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Supporting documents for accounting in France


A company’s accounts must be accurate in order for the tax advantage to be accepted by the tax authorities.

In terms of company law, art. L. 123-14 of the Commercial Code provides that “the annual accounts must be regular, sincere and provide a true image of all assets, financial situation and the results of the company”.

In both cases, the reality and sincerity of the accounts can only be accepted if they are supported by supporting documents defined by French law.

I – Definition of supporting documents

An accounting voucher is a document that supports an accounting entry, which must be dated. The supporting document can be a document justifying a single isolated accounting entry or a summary that justifies a set of operations. It can be generated by a third party (a supplier’s invoice for instance) or be drawn by the company (a sales invoice for example).

Art. L123-22 of the Commercial Code further explains that: “The accounting documents are drawn in euros and in French. Accounting and supporting documents must be kept for ten (10) years”.

A means of examination must allow the managers of the company, the accountant, the auditor and the administration in the event of an audit to make the link between an entry in the accounts and its supporting document. We will thus, explore the importance of using a good method of filing all supporting documents.

Mandatory information on a supporting accounting document:

Although the accounting documents have their own characteristics, some mentions are mandatory for all. These must mention:

  • The date of the operation
  • The identification of all parties involved
  • The characteristics and amounts of the transaction
  • The coding for processing

The relationship with the accountant:

These accounting documents must be sent regularly and on time, to the chartered accountant in order to meet all pre-defined deadlines. Many software exists, which allows you to scan the supporting documents and send them automatically to the accountant throughout the whole operations progress. Most commonly, this type of software is supplied by your accountant.

Failure to produce accounting documents can lead to severe sanctions:

When the tax administration considers that you have a hidden or incomplete accounting, the administrator can reconstitute the taxable profit by its own authority, using two methods:

  • Making an estimate based on receipts which are in relation to purchases, increased by a margin coefficient
  • Assessing the income generated by the activity, by various means without taking into account the supporting accounting documents.

If you are in one of those above situations, you won’t be able to refute the method used by the administration.


II – Accounting documents relating to purchases and miscellaneous charges 

The accounting must be justified by any document allowing the control of the reality of the expenses. These are usually invoices for purchases and cash vouchers, receipts, pay books, etc. for other costs and charges.

The law says that the accounts must be supported by supporting documents that will allow this control.

Watch out: credit card receipts are not considered supporting documents. Make sure to keep all official invoices.

    1. Supporting documents allowing a deduction of taxable profit

Art. 54 of the General Tax Code mentions: “Taxpayers […] are required to present, upon any request from the administration, all accounting documents, inventories, copies of letters, receipts and expenditure documents likely to justify the accuracy of the results stated in their statement. If the accounts are kept in a foreign language, a translation certified by a sworn translator must be presented at any request of the administration.”

However, there are some tolerance measures:

  • BOI-BIC-DECLA-30-10-20-10 “It is, however, admitted that minor acquisitions of consumable products may not be accompanied by the corresponding invoices”.

It should be noted that this case must remain exceptional and correspond to expenditure of a very low amount.

  • Traders sourcing directly from producers of agricultural products, or sea fishing craftsmen may not hold invoices.

Traders directly sourcing from markets or farm cultures, without the possibility of obtaining an invoice (in this case, the exit sheet or weight sheet has the value of an accounting document).

Beyond these two very specific situations, each company must be able to provide proof of purchases accounted for and keep any useful document for this purpose.

The particularity concerning restaurant expense reports and invoices for the purchase of gifts intended for customers:

When a manager or an employee invites customers to a business meal, etc. the receipt must display the following:

  • Date
  • Total amount of the bill
  • Number of guest (seen by the number of dish served)
  • For invoices above €150: Guests’ names, functions, company, all on the back of the invoice
  • Reason (written on the back)
  • VAT

It is necessary to provide proof that the expenses incurred for the gifts are consistent with the business relationship maintained with the customer. It is therefore imperative to keep the invoices mentioning the names of the beneficiaries.

    1. Supporting documents allowing the recovery of VAT

In addition to the conditions set out above for a supporting document to allow the deduction of the chargeable expense, additional conditions are set out by law to allow a recovery of VAT.

