International Commercial Debt Collection Laws Explained

International debt collection involves pursuing debts from debtors in different countries - a challenge heightened by diverse legal systems, cultures, and language barriers.

Jun 13, 2024

Judges gavel on a world map as a symbol of international comemrcial debt laws

As commerce expands internationally, the complexities of debt collection become apparent. Therefore, navigating international business debt recovery requires thorough knowledge of various legal frameworks and regulations across jurisdictions.

In this article, our global debt collection expert explores key aspects of international commercial debt collection laws that businesses need to manage and recover debts globally.

Major International Debt Collection Frameworks

Understanding international debt collection frameworks is crucial for cross-border businesses. These frameworks provide the legal basis for debt recovery across jurisdictions, ensuring effective navigation of global commerce while promoting fairness and efficiency.

The United Nations Convention on the Assignment of Receivables

The United Nations Convention on the Assignment of Receivables (UNCAR), adopted in 2001, facilitates cross-border receivables assignment. It aims to boost trade and economic development while reducing risks in international business debt collection across jurisdictions.

The key provisions of UNCAR are:

  • Uniform guidelines: Establishes guidelines for receivables assignment, ensuring recognition and enforceability across jurisdictions.
  • Legal harmonisation: Harmonises legal requirements for formalities, priority rights, and the validity of assignments, simplifying cross-border transactions.
  • Conflict resolution: Resolves priority conflicts among claimants, which is crucial for global trade.
  • Insolvency protection: Protects creditors' and debtors’ rights during insolvency, ensuring receivables are honoured in distress.
  • Future receivables: Addresses the treatment of future receivables and bulk assignments, making them effective and enforceable.
  • Enhanced financing: Enhances access to finance by allowing businesses to use receivables as collateral, improving liquidity and supporting economic growth.
  • Global adoption: UNCAR's global adoption underscores its significance, fostering fair debt collection.

The Rights and Obligations of the Assignor and the Assignee

The United Nations Convention on the Assignment of Receivables clarifies the rights and obligations of assignors and assignees, ensuring transactional clarity and consistency.

  • The rights and obligations of the assignor and assignee are governed by their agreement's terms and conditions, including any referenced rules or general conditions.
  • The assignor and assignee adhere to agreed-upon usages and established practices unless stated otherwise.
  • In international assignments, unless specified otherwise, the assignor and assignee are expected to follow widely recognised trade practices relevant to their assignment or receivables category.

Principle of debtor protection: 

  1. Unless otherwise stated in this Convention, an assignment does not alter the debtor's rights and obligations, including payment terms, without the business debtor's consent.
  2. A payment instruction can alter the payee, address, or payment account but cannot alter:
  3. a) The currency specified in the original contract or
  4. b) The country specified in the original contract for payment, unless the payment is to be made in a different country where the debtor is not located.

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The European Union Late Payment Directive

The EU Late Payment Directive is crucial for managing debt collection within the EU, setting clear payment terms and penalties to enhance business cash flow and ensure timely payments, and fostering a fair and efficient business environment across member states. The key provisions of the directive are:

  • Public authorities must settle payments for procured goods and services within 30 days, with an extension to 60 days only under exceptional circumstances.
  • Enterprises must settle invoices within 60 days unless agreed otherwise and deemed not grossly unfair.
  • Automatic entitlement to late payment interest and a minimum €40 compensation for recovery costs.
  • Statutory interest is 8% above the European Central Bank’s reference rate.
  • EU countries can retain or enact creditor-friendly laws that are more favourable than the directive.

Scope of application: The Directive covers all commercial transactions within the EU, including sales contracts and service agreements between businesses and public authorities.

Enforcement mechanisms: Member States must enforce the Directive within their jurisdictions, establishing effective mechanisms, including judicial and administrative procedures, to ensure compliance.

The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements

The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, enacted in 2005, clarifies cross-border commercial disputes by establishing jurisdiction rules in international contracts, boosting legal certainty, and aiding court judgment enforcement. The key provisions of The Hague Convention are:

  • Parties in international contracts can designate jurisdictional courts for disputes.
  • Designation of jurisdiction must be explicit and written in the contract or a separate agreement.
  • Other courts must respect the chosen jurisdiction, unless specific exceptions apply.
  • Courts in the Contracting States recognise and enforce judgments from designated jurisdictions.
  • Limited grounds for enforcement refusal encourage international legal cooperation.
  • The Convention boosts legal certainty and aids cross-border dispute resolution in commercial matters.

