Online marketplace tax laws and compliance explained

Operating an online marketplace comes with tax obligations and compliance requirements that marketplace owners need to be aware of. With complex sales tax rules, income taxes, VAT, GST and other regulations that vary by country, it’s crucial to understand your marketplace tax liabilities globally to stay compliant and avoid penalties.

This guide examines key marketplace tax laws, and other taxes that online marketplace owners need to factor into their business operations.

Sales tax

One of the most important taxes for online platforms is marketplace sales tax. Many countries have different sales taxes that apply to the sale of goods and services, including VAT in the UK and EU, GST in Australia, and state and local sales tax in the US.

As a marketplace owner, you may be responsible for charging, collecting, reporting, and remitting the correct sales tax rates globally based on your seller and customer locations. Most countries require marketplace owners to collect and remit sales tax on behalf of their sellers once sales exceed a certain threshold.

Marketplace sales tax rules get particularly complex in the US, where there are over 10,000 different tax jurisdictions across states, cities, and counties. Staying compliant requires integrating with sales tax APIs that can accurately calculate rates at checkout.

There are also evolving marketplace sales tax laws that require marketplaces to collect and remit sales tax on marketplace sales on behalf of sellers, even if the sellers aren’t located in that state. These complexities make sales tax automation essential for US marketplaces.

Marketplace income taxes

In most countries, online marketplace owners have to pay income tax on their business profits. Tax rates and rules vary significantly by country.

UK income taxes

In the UK, if you operate your online marketplace as a sole trader rather than a limited company, your business profits are subject to Income Tax rather than Corporation Tax.

Income Tax applies to your taxable income over the personal allowance, which is currently £12,570. The tax rates range from 20% basic rate to 45% additional rate depending on total taxable income. You report and pay Income Tax through a Self Assessment tax return each year.

As a sole trader, it’s important to track allowable business expenses you can deduct from your marketplace income, such as platform costs, advertising, accounting fees, mileage, and other operating costs. Accurately recording your marketplace income and expenses will determine your taxable profit and how much Income Tax you owe.

UK corporation tax

If you operate your online marketplace as a limited company in the UK, you’ll need to account for and pay Corporation Tax based on any taxable profits. This applies to resident companies, non-resident companies with a permanent establishment in the UK, and UK income of non-resident companies.

Corporation Tax is charged on all of a company’s profits, including marketplace marketplace fees, commissions, advertising revenue, data sales, and any other income streams. Expenses and allowable deductions are subtracted to reach your taxable profit figure.

The main UK Corporation Tax rate is currently 19% for most companies, but can range from 0% to 25% depending on profit levels. Tax is paid nine months after your financial year end in most cases.

It’s important for marketplace owners to maintain accurate financial records and understand what counts as taxable income versus allowable expenses to calculate their corporation tax liability correctly. You may need to make quarterly instalment payments depending on the size of your taxable profits.

US income tax

In the US, marketplace profits are subject to federal income tax as well as state income tax in certain states. Federal corporate income tax rates are currently 21% for C corporations and vary for pass-through entities. State income tax rates range from 0% to 12%.

Understanding income tax rates in each country you operate is crucial for marketplace owners to properly budget and set aside funds to meet their income tax obligations each year.

Value Added Tax (VAT)

One of the most important UK taxes for online marketplaces is VAT. VAT is a tax on the supply of goods and services in the UK, and there are specific VAT rules for online marketplaces and platform sellers that you need to follow.

As an online marketplace owner, you may be responsible for charging, collecting, reporting, and remitting VAT depending on your business model and seller arrangements. Marketplaces are generally considered supply facilitators or intermediaries, so you may have to register for VAT if your gross sales exceed the VAT registration threshold, even if you don’t physically supply goods yourself.

Under the UK’s Making Tax Digital initiative, marketplaces also need to maintain digital records of their VAT transactions and submit VAT returns using functional compatible software. This is something marketplace owners need to factor into their compliance obligations.

VAT also applies differently depending on whether your sellers are UK or EU based, versus non-EU based. For UK and EU sellers, you may be required to charge VAT under the destination principle, meaning VAT applies based on where the customer is located. With non-EU sellers, you likely have to charge VAT at the point of sale regardless of customer location.

