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Proforma vs Commercial invoice: What is the difference? 

Within the array of documents, general confusion has always surrounded the “Proforma vs commercial invoice” discussions. 

It is not without reason that the proforma invoice stands out, creating confusion and being commonly mistaken for the commercial invoice.

For those who have recently delved into the complexities of commercial invoices and possess a keen interest in unraveling the nuances of a pro forma invoice, let's explore its intricacies together!

Read on...

What is a Proforma Invoice?

A pro forma invoice takes the form of a quotation in an invoice format, often necessary for the buyer when applying for an import license, initiating a pre-shipment inspection contract, opening a letter of credit, or facilitating the transfer of hard currency. While it may not be a mandatory shipping document, a pro forma invoice provides comprehensive information essential for the legal importation of the product.

Essentially, pro forma invoices mirror much of the content found in formal quotations and, in many instances, can serve as a substitute. These documents aim to furnish the buyer with extensive details about the order, enabling efficient arrangements to be made. It is crucial that the pro forma invoice communicates to the buyer and relevant import government authorities the specifics of the impending shipment, with any alterations requiring the explicit consent of the buyer.

What is the purpose of a proforma invoice for the importer?

A proforma invoice serves a range of vital purposes for importers in international trade, offering essential functions throughout the transaction process:

Import License Application: In certain jurisdictions, importers may be required to secure an import license. The proforma invoice is often a necessary component of the application, furnishing comprehensive details about the planned import transaction.

Pre-shipment Inspection: For specific goods or trade agreements, pre-shipment inspections may be obligatory. The proforma invoice plays a role in contracting for these inspections, ensuring adherence to quality and safety standards before the goods are dispatched.

Letter of Credit: Importers frequently utilize letters of credit, especially in case of outward remittance from India, to guarantee payment to exporters

Currency Transfer Arrangements: When engaging in international trade, the proforma invoice aids importers in arranging the transfer of hard currency. It provides the necessary details for financial institutions to facilitate the currency exchange required for the transaction.

Detailed Information for Import: While not a mandatory shipping document, the proforma invoice provides comprehensive information about the products, quantities, prices, and other transaction terms. This information is crucial for importers to plan and coordinate the logistics of receiving the goods efficiently.

Legal Importation Support: The proforma invoice contributes to the legal importation of goods by furnishing documentation that complies with regulatory requirements. It helps ensure conformity with customs regulations, facilitating a smooth entry of the goods into the importing country.

What is a commercial invoice?

A fundamental document in international trade transactions, the commercial invoice functions as a formal request for payment from the seller (exporter) to the buyer (importer) for the goods or services supplied. This document furnishes a comprehensive record of the transaction, outlining details such as product or service information, quantity, price, and other pertinent terms.

Key components typically present on a commercial invoice encompass:

  • Names and Addresses: The commercial invoice features the names and addresses of both the buyer and the seller.

  • Total Amount Due : The overall amount payable for the goods or services, encompassing any applicable taxes, fees, or discounts.

  • Shipping Terms: Details regarding the shipping method, destination port, and other pertinent information related to the transportation of the goods.

  • Currency: The specified currency in which the payment is expected.

  • Declaration and Signatures: A declaration from the seller asserting the accuracy of the provided information, accompanied by signatures from both the seller and the buyer, acknowledging the transaction's terms.

What is the purpose of a commercial invoice?

The commercial invoice fulfills several essential roles within the realm of international trade transactions:

Formal Payment Request: Acting as an official payment request, the commercial invoice formalizes the seller's (exporter) request for payment from the buyer (importer) for the goods or services exchanged in the international trade transaction.

Detailed Transaction Record: Providing an in-depth account of the transaction, the commercial invoice furnishes extensive information regarding the products or services involved. This encompasses details such as quantity, specifications, unit prices, and other pertinent terms.

Customs Clearance: Playing a pivotal role in customs clearance, the commercial invoice serves as a crucial document for outward remittance for customs authorities to evaluate duties and taxes on imported goods. Customs officials rely on the commercial invoice to authenticate the accuracy of declared values and other transaction particulars.

Financial Record-keeping: Employed by the buyer for financial record-keeping and accounting purposes, the commercial invoice holds a critical position in the buyer's financial records. It aids in monitoring expenses and managing financial transactions.

Shipping Information: Encompassing crucial details related to the shipment of goods, such as the shipping method, destination port, and other pertinent shipping terms, the commercial invoice is indispensable for coordinating the logistics of transporting goods.

Legal Documentation: Serving as a legally recognized document, the commercial invoice provides evidential support for the concluded transaction and the financial commitments between the buyer and seller.

Facilitates Letter of Credit: In transactions involving letters of credit, the commercial invoice is presented to the issuing bank to initiate the letter of credit process. It supplies the necessary details for payment, streamlining the financial aspect of the transaction.

What are the key elements of a Proforma Invoice?

A proforma invoice bears resemblances to a commercial invoice but is typically issued before the finalization of a sale. It functions as an initial document delineating the terms of a potential transaction. Key components commonly present on a proforma invoice encompass:

  • Header Information: Proforma Invoice Title: Specifying that it is a proforma invoice.
  • Date of Issue: The date when the proforma invoice is generated.
  • Proforma Invoice Number: A distinct identifier for tracking and reference.
  • Seller and Buyer Details: Seller's Information: Inclusive of name, address, contact details, and other pertinent seller information.
  • Buyer's Information: Comprising name, address, contact details, and other relevant buyer information.
  • Unit Prices: The cost per unit of each item or service.
  • Payment Terms:  Payment Method: Specification of accepted payment methods (e.g., bank transfer, credit card).
  • Due Date: The mutually agreed-upon date for completing the payment.
  • Expiration Date: The date until which the proforma invoice retains validity. Beyond this date, terms may necessitate renegotiation.
  • Delivery Terms: Clarification regarding responsibility for shipping costs and logistics.
  • Shipping Method: The chosen mode of transportation (e.g., air freight, sea freight).
  • Destination Port: The designated port of arrival for the goods.
  • Additional Notes or Terms: Special Instructions: Any specific instructions or terms relevant to the transaction.
  • Conditions: Any conditions applicable to the sale.
  • Currency: Currency Code: Indicating the currency denomination of the transaction.