Indeed, an invoice constitutes, for the exercise of the right to deduct VAT, an essential document since it makes it possible to formally justify the existence of a VAT claim to the Treasury.

VAT can only be recoverable if the corresponding expense is incurred for the purposes of transactions giving rise to the right to deduct; and if the amount of VAT is clearly shown on the invoice.

The invoice must specify for each operation carried out:

  • The date and exact nature of the transaction
  • The price per piece, excluding taxes and the applicable VAT rate.
  • The total amount to be paid, the tax rate, the total amount excluding VAT and the corresponding VAT for all the operations invoiced.

Exceptions to formalism in connection to invoices:

In some cases, it is impossible to have an invoice edited by the supplier. It is possible to recover VAT on a simple expense report, if it mentions the amount excluding tax and the amount of VAT. This mainly concerns:

  • Meal expenses when the amount is less than € 150
  • Fuel costs for which VAT is recoverable
  • Highway tolls
  • Various parking fees, etc.

III – Accounting documents relating to sales

As soon as the transaction is made between two professionals, the invoice is mandatorily issued twice (an original and a duplicate).

This invoice must be issued, either at the time of delivery of the goods in the contracts for the sale of goods, or at the end of the execution of providing services. The buyer is also required to claim it.

For sales of goods to individuals, issuing an invoice is only mandatory in the following cases:

  • At the customer’s request
  • For long-distance sales or intra-community deliveries exempt from VAT.

In other cases, the professional generally provides a receipt to the buyer.

For services provided for individuals, it is mandatory to issue an invoice in the following cases:

  • Prive higher than €25 incl. tax
  • By client’s request
  • Some building works

Invoices must disclose a large number of mandatory information which are indicated on our website: MANDATORY INFORMATION TO BE INCLUDED ON AN INVOICE.

All companies are required to keep a copy of each sales invoice (or service note to individuals) in coded-numerical or chronological order. These documents are part of the supporting documents that must be linked to the accounts.

IV – Classification and storage of supporting documents

    1. Classification of supporting accounting documents

The general chart of accountants does not specify any classification rules for supporting documents. The company is therefore free to adopt its own classification method. This must be effective so that the company is able, at any time, to quickly access the required accounting document.

There are two ranking methods:

  • Paper format: It is recommended to use binders according to the accounting journals used by the company. It is important to choose a secure storage location in which the access is not authorized to everyone and where the documents do not present any risk of deterioration (humidity among many others).
  • Digital format: The documents are digitalized and stored in secure spaces. It is important to guard against the risk of data loss or hacking. It is preferable to keep some original documents in paper.

To link an accounting voucher to its accounting entry, the number assigned by the accounting software to the entry is generally written on the document.

    1. Retention period for documents

  • Supporting documents must be kept in the company’s archives for a minimum of 10 years from the end of the financial year (Art. L123-22 of the Commercial Code):
    • Purchase orders and delivery notes issued or received
    • Customer/supplier invoices
    • Bank documents: statements, check stubs, check remittances, etc.

It is the same for accounting books and all accounting documents recording operations, accounting monitoring elements, inventory management, annual accounts (income statement, balance sheet, annexes, etc.) which must also be kept for 10 years from the end of the financial year.

  • For commercial contracts concluded between a company and a merchant or an Individual, the retention period is a minimum of 5 years (Art. L110-4 of the Commercial Code).

On the other hand, the retention period of the company’s real estate contracts is a minimum of 30 years (Art. 2272 of the Civil Code).

  • For tax documents, Art. L102B of the Book of Tax Procedures stipulates that “the books, registers, or documents on which the administration’s rights of communication, investigation and control may be exercised, must be kept for a period of 6 years […]”.
  • Documents related to personnel management must be kept for 5 years. This includes payslips, Unique Employee Registry, documents in relation to employment contracts, salaries, bonuses, allowances, balances of all accounts and pension plans, declarations of accidents at work.

This period is reduced to 3 years for all documents in relation to social charges and payroll tax, and 1 year for accounting in relation to employee hours, on-call hours and their compensation.

If you have any question, do not hesitate to contact us!

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