Preparing legally compliant invoices

Digital Education Made Simple
Dr. Vijesh Jain
Dr. Vijesh Jain, IIFT/BITS Alumnus, Professor, Founder, Business Coach


The article discusses the importance of creating accurate and legally compliant Commercial Invoices and Proforma Invoices in international export transactions. These invoices are crucial for customs clearance, legal compliance, and facilitating payment. The instructions for creating a Commercial Invoice include:

  1. Header Information: Use official letterhead, label it as a “Commercial Invoice.”

  2. Invoice Information: Include a unique invoice number, date, payment terms, currency, and agreed-upon Incoterms.

  3. Your Business Information: Provide your company’s full legal details.

  4. Buyer’s Information: Include the buyer’s details.

  5. Shipment Information: Specify shipment details, goods description, quantity, unit price, and total value.

  6. Payment Information: State the payment method, bank details, and instructions.

  7. Certification and Signatures: Include a declaration, space for signatures, and date.

  8. Additional Documents: List any extra documents included in the shipment.

For Proforma Invoices:

  1. Include a validity date.
  2. Outline terms and conditions.
  3. Provide estimated shipment dates and delivery terms.
  4. Clearly state that it is a proforma invoice.

Both types of invoices should adhere to international trade regulations and the importing country’s requirements. Seeking legal advice or consulting trade experts is advisable for compliance assurance.

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Detailed instructions on creating accurate and legally compliant Commercial Invoices and Proforma Invoices

Creating accurate and legally compliant Commercial Invoices and Proforma Invoices is essential in international export transactions to ensure smooth customs clearance, meet legal requirements, and facilitate payment. Here are detailed instructions for both types of invoices:

Commercial Invoice:

1. Header Information:

  • Your Company’s Letterhead: Use your company’s official letterhead for a professional appearance.
  • Invoice Title: Clearly label the document as a “Commercial Invoice.”

2. Invoice Information:

  • Invoice Number: Assign a unique, sequential invoice number. Include a prefix that identifies it as a commercial invoice.
  • Invoice Date: Specify the date of issuance.
  • Payment Terms: Indicate the agreed-upon payment terms (e.g., “Net 30 Days”).
  • Currency: State the currency used for the transaction.
  • Incoterms: Clearly define the agreed-upon Incoterms (e.g., FOB, CIF).

3. Your Business Information:

  • Full Legal Business Name
  • Business Address
  • Phone Number
  • Email Address
  • Tax ID or VAT number (if applicable)
  • Registration Number (if applicable)

4. Buyer’s Information:

  • Full Legal Name of the Buyer (importer)
  • Buyer’s Address
  • Buyer’s Phone Number
  • Buyer’s Email Address
  • Buyer’s Tax ID or VAT number (if applicable)
  • Buyer’s Registration Number (if applicable)

5. Shipment Information:

  • Port of Loading
  • Port of Discharge
  • Country of Origin
  • Description of Goods: Provide detailed descriptions of the goods, including HS or Harmonized System codes.
  • Quantity and Unit: Specify the quantity and unit of measurement for each item.
  • Unit Price and Total Price: Include the unit price and calculate the total price for each item.
  • Total Invoice Value: Calculate the overall value of the shipment.

6. Payment Information:

  • Payment Method: Clearly state the agreed-upon payment method (e.g., letter of credit, wire transfer).
  • Bank Details: Include your bank’s name, address, account number, and any other relevant details.
  • Payment Instructions: If there are specific payment instructions, provide them clearly.

7. Certification and Signatures:

  • Include a declaration that the invoice is true and accurate.
  • Provide a space for your signature and the buyer’s signature.
  • Add a date line for both signatures.

8. Additional Documents:

  • List any additional documents included in the shipment, such as packing lists, certificates of origin, and any necessary export licenses.

Proforma Invoice:

A Proforma Invoice serves as a preliminary invoice before the actual shipment of goods. It is often used to provide essential information to the buyer, such as product details and pricing, before the commercial invoice is generated. The structure of a Proforma Invoice is similar to that of a Commercial Invoice, but it should be clearly labeled as a “Proforma Invoice.”

Include the following additional details on a Proforma Invoice:

1. Validity Date:

  • Specify the date until which the Proforma Invoice is valid. It is typically shorter-term than the Commercial Invoice’s payment terms.

2. Terms and Conditions:

  • Outline any terms and conditions that apply to the sale, shipment, or payment.

3. Shipment Details:

  • Indicate estimated shipment dates and expected delivery terms.

4. Pricing Information:

  • Clearly state that it is a proforma invoice and not a final invoice.

When creating both Commercial Invoices and Proforma Invoices, ensure that you follow international trade regulations and the specific requirements of the importing country. It is advisable to consult with a trade expert or legal advisor to ensure compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

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