All About Electronic Signature in France e-Invoicing

Updated on: Aug 25th, 2023


6 min read

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The electronic signature ensures the integrity of the content and the authenticity of the origin of an invoice. These two basic attributes determine the validity of an electronic invoice in France and throughout the European Union.

Presently, electronic signatures are used relatively less when exchanging invoices in EDI. However, businesses use this mechanism commonly to exchange invoices in PDF format.

The French regulations have become particularly favorable to using electronic signatures since the publication of Ordinance No. 2021-1190. Further, French companies will gradually be required to issue electronic invoices from July 2024. Accordingly, electronic signature plays a key role in sending authentic e-invoices.

This article explains all about electronic signature and its role in France e-invoicing.

Is it mandatory to sign electronic invoices?

No, it is not mandatory to sign electronic invoices. However, it is strongly recommended to sign so that the businesses can preserve the integrity of the content and the authenticity of the origin of an invoice.

Businesses sending electronic invoices but do not want to sign them can opt for using the reliable audit trail or the exchange in EDI coupled with certain additional procedures.

The electronic signature ensures that the invoice has not been modified between its issue and dispatch and that its issuer has been authenticated. This signature will only add new layers of security to the entire dematerialization process.

What are the regulations related to electronic signatures?

France announced the first significant regulation on electronic signatures on 13th March 2000 through the law 2000-230.

Subsequently, the authorities issued Ordinance No. 2021-1190 on 15th September 2021 to set the legal framework for generalizing electronic invoicing. After that, Finance Law No. 2022-1726 of 30th December 2023 recognizes the use of the qualified electronic seal within the meaning of Regulation (EU) 910/2014 for issuing, stamping, and storing invoices.

Finally, decree 2023-377 of 16th May linked to electronic invoices issued and secured by a qualified electronic signature or seal. This regulation stated that invoices must be signed using a qualified electronic signature or seal to guarantee their integrity and authenticity.

Types of electronic signatures

There are different types of electronic signatures in France. Let's go through them one by one:

Simple electronic signature: It is used with unrecognized certificates and is used for signing transactions and documents with minimal legal value.

Advanced electronic signature: Thorough this signature is based on the qualified certificates; it is not created using secure signature creation devices. It offers better security than the simple electronic signature because the holder's identity is recognized. Therefore, it's not recommended for signing highly sensitive operations or transactions.

Qualified electronic signature: An electronic certificate is a file issued by an authorized, trusted third party. Further, it is uniquely associated with the requesting company or person by guaranteeing its connection to the certificate's public key.

Why is a qualified electronic signature chosen for signing electronic invoices?

Qualified electronic signatures are created based on the qualified electronic certificate. These certificates are issued by the qualified trust service provider, following a reliable process of verifying the identity of the requesting entity or person. Therefore, qualified certificates are the most reliable electronic identification system.

Further, a qualified certificate issued on a secure signature creation device cannot be copied or installed on any computer. This is the case for certificates issued on cryptographic cards. The certificate holder must physically have the device on which the certificate is stored in order to use it. The impossibility of reproducing the certificate on other devices offers better security.

Hence, the French authorities have chosen this signature for signing the electronic invoices.

What is a qualified electronic seal?

Similar to a qualified electronic signature, the qualified electronic seal will be issued based on a qualified certificate and by means of a secure signature creation device. However, the difference is that a qualified electronic seal is issued in the name of an entity or a company but not in a personal capacity.

Further, PDPs must provide a service that complies with the requirements of the DGFiP following the registration process. It is their responsibility to verify the documents' validity, integrity, and authenticity. Thus, PDPs must be prepared to process and validate the electronic signature of the electronic invoices they integrate.

Electronic signature of PDF invoices

It is to be noted that in France, signing invoices applies to PDF format documents. However, other methods are used for invoices issued by EDI to ensure authenticity and integrity.

The authorities outline below the key aspects of this requirement:

  • Qualified electronic signatures can be used to ensure the integrity and authenticity of electronic invoices.
  • Taxable individuals must use specific electronic invoice formats such as Factur-X, CII, and UBL when submitting to the Public Invoicing Portal (PIP). 

The challenge of electronically signing PDF invoices is resolved by adopting supported formats such as Factur-X when submitting through the Public Invoicing Portal (PPF).