Enforcement mechanisms and international cooperation:

  • The Convention outlines procedures for enforcing court judgments among Contracting States.
  • Contracting States must recognise and enforce judgments from designated jurisdictions per Convention provisions.
  • Few grounds exist for refusal, ensuring consistency in cross-border dispute resolution.
  • The Convention promotes international legal cooperation via its court judgment enforcement mechanisms.

Legal Processes in International Debt Collection

International debt collection involves navigating diverse legal systems, contracts, and global frameworks, demanding meticulous legal attention from receivables assignment to court judgment enforcement.

Determining Jurisdiction and Applicable Law

In international debt collection, establishing jurisdiction and applicable law is vital. It involves determining the legal system with authority over the process, often based on factors like debtor location and contractual terms. Understanding these rules is crucial for conducting proceedings in the right jurisdiction. Applicable law governs the commercial debt collection process, clarifying whether domestic laws or international conventions apply.

Steps to Initiate Legal Proceedings

Initiating legal proceedings in international debt collection involves several steps:

  • Firstly, the business creditor evaluates the potential for legal action, considering factors like debt size, debtor location, and prospects of success. 
  • The creditor then hires legal experts skilled in international debt recovery to manage the legal process.
  • Next, the legal team drafts and serves the necessary documents, such as demand letters or court summons, to the debtor. 
  • Following this, the debtor has a set time to respond or contest the claim, based on the jurisdiction's rules. 
  • If the debtor doesn't respond or settle, the creditor can proceed with formal litigation.

Throughout this process, maintaining accurate documentation and adhering to legal timelines is crucial for success.

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Enforcement of Foreign Judgments

To enforce foreign judgments in international business debt, the creditor must obtain a court judgment where the debtor resides or holds assets. The judgment then needs to be recognised by the debtor's country's courts, with procedures varying based on international treaties and bilateral agreements.

Once recognised, the judgment allows the creditor to seize assets or garnish wages. Navigating the debtor's country's legal requirements is essential for effective enforcement. Legal counsel experienced in international debt collection is invaluable for ensuring compliance with local laws.

Differences Between Domestic and International Debt Collection

Debt collection processes differ greatly between domestic and international contexts. The table below highlights the differences between effective and compliant recovery strategies.

Aspect Domestic Debt Collection

International Debt Collection

Legal Framework Governed by domestic laws and regulations. Governed by international laws, treaties, and agreements.
Cultural Consideration Typically follows local customs and norms. Requires understanding of diverse cultural practices.
Enforcement Often relies on local courts and authorities. Enforcement may involve multiple jurisdictions.
Communication Usually conducted in the local language. Requires multilingual communication and negotiation.
Cost Generally lower due to familiarity with procedures. Can be higher due to complexity and translation costs.

Role of International Debt Collection Agencies

International debt collection agencies play a key role in recovering debts across borders. They leverage expertise in navigating legal systems and cultural nuances to pursue payments globally, often acting as intermediaries in multilingual communication and negotiation between creditors and debtors.

Additionally, international debt collection agencies employ specialised strategies to overcome barriers such as jurisdictional complexities and differing enforcement procedures. Their involvement significantly increases the chances of successful debt recovery in international contexts.

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Giles Goodman - Payfor CEOAuthor: Giles Goodman, Founder CEO of Payfor Limited
Drawing from his solid experience in commercial debt collection, Giles
offers invaluable expertise in solving claims owed between companies worldwide. Through his writing,
Giles shares insights tailored to business owners, leveraging his wealth of experience to provide practical
guidance and support.

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This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The information provided in this post is based on general principles and may not apply to specific legal situations. Laws and regulations vary by jurisdiction and can change over time. Readers are advised to seek professional legal counsel before making any decisions based on the information provided in this blog post. Payfor Ltd is not a law firm and does not provide legal services. The company disclaims any liability for actions taken based on the contents of this blog post.

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