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10 Items That Belong on Your Export Commercial Invoices

On: October 10, 2022    |    By: Catherine J. Petersen Catherine J. Petersen    |    5 min. read

10 Items That Belong on Your Export Commercial Invoices | Shipping SolutionsA commercial invoice is a formal request of reimbursement by the seller to the buyer. For your export shipments, it can serve several added functions:

  • The destination country requires it before clearing the goods through customs.
  • If there is an insurance claim on the shipment, it serves as a key supporting document.
  • The buyer uses it to release funds through its bank to the seller.
  • A bank examines it before reimbursing funds under a letter of credit or documentary collection.
  • U.S. export regulations require that exporters retain it for five years from date of shipment.
  • Exporters can use it to support foreign credit risk insurance claims.

To meet all these requirements, the commercial invoice you create for an export shipment needs to include, but is not limited to, items in the checklist below and will mirror the details specified in the quotation, purchase order and order acknowledgement.

A commercial invoice is not a proforma invoice, which is a preliminary invoice. A proforma invoice is issued to assist the buyer in obtaining a letter of credit or an import permit in advance of the international shipment. (Learn more about both forms in our comprehensive export documents article here, or download the white paper Export Procedures and Documentation: An In-Depth Guide.)

The U.S. government does not specify the details that must be contained in a seller's commercial invoice. The items presented in this checklist were gleaned from a variety of resources including the World Customs Organization's standards and guidance provided by the U.S. International Trade Administration (ITA).

Download Sample Comerical Invoice

Commercial Invoice Checklist for Exports

1. The time when and the place where the merchandise is sold.

2. The seller's name, address, contact information and possibly its tax identification number.

3. The buyer's full name, address, contact information and possibly its tax identification number.

4. The ship to party's full name, address, contact information and possibly its tax identification number (if different from the buyer's).

5. A detailed description of the merchandise, including but not limited to:

  • HS Number (first six digits of the Schedule B or HTSUS number).*
  • Name by which each item is known.
  • Grade or quality.
  • Marks, numbers and symbols under which the merchandise is sold.
  • Currency.
  • Country of origin.
  • Quantity.
  • Price per unit.

*Many firms are adding the Harmonized System (HS) Number to their commercial invoices and consider it a best practice; others are refraining from adding the number to the line item detail. They are refraining from adding the number as there can be differing interpretations of a product by customs in the destination country. Each company must choose its position regarding the addition of the classification of its goods on the commercial invoices that they issue. (Read the blog post on this topic: Why You Shouldn't Include HS Numbers on a Commercial Invoice.)

6. The country of shipment.

7. The relevant trade term and the location associated with the term, for example: Incoterms 2020, Free Carrier At Your Forwarder's Facility, Chicago, IL USA.

8. All goods and services provided by the buyer for the production of the merchandise (e.g., assists such as tools, dies, molds and engineering work).

9. A signature, signor's title and date of signing.

10. Additional information provided in the terms and conditions or on the document:

  • Import license requirements, if known.
  • Additional certifications and statements required by the buyer's country.
  • U.S. government issued certifications to be provided.
  • U.S. export controls (i.e., EAR99, ECCN or USML).
  • Where title will transfer from the seller to the buyer.
  • Method of payment.
  • Relevant law.
  • Other.

Relevant Definitions

Country of Origin

The Country of Origin of a product is the last country in which the product was manufactured or significantly altered. This may be different from the country in which the supplier or manufacturer is located or where you purchased the product.

The country of origin of an imported product is defined in U.S. law and customs regulations as the country of manufacture, production or growth of any article of foreign origin entering customs territory of the United States. The customs territory of the United States is defined in General Note 2 of the Harmonized Tariff Schedule as the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and reference 19 C.F.R. §134.1.

According to the Congressional Research Service report of 2012, International Trade: Rules of Origin, there is no specific U.S. statute that provides an overall definition of rules of origin or country of origin. Instead, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)—the agency primarily responsible for determining country of origin (as it is for enforcing the tariff, customs and other laws that apply to imported products)—relies on a body of court decisions, CBP regulations and agency interpretations to confer origin on an imported product if the matter is in doubt.

Quickly create an electronic certificate of origin form here.

Export Control Classification Number (ECCN)

The ECCN is an alpha-numeric classification found in the Commerce Control List of the Export Administration Regulations to identify items for export control purposes. An exporter will use this number to determine if an export license is required. An ECCN is different from the HS, HTS or Schedule B numbers. EAR99 is not an ECCN, but a designation the item was not found on the Commerce Control List.

Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the U.S. (HTSUS)

The Harmonized Tariff Schedule classifies a good based on its name, use and/or the material used in its construction and assigns it a 10-digit classification code number. There are more than 17,000 unique classification code numbers. Although the U.S. International Trade Commission publishes and maintains the Schedule in its various forms, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is the only agency that can provide legally binding advice or rulings on classification of imports.

Incoterms 2020

According to the International Chamber of Commerce, Incoterms are an internationally recognized standard and are used worldwide in international and domestic contracts for the sale of goods. First published in 1936, Incoterms provide internationally accepted definitions and rules of interpretation for most common commercial terms. For help with Incoterms, download the free Incoterms® 2020 Rules Chart of Responsibilities and Transfer of Risk.

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Catherine J. Petersen

About the Author: Catherine J. Petersen

In 1992, Catherine Petersen founded C J Petersen & Associates, LLC, a research, instruction and consulting firm located in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA. She has designed documentation and procedure manuals for exporters and has authored/co-authored five books.

Ms. Petersen has had day-to-day practical experience at a freight forwarder, a trading company, and an ocean carrier; she has been active in international business since 1980. Her background led her to develop C J Petersen & Associates, LLC, which is a collaborative consultancy that works with clients to identify compliance gaps and to resolve them. Ms. Petersen retired in 2022.

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