South African value-added tax (VAT) vendors are often unsure of the tax consequences of issuing invoices to foreign customers or clients and whether such services should be invoiced at the standard rate of 15% or be zero-rated. As is generally the case with tax (especially VAT), the answer is that it depends on the circumstances. Therefore, it is quite possible that services to a non-resident can be invoiced at the standard rate, or at a zero-rate.
Importantly, section 11 of the VAT Act, which deals with the zero-rating of supplies, distinguishes between the supply of goods (section 11(1)) and services (section 11(2)). The default position in terms of section 11(2)(l), is that services rendered to persons who are not residents in the Republic should be made at the zero-rate. There are, however, three exceptions to this default rule, and specifically where the services are supplied directly:
The circumstances of the service should be tested against each rule, meaning that you cannot simply zero-rate a service if you meet only one of the criteria. All three tests should be met independently to zero-rate the service. This confirms the principle that the purpose of section 11(2)(l) is to ensure that when services are consumed in South Africa, VAT is payable at the standard rate.
The rules and exceptions in section 11(2)(l) are, however, still subject to some interpretation, especially if considered that for services to be at the standard rate of 15%, it should be directly in connection with one of the exceptions noted above. Accordingly, there is some debate on what constitutes directly.
There are, however, several court cases and interpretation notes available to provide taxpayers with some guidance:
Taxpayers should also ensure that they comply with the documentation requirements for the zero-rating of services, which is at a minimum the following:
 The Value-Added Tax Act No. 89 of 1991
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).