Getting Your Commercial Invoice Right for International Shipping

When you ship products internationally you need to adhere to very specific documentation. One of the most common and most important documents you’ll need for every shipment is a commercial invoice. It has all the necessary information for customs to process your shipment properly.  

Without the correct information on your commercial invoice, your shipments will be delayed or held up at customs, which will cost you. Here are the ways you can make sure you get your commercial invoice right, so that your products go through customs quickly and efficiently.  

What is a Commercial Invoice?  

A commercial invoice (CI) is a document that holds very specific information for customs. It must be in a correct format and all fields must be accurately and properly filled out. Any misinterpretation of this information may result in product holds at the border, or additional fees.  

Every shipment needs a CI as proper international documentation to clear customs and border checks. There are two customs checks that packages need to clear: export and import. They each require documentation that needs to be correct and clear for customs agents to efficiently move packages through their check points. 

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Information Needed on a Commercial Invoice  

Most basically, the information on a commercial invoice includes what the products are (classification, also known as HTS code), where they are manufactured (origin), and where they are going (destination). These are basic required items, but some countries may have additional requirements. 

The information that is included on a CI will inform the tariffs and customs fees to be paid.

List of Common Commercial Invoice requirements:  

  1. Company name/ website/ logo 
  2. Item description – be sure to get specific on the item description, this should include the materials used, not the marketing language for the product.  
  3. Country of Origin – this is where the products or components are manufactured. It’s important to trace the provenance of each part of the product if they come from different places.  
  4. HTS Code (Harmonized System or Harmonized Tariff Schedule) – this is an international standard system of names and numbers for classifying traded products. All products can be classified in the existing HTS utilizing the General Rules of Interpretation. 
  5. ECCN (Export Control Classification Number) – this is a crucial item description that determines whether an export license is needed or not, items that require an ECCN are goods can only be legally sold overseas by licensed exporters. 
  6. Quantity – also written “Qty”, this should list the specific and accurate quantity of items that are in the shipment.  
  7. Unit Price – sometimes referred to as “value” this is the retail unit price. 
  8. Extended Price – here you should add the total price for every line of product. There may be multiple items in the shipment, or multiple prices that are included in the total shipment.  
  9. Ship-To Info – this is the destination where your shipment is going, usually this will be a distribution center or warehouse.  
  10. Bill-To Info – who is required to pay the bill? This is often the merchant but depending on the partners a merchant works with it could be an outside party.  
  11. Custom Clearance Info – this is the tax, tariff, or duty information required upon the shipment’s import.  
  12. Incoterms – these are abbreviated terms that denote the description and definition of who is responsible for the goods being imported. Their purpose is to aid communication and reduce confusion when dealing with the many parties involved in importing goods internationally.  

Is a Commercial Invoice Always Required? 

Shipments that come to the US from other countries (Canada and Mexico included) always require a commercial invoice. This is true for merchants whose products are manufactured overseas, in Asia, the EU, or anywhere outside of the US.  

There are a few very specific instances when a commercial invoice is not needed. Shipments that move between two states that are part of the US federal government do not require a commercial invoice. For example, a shipment from New York, coming through California does not require a commercial invoice. They are only necessary when products cross international borders.  

How Do I Create a Commercial Invoice?  

It can be daunting to pull together the resources to get your products across international borders. If you work with a 3PL or freight forwarder they can help give you templates, and ensure you are filling the documents out correctly. Remember, no matter how great your shipping partners are, you are responsible for collecting and providing the accurate information required on a CI.  

By getting your CI information right the first time around, you’ll eliminate any extra fees, or shipment delays.  

Bottom Line  

International shipping is very complex. Before launching into any new markets, it is highly recommended you work with an expert or an international broker who understands the regulations that are specific to the regions where you will be shipping. Each country has a different set of regulations, and they change often, strict adhere to these is imperative for smooth shipping and cost optimization.  


If you are looking for international shipping support, reach out to DCL Logistics for a quote. We have excellent international partners who integrate seamlessly into our systems. You can get flawless fulfillment from DCL and also freight forwarding from Flexport, or international shipping support from Passport Shipping.