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Beginner's handbook

How Drop Shipping and Sales Tax Work

By Reading Time: 3 minutes

With a traditional brick-and-mortar setup, a customer pays sales tax on transactions made in store. Simple. But sales tax get more complicated in the ecommerce space, especially when an online retailer partners with a drop shipper. That’s a whole new set of rules, and we’re here to clear them up.

Keep in mind that we’re not accountants or legal experts, so this shouldn’t be used as professional advice. Use it instead as a starting off point to learn some basic information. Our recommendation is always to consult a professional for information specific to your circumstances.

Let’s start with the basics and go over some useful terms you’ll need to know.

Nexus is the term used when a retailer has a presence in a particular state. A company’s presence can be difficult to determine in online commerce, but here are a few common ways that a retailer could have nexus.

  1. If you have a physical location (even if it’s your kitchen bench)
  2. States you have employees or salespeople in
  3. States you store inventory in
    • E.g. If you are using Printful Warehousing and Fulfillment Services
  4. States where you make enough sales, in dollars or transactions.

If your company’s headquarters are located in California, you have employees working remotely in Oregon, and your warehouse is in Texas, you have nexus in all three of those states.

You can find a more expansive definition of nexus, including different types like affiliate or click-through nexus, on TaxJar’s guide to sales tax.

Remember that you must register for a sales tax permit in each state where you have nexus in order to collect sales tax.

Sales Tax is collected when a customer makes a purchase in a state where the retailer has nexus. If an online retailer has nexus in California and a customer from California makes a purchase, that customer gets charged sales tax.

Keep in mind that sales tax is passed on to the state government. It’s used to pay for state initiatives like schools, roads, etc. Each state sets its own rate, and the exact tax varies by locality.

Let’s use Albert, Oklahoma as an example. In total, buyers in Albert, OK pay 6% sales tax in total. However, this is made up of both the OK state tax of 4.5% and the district tax of 1.5%.

A Resale Certificate is needed in order for the retailer to be exempt from paying sales tax on orders they purchase from a drop shipper to resell to customers. Some states don’t accept out-of-state resale certificates. In this case, the drop shipper has to collect sales taxes from the retailer.

So there you have the basics. You, the online retailer, charge sales tax to customers that make purchases in states where you have nexus. Now we’re going to complicate things and throw in rules that apply to drop shipping.

Before we go any further, we’d like to point out that sales tax laws are different in every state, and they change frequently. So make sure you check the laws of any state where you think you may have nexus, and consult a tax professional if you have any questions or doubts. You don’t want to be surprised with a sales tax audit.

As mentioned above, laws involving sales tax get a little more complicated when a drop shipper is involved, because there really are two sales between two businesses and one customer:

1. The customer purchases an item from the retailer
2. The retailer purchases said item from the drop shipper, who then ships it directly to the customer.

The tricky part is understanding who is liable to pay the sales tax and when. Let’s assume that you are the online retailer and Printful is your drop shipper. Here are the four different situations that may occur and how to what happens in each.

 Printful has nexusPrintful doesn't have nexus
You have nexusPrintful charges you tax unless you submit a resale certificate

You charge your customer tax
Printful doesn't charge you tax

You charge your customer tax
You don't have nexusPrintful charges you tax unless you submit a resale certificate and charge your customer taxPrintful doesn't charge you tax

You don't charge your customer tax

Printful has nexus in most stateswhich means we have to collect sales tax in those states. You will need to get a resale certificate if you want to become tax-exempt. You can find out how to do that on this TaxJar blog post.

Again, we emphasize that you talk to a tax professional if you have any questions, but we hope this blog post serves as a helpful introduction to drop shipping and sales tax rules!

Nora covers all things ecommerce for the Printful blog. She appreciates good dad jokes, new books, freshly baked cookies, and evening jogs.

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  1. Mike

    I’m assuming that for now, international businesses that use Printful aren’t required to pay or collect Sales Tax when selling to US-based customers..?

        1. Nora Inveiss Post author

          Using a warehouse like FBA or a drop shipping like Printful does give you a physical presence in the US and requires you to comply to that state’s sales tax laws. Excerpt from the Taxjar article:

          I’m talking strictly sales tax though, so you’re right that this might not qualify as presence for other types of US tax.

  2. Herb Coulter

    I just read over the TaxJar article referenced above and in it’s Common Nexus Types diagram it says “Drop shipping doesn’t apply to either scenario”. I’m not sure what to make of that since your article seems to say it does.

    Also we drop ship from several WD’s who also sometimes drop ship directly from the manufacturer who may be in a completely different state than either of us. Should we just be collecting sales tax from every state just in case?

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Hi Herb,

      That’s interesting – I didn’t notice the diagram says “Drop shipping doesn’t apply to either scenario.” All of the other research I’ve done on this subject says that yes, dropshipping does constitute nexus.

      Part of what makes this confusing is that every state has different sales tax laws. I suggest looking up the rules for every state from which you dropship. Taxjar is a good place to start; they list general tips for each state. But ultimately consulting a tax professional is the safest route. Good luck!

