Purpose: If you plan to ship to countries outside of the EU, there are a number of documents which you must include with your package to ensure that it can easily past the border at customs and safely arrive at it’s destination country. In this article we will explain how and why a commercial invoice is needed, and how you can obtain one through the Sendcloud platform.
You can download your customs documents through your Sendcloud platform for even easier shipping - click here to see how to enable customs document printing in your account.
Do I need a commercial invoice or a CN22/CN23?
What's the difference between a commercial invoice and a packing slip?
How do I fill in a commercial invoice?
Glossary of terms
How do I attach the commercial invoice to my package?
What is a commercial invoice?
A commercial invoice is a legal document which serves as proof of sale between you and your customer. It lists the type of products that are being shipped, the quantity, value, and other vital information such as the HS code, applicable VAT numbers and the address information of both you and the recipient.
A package will not receive customs clearance if there is no commercial invoice attached. If the commercial invoice is not correct, or required information is missing, your package could be subject to delays or additional customs duties when crossing the border.
When is a commercial invoice needed, and when is a CN22/CN23 +CP71 needed?
International packages sent with commercial carriers, such as UPS, DHL Express or DPD, do not require a CN22 or CN23 form. Instead, they need three to five copies of the commercial invoice.
If you are sending a shipment internationally using a postal service (such as PostNL in the Netherlands, or Royal Mail in the UK), then you need a CN22 or CN23 custom form. These documents are used by the Universal Postal Union and are mandatory.
The main difference is that a commercial invoice is always required for all e-commerce shipments, and only parcels sent via postal services need the additional CN22 or CN23 document. To avoid delays, we recommend that you always add both documents.
What’s the difference between a commercial invoice and a packing list?
A packing list and a commercial invoice must always correspond with each other. While both documents display details regarding the products inside the shipment, the packing slip is for logistics purposes and for your warehouse to ensure that all the required items are included in the shipment. The commercial invoice is a document used for customs purposes and to provide all the financial information related to the sales transaction between you and your buyer. Click here to read about how you can download packing slips or picking lists in Sendcloud.
How to fill in the commercial invoice
There is no standard format for a commercial invoice, but certain fixed information is always required, such as the contents of the package and the invoice information. Below you can find an example of how a commercial invoice may look.
You can find a template for creating a commercial invoice here.
Note: the commercial invoice should always be filled out in English. If this is not possible, complete it in the native language of the destination country. This is to prevent delays processing the package through customs.
- Shipper/consignee information - Name, address, contact details and VAT number of you (the sender) and the recipient. The Tax ID for the sold-to party is mandatory.
- VAT and EORI number - A VAT and EORI number is a mandatory requirement for generating commercial invoices. The EORI number is created based on the VAT number and the country code. EORI = Economic Operators Registration and Identification number. This is required when shipping outside of the EU, just as having a valid VAT number. You can request an EORI number free of charge at the customs authorities of the country you are established in. We recommend that you ensure that your VAT and EORI numbers are correctly input into your Sendcloud platform by going to Settings > Addresses > Invoice Address.
- Reason for export/ invoice information - This section should include the invoice reference number, date of issue and the customer order reference, in addition to the reason for export (Sale of goods) and the incoterms (terms of sale).
- Incoterms - Incoterms are standardised international agreements that determine who is responsible for the costs and transport of the shipment at each point of the shipping journey. If you don’t know what incoterm to use, we recommend DAP (Delivered at Place) - this is when you as the seller will pay for the shipping costs, insurance and are responsible for the export documents, while the recipient will pay for any import duties. Click here to read about our 2020 Incoterm update for more information.
- Shipment information - This information refers to the the description, weight, quantity, value and country of origin of the goods to be shipped. It’s important to fill this part of the invoice in as accurately as possible. There is a chance you could be fined if the contents of the package do not match the description on the commercial invoice. Be sure to list each product individually and accurately determine the total value in euros. Even if the package is marked as a gift or return, the value must be accurately filled in.
- HS code or commodity code - The HS (Harmonized System) code is a number used to classify goods to provide information to customs authorities about the type of product you are shipping so that they can correctly identify which taxes, duties and controls to apply. You can usually get the HS code of a product from the product manufacturer. Alternatively you can find all the commodity codes here or use the manual to find out how to search for the correct code.
