If you’re selling goods in the US — whether on a regular basis through your own established business, or even just a one off eBay sale — you’ll probably need to create a commercial invoice. This is one of the documents which will be checked by US Customs and Border Protection, as part of the import process, so getting it right will make sure your goods pass through customs inspections without issue.
There’s no legally mandated format for a US commercial invoice, but there are some key pieces of information which will be needed to avoid customs delays or unnecessary import duties. This guide will cover all you need to know, including:
- The detail needed on your US commercial invoice about your products, their value and purpose
- Information your invoice must include about the seller, importer and recipient of the goods
- A sample invoice to give you an example, and help you to create your own
If you’re thinking about importing goods to the US, you’ll also want to consider how to manage your overseas payments effectively, to avoid high international transfer charges, and make sure your business can flourish.
A great option is to use TransferWise for business. TransferWise operates online and doesn’t have the same overheads as traditional banks. They also have a smart new approach to international payments. That means you can access the mid-market exchange rate for all transfers, and dodge excessive cross border charges. We’ll cover that a bit more, later.
If you’re importing anything into the US, you’ll need to create a commercial invoice which will be shown to Customs and Border Protection as part of the import process. There is no fixed format for the invoice, although there are certain pieces of information which are always required.
You’ll need a commercial invoice for any goods crossing the border, including things with little or no commercial value, like samples and items being sold online. If you’re unsure about what you need to feature on your invoice, it’s smart to get the help of an experienced customs broker or other professional. Getting the invoice wrong may cause delays to your goods as they pass through customs clearance, or even result in you being asked to pay extra duty charges if the goods are incorrectly declared.
You can find a variety of commercial invoice templates online, and choose the one which suits your needs, or build your own using the commercial invoice sample below.
At the minimum, the invoice should include the following details:¹ ²
You’ll need to include the following information about the product being imported:
- A clear description of the product, including the harmonized code, (taken from the HTS — Harmonized Tariff Schedule) — there’s more on this below. The correct harmonized code can be found using the tools available on the US International Trade Commission website
- The quantity and value of products being imported. Value should be shown in both dollars and the currency the invoice will be settled in, if different
- Where the item was made
- Where the item is being sold (if different to its country of origin)
- You’ll also need to include details of the invoice number, customer reference, and mode of shipping
The invoice should also include details of the person selling the goods:
- Name of the business or person selling the goods
- Address of the business or person selling the goods
Finally, you’ll need to detail who the goods are going to be sent to within the US, and any other parties involved in the import:
- Name and address of the importer (if different to the final recipient)
- Name and US address of the person who will ultimately take delivery of the imported goods
One of the key functions of the commercial invoice is to allow customs officers to check that the item you’re shipping into the US is allowable, and ensure that any relevant duties are paid. That means that your invoice must include a clear description of the product, its purpose, and value. In some cases you’ll also need to add details such as the materials used to make the product.
To make this simple, it’s standard to include the HTS code of the country of import, on your invoice. For the US this means you need to look up the correct code from the resources available online from the US International Trade Commission, or ask your local customs service for help to classify your product.
You’ll be able to search the HTS resources to find the HTS codes which might apply to your product. In some cases this is very easy, simply by searching for the name of the item you’re importing. However, you may find several different codes available for items of the type you’re looking at.
For example, if you searched for ‘shoes’, you will find dozens of headers, split by type of shoe — tennis shoe, golf shoe, and so on, and then need to narrow your search accordingly. By looking for the type of item, the material used to construct it, and the purpose, you’ll usually be able to find the right HTS code for you. If you have any queries, you can always contact a customs broker, or the customer service for advice.³
Creating the right commercial invoice is a good way to make sure your import/export business can run smoothly, and ensure you never pay more duty than you need to. However, as with any business, there are other costs you need to think about — and minimise — when setting up your operation.
If you’re looking to import goods into the US on a more regular basis, it’s definitely worth researching your options when it comes to making and receiving cross border payments. Check out the fees you might be charged, as well as the exchange rates used, if you’re invoicing customers based overseas, or paying international suppliers.
International payments can be expensive — but they don’t have to break the bank if you choose a specialist provider like TransferWise for business. You can open a borderless account and hold money in any of dozens of different currencies, as well as making and receiving payments overseas using the mid-market exchange rate. That’s the rate you’ll see on google — and the best one available. You’ll just pay a small fee, usually between 0.35–2% for the transfer.
Other business friendly features include integration with Xero, batch payments to make payroll or settling invoices easy, monthly statements, and more. There’s also full support from the service team, to help you every step of the way.
You’ll be able to find samples of different styles of commercial invoice online and choose the one you like, and which suits your situation. There’s also a commercial invoice sample here to get you started.
As you’ll see from this example, invoices typically capture the same core information, although the exact format might vary. You’ll need to describe:
- What you’re importing, including the harmonized code
- The value of each imported unit, and total value of the shipment
- Who is selling, importing and taking final delivery of the goods
Setting up your commercial invoices for the US shouldn’t be too tricky, if you follow the pointers given here, and get professional advice when you need it. You’ll also want to sort out how best to manage your money when making and receiving international payments. This will allow you to focus on growing your business, rather than worrying about high international transfer fees. Check out TransferWise, for a business account that can help your enterprise flourish.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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