Pro forma invoice from A to Z – Importance for customs and foreign trade

Proforma invoice customs duty


What is a pro forma invoice?

The pro forma invoice is a document that differs from the traditional invoice primarily in that it does not ask the buyer to pay. It is therefore not recorded in the accounts.
When goods are shipped to or from countries outside the EU, they must be declared in accordance with customs regulations. If an invoice is issued pro forma (lat. for the sake of form), then this serves the purpose of complying with the declaration obligation when trading goods with third countries even if no payment is due.
Even if goods are not paid for, e.g. in the case of sample shipments, the value of the goods must be declared to the customs authorities.

When do I need a pro forma invoice?

Pro forma invoices are often used:

  • when sending samples, gifts and donations
  • if the goods have already been paid in advance
  • for the temporary use of goods abroad
  • in warranty processing, replacement deliveries and exchange of goods
  • as an offer – especially if goods are sent along

What must a pro forma invoice look like?

In principle, the same information must be provided as on a conventional commercial invoice. It must be clearly marked “pro forma invoice”.
A pro forma invoice usually contains the following additional information:

  • Consignor: Name and address
  • Consignee: Name and address (telephone, fax, contact person)
  • Delivery address, if different
  • Terms of delivery
  • invoice number, place, date
  • Sales tax identification number, EORI number
  • Customs tariff numbers
  • Gross and net weight, country of origin, parcel number
  • Signature, Stamp

Proformarechnung zoll

Free proforma invoice samples & templates

Download proforma invoice template for Word (from 2010 .docx)
(Only available in german)
Download proforma invoice template for Word (97-2003 .doc)
(Only available in german)
Download proforma invoice sample in PDF format
(Only available in german)

When issuing or receiving a pro forma invoice, it is important that the amount stated necessarily corresponds to the actual value of the goods if it is used for customs clearance.

Especially for sample shipments it is important to note that a quantity of 5 pieces and a value of goods of 50€ is not exceeded.

In practice, a lower value of goods is often indicated to reduce or avoid customs duties and import sales tax. Many people are not aware that the recipient, as a customs agent, is responsible for the completeness and accuracy of the information and not the invoice issuer.

Customs clearance based on an incorrect value of goods in the pro forma invoice can be punished as tax evasion if the value of the goods is not subsequently corrected in an adjustment. In the case of companies, the managing director is directly liable in this case.

Note on creating pro forma invoices for foreign trade

    • Deliveries to foreign countries are free of sales tax. Therefore, the corresponding invoices must be issued net.
    • Deliveries within the EC are subject to purchase tax.

If goods are supplied to persons liable to pay acquisition tax (usually entrepreneurs) in other EC member states, the VAT identification number (VAT ID No.) of the recipient and the supplier as well as the reference to a tax-free intra-Community supply should appear on all invoices. This also applies to German persons / companies subject to VAT who receive deliveries from other EC states.

Free templates and samples for pro forma invoices:

as Word and PDF versions

Stefan Kluge

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