Whether you need to learn the basic meaning for what is the commercial invoice, or you have any advanced problem for the commercial invoice, this FAQ guide will definitely help your export or import business.

You can find questions you want to know, then click to check the answer, if you still cannot solve your problem, then do make comment on the bottom or contact us directly, we will give you best solution for any questions of the commercial invoice.

What is the commercial invoice?

A certain set of documents is always required for customs clearance of all kind of goods.

One of the most important of these documents is the commercial invoice.

A commercial invoice is a paper that the exporter (seller/supplier) must send to the buyer along with the goods being shipped.

When is the commercial invoice required?

Commercial invoice plays an important role not only in buying and selling goods.

It is also one of the indispensable documents for passing customs control at the borders of many countries as well as for individual territorial units with special trade legislation, like some US states.

The invoice is used as a declaration and is provided by the person or corporation that is exporting the item.

The key to smooth and fast customs clearance is a complete and correct commercial invoice.

International packages

Does the commercial invoice somehow relate to commercial documents?

Commercial document definition includes the next significant trading documents:

  1. Commercial invoice.
  2. Shipping or transport document.
  3. Certificate of origin.
  4. Order.

How a proforma invoice and commercial invoice differ between each other?

A proforma invoice is a document that contains preliminary data on the goods which would be delivered in the future (for example, its quantity or price).

A proforma invoice is a basis for issuing a final invoice or a commercial invoice.

Also, a proforma invoice is usually written out if the goods are delivered on a partial prepayment or free of charge (humanitarian aid, promotion goods, etc.).

The difference between the proforma invoice and the commercial invoice is that some of the data in the first document is not final and can still be changed before the final agreement on the delivery.

For example, this may relate to the number of goods or types of models.

Commercial invoice example

Can the commercial invoice be handwritten?

According to the general international rules, commercial invoices have to be typed and not handwritten so the inside information is not confused by anyone because of illiteracy or bad handwriting skills.

How do I create a commercial invoice?

The use of various formats of commercial invoice is allowed.

The most common is the corporate invoice of the seller on its letterhead.

If the sender does not have a corporate invoice on letterhead, he can print the information on a regular sheet of paper.

When creating the corporate invoice, first of all, you have to build up the right form, which will contain all the needed information fields.

We will discuss all the obligatory parts of the commercial invoice later in this FAQ.

Which obligatory details should the commercial invoice contain?

The seller (supplier) has to prepare the commercial invoice which must contain the following information:

  • date of issue and invoice number;
  • personal info (name, address) about the supplier;
  • details of the consignee (buyer, recipient);
  • information about the contract (number and date of conclusion);
  • the product name, description of each type (model, article);
  • the number of units;
  • price per unit of cargo;
  • the total cost of goods;
  • HS code of cargo;
  • weight of products;
  • the currency which was used while buying goods;
  • the total value of the entire batch of goods sent;
  • information about the country of origin, the country of export (if it is not a manufacturer);
  • recipient country;
  • the purpose of exporting the goods;
  • VAT (may not be mentioned if the tax is zero);
  • terms of delivery according to Incoterms 2010.

Who can issue the commercial invoice?

A commercial invoice should be created by the seller, supplier or exporter.

In general, commercial invoices are printed on a company letterhead paper of the supplier.

It is also should be stamped and signed by the same company.

Any alteration or correction on any of the shipping document must be authenticated by the issuer of the document (in the vast majority of cases it is a supplier or an exporter company).

Proforma invoice template

Commercial invoice and tax invoice: what is the difference?

As it was said earlier in this FAQ, a commercial invoice is the supplier’s bill of sale for the goods, specifying their type, price, and quantity, as well as other terms of sale.

Tax invoice is a document issued by a supplier which stipulates the amount charged for goods or services as well as the number of Goods and Services on which tax payable.

In the better part of countries, a commercial invoice can be raised by any supplier meanwhile a tax invoice could be given by a registered dealer may be service tax provider.

