Difficulty Billing a French University
Thread poster: Caroline Schutte-Goby

Caroline Schutte-Goby
Madagascar
Local time: 12:15
French to English
Jan 18

Hi everyone, I have run into a problem with getting paid by a university in France that I did a translation for. I am new to freelancing and made a rookie mistake by giving the translation to them before I had been paid at least half. Now the accountant for the school is telling me that I need to provide three things: a SIRET, URSAAF, and RIB. I've tried to explain that I am a freelance translator working out of many different countries as I travel around but based out of the US, and yet she says I don't have the right to bill in France without these three numbers. I find this odd especially since I billed a university in Switzerland and I didn't have any problems with them.

I'm thinking about giving them my EIN and of course my IBAN so they can pay me, but somehow I doubt the accountant will accept that since it's for the US.

Any advice would be much appreciated! Thanks, Caro


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Philippe Etienne  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:15
Member
English to French
BS Jan 19

Carogoby wrote:
...she says I don't have the right to bill in France without these three numbers.

So only companies registered in France could do business with French companies.
What a load of non-sense.

Try with some official business registration document, a lot of other documents proving that you're legit and ID-able, and of course your bank details.
France loves paperwork.

Philippe


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
France Jan 19

Such questions should have been sorted out before you started working.

Legally the situation is not that simple, as you are based in the US, but apparently performed the work on site in France. A US service provider is of course entitled to provide temporary work in France, but there may or may not be registration requirements involved, not to mention legal questions such as where the revenue is subject to income tax and welfare contributions (health, retirement, etc.) and the right for a non-EU resident/national to work in France in the first place.

In other words, this may be a can of worms, and France being France with its love of red tape and bureaucratic complications, you probably couldn’t have chosen a worse country to do this.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 10:15
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
It depends on a few things but don't give up Jan 19

Carogoby wrote:
I am new to freelancing and made a rookie mistake by giving the translation to them before I had been paid at least half.

Firstly, let me set your mind at rest: I've been doing exactly that for the last 20+ years! If it's a big job such as a book then I ask for an advance payment, and staged payments if necessary, but not otherwise. And I've never had a client default (touching wood ).

Now the accountant for the school is telling me that I need to provide three things: a SIRET, URSAAF, and RIB. I've tried to explain that I am a freelance translator working out of many different countries as I travel around but based out of the US, and yet she says I don't have the right to bill in France without these three numbers.

1. Did they know what your situation was in advance (rather than now)? Could you somehow have led them to think you were registered as self-employed in France, or that it was a temporary employment contract, or whatever?
2. Did you prepare a written quote for them? If so, what details did it give about your status?
3. Did you actually do the work at their premises? That might complicate matters, although I'm not sure it does legally.
4. As an American citizen, did you have to have a visa for your time in France? If so, what did it say about work - any sort of work?
5. What details are you giving on the invoice - your American address etc? It absolutely has to be that, not a temporary French one.

I'm thinking about giving them my EIN and of course my IBAN so they can pay me, but somehow I doubt the accountant will accept that since it's for the US.

They might well need your US tax number, yes. You have the right to have the money paid wherever you like, although if it's very costly for them you might have to negotiate. US bank, French bank, PayPal, etc - all are legitimate and have no bearing on taxes.
There are some "expert" services available in France online. You pay them a reasonable fee for a personal reply from a final-year student or similar. I remember I used a legal one once and got some great advice. Lawyers and accountants can also be quite reasonable if you only need an hour of their time (check first!), but make sure you go to one who specialises in international B2B transactions.

Keep in mind that what they say about not being able to pay you is totally ridiculous if they mean a total ban on anyone from abroad providing services. There are thousands of translators around the world who regularly invoice clients who are based in France.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:15
French to English
Living on the moon as a freelancer Jan 19

The fact that your translation activity is based beyond French borders does not prevent you from invoicing work done for a French university. If the order was legitimate, you could have done the work on abeach in Hawaï or from a crater on the moon. No matter. However, France is notorious for its adminsitrative spaghetti. I'm surprised that you were able to provide work for them without having had to fill in loads of forms beforehand.

The accounts department probably has forms to fill in that are only set up for the French system, codes, numbers etc. If those boxes to be filled in are computerised, then it will be difficult for them to fit US info in. That is their problem not yours. They obviously have ways round it, which may simply involve manual entries. WHat the university should be able to do is to find out what information they need from you, request it and then you to provide it. That' all you need to do. It sounds like you have to dela with someone who is not putting herself in your shoes for an instant.
Is there some way you could ask the person within the uni who ordred the work to intervene and try to untie some of the knots?

