Every Italian company has a VAT tax number (Partita IVA) on top of the company number. The two numbers are usually identical but there is an exception: if you have a non trading entity that cannot have a VAT number – such as a Representative office or a Light Branch – and you upgrade it to a company – such as a full Branch – the two numbers will always be different.
Contrary to other EU countries, getting a VAT number in Italy is quite fast. If the company formation is managed correctly, the company get its VAT number in 24-48 hours. Unfortunately the VAT number could be not enough to trade.
The new VAT regime in Italy
From 2011 the VAT number can be used to sell to Italian clients only. If you want to trade with foreign clients, you need to register your company in a second VAT Registry (in Italian “Registrazione del VIES“).
The main reason of the new regime is to prevent VAT frauds. As a result, all the existing Italian companies have been deleted from the online VAT Registry of the European Union, and they should apply again. This could be quite frustrating because the European Registry is used by your clients to be sure that you run a legitimate company. If they check – and if you haven’t get the VIES registration – they will not find your company, like if the company doesn’t exist.
In short, if you run an international business the VIES registration is a must. On the contrary, if all your clients are Italian, the traditional VAT registration is fine.
Who can register your VAT number in Italy and where
A) The first registration (Partita IVA) is usually managed during the company formation, by the notary public or by your lawyer. Any Italian company is required to apply for a VAT number, even if dormant.
The only exceptions are the entity that cannot trade: the Representative Office and the Light Branch (they can’t invoice thus they can’t have a VAT number. Only a company number).
B) The registration of the extra VAT number (VIES) is managed by a chartered secretary or by your accountant. It usually takes anywhere between three weeks and two months, and the process takes place at the local Tax Agency.
Because the Italian Tax Agencies are often overflow with their job, it is useful to remind your accountant from time to time that a regular and direct contact with the Tax Agency could be very effective to speed up the process. The accountant could be annoyed to be schooled by a foreigner like you, but in my experience it could be very useful. Be diplomatic – as usual – and you will rarely fail.
Image source: the VAT number search engine of the Italian Tax Agency
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