Commercial invoice - What is a commercial invoice?

A commercial invoice is used in foreign trade as a customs document. A commercial invoice is created by the seller as a proof of purchase between the buyer and seller.

Read more about the functions and differences between an invoice, proforma invoice, quote, and delivery note.

A commercial invoice is used on exports to international destinations and is checked by customs officials to see if any taxes or duties are to be paid.

What is included on a commercial invoice?

There’s no standard template for a commercial invoice, however, there are specific details that must be included.

  • The exporter’s business name, address, and contact information

  • The buyer’s business name, address, and contact information

  • A list of the goods being shipped

  • The country of manufacture or origin of each product

  • The harmonised system code for each product being transported

  • The net weight (without packaging)

  • The gross weight (with packaging)

  • The price of the product (in the payment currency)

Although sometimes not required, it would also be helpful to add an invoice number, the date of issue, the total price, shipping details, payment terms and discounts.

The harmonised system code is an internationally recognised system to classify goods being traded. The code will help customs officials identify the type of tax and duty being applied to the shipment. You can find the harmonised system code on the International Trade Administration website.

Depending on the country, there may be small differences on what must be included on a commercial invoice, so it’s always a good idea to look into your country’s requirements.

Shipments within the European Union (including Northern Ireland) don’t require a commercial invoice due to free trade agreements.

How is a commercial invoice different from a standard invoice?

A standard invoice is a document sent to the purchaser listing the products and services provided, and a breakdown of the cost. It will include an invoice number, buyer and seller information, a list of the goods/services, the date of issue, and the cost. It may also include payment terms describing the conditions surrounding the sale.

A commercial invoice will have more details specific to shipping and customs requirements. Along with the details a standard invoice includes, a commercial invoice will also include the weight, harmonised system code and the country of origin.

How is a commercial invoice different from a packing note?

A packing note is a document that accompanies a delivery which lists the products included in the shipment. A packing note will normally only include a list of the products, including a description and quantity, the order date, and the buyer and seller’s details.

A commercial invoice will include several more details regarding the shipment as seen above, to comply with customs regulations.