Proforma Invoicing 101: A Complete Guide

Proforma Invoicing 101: Your Complete Guide

Are you a business owner new to proforma invoicing and wondering what it is all about? Or are you an experienced entrepreneur looking for a refresher on the subject? Either way, you have come to the right place.

We will cover everything you need to know about proforma invoicing, including what it is, how it differs from other types of invoices, its purpose and benefits, how to create one using a template, when to send it, and much more. 

We will also provide tips for managing proforma invoices and highlight common mistakes you should avoid. By the end of this guide, you will be able to use proforma invoicing with confidence and accuracy.

What is a Proforma Invoice?

A Proforma invoice is preliminary bill sellers provide buyers before shipping or delivering goods. It outlines the product details, price, taxes/fees and estimates the total cost. This practice is common in international trade for customs compliance.

Proforma vs. Other Types of Invoices

Proforma invoicing differs from regular invoicing in several ways. Unlike a commercial invoice, it is not a legally binding agreement and does not require payment. Instead, it serves as a preliminary bill or quote that provides customers with an estimate of the total cost of their order. 

This is useful for both parties since it allows buyers to plan for the expenses they will incur while also allowing sellers to provide details on the shipped goods before sending an official invoice. Proforma invoicing is especially important in international trade since it helps businesses comply with customs requirements and determine shipment duties and taxes.

Proforma Invoice vs. Invoice

Proforma invoices and regular invoices are different in various ways. A proforma invoice serves as an estimate or quote for goods or services and is not legally binding. It gives buyers a good faith estimate of the total amount due before finalising their orders. 

In contrast, invoices are final sales documents indicating the amount owed for delivered goods or completed services. By understanding these differences between preliminary bills and official invoices, businesses can ensure they use the correct document at each stage of their sales process. 

Proforma Invoice vs. Commercial Invoice

Proforma invoices and commercial invoices differ in their legal nature and purpose. A proforma invoice is an estimate or quote, whereas a commercial invoice is a binding agreement that documents the sale of goods or services. Although both have unique uses, it's essential to determine which type of invoice is suitable for your specific situation and needs. 

Understanding the differences between these two invoices ensures that your invoicing process runs smoothly without any confusion regarding payment terms, applicable taxes, delivery dates, or other vital details.

Proforma Invoice vs. Purchase Order

When conducting business transactions, companies use proforma invoices as reasonable faith estimates of costs involved in a transaction before it's finalized. Proforma invoices are not legally binding documents but serve as preliminary bills outlining terms and conditions before an actual sale occurs. When combined with purchase orders, businesses can ensure smooth sales processes. 

Companies should know that purchase orders are legally binding agreements, unlike preliminary bills of sale like proforma invoices. Incorporating such preliminary bills into accounting processes can streamline billing procedures and ensure transparency in sales transactions.

What Is the Purpose of a Proforma Invoice?

A proforma invoice is a draft of a sales bill given to the buyer before the transaction's completion. Its purpose is to provide an overview of the potential sale, including quantity, price, and payment terms. It can also help calculate duties and taxes for international shipments but does not demand payment like a commercial invoice.

Why Do Businesses Use Proforma Invoices?

Businesses use proforma invoices to give their buyers an estimated cost of goods or services and any additional fees or taxes before shipment. These invoices are valid for customs clearance, payment processing, and as a reference for both parties. They are not legally binding and only require payment once the final invoice is issued.

Special Orders

Proforma invoices are also very useful for special orders. Since it gives buyers a good faith estimate of the total cost of goods or services before the actual transaction occurs, it helps them make informed purchasing decisions and plan their budgets accordingly. 

Moreover, proforma invoices are not legally binding agreements and only require payment once the final sales invoice is issued. In addition to serving as a preliminary bill of sale, proforma invoices can also be used as a reference for customs declarations and other essential documentation purposes.

International Imports and Trade

All necessary documentation, including a proforma invoice, is essential in international trade. This preliminary bill of sale provides the following:

  • A reasonable faith estimate for the buyer.
  • Outlining all pertinent details, such as the description of goods.
  • Delivery date.
  • Approved payment terms and much more.

