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How long do I need to keep old French documents?

It is advisable to keep certain documents for minimum periods in case of queries or complications

If you live in France, you should have a place to file away your important documents Pic: nampix / Shutterstock

Reader question: I did not know I was supposed to keep energy bills for five years until reading a Connexion article that mentioned it. Are the rules the same for all types of documents in French? 

The article this reader is referring to relates to Engie no longer providing old bills for clients to download from October 1. 

Energy bills should be kept for five years in case of disputes over payment, either by you or your energy provider.

As the bill payer, you have five years to contest a payment requested by your supplier, although the supplier has only two years to challenge a bill payer over an unpaid sum.

It is important to keep many administrative documents in France, whether they are sent by the government or by companies, as they can be used to prove or contest payments that may be challenged at a later date, or to provide information from an official source.

The rules are different for most documents, as the legal timeframe to challenge a payment request can differ depending on the service involved. 

See below for the minimum recommended time to keep documents although you can of course keep them for a longer period if you wish. 

They can be useful even after these dates as evidence in court, over certain tax-related matters for example.

Bills, receipts, cars

Water bills should be kept for five years. Depending on whether your supplier is a state or private body, the supplier could have up to four years to challenge a payment you have made.

Mobile phone and internet bills should be kept for one year as this is the latest that you can contest a charge.

Proof your boiler has been examined should be kept for two years. For other inspections, for example on septic tanks, you should keep the documents proving such until the next inspection takes place. 

Most receipts and guarantees should be kept until the warranty for the product ends. In the case of a vehicle, the bill for its purchase and for work done on it should be kept until the vehicle is no longer yours. 

Vehicle insurance history documents (relevé d'informations automobile) should be kept permanently. 

Banking and taxes 

Most documents relating to income tax déclaration de revenus, avis d'imposition sur le revenu, and various proofs of expenses or deductions related to your taxes (such as justificatifs des frais réels) – should be kept for three years.

Your documents for local taxes (taxe d’habitation and taxe foncière) should be kept for one year, or three years if you received an exemption from paying the tax. 

Bank statements, proof of opening an account (both current and savings) and cheque stubs should be kept for a minimum of five years. You may wish to retain documents relating directly to opening an account until its closure. 

Note that in the case of having a home built or for major improvement works, you could be asked to show related bank statements when you come to sell the home. This is especially the case for non-residents so these should be kept indefinitely or at least until the property is sold.

Note that you can only contest fraudulent transactions up to 13 months after they are charged to your account. 

Read more: Seven ways to save on French bank charges

Property documents 

If you own your property, the housing deeds (acte de vente) should be kept permanently. Even if you move you should keep a copy of your old deeds. 

You should keep documents relating to properties in co-ownerships (proof of paying your charges, correspondence with your syndic etc) for five years.

If renting, your tenancy agreement and quittances de loyer (rent receipts) should be kept while you are renting the property and for the following three years.

You may also wish to keep the état des lieux (inventory and state of the property when moving out) for three years after you move as it can be useful to show you were a good tenant. 

You should keep the inventory of the property’s contents and equipment until your deposit has been refunded.

Health and employment 

Payslips (either in physical or digital format) should be kept at least five years after receipt. Many people are thought to keep them for life in case of any issues over pension entitlements. Keep your signed work contract for five years after leaving the company. 

If you are the employer, most documents relating to your employees (timesheets, tax certificates, etc) should be kept for three years.

Hospital bills should be kept for four years if from a public hospital, and two if from a private hospital

Reimbursement papers from Assurance Maladie should be kept for two years. However fraudulent claims on your account (in the case of scams etc) can be challenged for up to five years, so you may wish to keep them longer. 

Prescriptions should be kept for one year (although this can raise to three years for glasses) if over the age of 43 or five years for those under this age.

Permanent documents 

Some documents should never be thrown away, regardless of if they come from your home country or you acquired them in France.

These include birth, marriage, divorce and Pacs certificates, diplomas and education certificates, and your livret de famille

Keep certain health documents such as medical certificates, blood group certificates and vaccination cards also.

You should keep all documents relating to your pet (including health and vaccination cards) for as long as you have the animal.

Related articles: 

What do I do with my French livret de famille?

How to protect copies of documents from identity theft in France

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