International limitation period

An unpaid invoice cannot be collected indefinitely. There is always a limitation period on invoices. This means that after a set date, an invoice can no longer be collected through court. The statute of limitations and the way in which you can counteract the limitation period is different in each country. That is why it is important to be aware of the regulations on the international statute of limitations when doing business abroad.

Is there a statute of limitations in debt collection?

Imagine you delivered products to your foreign customer several years ago. You sent the corresponding invoice with a payment term of 30 days. After sending the invoice, you did not receive the payment and you did not take any actions to retrieve the amount. If you decide you still want to take action against your debtor, then yes, you will have to consider the limitation period in debt collection.

Debt collection limitation period

The limitation period in debt collection is the term in which an invoice can become time-barred and differs in each country. For example, French law has a limitation period of 5 years, whereas in Italy a claim becomes time-barred after 10 years. The moment the limitation period applies also differs per country. In the Netherlands, for example, the limitation period starts when the claim is due and payable. This is when the payment term of an invoice expires. In Germany, however, the limitation period applies at the end of the year in which the claim arises.

International debt collection statute

In addition, you can interrupt a limitation period. This means that the statute of limitations is interrupted by performing a certain action. This is also different in every country. In some countries, such as Romania, you can interrupt the limitation period by sending an official reminder to your debtor. In other countries, it is only possible to interrupt the limitation period by starting legal proceedings. The requirements for sending a letter on the statute of limitations may also differ based on the rules and regulations in your country. Therefore, you should always consult a specialist solicitor when you wish to interrupt the limitation period of an international claim.

Limitation period in European transport law

In addition to the general limitation periods in every country, in most cases there are exceptions per country for certain types of contracts. An exception that applies to all European countries, is the statute of limitations for claims in international transport. This industry has a very short limitation period of one 1 year.

Limitation period abroad

Below you will find an overview of the limitation periods in various European countries and the way in which the statute of limitations can be interrupted.

Limitation period Belgium

  • Limitation period for business claims: 10 years
  • Exceptions:
    1. Transport law: 1 year
    2. Lease contracts: 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period in Belgium can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings (ordinary civil proceedings)
    3. A notice of default with a confirmation send by your solicitor.

Limitation period France

  • Limitation period for business claims: 5 years
  • Exceptions:
    1. Transport law 1 year
    2. Construction companies: 10 years
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period in France can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings.

Limitation period Germany

  • Limitation period for business claims: 3 years
  • Exceptions:
    1. Transport law 1 year
    2. In case of construction contracts (work delays): 2 years
  • Limitation period will apply at the end of the year in which the claim arises
  • The statute of limitations in Germany can be interrupted by initiating legal proceedings.

Limitation period Greece

  • Limitation period for business claims: 5 years
  • Exceptions: transport law 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period in Greece can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings.

Limitation period Italy

  • Limitation period 10 years
  • Exceptions:
    1. Legal practitioners: limitation period 3 years
    2. Insurance companies and mediators: limitation period 1 year
    3. Transport law: 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period in Italy can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings
    3. Sending a letter of formal notice.

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Limitation period The Netherlands

  • Limitation period for business claims: 5 years
  • Exceptions: European transport law 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period can be interrupted in the Netherlands as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings
    3. Sending a demand letter.

Limitation period Poland

  • Limitation period for business claims: 3 years
  • Exceptions:
    1. Transport law: 1 year
    2. In case of sales or service contract: 2 years.
  • Limitation period will apply at the end of the year in which the claim arises.
  • Limitation periods in Poland can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings
    3. Initiation of mediation.

Limitation period Portugal

  • Limitation period for business claims: 20 years
  • Exception: transport law 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • In Portugal, the statute of limitations can only be interrupted by starting legal proceedings.

Limitation period Romania

  • Limitation period for business claims: 3 years
  • Exceptions: transport law 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation periods in Romania can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings
    3. Once the debtor has been declared to be in default.

Limitation period Spain

  • Limitation period for business claims: 5 years.
  • Exceptions:
    1. Legal practitioners: 3 years
    2. Claims based on unpaid cheques (juicio cambiario): 3 years
    3. Transport law: 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable
  • Limitation period in Spain can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. A Burofax from or to the debtor confirming the existence of an outstanding invoice.
    3. Initiation of ordinary civil proceedings.

Limitation period Turkey

  • Limitation period for business claims: 10 years
  • Exceptions: European transport law 1 year
  • Limitation period will apply when the claim is due and payable.
  • Limitation period in Turkey can be interrupted as follows:
    1. Acknowledgement of the claim by the debtor
    2. Initiation of legal proceedings
    3. Debtor has made a partial payment.

Limitation period United Kingdom

  • Limitation period for business claims: 6 years
  • The limitation period will apply from the moment the claim arises
  • Interrupting the statute of limitations in England can be done as follows:
    1. Written and signed acknowledgement by the debtor
    2. Standstill agreement between two parties.

More information on international limitation period

Do you have a foreign outstanding claim, and would you like to know more about the limitation period or the statute of limitations? Feel free to contact us for more information. Our international solicitors will be happy to help you.

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