By providing this information upfront, both parties can make informed decisions about whether or not to proceed with the sale. A proforma invoice is not legally binding but serves as a confirmation of intent and preliminary agreement.

How to Create a Proforma Invoice with a Template

You can follow these simple steps when creating a preliminary bill of sale using a template as part of your invoicing process. Begin by selecting an appropriate proforma invoice template that meets the needs of your business. 

From there, customise the document by adding your company information, such as logo, name, and address, before proceeding to include customer details and an accurate description of the goods or services provided. Make sure to specify any payment terms or discounts clearly while reviewing the document before submitting it for approval to issue a final sales invoice.

What Information Is Required in a Proforma Invoice?

When creating a proforma invoice, include the seller and buyer's contact details, a detailed description of goods or services, prices, taxes, and payment terms. Accuracy is essential to match prior agreements. Use a template for guidance.

When Should Proforma Invoices Be Sent?

Proforma invoices should be sent before the official invoice in response to a quote request or to ensure payment before services are rendered. It's crucial to clarify that the proforma invoice is not an official document and cannot be used for accounting purposes.

How to Incorporate VAT into a Proforma Invoice

To incorporate VAT into a proforma invoice, it's essential to have a clear understanding of your country's tax regulations. Determine the applicable VAT rate and amount, which you must indicate on the invoice. Ensure you include all relevant information in your proforma document, including company details, product descriptions, and pricing. Finally, review everything for accuracy before sending it to your customer.

What Is a Quotation and How Is It Different from a Proforma Invoice?

A quotation is a tentative cost estimate that doesn't oblige either party. In contrast, a proforma invoice is a binding document that specifies all transaction details and costs. 

Quotations are given before the sale, while proforma invoices come after confirmation. Proforma invoices can be used for payment and customs clearance, but quotations cannot.

When Is a Quotation Used?

A quotation is an estimated cost of goods or services, while a proforma invoice is a detailed document that serves as a preliminary invoice. Proforma invoices are helpful for international transactions to aid with customs clearance and payments. A quotation provides an estimate, but a proforma invoice offers more detailed information about the products or services sold.

Tips for Managing Proforma Invoices

Managing proforma invoices effectively requires clearly understanding their purpose and appropriate usage. Include all essential details such as product descriptions, quantities & prices while ensuring accuracy in calculations & avoiding errors in currency conversion. Communicate with customers promptly about upcoming orders or shipments through your proforma invoice. 

It's also crucial to keep track of these invoices for accounting & inventory management purposes. Make your invoicing hassle-free by investing in the best invoicing software for small businesses.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using Proforma Invoices

When managing proforma invoices, it's essential to avoid inevitable common mistakes. For instance, outline all of the terms and conditions of the sale on your invoice to avoid confusion and disputes later on. 

Additionally, updating your proforma invoice with final pricing and details upon receiving a purchase order could ensure smooth sales. 

It's also imperative to ensure you only send an invoice after confirming your customer's interest in purchasing, as sending one too soon could be seen as pushy. Lastly, remember important information such as payment options, shipping costs, delivery timelines, applicable taxes and payment due dates.


Proforma invoices are essential in sales as they help communicate details of a potential deal to customers. They are preliminary bills of sale and not actual sales invoices. Using them for reasonable faith estimates, declarations, documentation, and accounting purposes is good practice. Proforma invoices differ from official invoices because they don't have an invoice number and aren't legally binding agreements. It's crucial to include the delivery date, terms of sale, the total amount due, shipping costs, and applicable taxes in your proforma invoicing template. 

Can a Proforma Invoice be Cancelled?

If a proforma invoice has yet to be converted into a commercial invoice and sent to the customer, it can be cancelled by informing them in writing with a reason. If payment has been made, promptly issue a refund. Clear policies for cancellation can prevent disputes with customers.


Proforma invoicing is a crucial aspect of international trade and special orders. It allows businesses to provide their clients with a detailed cost breakdown, ensuring transparency and building trust. Proforma invoices are not limited to international trade; they can also be used for special orders within the country. 

Meet Team Inkle on LinkedIn