Following the publication of the VAT legislation in Bahrain and the start of a new year, VAT has now become a reality in Bahrain. Bahrain is the third GCC country introducing VAT and the National Bureau of Taxation (“NBT”) will be policing it. In this article we will touch upon the most interesting and striking parts of the VAT legislation.
Unlike the UAE and KSA, the Bahraini VAT legislation provides for an exemption for the supply or lease of both residential and commercial buildings. Bahrain is the first GCC country that implements a VAT exemption for the supply and lease of commercial buildings. The exemption may have far reaching consequences for the real estate market.
Furthermore, a zero rate is applicable on construction services related to new buildings (residential and industrial). Goods supplied by a business that supplies construction services and which are supplied in the course of providing construction services for a new building, are also zero rated. This includes for instance building materials and materials necessary to construct specialised raised flooring for computer server rooms.
However, goods like furniture that is not affixed to the building, swimming pools and decorative lighting, paintings, carpets and murals and other artwork are not zero rated.
The zero rate is also not applicable on restoration works, demolition of existing buildings and architects and interior design fees. VAT incurred on these purchases will therefore constitute a cost for businesses who want to sell or lease their new constructed building.
Bahrain implemented the optional provision in the GCC VAT Agreement and applies a zero rate on the supply and import of certain basic food items. Bahrain is again the first GCC country doing this. The Bahraini Tax Authority published the list with zero rated items, indicating that 94 types of food will fall under this special rule. The list includes ten categories:
- Meat and fish
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee, tea and cardamom
- Wheat and rices
- Children’s food
- Egg products
Note that the supply of food by restaurants, coffee shops or caterers will still be subject to the standard rate. There is a great deal of conflict expected around the interpretation of mixed supplies which include a zero rated part, or between take in and take out products.
Bahrain has taken an unoriginal position in line with KSA and UAE. Financial services are exempt from VAT, except where the consideration for the service is expressly determined as a fee, commission or commercial discount. Financial services are defined as services related to cash transactions in the VAT Executive Regulations.
Additionally the regulations also include a list with examples of financial services that are exempt (e.g. depositing money in current accounts, savings accounts or deposits, granting and transferring loans, borrowings and credit, issue or cancellation of cheques, debit cards and credit cards).
Some services like the issue, allotment, or transfer of ownership of an equity security or debt security and life insurance and reinsurance contracts, will be exempt, irrespective of how the consideration for them is payable.
Furthermore the supply of financial services to non-residents will be zero rated.
In case the financial institution supplies services which do not fall under the VAT exemption nor the zero rate, the standard rate will have to be charged. Consequently the financial institutions will have to issue compliant invoices. In this regard the regulations clarify that a bank statement shall be treated as a tax invoice provided it contains certain information like the name, address and registration number of the bank in the Kingdom and the name and address of the customer.
Similar to the UAE and KSA, in Bahrain a zero rate is applicable on the international transport services of goods which begin in, end or pass through its territory, including services and the supply of related means of transport. The zero rate is also applicable on the supply of services and goods directly or indirectly associated with the international transport of passengers and goods, including goods and services supplied for use or consumption on board a means of transport.
A zero rate is also applicable on the local transport services of goods and passengers by land, water or air. Exceptions apply, i.e. the standard VAT rate is applicable in the following five cases:
- Transport services provided by a person who does not meet any regulatory or licensing requirements from the authorised body to provide such services,
- Services of vehicle rental without a driver,
- Transport services for sightseeing or leisure purposes,
- Food delivery services provided by a person supplying food,
- A transport service which is ancillary to the principal supply of goods or services which is taxable at the standard rate, and is not priced separately to the supply of a good.
By default, VAT on imported goods will be payable to Bahrain’s customs authority prior to the release of the goods. The tax authority may allow the deferral of payment of VAT on import if the importer is registered for Tax purposes and if the Taxable Person is bound by Customs Affairs records at the Ministry of Interior.
Further details are expected soon. The import VAT deferral mechanism should be implemented by the end of Q1 2019.
Non-resident suppliers supplying services which are taxable in Bahrain to Bahraini customers, will have to account for the VAT themselves unless the customers are registered taxable persons. In that case the Bahraini recipient will have to account for the VAT himself under the reverse charge mechanism.
The export of goods and services are zero rated, provided that certain conditions are met (e.g.). Exporters who are primarily engaged in making exports can apply for a domestic reverse charge on certain purchases that are subject to the standard rate and received from taxable persons in Bahrain, allowing them to benefit from cashflow advantages. This burdensome procedure is also used in France but the French authorities have to spend important resources in policing it.
In order to get the approval from the NBT to apply the reverse charge mechanism, the taxable person should be able to fully recover any input VAT, export more than 50% of its turnover, show that he will be in a refund position on a recurring basis and that the refund will have a material impact on his financial position.
So-called “exports of services” (a term absent in the GCC treaty) supplied by a taxable person in Bahrain are subject to the zero rate if certain conditions are met. For instance the services should be supplied to a person who does not have a place of residence in Bahrain and who was outside Bahrain when the services were provided. The services should be performed and enjoyed outside the country and should also relate to tangible goods or real estate located outside the country. It remains to be seen whether the NBT will take an equally very restrictive view like its KSA counterpart.
Telecommunication and electronic services
Telecommunications and electronic services supplied to a non-registered customer shall be taxable at the place of use and enjoyment of the services on the date of supply. Supplies made to taxable customers will be taxed at the place of residence of the customer.
The regulations provide some further information on the determination of the place of use and enjoyment as well as how to determine the place of residence of a customer who is a taxable person.