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Differences Between a Commercial Invoice and a Proforma

What's in this article?
  1. What Is A Commercial Invoice?
  2. What Is A Proforma Invoice?
  3. Proforma Vs Commercial Invoice Key Differences
  4. When They Are Issued
  5. Who Issues Them
  6. When They Are Issued
  7. Format
  8. Commercial Invoices Work Like This
  9. Proforma Invoices Work Like This
  10. What They Include
  11. A Commercial Invoice
  12. A Proforma Invoice
  13. When Is It Better To Use One Than The Other?
  14. Why Use Both Forms?
  15. Different Ways Of Getting A Commercial And Proforma Invoice Template
  16. Conclusion
Differences Between a Commercial Invoice and a Proforma

The difference between the proforma and commercial invoices isn't just one of semantics. They're pretty different.

While both document types represent sales transactions, there are key differences between them. Below is what you need to know about the two forms.

What Is a Commercial Invoice?

A commercial invoice is an official document that represents a sale transaction. It documents the customer, product or service sold, the price paid, date of sale, and other information regarding the sale. It can be used for any business-to-business (B2B) or business-to-consumer (B2C) transaction. A commercial invoice is often called a "hard copy" invoice because it's printed on paper. However, electronic invoices are also standard.

A commercial invoice may include several sections.

For example, the following areas appear in most commercial invoices:

  • Customer name and address
  • Date of purchase
  • Description of goods/services purchased
  • The price paid by the purchaser
  • Total amount due from the buyer
  • Terms of payment
  • Signature(s) of seller and buyer
  • Delivery instructions
  • Tax ID number
  • Billing address
  • Payment terms
  • Shipping details
  • Additional details and terms and conditions

What Is a Proforma Invoice?

It summarizes the specifics of the sale without going into great detail. It provides a summary of the sale without documenting every detail. This makes it easier to create a proforma invoice than a full commercial invoice.

Many companies use proformas instead of commercial invoices to ensure customers receive accurate pricing information.

While a proforma invoice doesn't contain all the sections found in a commercial invoice, it does include some of the essential sections.

These include:

  • Customer details
  • Product description
  • Unit quantity
  • Sales price
  • Discount Percentage
  • Total amount due
  • Terms of payment and delivery
  • Signature(s), if applicable
  • Delivery and shipment details

Proforma vs. Commercial Invoice: Key Differences

Here are a few key differences between proforma versus a commercial invoice.

When they are issued

Both commercial invoices and pros­temas are issued at the time of the sale. When a company gives a commercial invoice, the sale has been completed. On the other hand, a proforma invoice can be created before to understand the upcoming costs.

Who issues them

The seller typically issues commercial invoices. But occasionally, the customer will provide a commercial invoice. For example, if the buyer wants to ensure that he pays the correct tax rate, he may issue a commercial invoice.

When they are issued

A vendor to an account holder typically issues Proforma invoices. Companies use it as a document to outline the costs associated with selling products to customers outside of their home market. A proforma invoice is generally sent to potential customers considering buying a product.

In addition, businesses often send proforma invoices to foreign clients to determine whether the client is a good fit for their business.

Proforma invoices usually include the total purchase amount, shipping costs, payment terms, and delivery schedules. Companies use proformas because it allows them to quickly communicate pricing and terms to potential customers without spending too much time negotiating.

In addition, proformas enable companies to send out multiple quotes to different clients so they can see how each client reacts to prices and terms.


The format of commercial invoices varies depending on the type of business involved. For example, some businesses issue one-page commercial invoices, while others issue multi-page invoices.

The format of proformas also varies based on the type of business. For example, many proformas are single-page documents that list only the key information about the sale. Others are two-page agreements that contain further details like shipping and tax fees. Commercial invoices function as follows:


Commercial invoices work like this:

  1. A customer places an order for products or services.
  2. The seller sends the customer a commercial invoice detailing the terms of the sale.
  3. The customer pays the invoice.
  4. The seller receives payment.
  5. The seller ships the items ordered.
  6. The customer receives the items shipped.

Proforma invoices work like this:

  1. A buyer decides to purchase something.
  2. The buyer creates a proforma invoice listing the details of the transaction.
  3. The buyer sends the proforma invoice to his supplier.
  4. The supplier reviews the proforma invoice and agrees to supply the product.
  5. The buyer makes the final payment to the supplier.
  6. The supplier delivers the goods or services to the

What they include

Here are some of the crucial things that both invoices should include.

