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Attending a trade show doesn’t spark nexus in Washington


 Mount St. Helens.

Update 4.24.2017: The Washington Department of Revenue has revised WAC 458-20-193. As described below, this rule prohibits the department from making a determination of nexus (for B&O tax and retail sales and use tax) based "solely on the attendance of one or more representatives of a business at a single trade convention per year in this state." However, the exclusion does not apply when trade convention attendees make or take orders for retail sales during a convention. See the revised rule for additional information.

There have always been good reasons to attend a trade show in Washington State. Business opportunities aside, it’s an interesting place to visit: there are snow-capped volcanoes, verdant forests, and winding waterways; there’s great locally crafted beer and wine and tasty Pacific salmon; and the list goes on. But prior to July 1, 2016, the economic risks of attending a trade show or convention potentially outweighed any benefits, because attendance at just one show could establish physical presence nexus and trigger an obligation to collect and remit Washington sales and use tax.

Newly enacted legislation, effective July 1, 2016, minimizes the risk of triggering nexus and maximizes the benefits of attending shows. As explained in Substitute House Bill 2938 (Chapter 137, Laws of 2016):

“It is the legislature’s specific public policy objective to encourage participation in Washington trade conventions. It is the legislature’s intent to allow a business to participate in one trade convention in Washington each year without that participation being the sole basis for establishing physical presence nexus with the state for tax purposes.”

Furthermore:

“The department may not consider the attendance or participation of one or more representatives of a person at a single trade convention per year in Washington State in determining if such person is physically present in this state for the purposes of establishing substantial nexus with this state.”

However:

“[This] does not apply to persons making retail sales at a trade convention, including persons taking orders for products or services where receipt will occur in Washington State.”

The fine print

  • Exhibitors may participate in a single trade show per calendar year without triggering physical presence nexus
  • If a trade show is open but not marketed to the general public, it qualifies for this exception
  • If a trade show is marketed to the general public, it is not a qualifying trade convention under this law (and physical presence nexus could be triggered)

Physical presence nexus triggering activities

There are many ways to trigger physical presence nexus and an obligation to collect and remit Washington sales and use tax. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Having employees or property in the state
  • Maintaining a stock of goods in the state
  • Providing services in the state
  • Making regular deliveries of goods into the state using the taxpayer’s own vehicle

As of September 1, 2015, nexus is also triggered when both of the following are true:

  • Entering into agreements with Washington residents and paying a commission (or other consideration) for referrals
  • Grossing more than $10,000 in sales into Washington State during the prior calendar year under such agreements

Additional information is available through the Washington Department of Revenue.

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Gail Cole
Avalara Author
Gail Cole
Gail Cole
Avalara Author Gail Cole
Gail began researching and writing about sales tax in 2012 and has been fascinated with it ever since. She has a penchant for uncovering unusual tax facts, and endeavors to make complex sales tax laws more digestible for both experts and laypeople.