What is a commercial invoice in exports?

Commercial invoice is a legal document used in international trade to process agreements. Here’s a guide to understand its uses and how to obtain it.
What is a commercial invoice
Among a host of bills required during the export process, a commercial invoice is one such crucial document, especially in case the goods are being shipped via ocean freight. It is a legal document provided by an exporter (seller) to the importer (buyer) in an international transaction that functions as a contract and evidence of sale between the two respective parties. Customer departments across the world use a commercial invoice for inspection, computing customs charges and keeping track of international trade data.

What is a commercial invoice?

Commercial invoice is a legal document used in international trade to process agreements. An importer uses this invoice, along with additional shipping documents, to clear the cargo at customs in both the export and import countries. It usually contains information regarding price, value, quantity, etc, giving customs authorities details about the shipment. In some cases, a commercial invoice in export is also used to authorize the transfer of money to the exporter for payment by the importer.

According to the Indian law, for the export/import of goods, certain mandatory documents are required, which are officially outlined in DGFT notification no. 08/2015-2020, dated 4th June 20151. These documents include:
  • Bill of lading/ airway bill
  • Shipping bill
  • Commercial invoice and packing list
  • Why is a commercial invoice important?

    To comply with laws for export-import in various countries' customs departments, a commercial invoice is necessary for each overseas cargo with any commercial value. It contains information about shipment for the buyer, freight forwarder, customs broker, clearing and forwarding agent and bank. A properly filled and accurate commercial invoice in export aids customs authorities in rapidly determining what taxes and import duties apply to a particular shipment, thus decreasing delays.

    What are the uses of a commercial invoice?

    Some of the key uses of a commercial invoice in export are1:
    • Maintaining records: Record keeping is a critical component of businesses. A commercial invoice provides information and aids in efficient record-keeping.
    • Evidence of sale: A commercial invoice also acts as proof of sale, preventing an importer from rejecting a transaction. It is also used as evidence to claim payment.
    • Assurance of payment: Although a commercial invoice is not a payment receipt, it plays a key function in payment assurance since it is a legal document that verifies that a said transaction has occurred.
    • Check for accuracy: One of the most important advantages of a commercial invoice is that it gives the importer sufficient information to confirm the accuracy of orders and receipts.

    Contents of a commercial invoice

    Some of the common details mentioned in a commercial invoice in export are2:


    Name and address of the principal party selling or exporting.

    Sold to

    Name and address of the person/company to whom goods are shipped for designated use.

    Invoice number

    Invoice number assigned by the exporter.

    Custom reference number

    Overseas customs reference number.

    Terms of sale

    Delivery and terms of sale agreement.


    Currency agreed upon by the exporter and the importer as payment.


    Description of goods shipped, type of container, gross weight per container, quantity, and unit of measure of the merchandise.

    Miscellaneous charges

    Any miscellaneous charges to be paid by the customer, such as export transportation, insurance, etc.


    Any declarations or certifications required by the shipper regarding any information recorded on the commercial invoice.

    Total commercial value

    Total value of the invoice.

    Difference between commercial invoice and packing list

    While packing list and commercial invoice may seem similar, they serve distinct purposes. A packing list offers crucial information about the shipment to an exporter, international freight forwarder, and consignee. It includes details about marks, numbers on the boxes, and how the goods are packed. This document is essential for logistics and is required in case of disputes with shipping lines, customs, or between parties involved. Moreover, it ensures that all merchandise shipped is received in good condition and aids in stock-keeping and inventory management.

    Format of a commercial invoice

    Below is a commonly used format of a commercial invoice5:
    Format of Commercial Invoice
    Obtaining these export documents and meeting the required regulations is one of the first steps in the export process. Today, with growing internet penetration and technological advancements, many Indian sellers and exporters are opting to sell internationally using an e-commerce exports program.

    Amazon Global Selling: Your passport to easy e-commerce exports

    Sellers from India have indefinite opportunities to export products and grow their business globally. In the recent years, many sellers are increasingly opting for e-commerce exports – an easy and seamless way to sell internationally online. Amazon Global Selling is an e-commerce exports program that assists leather exporters to sell on 18+ international marketplaces like the US, the UK, Italy, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Japan, France, and more. From simple registration to attractive listing and hassle-free shipping, Amazon Global Selling offers international tools and solutions, enabling sellers to reach millions of customers.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What are the uses of a commercial invoice other than export?
    Apart from exports, a commercial invoice is used for other purposes like:
    • Maintaining records
    • Evidence of sale
    • Assurance of payment
    • Accuracy check
    How is a bill of lading different from a commercial invoice?
    A commercial invoice is a legal document supplied by the exporter to the importer in an overseas selling transaction, while a Bill of Lading (BOL) is an official contract between the exporter and the shipping company that contains information on products sold, amount and address of the receiver.
    How is a Bill of Lading different from a commercial invoice?
    As per Section 31 of the CGST Act, the time limit is dependent on whether it is a supply of goods or a supply of services4.
    Invoice for supply of goods involving movement of goods:
    An invoice must be issued before or at the time of removal of goods for supply to the recipient.
    Invoice for supply of services: An invoice needs to be issued either before or after the provision of the service but not later than 30 days from the date of the provision of the service.
    What other export documents do I need to export from India?
    Import Export Code, Authorized Dealer code, Importer of Record and Letter of Undertaking are some of the key documents required to export from India. Along with this, depending on your business, products you are exporting and destination country, you might need additional documents like FSSAI license for consumables, etc.
    Published on June 20, 2022.


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