Commercial invoice: Sample and requirements explained


Commercial invoices are used when importing and exporting goods, including everything from samples which are not for commercial sale, items to be sold online, and large shipments of retail goods.

If you plan on sending any products overseas from Singapore you need to fully understand the customs requirements for export. Similarly, if you’re working with international suppliers to import into the country, you’ll want to check out the requirements for commercial invoices in Singapore, to make sure you pay the right tax and duty on your products. This guide is here to help.

We will also take a look at a smart way to cut your international payment costs when working with suppliers and customers based abroad - Wise. With Wise you can pay your international suppliers conveniently in a broad range of world currencies, with all currency conversion done using the exchange rate you’ll find on Google. There’s no markup and no hidden fees - just a low transparent charge per transaction, which can work out much cheaper than your regular bank. More on that later.

What is a commercial invoice?

A commercial invoice is a document used whenever goods are imported or exported across national borders. It’s used to help customs authorities check the import is safe and legal, and to calculate any tax and duty owed on the import. Commercial invoices can be tailored to the needs of the companies or individuals arranging the shipment, but they always have to contain certain key pieces of information to allow the border authorities to do their job. More on international commercial invoice requirements, later.

If you’re planning on importing goods into Singapore, you’ll find a wide range of guidance, resources and information on the customs authorities’ website.

Doing business overseas? Wise could save you money on your international payments

If your business works across international borders you have access to exciting suppliers based all over the world, as well as the largest possible customer base, spanning the entire globe. However, managing your money across multiple currencies can prove to be a headache.

To make it simple to hold, send and receive payments in many different global currencies, you need the right partners on hand. Wise can help you send money to settle your global invoices, with currency conversion done using the Google exchange rate. There’s no markup added, just a transparent fee which you pay upfront, making it simple to see the real cost of your international transfer. This can work out far cheaper than using another provider or a traditional bank.

As a business owner, you might also consider getting the borderless account for business from Wise. This account lets you hold over 40 currencies, and receive payments like a local in currencies including US, New Zealand and Australian dollars, euros and British pounds. There are also time saving features like Xero integration, an open API and batch payment facilities, so you can spend less time on admin, and more on growing your business.

How do I make a commercial invoice?

You can prepare your commercial invoice using a pre-prepared template, or create your own with a simple Word or Google document. The style of your invoice can be your own, as long as it includes a few key details about your business, the shipment you’re sending, and who it’s going to.

Here are the most important things to document in your commercial invoice:

  • Full details of the sender, recipient and carrier
  • Description of the goods contained
  • Number of items in the shipment
  • The products’ harmonized system code (HS classification)
  • The value of the shipment in total, and per product
  • Country of origin
  • Incoterms (terms of sale) of the shipment

The exact detail you need to include in your invoice may vary slightly depending on the country you’re sending to and from. Take local advice if you’re not sure.

Commercial invoice template

The good news about commercial invoices is that there is plenty of help out there if you’re just getting started. The easiest way by far to prepare your first commercial invoice, is to use a free commercial invoice sample, available online. You’ll be able to customize the template as needed to reflect the type of products you’re importing or exporting, and even your own company brand.

You’ll be able to find commercial invoice templates through shipping companies or specialist websites. You can also choose to create an invoice through your regular accounting software if you want. Packages such as Xero have their own invoice templates which you can then use as a basis for your commercial invoices or to prepare a custom commercial invoice PDF for your shipment.

Commercial invoice vs tax invoice - what is the difference?

Some of the terminology used in importing and exporting goods can become confusing. The documentation needed to legally move products across borders is pretty weighty, and you’ll get used to needing to prepare a large volume of supporting paperwork when moving a shipment.

One understandably confusing point is commercial invoices vs tax invoices.

When you move goods across borders, you’ll usually need a commercial invoice. This is used to calculate any tax and duty owed, to help border control make sure the shipment is safe and legal, and to confirm you have any relevant permits for import. To allow customs agents to check your tax and duty liabilities, the commercial invoice must have a clear and thorough description of the goods in the shipment. In most cases, the commercial invoice won’t include a tax calculation, as this is worked out at the point of import by the local authorities.

A tax invoice has a different purpose. The primary use of a tax invoice is to show what, if any, tax and duty is owed on a shipment. It should clearly state that it’s a tax invoice, and then detail taxes, such as GST, which are to be paid. You’ll find plenty of information about creating and using tax invoices in Singapore by visiting the Inland Revenue Authority website.

What is the importance of a commercial invoice?

Failing to supply a correct commercial invoice can mean you pay too much in tax and duty, or cause you to pay too little, which may result in a penalty at a later stage.

What’s more, if you don’t include all of the information required in your commercial invoice, it will be subject to delays at customs. This hold up can cost money, which means your business loses a slice of its profits for want of the correct paperwork.

Checking out how to complete your commercial invoice properly is the best way to make sure your goods clear customs quickly and without any issues arising. If you’re unsure about how to manage all of the paperwork, you’ll be able to get extra help from shipping agents or customs brokers who cover the import/export route you’re using. You may pay for this service - but it can save time and hassle in the end.

If you’re working across international borders, one other thing to remember is that cross border payments can cost you more if they’re subject to high fees and poor exchange rates. To avoid this - and keep more of your money to reinvest in growing your business - find a provider which allows low cost, convenient and safe international payments, such as Wise.

Sources used in the article:

  1. Some of the most important details to be included on a commercial invoice

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 Wise Payments 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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