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Invalid French VAT numbers – how to correct them

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.

Obligation to register as an intra-EU buyer or supplier

Most freelancers in France seem to believe that, like in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland (and possibly other states), small business with income below a certain threshold are not required to acquire an intra-EU VAT number. However, a government website makes it very clear that any French business or auto-entrepreneur that purchases or supplies services across EU borders needs to obtain a number (a €10,000 threshold applies to goods, but not to services):

Cependant, si un assujetti non redevable fournit ou achète des prestations de services à des professionnels établis dans l’UE (sans condition de montant), il a l’obligation de demander l’attribution d’un numéro de TVA intracommunautaire au SIE dont il dépend. Si c’est le cas, il bénéficie toujours de la franchise en base de TVA.

This rule is so unknown that many freelance translators have reported that they have struggled to convince the tax office to give them a VAT number. I therefore recommend that when you request the number, you provide the tax authorities with a print-out of the webpage that states that you require it.

See also Invalid Swedish VAT numbers – how to correct them.

If you found this article useful, why not translate it into French so that more people will find it? I will add a sentence stating who translated it and a link to your website. You may use the article on your own blog too, provided that you state the source. Send me an e-mail if you are interested.