The landscape of Indian GST(Goods and Services Tax) laws for digital services has undergone significant changes, particularly affecting non-resident digital services providers. This shift, primarily due to amendments effective from 1 October 2023, has placed a spotlight on “online information and database access or retrieval” (OIDAR) services. In this context, it’s crucial to understand these developments and their implications.
The Shift in OIDAR Services
The shift in OIDAR services in Indian GST law, effective from October 1, 2023, represents a significant change in the taxation and regulatory landscape for digital services provided over the internet. These changes, as outlined in the Finance Act 2023, have broad implications for non-resident digital service providers serving Indian users.
Previously, OIDAR services were defined as those delivered over the internet with minimal human intervention such as advertising, cloud services, e-books, movies, music, software and online gaming. The Finance Act 2023, however, removed the requirement of “minimal human intervention” from the definition of OIDAR services, thereby expanding the scope of what constitutes an OIDAR service. This change means that services that were previously excluded due to the human involvement element may now be included under OIDAR services.
The amendment also redefined “non-taxable online recipient” to include any unregistered person receiving OIDAR services in India. This has led to a significant increase in the compliance burden for foreign companies providing such services. They are now required to register for GST, collect and remit taxes and file returns in India. The integrated GST (IGST) rate applicable to these services can be up to 18%.
For OIDAR service providers located outside India, they must apply for GST registration at least five days before commencing business in India. They can also appoint a representative in India for obtaining GST registration and for filing GST returns. OIDAR service providers located in India must file GSTR-1, GSTR-2, GSTR-3 and an annual GST return, like any other taxpayer.
The changes in OIDAR services under the Indian GST laws have therefore not only expanded the scope of taxable digital services but also increased the regulatory and compliance requirements for foreign digital service providers catering to the Indian market. 
Key Developments in OIDAR Definition
- Wider Scope of Internet-Based Services: The Amendment as outlined in the Finance Act 2023, means a larger array of internet-based services, including those with significant human involvement are now categorized under OIDAR.
- Impact on Major Digital Service Providers: Companies like Netflix, Google, Meta, and Spotify which earn substantial revenue from the Indian market to face increased compliance requirements.
- Redefinition of ‘Non-Taxable Online Recipients’: The amendment redefines this term to include any unregistered person in India receiving OIDAR services, irrespective of whether these are for business or personal use.
- Removal of Previous Exemptions: Earlier, OIDAR services provided from outside India to the Indian government or for non-business purposes were exempt from GST. This exemption has been removed, making such services taxable.
- Changes in Export of Services: Services formerly treated as exports and exempt from OIDAR categorization might now be classified as OIDAR services and become taxable.
- Registration and Compliance Requirements: Foreign OIDAR service providers are now required to register for GST in India, file returns and pay applicable taxes.
- Increased Compliance and Complexity: The changes have heightened concerns about the added complexity and the burden of compliance for service providers.
- Need for Business Reevaluation: Businesses may need to reassess their services and possibly revise contracts with Indian customers for compliance.
- Expanded Taxation Ambit: The broader definition of OIDAR services has brought more online services within the scope of Indian taxation, significantly affecting foreign digital service providers catering to the Indian market.
Compliance Requirements for Foreign Companies
The compliance requirements for foreign companies offering OIDAR services to unregistered entities in India are a significant aspect of the post-October 2023 changes in the Indian GST laws. Here are the additional compliance requirements:
- Mandatory GST Registration: Foreign companies providing OIDAR services to unregistered entities in India are now required to register for GST. This registration is mandatory regardless of whether the foreign company has a physical presence in India.
- Filing of FORM GSTR-5A: These companies are obliged to file returns using FORM GSTR-5A. This form is specifically designed for foreign service providers offering OIDAR services to unregistered persons in India.
- Reconciliation of Returns for Equalization Levy and OIDAR Service Returns: There is a requirement for proper reconciliation between the returns filed for the equalization levy and the OIDAR service returns. This ensures that all tax liabilities are correctly accounted for and paid.
- Additional Administrative Burden: This compliance requirement adds an additional layer of administrative responsibility for foreign service providers. They must accurately track and report their transactions with Indian customers to comply with the GST regulations.
- Potential Need for Indian Representation: While not explicitly stated in the law, foreign companies might find it necessary to appoint a representative in India to manage these compliance requirements, especially if they do not have a physical presence in the country.
- Impact on Foreign Business Operations: These compliance requirements could impact the business models and operational strategies of foreign OIDAR service providers. They may need to reassess how they offer services in India to comply with these regulations efficiently.
1. What are the recent changes in Indian GST laws for non-resident digital service providers?
Starting October 1, 2023, Indian GST laws for digital services, especially those offered over the internet (known as OIDAR services), have undergone significant changes. The definition of OIDAR services has been expanded to include more types of internet-based services, even those involving considerable human intervention.
2. How does the new GST law affect companies like Netflix and Google?
Major digital service providers like Netflix, Google, Meta and Spotify, which have substantial revenue from the Indian market, now face stricter compliance requirements. They need to register for GST in India, file returns and pay applicable taxes due to the expanded scope of OIDAR services.
3. What does the redefinition of ‘Non-Taxable Online Recipients’ imply for foreign companies?
The term ‘Non-Taxable Online Recipients’ now includes any unregistered person in India receiving OIDAR services, irrespective of the service’s purpose. This change increases the number of transactions subject to GST, impacting foreign companies’ tax liabilities and reporting obligations.
4. Are there specific registration requirements for foreign OIDAR service providers?
Yes, foreign OIDAR service providers must register for GST in India, a mandatory requirement regardless of their physical presence in the country. They must file returns using FORM GSTR-5A and reconcile these with their equalization levy and OIDAR service returns.
5. What are the implications of the changes in the export of services?
Services that were previously treated as exports and exempt from OIDAR categorization might now be classified as OIDAR services under the new definition and become taxable. This affects the tax treatment of services provided by foreign companies to Indian customers.
6. How should foreign digital service providers respond to these changes?
Foreign digital service providers should reassess the nature of their services from an OIDAR perspective to align with the new regulatory requirements. This proactive approach is vital to avoid scrutiny and legal challenges under the evolving Indian GST framework. They may also need to reconsider their business models and contractual arrangements with Indian customers.
The post-amendment era for OIDAR services under Indian GST law calls for heightened awareness and compliance from foreign digital service providers. It is imperative for these entities to reassess the nature of their services from an OIDAR perspective and align themselves with the new regulatory requirements. This proactive approach is essential to avoid heavy scrutiny and potential legal challenges under the evolving Indian GST framework.