How to ensure your customers pay your invoices in France

By Valérie Aston on 8 January 2012 · Viewed 17539 times · Questions

A couple of forum members recently came up against some sustomes who wouldn't pay their invoice. There is nothing worse as having worked hard, then having to chase customers for weeks on end for payment! But what can you do according to French law, to ensure that you do get paid? Here are a few tips to help you out.

1. Legal mentions on your quotes - Devis

I always advise entrepreneurs to state their payment terms on their quotes and invoices, such as 30% deposit for artisans or payment within 7 days of invoicing, so your customers know what to expect.

So what do you need to include? Always mention on your quote:

  • when your goods or services will be paid, e.g. for instance sous 15 jours à reception de facture, 50% à la livraison du chantier
  • how you expect your customer to pay, e.g. règlement par chèque au nom de M. xxx ou tranfert bancaire au 14141 4441 xx
  • any deposit called acompte you may expect, e.g. acompte de 30% à la commande

2. Penalities for late payment

Since 2010, you can also apply some penalties for late payment, called pénalités de retard, provided you did mention it on your invoice. The penalty fee rate has to be indicated on your invoice (condition générales de ventes). The Taux de pénalité de retard is calulated on the European Central bank plus 10%  (BCE banque centrale européenne) and is based on the full price including TVA. Find out more on the late penalty fees (in French)

3. Have your quote approved and signed

Many website designers and consultants I come across only request an informal go-ahead over the phone from their customers. Unfortunately this has no legal value. The best option is to request your customer to approve, date and sign your quote, before faxing or emailing it back to you.  For instance you could write on your devis: document à retourner daté et signé avec la mention lu et approuvé. Fait à xxx le xx/xx/2012.  This will represent a legal proof.

4. Legal procedure for bad payers

Although penalty fees have been introduced in 2010, it is often difficult to have them implemented for small amounts, since it might cost you more in legal fees. So another option is to threaten your customer to use a debt collection service called mise en recouvrement. How does this work?

The debt collection company will pay you the amount upfront, after taking a commission for their service. They will then use legal procedure to collect the amount. 

Here is an example France creances  and Se Faire Payer. I have not used these companies personally, so you will need to do more research before chosing the right company for you. Threatening to use this service is often enough.

Valerie Lemiere: Start Business in France

About the author: Valérie Aston

I've been helping people who want to start or already have a small business set up in France since 2009. After graduating from a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, I worked as a senior marketing consultant in the UK and France for various International companies. I worked as a conseillère en création d'entreprises (senior business advisor) for BGE here in France and run this independent business on a daily basis.