As a marketplace owner, you’ll also need to determine the correct VAT treatment for your platform fees and commission charges to sellers. This can depend on factors like whether your sellers are VAT registered and if you are contractually obligated to remit commission fees.

Keeping compliant with complex UK and EU VAT rules requires marketplace owners to implement robust VAT reporting and have systems in place to handle VAT registrations, calculations, marketplace tax collection, and remittance on behalf of sellers. Automated VAT tools can help marketplaces stay compliant and remove the VAT burden from sellers.

VAT obligations for overseas sellers on UK marketplaces

  • Overseas sellers making sales via a UK online marketplace may need to register for UK VAT. The marketplace itself must be VAT registered.
  • For sales to consumers under £135, the marketplace is deemed to make the sale so should charge VAT. The overseas seller makes a zero-rated supply to the marketplace.
  • For sales over £135, import VAT is charged to the consumer at the border.
  • For sales to VAT-registered UK businesses, the overseas seller is deemed to make the sale so must charge UK VAT if registered.
  • Sellers can reclaim input VAT if UK VAT registered.
  • For goods stored overseas and sold below £135, the marketplace charges VAT to consumers. VAT-registered buyers self-charge reverse VAT.
  • For goods stored overseas and sold above £135, import VAT applies regardless of customer type.

Obligations for UK sellers on UK marketplaces

  • UK sellers on marketplaces may need to register for VAT if sales exceed the VAT threshold. VAT must be charged on applicable sales.
  • Evidence of export is required to apply zero VAT on sales sent outside the UK/EU.
  • Sales within the EU may require VAT registration and charging of VAT in destination countries.

Payroll & employment marketplace tax

If your online marketplace has employees or contractors, you also need to comply with payroll tax requirements in each country where your team members are located. These include income tax withholding, employer and employee social security contributions, unemployment tax, disability insurance and other employer obligations.

In the UK, you need to register for PAYE to withhold income tax and National Insurance contributions from employees. Australia has similar requirements.

In the US, you need to withhold federal and state income tax as well as Social Security and Medicare tax under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) rules. There are also federal and state unemployment taxes, and workers’ compensation insurance requirements.

Failure to meet payroll tax obligations can lead to big penalties in many countries. So it’s crucial for marketplaces to understand the payroll compliance rules wherever they have staff.

Other taxes

Depending on your business model, you may need to comply with other taxes like customs duties, product-specific excise taxes, insurance taxes, property taxes, and more. Understand how these taxes apply in each country you operate and factor them into your financial planning.

Tax compliance tips for marketplaces

Here are some tips for marketplaces to manage compliance across multiple countries:

  • Determine all your tax obligations in each country and register accordingly.
  • Implement tax calculation and collection systems to automate compliance globally.
  • Integrate with marketplace tax software to stay updated on rate changes.
  • Set aside funds to meet income tax obligations in each country.
  • Meet all payroll withholding, reporting and remittance requirements.
  • Maintain detailed records to accurately calculate global tax liabilities.
  • File and pay all required returns on time in each country.
  • Check for new tax rules and marketplace facilitator laws in each region.
  • Get expert cross-border tax advice to navigate multinational compliance.

How markko can help with marketplace tax compliance

Managing complex tax regulations like VAT can be a major headache for marketplace owners and vendors. Markko simplifies VAT collection and reporting by allowing vendors to set multiple tax brackets depending on customer eligibility. Vendors can mark products as VAT exempt, set reduced VAT rates, as well as being able to collect standard VAT from certain buyers.

Markko automatically calculates and displays VAT amounts during checkout, letting buyers clearly see the breakdown. And provides VAT reports to vendors to simplify their tax filing. With our intuitive tax tools, marketplaces can stay compliant across regions and avoid penalties for errors. Our automation takes the burden off so you can focus on growing your business.


Navigating global tax compliance is crucial and complex for online marketplaces operating internationally. Meeting obligations across many countries requires understanding local rules, automating tax processes, and getting professional advice.

By making compliance a priority, global marketplaces can avoid legal issues and focus on growing their transnational business.