On more than one occasion, I have had issues obtaining a valid intracommunity VAT number (numéro de TVA intracommunautaire) from French clients or service providers. The problems fall into two categories:
16-character or 14-character number instead of an 11-character number
Sometimes I have been given a 16-digit or 14-digit number instead of an 11-digit number. This is because the client or service provider is confusing their VAT number with their SIRET number.
The SIRET number is a 14-digit number consisting of a 9-digit SIREN number (e.g. 123 456 789, although the first two characters may be letters) followed by a five-digit NIC number, which usually starts with at least two zeros. An example SIRET number would be 123 456 789 00123.
French VAT numbers begin with the FR prefix, followed by a two-digit control number, followed by the 9-digit SIREN number. So, the company with the aforementioned SIRET and SIREN numbers might have the VAT number FR 12 123 456 789.
A 16-digit number is the result of the client or service provider adding the “FR ##” prefix to the 14-digit SIRET number, instead of to the 9-digit SIREN number.
So, if the client gives you a 16-digit number, such as FR 12 123 456 789 00123, simply drop the final five digits, and you have the intra-community VAT number (assuming the company has such a number – see below).
If the client gives you a 9-digit SIREN number, you can use an online tool to convert it to the corresponding VAT number.
But beware! The number you generate may only be a theoretical number, i.e. the number the client or service provider would be assigned if they applied for an intracommunity VAT number. But the client might not have applied. Before you can issue a VAT-free invoice under the reverse-charge mechanism you must check that they are registered in the VIES system.