Glossary of terms:
- From: your (the sender's) details
- To: recipient (the customer's) details
- Intermediate Consignee: If you are sending the package to an intermediary, fill in the details of that person or company here.
- Date: date of sending
- Invoice Number: your invoice number for the transaction
- Customer PO No: reference or order number of the transaction
- Currency Used: the currency you used when filling in the document
- Country of Origin: The country where your product comes from. In some cases, you must add a Certificate of Conformity, depending on the product and/or the destination country
- Reason for export: Tick everything that is applicable
- B/L/AWB No: the transport document or Air Waybill setting out the arrangements with the carrier. The carrier is often responsible for preparing this document.
- Final Destination: destination country
- Export Route/Carrier: The shipping company you are working with or the route your package will take
- Terms of Sale: Incoterms
- Terms of Payment: The payment terms between you and the seller (e.g. payment within 30 days of receipt, direct deposit).
- Terms of Freight: Freight conditions (e.g. prepaid, collect). Can also be entered into Terms of Sale/Incoterms
- No. of Packages: number of packages in the shipment, if multicollo
- Comments: any shipping notes or additional delivery instructions
- Contents: detailed description of the products contained in the package
- HS Code: the HS code or commodity code
- Value: price per product.
- Net Quantity: total number of products/items. Please note the Net Quantity is 5 items for postal delivery and 99 items for non-postal delivery. You will receive an error message if you exceed this number.
- Weight KG: total weight of the package including contents
- Freight: any applicable shipping costs
- Insurance: if applicable, report the insurance costs here.
- Date and signature: to be signed and dated by you, the sender
How to attach the commercial invoice
You should always attach three to five copies of the commercial invoice, but some carriers require up to five copies. As a minimum, two of the copies must be included in a clear shipping documents wallet on the outside of the box, and one to be contained inside the shipment. You may also have to provide an additional copy to the pickup driver.
Don't forget to sign and date the documentation! While it may seem obvious, shipments will be delayed or not sent at all if you have not signed and dates the packages.
A shipping documents wallet (sometimes referred to as a “documents enclosed” wallet” is a clear envelope with one adhesive side. The adhesive side is stuck to the package, and the documents required for shipping are folded in half and placed inside the envelope. If a CP71 form is required, this is usually placed at the front of the wallet as an “address card”, as it does not show any pricing information.
Export documents for multicollo shipments
Creating export documents for multicollo shipments can be bit tricky. Keep in mind that customs officers don't always thoroughly read all the information on the documents. Therefore it's important to indicate which items are being shipped per package in order to reduce the risk of misunderstandings.
When you have to ship a multicollo shipment, we advise to create a separate label (one by one) for every box that you're sending. To give a bit of context: when you create a shipment with export details, you fill out all of the export information (products, HS codes etc.) at once. You can't split this up per box. This means that all items, which are in fact shipped in different boxes, are combined on the same invoice. At customs they usually only check the total value and link that to the box that it's attached to. A commercial invoice needs to be attached to every box, so there's a high risk that products will be charged multiple times if they're on every commercial invoice. This may lead to a very high amount of import costs, that could've easily been avoided.
Example: you have an order of 5 products spread out over 5 different boxes. If you want to create a label, make sure you don't create all those 5 labels at once (see image below). Keep the number of parcels at 1 and create this label for only one of your boxes. Make sure you also only add the products and values etc. of that one specific box. After the label is created, you can look for the shipment at 'Created labels'. Click on the eye behind the shipment and go to 'Actions' > 'Duplicate label'. The address information from the first shipment will automatically be filled out. Now you need to adjust the export details to match your next box. You can repeat this process until you've created all your labels and export documents.
Take extra care when packaging shipments for international shipment. Click here to read our packaging tips and guidelines for more information.
Paperless Trade for packages shipped with DHL Express or UPS
If you ship with either of these two carriers to a non-EU destination, your customs forms will be sent to the carrier electronically as soon as you create the label. This reduces the risk of your documents being lost and saves you printing costs and time. Please note that Paperless Trade is only available for certain destinations.