  3. Fabian

    Hey, thanks for the article, even though the comments are a bit confusing 😀

    I’m an international seller from europe and am only gonna offer Printful products on my store.

    Is it normal that my customers from California are charged the 7.5%? Is the idea that I charge the customer and you get the 7.5% from me? If so, does Printful charge the taxes automatically in the billing process or do I have to pay it manually?

    Or am I supposed to pay the taxes from my profits directly to the State of California? Oor… Do I have to collect the taxes from the customer and then pay the taxes in Cali?

    Would appreciate the help! 🙂 If you have a way to contact an expert for free I would appreciate that too, this whole tax-thing came as a surprise 😀


    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Hi Fabian,

      Yes, it is normal that your customers from California are charged sales tax. Basically, you need to upload a California Resale Certificate so Printful doesn’t charge you sales tax. Then, you become responsible for collecting sales tax from your end customer. You can set this up automatically depending on which ecommerce platform you’re using. You’re also responsible for filing sales tax for the state of California.

      We always recommend talking to an expert with your questions, although I don’t know of anybody who could consult for free.

      Keep in mind that we also now have a branch in North Carolina, so you’ll have to set up sales tax for that state as well. More info on North Carolina here.

    2. George

      But if i am an international seller ( Romania – Europe ) and i sell in US except California and North Carolina , what taxes i need do pay? …. becase i understand that if i sell in europe, i will pay VAT 21% ( i am register as a VAT payer )

      1. Nora Inveiss Post author

        Hey George!

        Your best bet is to talk to a professional about what you should charge. You may be liable for sales tax, and that’s the only tax we’ll charge you for US orders.

        And quick note – if you charge your customers VAT, you need to be a registered VAT payer 🙂

  4. Chelsea

    So for the resale certificate, I only need ONE resale certificate to collect tax from customers in my state, no sales tax in in most other states, and will be charged tax from Printful because CA and NC?

    I don’t need to fill out and apply for 50 resale certificates so I can sell on Printful legally?

    If you sell something through Printful but don’t have a resale certificate, are you technically doing business illegally? Should we not ‘enable tax’ on our ecommerce plugins?

    Set up is so easy on online POD platforms like Printful, Society6, Createspace, etc. So I’m sure there are thousands of people, sitting at home, setting up shop and not even thinking about resale certificates, EINs, TRNs or DBAs…are all these people then doing business illegally? =(

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Hey Chelsea!

      First, we always recommend talking to an accountant or tax professional to get the most accurate info.

      But yes, you will need to collect sales tax from your state, because that’s where your business is located. And from CA and NC, because that’s where we’re located. You’re not obligated to collect from all states.

      You’re not doing business illegally if you don’t have a resale certificate. We charge you for orders going to CA or NC, so the sales tax is being paid. With a resale certificate, the sales tax charge gets passed along to the end-customer, so it just means you’re not losing profit.

      1. Alec Larson

        If I don’t get a resale certificate, can I still pass the sales tax onto the customer, and then use that to pay Printful? If I did that, I would *not* be losing profit. I’m just curious if that’s allowed, in your opinion.

  5. Danielle Di Vincenzo

    Great article! Here’s my question: as a Canadian company using Printful as my sole dropshipper, I understand how the sales taxes get applied for sales destined within USA (specifically California and North Carolina). But I’m unclear on whether I’m supposed to charge sales tax (HST) on products destined for delivery to Canada from Printful. Although my office is in Canada, I keep no inventory here—everything sold on my website will go through Printful. So, do I tax my Canadian orders? Or is that what ‘customs and duties’ fees are? Yikes, I should know this but I don’t. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Hey Danielle! These are all great questions! I think your best bet is to talk to an accountant or tax professional to get the most accurate info 🙂

  6. Matty

    Thank you for the helpful article! If I decide to not get or upload a resale certificate for CA and NC (I am based in WI) and have a sale in one of those states, does the tax that Printful collects from that sale cover the tax requirements for those states? Or am I still responsible for reporting that to both CA or NC? Thank you!

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Hey Matty! If you don’t upload a resale certificate for CA and NC, we charge you sales tax on your purchase from us. So we would collect enough sales tax, but it would eat into your profit.

  7. Jeffrey

    Hi, Great article and I think I understand it all. But I just can’t figure out one thing. If my shop has nexus in NJ and a customer from NJ purchases a product, I have to charge sales tax. But if the Printful plugin overrides my tax capabilities, how do I charge the sales tax? From what I can see, the Printful plugin only adds tax to those in CA or NC, correct? Thanks.

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      That’s a great question! Which ecommerce platform do you use? You should still be able to edit to edit your shipping settings in your platform to charge other states.

    1. Nora Inveiss Post author

      Yup! You may also need to collect from Florida since that’s where you’re located. I also recommend consulting a tax expert to make sure you’ve got everything in order.

  8. JayLee

    Thanks for the info, very confusing but your responses have been helpful in understanding the process. My question is: How long does it take to get these Resale Certificates issued from NC and CA?

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