One of the key differences of international versus domestic shipping is the requirement of a customs invoice. When shipping internationally, there is often confusion regarding the sales receipt invoice and what documentation is needed for customs.


Customs Invoices vs Other Types of Commercial Invoices

What all types of invoices have in common are that they serve as a record of a commercial transaction. Invoices clarify the terms of sale between a the buyer and seller including pricing and payment terms.

Invoices serve as the official documentation of sale and are crucial for supporting insurance claims, payment terms and costs.

International shippers should become familiar with Canadian Customs invoice requirements and international customs declarations.


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Invoices for Customs

A commercial invoice serves as the basis for the customs declaration in the destination country. For customs, the required information includes:

  • Date
  • Shipper (seller) Address, contact name and phone number
  • Receiver (buyer) Address, contact name and phone number
  • Description of item(s) with values (and currency of sale)
  • Total Value

Helpful information for a commercial invoice:

In general, it important to note that more details on the invoice for customs helps facilitate customs clearance. Useful additional information can include

  • Shipping date (if different than invoice date)
  • Mode of transport being used and carrier waybill details

Invoice value and Valuation

Usually, the correct value to declare for international shipments is the invoice or transaction value. Transaction value is the most common method for valuation.

Most customs authorities consider the actual value of the shipment plus shipping and insurance as the value for duty. This is referred to as the CIF value (cost + insurance + freight).

Canada Customs Invoice

Many companies shipping to and from Canada use a Canadian Customs Invoice (often referred to as CCI) for the declaration to customs. The Canadian Customs Invoice was designed by the government for shipping goods abroad. Although a Canada Customs Invoice differs from a commercial invoice, they share most of the key data points.

Here is a link for the Canadian Customs Invoice


Pro-forma invoice and how to declare no sales

Often times, the item being shipped was not actually sold and there is not a corresponding invoice. The term "pro-forma invoice" is used when the declaration is being used instead of a commercial invoice in the examples listed below.

Examples of when there is no commercial invoice for international shipments:

  • Unsolicited gifts
  • Product samples
  • Warranty replacement parts
  • Personal effects

It is best in international shipping to avoid using the term "pro-forma invoice" as this type of invoice is often not accepted by some country's customs authorities.

Rather than make a declaration to customs using a "pro-forma invoice" it is often better to use the term "invoice for customs" and include the reason for shipping (as in the above examples) and noting that there is no commercial value.

Other Forms Used For International Shipping

Bill of Lading

The Bill of Lading is the shipping document and contract between the shipper and carrier. For parcels and pallet shipments, this is often referred to as the waybill (air waybill in the case of air shipments).

Packing List

The packing list outlines key information the shipment as which contents are in which box and how many packages. A packing list functions as a verification tool to make sure all goods are accounted for and to troubleshoot when parcels are mixed, missing or damaged. Some countries require a packing list for export.

A packing list is needed primarily to assist with the actual shipping of products and - as mentioned above - is often required by regulatory authorities.


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Written by Timothy Byrnes