US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is serious about commercial import invoices. The commercial import invoice is used when the agency determines if the duties, taxes and fees involved with goods imported into the US were declared correctly by the importer. Because the exporter-created document contains all the pertinent information related to the import shipment, the commercial import invoice is required for clearance by CBP in a form that comports with agency requirements, which can be found in Title 19 of the Code of Federal Regulations (aka CBP regulations).
Based upon the information reflected on an invoice, CBP may require a physical examination of the goods. Incomplete, inaccurate or false information may result in the importer having to pay more (very rarely less) than what is declared owed to the US Government. Invoice failure can also cause an importer a lot of pain and aggravation. CBP actions may result in detentions, seizures, and forfeitures of imported goods; supplemental duty bills; liquidated damage claims; and monetary and various other penalties.
Importers must bear in mind that a commercial import invoice has a close relationship with CBP’s most important document, the CBP Form 7501 (Entry Summary), which is needed for agency clearance of imported goods. The commercial import invoice is a simple document to produce – provided that both the exporter and importer of the goods realize what is required by the CBP regulations, which are cited and explained below.
The US Commercial Import Invoice
A commercial import invoice, signed by the seller or shipper, or his agent, is acceptable for CBP purposes if it is prepared in accordance with applicable CBP regulations. Prepared by the exporter of the goods and provided to the US importer, the invoice must also be done in the manner customary for a commercial transaction involving goods of the kind covered by the invoice.
The invoice and all attachments must be in English. If not, the documents must be accompanied by an accurate English translation. In addition, the invoice must provide the following information:
- US port of entry
- Buyer’s name and address (usually the importer)
- A detailed description of the merchandise, including the name, grade/quality, marks, numbers, and symbols under which it is sold by the seller or manufacturer
- Seller’s name and address (many times CBP will demand the manufacturer’s name, if it is different from the seller’s)
- Date of the sale
- Consignee, if different from the buyer
- Quantities and weights
- Purchase price, the currency used (it may be in foreign currency, but must be converted to US dollars at the time of filing of the entry,) and terms of sale
- Amounts for freight, insurance, commissions, packing, rebates, bounties, assists, discounts, etc., as applicable
- Component material breakdown (that is, what the goods are made of), if required
- Country of origin (country where the product was produced, grown or manufactured), and complete description of the product
Also, note the following:
- If the merchandise on the documents is sold while in transit, the original invoice reflecting this transaction and the resale invoice or a statement of sale showing the price paid for each item by the purchaser shall be filed as part of the entry, entry summary, or withdrawal documentation.
- Each invoice must state in adequate detail what merchandise is contained in each individual package.
- When more than one invoice is included in the same entry, each invoice with its attachments must be numbered consecutively by the importer on the bottom of the face of each page, beginning with number 1 (Source).
Review 19 CFR sections 141.83 through 141.90 concerning the above invoice requirements.
While most of the above information is self-explanatory, “description” will depend on the nature of the imported product. The Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the US (HTSUS) is a huge and intimidating book that describes all imported products. An imported item should be described in terms that correspond to those found in the HTSUS. Industry jargon and ambiguous or fuzzy descriptions are to be avoided.
Importers are responsible for presenting correct and complete commercial import invoices to CBP. If the shipper makes a mistake, it will be the importer who suffers with delayed releases, notices from CBP, or possible penalties. An importer should make it clear to the exporter that all invoices must satisfy CBP regulations.
Title 19 CFR Section 141.89 contains a list of items that require special invoice information, usually because of the complexity of tariff classification (classifying almost anything per the HTSUS is difficult), special programs (like the USMCA), or the need for statistical information (a very important mission of CBP). A prospective importer should be very familiar with Section 141.89 when thinking about any of the following items:
- Aluminum/alloys of aluminum
- Bags, plastic
- Fur products
- Bearings, ball or roller
- Bed linen, bedspreads
- Iron or steel articles
- Colors, dyes, stains
- Machine tools
- Motion picture films
- Fish or fish liver
- Plastic sheets
- Tires and tubes
- Printed matter
- Rolling mills
- Watches and clocks
- Rubber products
- Wearing apparel/Headgear
- Textile products
- Wood products
Some of the additional information specified for the commodities under 19 CFR section 141.89 may not be required when entry is made on a pro forma invoice. However, the pro forma invoice must contain sufficient data for examination, classification, and appraisement purposes (Source).
Data Required For Partner Government Agencies
In addition to the above data, goods subject to Partner Government Agency (PGA) review may require additional data.