How many commercial invoice copies are allowed?

In practice, the supplier has to create two copies of the commercial invoice and store one of them inside the package.

The other copy has to be placed outside the package, in some kind of transparent envelope to protect the paper from tearing and ripping.

On the supplier’s desire or buyer’s demand, the commercial invoice can be translated into the national language of the destination country but the copy in the supplier’s national language should be also added to the package.

Also, some shipping companies can require more copies of the commercial invoice, especially in the case of multiple packages.

What is consignee in the case of the commercial invoice?

Consignee is a private person or a company (named in the commercial invoice) to whom goods are shipped.

What is the HS number on a commercial invoice?

HS stands for Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System.

It’s a list of digits used by customs in various countries to classify goods.

It is mainly used to determine the taxes and duties which has to be paid.

An HS code can be also named as a harmonized, tariff or commodity code. You can check this FAQ Guide on HS Code.

How to figure out the commercial invoice number? Why do I need it?

In general, you can see the field with the commercial invoice number at the top of the paper.

This number can be used by suppliers to sort orders from their clients and add this info in their accounting documents.

Cargo ship

Are there some general rules on how to fill the commercial invoice?

Even though the form of the commercial invoice can’t be found in any legal documents, there are still certain requirements that must be followed.

If there are doubts about the correctness of filling out the invoice, it is better not to rely on your strength and turn to the services of a specialist in this matter.

  1. The commercial invoice is issued on a standard A4 sheet, but preferably on a special letterhead of the supplier: this is more convenient since such sheets already contain all the necessary details of the seller.
  2. The document has to be filled in printed form.
  3. The invoice is certified only by the personal signature of the person responsible for sending the goods.
  4. The invoice costs are usually expressed in the currency specified in the contract. Otherwise, it is obligatory to indicate at what rate (indicate the date of transfer) the conversion will be carried out.
  5. The document is filled in a language understandable for both parties to the transaction, most often in English. The practice of bilingual filling of the document is now successfully used (in the languages ​​of the supplier and the recipient, divided into two columns).
  6. If the goods are not sent for commercial purposes, the reason for their movement must be indicated. For example, “This product is not for commerce. Payment is not required” or “Replacement of defects. Cost is indicated only for customs clearance”, etc.
  7. If insurance and transportation are paid by the sender, their cost is indicated in the invoice in a separate field.

You can also check this definitive guide if you want to find out more about how to correctly fill the commercial invoice. Or, check this Youtube video with the same topic.

Where do you put a commercial invoice?

Copies of the commercial invoice have to be placed both inside and outside the package.

Where can I get commercial invoice templates?

There are tons of commercial invoice templates on the Internet.

You can find good examples of visiting this and this page.

Where can I find legal requirements for the commercial invoice?

There are no general international requirements in the case of commercial invoice form.

However, you can contact your state customs authorities and ask them about this kind of document (in some countries the form of the commercial invoice could be found in customs legal acts).

Commercial invoice vs packing list: how are these two differ?

A commercial invoice and a packing list are both documents which describe transactions in which some goods and products change the owner.

However, there is still a slight difference: the packing list is needed to describe the goods themselves, while the commercial invoice shows details about the financial transaction which stands behind the transfer of such goods.

So, the main reason why the seller can use a packing list is to describe the goods, so that the supplier can show what exactly he has been sending and the buyer can check that all those goods have been received later in full.

The commercial invoice is simply needed to show the buyer how much and when he has to pay for desired products.

A commercial invoice contains information about the payment process, e.g. prices and terms, such as whether payment has to be issued immediately or in 30 days.

Trade buffer

Do I need a commercial invoice to ship documents?

A document can be defined as a typed, handwritten, or printed communication which has no commercial value.

When you ship international documents you only need to complete a shipping label.

In general, the commercial invoice is not required for documents shipping.

Are there some special commercial invoice requirements for China/USA/UK/Canada/other countries?