A commercial invoice

  • Date of Sale
  • Description of Goods or Services Sold
  • Price of Goods or Services
  • Terms of Payment (usually net 30 days)
  • Total Amount Due
  • Shipping Costs
  • Taxes
  • Any Other Charges

A proforma invoice

Proforma invoices usually include information such as the overall cost of the order, the cost of shipping, the terms of payment, and the delivery schedules. Companies use proformas because it allows them to quickly communicate pricing and terms to potential customers without spending too much time negotiating.

In addition, proformas allow companies to send out multiple quotes to different clients so they can see how each client reacts to prices and terms.

When Is it Better to Use One Than the Other?

You should use a commercial invoice when you sell products or perform services. However, you should use a pros­tema instead if you provide consulting services. A commercial invoice requires the seller to collect payment from the customer before delivering the goods or services.

In contrast, a pros­tema allows the buyer to make payments directly to the seller without requiring the seller to wait for payment.

You can utilize both invoice formats in some circumstances. However, in other cases, you must use one over the other. For instance, you must use a commercial invoice if you sell goods online.

Why Use Both Forms?

Both commercial invoices and proformas are useful tools for recording sales transactions. However, each has its purpose.

A proforma invoice includes estimates of the costs associated with a project. This type of invoice is most commonly seen in import/export transactions where the purchaser must know how much it will cost to complete the transaction.

For example, a buyer might want to know what it will cost to ship many items overseas. In such cases, the buyer will often request a proforma invoice from the seller or a business owner.

Proforma refers to the invoice based on projected figures rather than actual costs incurred. Because there is no guarantee that the final price will match the estimate, a proforma invoice is usually accompanied by a disclaimer indicating that the final price may differ from the estimate.

A commercial invoice is similar to a proforma invoice, except it contains the final price charged for the product or service the business owner gives. These invoices are used to record purchases. So a need for using both might arise when you're selling products or services to multiple buyers.

You'll have to provide different invoices to each buyer when this happens. You could either send them all at once or send them individually. If you choose to send them individually, you'll need to prepare two types of invoices: one for each buyer.

When you sell your products or services to more than one person, you can use a commercial invoice to record the sale. The commercial invoice includes all the information needed to track the sale.

However, if you only plan to sell to one customer, you don't need to create a separate commercial invoice. Instead, you can use a proforma invoice to summarize the sale.


Different Ways of Getting a Commercial and Proforma Invoice Template

Purchase an online invoicing software that provides templates and invoice format for various business purposes. Downloading a free sample commercial invoice template is an additional choice.

You can also create a custom invoice template. To do so, you'll need to decide what kind of invoice you want to make. Then, you'll need to gather the necessary information from your supplier. Finally, you'll need to format the data into the appropriate fields.

You can also purchase a pre-made template from many companies online. They have hundreds of ready-to-use templates available for immediate download.


As you can see, there are some significant differences between proforma and commercial invoices. Most foreign shipments are required by law to have a commercial invoice. A proforma invoice is a simplified version of a commercial invoice used for domestic transactions and accounting purposes.

While there are some differences between the two types of invoices, the critical distinction is whether the goods being shipped are subject to sales tax.

Suppose you don't know whether your shipment is taxable or exempt. In that case, it's best to use a commercial invoice rather than a pro forma invoice.

A commercial invoice includes information about the seller, including name, address, and contact information; the buyer, including name, address, phone number, and email; and the quantity, description, price, and value of each item being exported. A proforma does not include the same level of detail.

Both commercial and pro forma invoices must comply with specific requirements under the Harmonized System Code of Classification and Labeling (HS).

For example, the code number must be included in the header section of the document. These codes help customs officials identify products and determine their classification.

Proforma invoices do not require the same level of detail as commercial invoices. And because they're simpler, proformas often cost less to prepare. You'll find that many shipping companies offer a choice between commercial and proforma.

This allows shippers to choose the type of invoice they prefer based on the needs of their customers. Keep loading up on valuable information from our website.

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Joe Webster began his journey in the auto transport field by attending the University of Southern California (USC), where he graduated with a Bachelor of Business Marketing. 

After college, he started his career in the auto transport industry from the bottom up and has done virtually every job there is to do at A-1 Auto Transport, including but not limited to: Truck Driver, Dispatch, Sales, PR, Bookkeeping, Transport Planner, Transport Manager, International Transport Manager, Brokering, Customer Service, and Marketing. Working with his mentor Tony Taylor, Joe Webster has learned the ins and outs of this industry which is largely misunderstood. 

With over 30 years experience in the industry, we've been helping people ship their vehicles, motorcycles, RV's, heavy equipment, household goods and more across the country or overseas without a hitch. Ask us anything.

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