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NAFTA Documentation: Commercial Invoice

10/26/03 6:00 PM | Sue Senger | NAFTA
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Exporters often ask me what to put on their export documents. In my next series of articles, I will address what documents are required for NAFTA countries along with some helpful hints to smooth the entry process into Canada and Mexico. I’ll start this series with the commercial invoice.

The commercial invoice is a statement of charges given by a seller to a buyer covering a specific transaction. Most countries require specific details for customs clearance and statistical purposes.Exporters often ask me what to put on their export documents. In my next series of articles, I will address what documents are required for NAFTA countries along with some helpful hints to smooth the entry process into Canada and Mexico. I’ll start this series with the commercial invoice.

 The commercial invoice is one of the most important documents in international trade and is reviewed by customs, freight forwarders, international bankers, and transport and insurance companies. This document reflects the complete details evidencing fulfillment of the sales contract and provides necessary information for third parties, listed above, of the transaction.

The Bureau of National Affairs (BNA), Export Shipping Manual, and Exporter’s Encyclopedia are all excellent references that provide specific document content required by destination country.

Invoices commonly include the following information:

  • Invoice number and date: The exporter provides the invoice number for ease of reference.
  • Name and address of buyer: This is required for customs purposes.
  • Buyer’s reference number: Provided for ease of reference.
  • Method of payment: Provides the buyer when payment is to due.
  • Term of sale: Incoterms specify which party has responsibility for the cargo and at what point that responsibility transfers from the buyer to the seller. The Incoterms provide thirteen terms of sale established to create a common set of rules to govern the basic buy/sell transaction.
  • Product number, description of merchandise, unit price and total price: When shipping products to Mexico, the customs process should be expedited by providing your product description in both English and Spanish. Always include the product number and correct calculation of the per unit price and total price.
  • Harmonized System Classification Number (HTS): You should include the first six digits of the HTS number on the invoice.
  • Country of origin of products: Custom duties are assessed based on the product’s country of origin.
  • Mode of transportation: Provides the buyer with shipping information.
  • Currency of invoice: When invoicing in United States dollars, USD should clearly be stated on the invoice next to the amount. When using a currency other than USD, use the ISO code for that currency.
  • Type of insurance coverage and party insuring: In case of damage or loss, this information provides the buyer with which party is responsible.
  • Signature: Most companies sign the commercial invoice. The signatory should be someone with responsibility and knowledge of the shipment.

The commercial invoice is a bill or record of transaction between the seller and buyer. It is the basis for foreign customs' identification, classification, duty/tax assessment, and final approval of entry of the goods. Accurate descriptions help expedite the clearance process for the border brokers to make customs entry, and help Customs quickly identify your commodity.