What is a Commercial Invoice and When Do You Need It?

International shipping is more complex than domestic shipping. Items that are shipped internationally must be accompanied by the proper documentation. One of the most important documents is a commercial invoice that has all of the necessary information for customs to be able to process a shipment. Without the commercial invoice, shipments can be delayed or held in customs. 

What is a Commercial Invoice?

A commercial invoice (CI) is a customs document needed for international shipping that has specific information for customs. Every shipment needs a commercial invoice to clear customs and border checks. It provides details on what is in a package so customs can:

  • – Apply correct customs fees and taxes
  • – Ensure the package meets legal requirements
  • – Ensure the package does not contain anything dangerous or banned.

When the commercial invoice is completed correctly, the package passes through customs without delays. This document is needed for all international shipments that are sent via international carriers..


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Items a Commercial Invoice Must Have

1. Sender and Receiver’s Information

The business name, address, and company information as well as the name, address, and customer details should be included. Your businesses’ VST and EORI numbers should also be on the invoice.

2. Invoice Number and Date

Every invoice is tracked by an invoice number or ID to avoid duplicate payments. This number is generated by you, but most businesses use a sequential order. The payment due date which may have been previously agreed on with the client is also on the commercial invoice.

3. Shipment Contents

A detailed description of what is in the package is what the commercial invoice is for. Each item should be listed separately. The description must have information about what you are sending, what the items are made of and their purpose.

Each item should have:

  • – Weight
  • – Value
  • – HTS Code
  • – ECCN
  • – Country of Origin
  • – Quantity

The HTS Code, or Harmonized Tariff Schedule, is part of an international coding system that categorizes goods and must be on every commercial invoice. The HTS Code allows customs to know which taxes and duties to apply to your package. If the HTS Code is not on the commercial invoice, it will be stuck in customs.

The ECCN (Export Control Classification Number) determines whether an export license is needed. Items that need an ECCN can only be legally sold overseas by licensed exporters.

4. Shipping Information–Incoterms

The shipping information such as the carrier, invoice number, and tracking information should also be on the invoice. Incoterms must be stated on the invoice on the international agreements on the transportation of the goods. They determine who is responsible for the shipping, insurance, and customs fees. The unit price, which is sometimes called the value, and the extended price, which is the total price for every line of product, should also be on the invoice. Finally, the invoice must then be signed and dated in order to be considered complete.

Is a Commercial Invoice Always Needed?

Shipments that come from other countries into the U.S. and cross international borders always require a commercial invoice. Products that are manufactured outside of the U.S. need to have a commercial invoice, including Canada, Mexico, the EU, and Asia, even though they are the largest trading partners of the U.S. There are very few times when a commercial invoice is not needed, such as shipments that move between states that are part of the U.S. government. For example, a domestic shipment that is sent from New York to California does not need an invoice.

Your Trusted Partner

International shipping can be a very complex process, and the regulations for each country can change often. Before entering new international markets, it is important to understand exactly what is needed. Working with a 3PL like Red Arrow Logistics can help ensure that you are filling out a commercial invoice correctly so there are no shipment delays or unnecessary fees. Whether you are just getting started in international markets, or want to make sure that you are optimizing your international shipping strategy, Red Arrow can help you choose the right delivery methods as well as the correct documentation.

Red Arrow offers the scale and scope of services including air, ocean, and ground transportation to meet the budget and schedule requirements of the largest and smallest companies alike. If we can be of assistance, please email us at info@redarrowlogistics.com or give us a call at 425-747-7914.