A note on payments from French universities generally. They are notoriusly slow to pay. Three to six months after receiving the invoice would not be unusual. This is likely to be the case for any payment, whether payment on account or a balance outstanding. You are right to act now as you need to get this sorted out before the summer holidays.


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Agreement On Social Security Between The United States Of America And The French Republic Jan 19

The Agreement On Social Security Between The United States Of America And The French Republic may solve the problem.

https://www.ssa.gov/international/Agreement_Texts/french.html


Article 7

A person who is self-employed in the territory of one Contracting State shall be subject to the laws of only that Contracting State even if he resides in the territory of the other Contracting State.

A person who is normally self-employed in the territory of one Contracting State and who performs self-employment for a temporary period in the territory of the other Contracting State shall be subject to the laws of only the first Contracting State, provided that the period of self-employment in the territory of the other Contracting State is not expected to exceed 24 months.


The French version is here:

http://www.cleiss.fr/pdf/conv_etatsunis.pdf

This only concerns social security and thus the URSSAF. You may or may not have to pay income tax in France. You would need to check the so-called double tax agreement between France and the US to find out.

Neither does it deal with the question of whether or not you should have registered as self-employed in France or not (SIRET number).

It also does not deal with your right or not to have worked in France, but since that is a fait accompli, we can forget about that.

The next problem may be to convince your Gallic administrative torturers that this is the law, and that a bilateral treaty obliges France to abide by it and overrules national law, at least if you are dealing with low-level staff. One would think, though, that at a university you might possibly be able to uncover a few intelligent people, but don't be sure.

Laws were never designed for people that travel around the world and work. You get into all sorts of legal complications when you do that.

[Edited at 2018-01-19 23:46 GMT]


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mariealpilles  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 11:15
Member (2014)
English to French
+ ...
difficulty billing a French university Jan 20

What they are telling you is just stupid. But that is what accountants usually are in France - they want to give themselves importance and cannot think by themselves, so if they cannot tick all the boxes they will come up with such excuses. Get back to the person who commissioned the job and waste no more time - explain that you are not based in France, hence SIRET and URSSAF do NOT apply to you. And also tell them straight that if the problem is not solved immediately and you do not get your money within 14 days, you will turn to a recovery agency (they are free in France since they recover the money from the debtor). You will eventually get paid, but do not talk to the account department any longer since you will get nowhere with those people. If you cannot get paid or if the person who commissioned the job doe not react, go up higher to the head of department and if needs be to the President of the University. I can reassure you - you will get paid but you may have to jump several obstacles. Good luck and do not give up.

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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:15
Member (2008)
Italian to English
University bureaucracy Jan 20

I used to be a university teacher. Any time I brought someone in to give a visiting lecture, or do some special tuition, my biggest task (of all the tasks I had to do) was then getting those visitors paid. Sometimes it took months and months and in one case, more than a year.

If you did the translation for an academic employed by the university, then you need to invoice the academic's employer.

That's where the nightmare begins, because getting paid by a university (anywhere in Europe including the UK) is an unbelievably convoluted process.

The academic presumably works within one department of a vast organisation.

The best way for you to get paid is to keep in contact with the academic who hired you. It will still be very difficult for you to get paid and all kinds of extra paperwork will be required.

Having learned the lesson of my own past experience, now when an academic asks me to do a translation, I first make sure that arrangements have been made to pay me that are outside the university payment system.

Don't blame the academic who hired you - it's a very difficult and embarassing situation for them because academics are writing papers all the time that need to be translated. It puts them in an impossible position.

[Edited at 2018-01-20 13:17 GMT]


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Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Ombudsman Jan 20

If nothing else works, you can try the general ombudsman, called Le Défenseur des droits in France, online at:

https://www.defenseurdesdroits.fr/fr/institution/competences/services-publics

Read the guidelines carefully first to understand if you need to complain in writing to others first.

They may or may not be able to help.


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:15
French to English
Recovery agencies in France Jan 20

mariealpilles wrote:
...a recovery agency (they are free in France since they recover the money from the debtor).


