 15% - 27%) or a reduced VAT rate (between 5% - 18%) will apply.

The UK applies one of the lowest import VAT rates for art, antiques and collectibles in the EU, at 5%. Greece applies a high 23% rate. Here you can view an up-to-date list of VAT rates for works of art, collectibles and antiques per EU country

So, be smart if you want to import an expensive work of art in Greece from China, the US or any other place outside Europe; it may be more cost-effective to first ship the work to the UK, pay there 5% import VAT and then ship it freely to its final destination in Greece without being liable to pay the higher Greek 23% import VAT. 
(NOTE: always seek counsel before deciding on an import or export strategy, as each case may differ and exceptions may apply).

Phoebe Kouvelas is an attorney-at-law specializing in art law, offering legal and commercial advice on issues related to the acquisition, retention, lending and disposition of fine art.