Tax Category Tax: calculations, VAT, self-employment tips and more

How to create a pro forma invoice

A pro forma (more often called a “proforma”) invoice is an important instrument in the documentation of an international sales transaction. A commercial invoice and a completed bill of lading (waybill or airway bill) are legally required for international customs.

Commercial and proforma invoices must include specific information identifying the contents of the shipment, shipper and manufacturer.

The proforma is a preliminary listing of what will be shown in the finished commercial invoice. A proforma invoice and the commercial invoice often are identical, except that the proforma legally must have “Proforma” or Pro Forma” clearly printed on it.

Type the information in a table format with a line for each data item. Most shippers and customs agencies discourage or prohibit handwritten invoices. A handwritten invoice will delay your shipment in customs and may even be sent back to you. You can use any of a number of software products to generate the proforma, or you could create a proforma manually using a word-processing or spreadsheet application. Templates also are available from providers online.

Type your company’s correct legal name as the exporter. Do not use a company nickname. For example, if your company is legally named, “John Smith Manufacturing Corporation,” do not use “SmithCorp” or other shorthand moniker on the invoice. Type the address from which the shipment is being sent.

Type the name and address of the ultimate consignee. This should include the name and complete street address of the company to whom you are shipping. It may or may not be the same as the buyer of the goods. Type the complete name and address of the buyer in a separate field even if it is the same as the ultimate consignee. If there is an intermediate consignee, include its name and address. Do not use a post office box address. Include a contact person’s name and title and phone or fax number

Type the conditions of sale and terms of payment. Freight payment may be prepaid or collect. Payment for the goods may be made by a funds transfer or letter of credit.

Type the transportation method: for example, “via ocean, from Port of Southampton to Port of Veracruz, Mexico.” Spell out the port, city, state or province names.

Type the waybill or airway bill number for this shipment. That number can be found at the top of the waybill, usually in a large typeface. Enter other shipping reference data such as the purchase order number.

Type the number of pieces in the shipment and their total weight. For example, if you are shipping furniture that is fully constructed, count each chair as one piece. But if the furniture is in parts, you must count each arm, seat, back or leg as a separate piece.

Type the gross weight of the shipment. If you are shipping in a container by ocean vessel, calculate the total weight as the sum of net weight of the items and tare weight of the container and packaging material. The tare weight of the container can be obtained from the shipping company.

Type a full description of the shipment. Include all permit numbers, serial and part numbers, markings, colours, and styles for each item. If you are shipping recorded materials such as film, video or CD/DVD, state the title, contents and purpose. State clearly if this shipment contains hazardous materials. This can include flammable, acidic, caustic or toxic ingredients. Type a reason for this export. Keep it short: for example, “Sale”, “Sample” or “Gift.”

Type the unit value of each item. This field must have a number greater than zero for customs purposes even if the items are of no commercial value. Calculate the value of each line and enter this as a subtotal. Calculate the total of all items and type that at the bottom of the column. Use the currency of the country from which the shipment is being sent.

Some countries require that the VAT (Value Added Tax) number also be included. That is a number applied to a manufacturer. Your company can request a VAT number through the local tax authorities of the country to which you are exporting.

Enter the name and address of the manufacturer of the items, if they were not manufactured by you. Include the country of origin where the items were manufactured on a separate line.

Type the declaration “I declare that the above information is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” Type your name and position. Sign and date the declaration.


Type all your entries in a simple, easy-to-read font.


Avoid industry jargon. For example, furniture often gets shipped in parts, or "knocked down." Although the abbreviation "KD" is understood in the industry, it may confuse customs inspectors. It is advisable to spell it out.

Things Needed

  • Invoice form
  • Computer with word processing or spreadsheet software