How to write an invoice

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What must an invoice contain?

Deciding what must go onto an invoice is a mixture of your country's law and the client's accountant's superstition. The purpose of an invoice is to get payment, and well written invoices generally lead to clients paying quickly.

Strictly speaking, an invoice can be written in any format, even in the form of a business letter, but you'll get paid faster if your invoice looks similar to the other invoices on the bookkeeper's desk... so the best option for an invoice is probably some form of table or spreadsheet layout.

Clients often have specific requirements about what must go onto an invoice -- stick to those to get payment quickly. For example, the client might ask that you put the source and target languages on the invoice, or that you add a number of seemingly unnecessary reference numbers instead of just the purchase order number.

The first thing to do when designing an invoice template is to consult a local tax consultant, to find out if your local tax authorities have special requirements for the invoice, and if there are some things you can do to make the invoice more acceptable to the tax collector or auditor.

Minimum requirements

What an invoice must contain differs from country to country. At minimum, the invoice should contain:

At the top...

  • The word "INVOICE" or a similar term depending on your country
  • The date the invoice was issued
  • A serialized invoice number

Supplier's details

  • Your business name and its official address. If you do business in your personal capacity, your name and address should suffice.
  • Your business registration number, if any.
  • Your VAT number, if any, and any other relevant tax registration number for your business.

Buyer's details

  • The client's business name and official address. If the client neglects to provide his address, even when you ask for it, it may be sufficient to mention his contact details. The name(s) of people in the client's company with whom you have had contact, may also be mentioned.
  • The client's business registration number, if known or if any.
  • The client's VAT number, if any, and any other relevant tax numbers of the client.

Services and fees

  • A description of the services rendered. If the client provided reference numbers or purchase order numbers, mention them here. It is a good idea to mention the working languages as well as the names of documents translated. The dates the translations were delivered should also be mentioned.
  • A comprehensive description of the price per item. Unit prices (per word, per hour, etc.) and the number of units should be mentioned, if they exist. Don't forget to mention the currency.
  • A description or breakdown of VAT charges, if any. The way VAT fees are stated differs from country to country, but make sure it is clear which items attract VAT at what percentage, how much VAT is payable per item, and what the total VAT amount is. In some countries, it may be sufficient to add a note at the bottom of the invoice stating "VAT of 14% included in all items", whereas other countries may require detailed, separate figures for each item, as well as a subtotal.
  • The total amount owing.

Suggested additions

Ideally, there should already be a written contract between the client and the translator, in which other terms are specified, for example method of payment and when amounts outstanding are due. It usually doesn't do any harm, however, to add some of this information in the invoice as a reminder to the client.

The following could be added to an invoice:

  • Payment terms, including when payment is due and what method of payment is preferred
  • Your bank details, such as SWIFT code, official name, street address, etc.
  • Mention of relevant legislation governing the invoice and/or business
  • A slogan for your business, a picture of yourself, and your business logo
  • Other contact details such as your e-mail address, phone number of web site address
  • A short letter or note of thanks to the client
  • Reference to the contract signed, or to terms and conditions hosted on a web site somewhere
  • Memberships to professional associations, including your membership numbers
  • Alternative currencies accepted, or alternative methods of payment, with charges
  • Dates of e-mail or telephone correspondence between the client and translator
  • CRC numbers of files translated, to limit the risk of tampering with translations

Country specific requirements

Your country here

Stuff about your country here...

Invoicing software

  • Translation Office 3000
  • more?

Previous forum threads

These threads may also contain useful information about invoices that may be added to the article.

Discussion related to this article

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