Browse Templates Explore the Product Try It Free

Electronic Signatures in France: What You Need to Know

As all members of the European Union, France recognizes electronic signatures as legally valid. That said, there are certain considerations to keep in mind before you start using them.

The three types of electronic signatures in France

In France, eSignatures fall under the eIDAS Regulation, which regulates electronic transactions across the EU. This regulation ensures that eSignatures have the same legal validity as handwritten ones. French law recognizes three types of electronic signatures:

  • Simple electronic signatures (SES). The most basic and the least verifiable ones. Think checkboxes that you click on to agree to the terms of using a website.
  • Advanced electronic signatures (AES) come with security features such as encryption and signer authentication. They can be uniquely linked to the signer, identify them, and also control any changes to documents.
  • Qualified electronic signatures (QES) carry the highest level of legal validity. The requirements are the same as for advanced electronic signatures, except for the fact that qualified electronic signatures require a qualified certificate and a qualified device.
see contract templates cta

What this means in practical terms

If you're signing business documents, advanced and qualified electronic signatures are what you want to go with. The choice between which one depends on the type of business transaction you're doing. The higher the stakes of the transaction, the higher the level of signature you need to stay on the safe side.

Under French law, qualified electronic signatures come with the presumption of reliability. This means that the signature is assumed reliable unless the party challenging it proves that it isn't.

For example, let's say your client used a qualified electronic signature to sign a contract. If they try to contest it, the burden of proof is on them. You don't have to prove the qualified electronic signature is valid. Instead, they are the ones that have to prove it's not.

On the other hand, advanced electronic signatures, while admissible in court, aren't automatically presumed reliable. This means that, if anything goes wrong, the burden of proof is on you and you have to prove that the eSignature is valid. To do that, you have to make sure that the advanced electronic signature:

  1. Clearly identifies the signer
  2. Is reliable and was stored in conditions that guarantee its integrity

Does everyone in the EU use a qualified eSignature?

In short, no. Since the procedure to get a qualified electronic signature isn't all that simple, most people opt for advanced electronic signatures.

This is because a qualified electronic signature needs to have a qualified certificate and device. In the EU, an example of that qualified device would be a biometric ID card. As for qualified certificates, those are usually issued by government accredited providers.

So, to sign with a qualified electronic signature, an EU citizen needs to use a card reader to link ID data to signature certificates on the provider's website. Or, go through face-to-face identity verification.

When all that's done, there's usually an app they can download and use it to eSign documents. That way, the unique data from the ID card is linked to the signature.

qualified electronic signature example eu

Seeing that the process of setting up a qualified electronic signature is still not very convenient, most people still don't opt to use it. A contributing factor to this is the fact that most documents don't require a qualified electronic signature.

Documents that require qualified electronic signatures under French eSignature law

In France, qualified electronic signatures are usually reserved for cases that involve the government. These are, for example:

  • Tax documents
  • Public procurement contracts
  • Digital medical files
  • Notarized deeds
  • Decisions ruled by judicial and commercial courts

Documents that don't require qualified electronic signatures under French eSignature law

In the following cases, an advanced electronic signature (AES) is usually enough:

  • HR agreements
  • NDAs
  • Software licensing agreements
  • Corporate resolutions
  • Real estate agreements
  • Insurance agreements
  • Agreements in the education sector
  • Commercial contracts
  • Invoices
  • Consumer transactions

Documents that usually require a handwritten signature

In France, a traditional handwritten signature cannot be electronically replaced when it comes to:

  • Marriage certificates
  • Wills
  • Deeds
  • Documents related to family law and inheritance law
  • Documents creating or transferring rights in immovable property

Final thoughts

When it comes to eSignatures in France, an advanced electronic signature is the most convenient and widespread option. To make sure your business documents hold up in court, a trusted digital signature platform is your best bet.

That said, different rules apply if you're dealing with government administration. If you don't want to sign in person, you'll have to get a qualified eSignature certificate.

Paper cuts and ink smudges? No, thanks.

Sign up for Better Proposals and start collecting legally binding digital signatures. Your clients will love you for it.

Patricija Šobak's profile image
Patricija Šobak puts her talent in spotting questionable grammar and shady syntax to good use by writing about various business-related topics. Besides advocating the use of the Oxford comma, she also likes coffee, dogs, and video games. People find her ability to name classic rock songs only from the intro both shocking and impressive.