Proforma Vs Commercial invoice customs: What is the difference? 

The distinctions between a proforma invoice and a commercial invoice concerning customs are as follows:

Timing of Issuance:

Proforma Invoice: Typically generated before the actual sale occurs, functioning as a preliminary document outlining the terms of a potential transaction.

Commercial Invoice: Issued after the completion of a sale, presenting the final invoice for the goods or services exchanged.

Legal Status:

Proforma Invoice: Generally regarded as a non-legally binding document, more akin to a quotation or an invitation to negotiate terms.

Commercial Invoice: Holds legal standing and serves as a formal request for payment, encapsulating the finalized terms and conditions of the completed transaction.

Use in Customs Clearance:

Proforma Invoice: This may be utilized in customs to furnish information about the goods and their value, but it is not a mandatory customs document.

Commercial Invoice: Imperative for customs clearance, employed by customs authorities to assess duties and taxes on imported goods. It stands as a primary document for customs declaration.

Information Provided:

Proforma Invoice: Typically encompasses details such as a description of goods, quantity, unit prices, and other terms, though it may lack the same level of detail as a commercial invoice.

Commercial Invoice: Offers comprehensive information about the transaction, covering detailed descriptions of goods or services, quantities, unit prices, total amounts, payment terms, shipping information, and more.

Role in Letter of Credit Transactions:

Proforma Invoice: Frequently used in letter of credit transactions to initiate the process but may not be obligatory.

Commercial Invoice: Required for letter of credit transactions, playing a pivotal role as a crucial document for payment under the letter of credit.

Finality of Transaction:

Proforma Invoice: This represents an initial stage in the negotiation process, with terms subject to change until a final agreement is reached.

Commercial Invoice: This signifies the conclusion of the transaction, with the stated terms being binding. It reflects the actual goods and services provided.

Last Word

Recognizing the distinctions between proforma and commercial invoices is vital for businesses.

Implementing a dependable invoice generator or invoicing software can contribute to ensuring the efficiency and professionalism of your billing procedures.

Karbon, with its customizable features and user-friendly interface, simplifies the task of facilitating the transactions of international business payments. This capability not only enhances cost savings and efficiency but also fosters trust and credibility with clients. Contact us to know more


Can you use a proforma invoice for customs?

A proforma invoice can be employed in customs to provide preliminary information regarding goods and their value. Serving as an early transaction outline, it is issued before the sale, though not mandatory for customs clearance. In contrast, a commercial invoice, issued after the sale, is crucial for customs authorities to evaluate duties and taxes accurately. While the proforma invoice assists in offering initial insights, customs typically necessitate the detailed information presented in a commercial invoice for precise assessment and seamless clearance.

What is a commercial invoice in import?

A commercial invoice in import is a formal document issued by the seller to the buyer, detailing a completed international trade transaction. Essential for customs clearance and payment processing, it includes key information such as seller and buyer details, invoice number, a comprehensive description of imported goods, total amount due, payment terms, shipping information, currency, and Incoterms. 

This crucial document assists customs authorities in assessing duties and taxes. Moreover, in letters of credit transactions, the commercial invoice is presented to the issuing bank to facilitate payment. In essence, it provides a comprehensive and official record of the transaction, aiding in importation processes.

What are the 3 uses of proforma invoices?

Proforma invoices have three key functions: offering cost estimates, assisting in customs clearance, and facilitating international trade transactions involving letters of credit.

What is a proforma invoice for customs?

A customs proforma invoice is an initial document issued by the seller to furnish crucial information about goods or services intended for export. Although not legally binding, it assists customs authorities by providing details like item descriptions, values, and pertinent terms. This aids in evaluating duties and taxes and streamlining the customs clearance process. While not obligatory, the proforma invoice is commonly utilized to initiate import-related procedures, offering a preview of the transaction before its formal completion.

Who prepares proforma invoices?

Sellers or exporters usually make proforma invoices in a business deal. This paper is started by the seller to tell the buyer about the estimated cost of goods or services before the real sale happens. It helps confirm prices, set terms, and begin talks with the buyer. The proforma invoice acts like a tool for discussions, making things clear for the potential deal. For the seller, it's important to be accurate and match the negotiated terms when making the proforma invoice. This makes sure everything is clear and the transaction goes smoothly.

Does the proforma invoice include GST?

The inclusion of Goods and Services Tax (GST) or other taxes in a proforma invoice depends on the agreement between the buyer and seller. Often, a proforma invoice may exclude GST since it is issued before the final sale, providing an estimate for the buyer. The decision to include GST in the proforma invoice is influenced by the tax regulations of the countries involved. Clear communication about tax terms during negotiations is crucial. Typically, the subsequent final commercial invoice will precisely outline all taxes, including GST, relevant to the completed transaction.

Can the proforma invoice be Cancelled?

Yes. A proforma invoice, being a non-binding estimate issued before a sale is completed, can indeed be canceled. As it serves as a preliminary document for negotiation, any changes or cancellations to the terms outlined in the proforma invoice can be mutually agreed upon through clear communication between the buyer and the seller. Transparency in communication is crucial to ensure both parties are informed and in agreement with any modifications. Once the sale is finalized, the proforma invoice is replaced by the final commercial invoice, accurately reflecting the terms of the completed transaction.

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