Monday, October 22, 2012

Exporting Art (Part 1): The Invoice

This is a technical post about what you need to include on an invoice when exporting an artwork to another country.

I've got two reasons for producing this post
  • First, to be honest, I'm writing it all down because I forget!  I've sent quite a few artworks overseas but I always have to spend time double-checking I've done everything correctly after referencing all the proper sources of information.
  • Second, I periodically hear about people whose artwork has got stuck at Customs.  I must confess I do speculate to myself about whether they've maybe missed out one of the essential tasks! (see Parts 1 AND 2 OF "Exporting Art")

Below you will find
  • a checklist of information which should be supplied to enable artwork to clear customs quickly and without a problem
  • a link to where you can download a proforma invoice like the one I use (see below).  
Proforma Export Invoice for Artwork
Proforma Export Invoice for Artwork
(right click to see a larger version in new tab)
What to include on an invoice when exporting art

The example proforma invoice referenced is for an artwork which had been commissioned and is to be exported to another country.

You can find An Export Invoice for Art available as a Word document on my Making A Mark website - which you can download for FREE.

Your Information
  1. Name of your art business (what do you mean you don't have one?!)  What do you call your sole trading activities on your tax form or bank account? Sales of art can be done under your own name.  Mine's called Pastels and Pencils after my art portfolio website.
  2. Business address This should be the same one as you use for your art business on your tax return.
  3. Tax date: the date of the invoice.  This may be different to the date of export and it's relevant to your tax accounts.
  4. Terms of Business: makes your terms of payment explicit.  The example given is for a commission but you can change this to whatever you prefer.
  5. Copyright: The statement included in the invoice makes it clear that all copyright and reproduction rights are reserved to the artist.  There's lots of buyers out there who don't understand about copyright!
  6. Telephone and email: Provide the Client and Importer with contact information ie business telephone number and email address .  This is also very useful for Customs if there is a problem

Client Information
  1. Client Order date / reference no.
  2. Client / Importer Name The proforma invoice provides for differentiation between eventual destination (ie the Client) and the place it is imported to which may be different (eg a gallery)
  3. Client / Importer Address - use a prompt for 
    • zip codes and post codes
    • country
  4. Date of Commission / Customer Order: Provide something which references the purchase or commission placed. I use email dates.

Customs Information
  1. Country of Manufacture - where you made it
  2. Country of Export - where you live
  3. Country of Import - where the artwork is going to
  4. Date of export: this may be different to the date of the invoice
  5. Value of Export: This is for Customs Purposes and is ESSENTIAL.  Note that in the UK if the value is below £270 you can use the basic Customs Form CN22.  If it's over £270 then you need to use the detailed version CN23  (more about these in Part 2)
  6. Commodity Code:  This is ESSENTIAL. You won't get artwork past Customs quickly without this. It also needs to go on the Customs documentation for the front of the package. I've left in the code for artwork being exported.  You can look up the Customs tariff code. Click the International Trade Tariff to access Section XXI Works of art, collectors' pieces and antiques (chapters 97 to 99)
  7. Weight of Commodity: identify the weight of artwork and artwork including packaging.  These two items required for Customs and pricing postage
  8. Type of Packaging: describe the packaging used - needs to pass muster with Customs

Artwork Information

Recently I've been watching too many television programmes about establishing provenance plus I saw some invoices recently for works sold by Paul Durand-Ruel in the nineteenth century and I was very impressed by the detailed description of the work.  Hence I have now added this into the invoice I use!
  1. Title of Artwork
  2. Description of Artwork - describe it for people who may need to match invoice to artwork in future
  3. Media: describe what was used to produce the artwork. Highlight anything which is archival
  4. Support: describe what was used to produce the artwork. Highlight anything which is archival 
  5. Dimensions: Indicate the dimensions of the artwork, matted and unmatted.  Bear in mind that in the UK a small package going airmail needs to be less than 600mm on its longest dimension otherwise it must go parcel post.
  6. Shipping: I suggest you use a method of shipping which allows you to track the artwork and provides cover for its value.  Insert the cost of shipping, the cost of materials used and the cost of time employed in packaging as one sum.  You can of course waive the shipping cost.

Later this week I'll be showing you how to ensure all relevant documentation is available to Customs - aka how to mark up the front of the package and include all the forms on the outside of the package!

If shipping art you may also find my information site helpful - as many do! See How to pack, post and ship art - Resources for Artists  (I wrote all I knew down for this as well so I wouldn't forget every time I came to do a complicated package which needed to be sent overseas!)

If you have any queries about the Invoice please comment below.  

Also if you do your invoice differently please explain - or show us - what you do.  I'll be happy to reference your invoice on my website if you're happy to share.


  1. Thank you so, so much for this invaluable guidance - I'd have been lost without it! I have just one question - your proforma invoice states 'Reason for Export:' at one point...what would you recommend entering as the reason - private sale? For exhibition? etc.

  2. It's a Customs requirement. I'd put whatever reason it is.

  3. Yes, Thank you so much for your informative, helpful blog. When I called shipping companies (4 times and a visit in person), no one would tell me where to get a Customs Declaration form which my new collector requires or even told me I could not get one until it was at customs. This was so frustrating and honestly, I do not think the people at the co. knew about the form or what is is and if they are answering questions about their international shipping service, they should.
    Thank you so much for Sharing your in depth knowledge on this!


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