Yes, the special requirements for the commercial invoice form can slightly vary from one country to another.

The main difference lies in the HS Code, which is not the same in the US, Europe, and Canada.

Also, some states may have a special requirement in the case of the commercial invoice form, which has to be completed following special rules of customs authorities.

Such invoices are known as Customs’ invoices and may be provided instead of or in addition to the standard commercial invoices.

What kind of product description should the commercial invoice contain?

The description of each product must include a specific list of information, the completeness of which determines the time for the cargo to pass through customs control and, as a result, the possibility to meet delivery deadlines.

In this part of the invoice you need to specify:

  • product name;
  • the scope of the product;
  • serial numbers, tariff number (if available);
  • production material;
  • the number of units of production;
  • type of product packaging;
  • weight and volume;
  • units of measure (kg, pieces, etc.);
  • price for one unit;
  • the total value of cargo.

A complete description of the cargo is the main requirement for its successful delivery to the destination.

Do I need a commercial invoice for personal items?

If you are sending personal items or a gift, a pro forma invoice, rather than a commercial invoice will be needed, because there is no purchase happening in such cases.

Is a commercial invoice the same as a bill of lading?

A bill of lading is not an accounting document.

It is a document which shows how the title to goods is passing from the shipper to the consignee.

Package warehouse

Can one commercial invoice be used for multiple exporting products?

Yes, you can use a single commercial invoice if all the products are needed to be sent to the same destination.

Don’t forget to place a copy of a commercial invoice on each package.

How the commercial invoice and bill differ between each other?

In practice, commercial invoices are sent to customers after the goods are shipped.

Nowadays, original paper-based invoices can be replaced by electronic ones.

Bills are received from vendors.

They record expenses (or costs or inventory), and they record that the business owes the vendor the amount of money that appears on the bill.

Speaking of the difference between the commercial invoice and the bill, it lies in the fact of the shipment: commercial invoices contain a lot of shipping info while bills describe only goods and their cost.

How to get the commercial invoice from Aliexpress sellers?

Not all Aliexpress sellers provide their buyers with commercial invoices.

However, you might need such documents while importing goods from China.

So what to do in such a situation?

First of all, you can always try to ask Aliexpress seller about the possibility of sending you an invoice.

If this method hasn’t helped you, you can use some side Web programs for this.

For example, you can try to use the Aliexpress invoice generator.

Does the commercial invoice have to contain payment terms?

Yes, the commercial invoice has to contain payment terms and it is the main difference between this type and other types of invoices.

Do I have to use the commercial invoice for returned goods?

Just like in the case of personal items or gifts, for the goods return process, you have to use a pro forma invoice because there is no need of paying for such products.

What is the difference between the commercial invoice and the shipping invoice?

A shipping invoice shows how the goods are moved to their final destination, while a commercial invoice allows the supplier to bill the buyer for such goods.

Is the commercial invoice also used when dropshipping?

Yes, you have to use commercial invoices for dropshipping as well.

Courier services

Why do some Chinese suppliers under-declare the total value in the commercial invoice during export?

The main reason why Chinese suppliers can under-declare the total value of goods is to reduce buyers cost.

Between the US and China, the general tariff was 0 until in 2019 Donald Trump changed it.

So in the case of US buyers, it is totally unnecessary to under-declare value from the recent time.

As a rule, the better part of Chinese suppliers will follow the instructions from foreign buyers to make documents for passing through the customs clearance process only.

In some cases, foreign buyers can even prepare the customs documents with lower cost by themselves and send them to Chinese supplier to print, stamp and send to shipping entity.

What are the consequences of having a commercial invoice and normal invoice with different totals due to free of charge items shipped?

None that we can think of.

In accounting terms, the only document which matters is the commercial invoice because it shows the money that was paid as a result of the foreign purchase.

In the case of logistics, a commercial invoice is a customs declaration paper which is used to calculate customs and duty charges when transporting goods across international borders.

Outside this use, it serves no other purpose.