I agree with everything you have written here Marie, although recovery is not free. The person seeking to recover his/her money has to put money on the table. The cost will be passed on to the client, of course, but the person instructing the huissier still has to pay up first. It can be dissuasive.

https://www.service-public.fr/particuliers/vosdroits/F2158


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Nikki Scott-Despaigne  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:15
French to English
Former "vacataire" Jan 20

Tom in London wrote:

The best way for you to get paid is to keep in contact with the academic who hired you. It will still be very difficult for you to get paid and all kinds of extra paperwork will be required.


Don't blame the academic who hired you - it's a very difficult and embarrassing situation for them because academics are writing papers all the time that need to be translated. It puts them in an impossible position.


I worked for 3 years as a "chargée de cours" with a "vacataire" contact for a certain number of hours. I worked from September until the end of June each of those 3 years. In the first year, I was paid one half of what I was due for the first month's work at the end of February of the following year, thus almost 6 months' late. The next payment came in around the end of July and the third one just before the start of the next year. In the second year, I was paid twice but at least it was for the work done to that date. By that time, I'd already had to take out an overdraft. I only continued the following year as I was setting up as a translator by then and it gave me a little bit of (sometime) guaranteed income until I was up and rolling. I got paid every two months on that third and last year, but I had started off by consulting an "avocat" and was strangely enough paid on a regular basis.

During that period of three years, I learnt that the university procedures were sooooooooo slow that they had difficulty securing contracts with local suppliers. At one point, they had no paper in the printers and photocopiers in the central office as the supplier was refusing to supply them as they were so behind with their bills.

These are very banal experiences in France and it was facilitated for me as I also have French nationality and everything is based in France. With the added extra of being based in the US, the numbers and codes will not fit into the boxes and so it means putting a square peg into a round hole. This probably means that automated systems will not cope with it and it will have to be done manually. As already pointed out by others, this will sometimes mean that the person who has to deal with it will just set it aside.

Having returned to study I once wondered why I had four zeros on my "relevé de notes". I'd attended the exams and knew that there ought not to have been a zero there. In some cases, it was because the course had been validated by prior study and should have had a special "VAE" code entered. In others, it was because some papers did not have the candidate's name on them. Exams are supposed to be anonymous and the formal instructions are not to put your name on the paper. You generally have a sticker with an identifying barcode to stick on the paper. At one point, when I went to the secretariat to see what had happened, I was told that as my name was not on the paper, the mark could not be entered on my file. She had a pile some 20 inches high of such papers. I explained that I had stuck the sticker on the paper. The reply came back that "Yes, but here we use the candidates' names". What can you reply to that? My mark sheet was edited five times before everything that should have been on it was. I even once had to resit exams I'd passed (the professors had told me so) as the offices had been unable to get all the results entered in time and I was advised to do the resits "par précaution". Seriously?! Yes, seriously. The individual professors gave me the marks so I knew I had passed. When I then appealed to the Commission such-and-such take advantage of my nonetheless improved marks from the resits, I was not entitled to do so, as "resits are not a means by which students are able to improve their marks". What can you say to that sort of remark? It's mindblowing. That is what you are up against and I am sorry for you.

Any work done for public organisations in France means that you know you will be paid months after a job has been done or after a service has been supplied. A couple of years ago, I did a couple of days' invigilating for concours. I was paid 250 euros four months after having done the job. The relevant paperwork for that payment came through more than two months after payment itself! It's basically a joke and although there have been improvements over the last 20 years, I'm not sure that much has changed fundamentally at all. It's no joke when you're waiting for it.

My advice from this experience? Contact a lawyer and you will be surprised how quickly the situation will be resolved with just a simple letter. That was all it took for me and that does not cost a great deal. All my lawyer had written was words to the effect of:
I am informed by my client that XXX she carried out XXX on whatever date. She is still awaiting payment which according to the terms of XXX was due on. Please take all steps to pay XXX within XXX otherwise she will have no option but to pursue the matter through the courts, all costs of which, including interests at a rate of XXX will be added to the cost of the monies outstanding.". The usual type of blurb in fact. SImply substitute the salary thing for invoice number, work done, etc. ordered by XXX and proof that the work was supplied and invoiced. Nothing magical, nothing unusual, but it generally works.



[Edited at 2018-01-21 11:21 GMT]


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Christophe Delaunay  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 11:15
Member (2011)
Spanish to French
+ ...
@Thomas, I thought the same till I came to live in... Feb 5



In other words, this may be a can of worms, and France being France with its love of red tape and bureaucratic complications, you probably couldn’t have chosen a worse country to do this.



... Italy!!!


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