Commercial Export Invoice Guide

Man making an invoice
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A commercial export invoice contains a great deal of information and acts as a bill of sale between a buyer and seller. It describes what you are exporting, references important transaction numbers, and it also serves as a vehicle for getting paid. You will be rewarded for paying attention to detail while working with your commercial export invoices.

Preparing the Form

Your invoice must be prepared exactly as you and your customer agreed upon in your proforma invoice, including whether you should prepare the commercial invoice on your company letterhead or not. You must be consistent.

If both of you agree on a change in the sale terms later on, record that change on your invoice. It is not uncommon for a company to prepare a commercial export invoice in both English and the language of the destination country. Check with the importer and your transportation company to evaluate whether you need to do this or not.

Also, always include each of the following information items on your invoice for clarity and to protect your own interests, even if no one requests these details: 

Commercial Export Invoice Key Information Items

  1. Proforma invoice reference number
  2. Customer purchase order number.
  3. Date on which the invoice was filled out.
  4. Address of the shipper, and/or seller, as well as that of the buyer. 
  5. Method of payment: identify and supply any and all reference numbers pertaining to it.
  6. Shipping terms from your price quotation (for example, CNF Tokyo, FAS Seattle, FOB New York).
  7. Currency in which transaction will be made (U.S. dollars, Japanese yen, French francs, etc.).
  8. Bill of lading number.
  9. Pricing and quantities of the shipment.
  10. Number of packages, marks, weight, and measures.
  11. Container number, if shipped by container.
  12. Ports of exit and entry.
  13. Country of origin notation and the harmonized tariff code (to guarantee accurate duty calculations).
  14. Marine or air transit instructions: name of vessel or aircraft, voyage or airway bill number, date of departure and date of arrival at destination.

If you do all of the above and consult carefully with your transportation company, this will facilitate the easy movement of goods and customs clearance. Some countries require a signature on the commercial export invoice. To be on the safe side, add it along with your name and title printed legibly underneath.

Why Use These Invoices?

The following outlines the various ways in which an export commercial invoice is used but keep in mind, the export commercial invoice is just the starting or initiating document that underpins the rest of the export transaction:

  • Exporters can use it to support loans, insurance claims and grant programs.
  • A buyer and seller use it as a basic statement to describe the items being bought and sold.
  • The buyer (importer) uses it to release funds through its bank to the seller.
  • If there is an insurance claim on the shipment, if it was insured, the invoice serves as an important supporting document.
  • The importer or acting customs broker at the destination country requires it before clearing the goods through customs.
  • A bank for the buyer examines the export commercial invoice before releasing funds under a letter of credit or documentary collection.
  • You can use it alongside an inspection certificate providing proof that what you are shipping is, in fact, what the customer ordered, and is also of good quality.
  • A government can use a commercial invoice to determine the true value of goods when assessing duties.
  • Customs authorities can use it to assess customs duties, use it for inspection purposes, and for the keeping of statistics.
  • A bank can request for purposes of negotiating a Letter of Credit, legalization of the commercial invoice by the consulate of the buyer's country. In this instance, the required legalized document presented by the supplier must be sent to the buyer, once the documents are accepted.

The commercial invoice is used by customs authorities worldwide for inspection purposes, estimating customs duties, and for maintaining international trade statistics. If specific information is required to appear on the commercial invoice by customs authorities in the importing country, the importer should advise you of this, and preferably, well in advance of the export sale.

Most importantly, the information on the commercial invoice must correspond exactly with all information appearing in any form of a collection document, such as a Letter of Credit or sight draft, otherwise, you might run into problems when trying to get paid for your goods.