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Commercial Invoices: Key to Crossborder & International Shipping

June 13, 2024 Rick LaGore

Border Crossing Documents Ready

Introduction to the Commercial Invoice

When it comes to cross-border shipping, one of the most critical documents you'll encounter is the commercial invoice. The commercial invoice is a pivotal document in the process of shipping products internationally, serving multiple essential functions.

Proper understanding and preparation of this document can save you time, prevent costly mistakes, and ensure smooth customs clearance. In this article, we'll explore what a commercial invoice is, what it includes, its purpose, and offer some practical tips to ensure it's correctly prepared.

What is a Commercial Invoice?

A commercial invoice is a legal document that acts as a record of sale between the supplier and the customer that clearly describes the goods sold and the amount due from the customer. It is required for all shipments containing non-document goods, regardless of their value.

Think of it as the foundation of your shipping documentation - providing essential information that guides the entire shipping process. That's why it's always important to ensure it is accurate and detailed.

Commercial invoices are a required document for the export and import clearance process. They are sometimes used for foreign exchange purposes as well. In the buyer’s country, customs officials use these invoices to assess import duties and taxes.

Before completing a commercial invoice for a new export destination, be sure to consult reliable sources for country-specific requirements. A few countries require the invoice to be on a specific form, but for most countries, the seller's or exporter's version is acceptable as long as all the pertinent information is included.

What is Included in a Commercial Invoice?

The commercial invoice must include several key pieces of information to be valid and useful:

  • Seller and Buyer Information - This includes the names, addresses, and contact details of both the seller and the buyer. Accurate identification of both parties is crucial for communication and verification purposes.

  • Invoice Date and Number - The date the invoice is issued and a unique invoice number. These details help track and reference the transaction in case of queries or disputes.

  • Description of Goods - A detailed description of the goods, including the quantity, unit price, and total price. This should be as specific as possible to avoid any confusion or misinterpretation by customs officials. Within the description include the harmonized tariff schedule number to help speed the clearance process.

  • Terms of Sale - This covers the payment terms, delivery terms, and shipping terms agreed upon by both parties. Clearly stated terms help in preventing any misunderstandings and disputes.

  • Currency - The currency in which the transaction is made. This is important for financial clarity and to ensure the correct conversion rates are applied if necessary.

  • Total Amount Due - The total amount payable by the buyer needs to include not only the cost of the goods, but also any applicable taxes, shipping fees, insurance or additional costs. These costs should be itemized so customs agents can quickly calculate the tariffs, duties and taxes associated with the shipment.

  • Additional Details - Incoterm code, the reason for export, packaging markings, along with the signature and date are the final pieces to be included for the commercial invoice to be valid.

What is the Commercial Invoice Used For?

The commercial invoice serves several critical functions:

Customs Clearance

Customs authorities use the commercial invoice to determine the true value of the goods being shipped. This information is essential for assessing the applicable duties and taxes. Without a properly completed commercial invoice, shipments can be delayed, subject to additional scrutiny, or even rejected.

Financial Record-Keeping

It serves as a key document for both the seller's and the buyer's financial records, providing a clear record of the transaction. Accurate invoicing ensures that financial records are complete and can be audited if necessary.

Payment Processing

The commercial invoice outlines the terms of payment and the total amount due, guiding the buyer on how and when to make the payment.

Tips, Tricks, and Common Mistakes

To ensure your commercial invoice is properly prepared, here are some practical tips and common mistakes to avoid:

Accuracy is Key

Double-check all information for accuracy. Even minor errors can lead to significant delays or fines. For example, incorrect or mismatched information can raise red flags with customs officials, prompting them to hold your shipment for further inspection.

Consistent Information

Ensure all details match other shipping documents, such as the packing list and bill of lading. Consistency across documents helps to streamline the customs clearance process and prevents misunderstandings.

Clear Descriptions

Provide clear and detailed descriptions of the goods. Avoid using technical jargon that may not be universally understood. Instead, use simple, precise language that accurately describes the items being shipped, so there's no chance for confusion.

Avoid Abbreviations

Like the need for plain language descriptions, use full names and avoid abbreviations that might be unclear to customs officials. For example, instead of "pcs" for pieces, write out "pieces."

Keep it Professional

While it might seem obvious, maintaining a professional tone and presentation on your commercial invoice can help convey credibility and seriousness about the transaction. This can also foster trust with customs officials and business partners.

Digital Tools

Utilize digital tools and software designed for international shipping documentation. These tools often include templates and validation checks that can help ensure your invoices are complete and compliant with international standards.

Proforma vs Commercial Invoices

Do not confuse a proforma invoice with a commercial invoice. There are differences and one should not be substituted for the other.

A proforma invoice is used by exporters to provide cost estimates and initiate discussions with potential international buyers. On the other hand, the commercial invoice is used once the terms are agreed upon. The commercial invoice details the specifics of the transaction, including payment and export and import control information.


The commercial invoice is a cornerstone of crossborder shipping documentation. By understanding its components and ensuring it's accurately prepared, you can facilitate smooth customs clearance, maintain precise financial records, and ensure timely payment processing.

At InTek Freight & Logistics, Inc., we recognize the importance of proper documentation and are here to assist you in navigating the complexities of international shipping. By addressing the common issues head-on and adopting best practices, you can achieve smoother, more efficient cross-border shipping into Mexico, ultimately enhancing your business’s performance and customer satisfaction.

All of these components may sound like a big ask, but at InTek, we've got you covered. Just reach out to us, and we'll be happy to help with your international shipping needs. For more information about InTek, or logistics and supply chain issues in general, check out our Freight Guides.

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