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Brazil VAT (ICMS) remains world’s most complex indirect tax

  • Oct 14, 2011 | Richard Asquith

Brazil VAT (ICMS) remains world’s most complex indirect tax

Brazil remains possibly the most complex country in the world from an indirect tax compliance perspective.  This update highlights some of the issues, and how companies expanding into the market should be alert to the risks.

Multiple Brazilian tax states and rates

There are hundreds of local taxing jurisdictions within Brazil VAT system.  There are able to levy VAT - or ICMS - on local and foreign companies doing business in their territories.  Generally, the ICMS rate is between 17% and 19% within each state.  It becomes more complex when international businesses start trading goods across state borders.  The levy changes to either 7% or 12% depending on where the goods were first despatched from.

Brazil introduces new tax administration rules

To try and cope with the explosive growth of e-commerce, new pan-State administration rules have been implemented.  However, many states have failed to fully implement the new rules.  ICMS is generally charged at 17% on internet sales.  In the case of intra-State sales, the tax should be split and separately reported to the State of despatch and the State of destination.  The amount due to each state is not split evenly: in Northern states, 12% goes to the state of despatch, the balance to the state of arrival.  In the south of Brazil, 7% goes to the State of despatch, the balance to the state of arrival.

The aim of the new split in revenues was to recognise more fairly the role of the state of arrival.  The challenge comes in that the new rules have not been ratified by many states - principally the states of despatch that are set to lose out on the new rules e.g. Sao Paulo and Rio.

VP Global Indirect Tax
Richard Asquith
VP Global Indirect Tax Richard Asquith
Richard Asquith is VP Global Indirect Tax at Avalara, helping businesses understand their compliance obligations as they grow globally. He is part of the European leadership team which won International Tax Review's 2020 Tax Technology Firm of the Year. Richard trained as an accountant with KPMG in the UK, and went on to work in Hungary, Russia and France with EY.