8 Apr 2024

Purchase Order vs. Proforma Invoice: What's the Difference?

Purchase Order vs. Proforma Invoice: What's the Difference?

Purchase Order vs. Proforma Invoice: What's the Difference?

In the world of accounting, it's crucial to understand the difference between purchase orders and proforma invoices. These two documents play a significant role in ensuring smooth and efficient financial operations.

Purchase Order

A purchase order is more than just a request for goods or services; it's a legally binding agreement. This document, once accepted, holds both the buyer and the seller accountable for fulfilling their obligations, making it a crucial part of any transaction.

Proforma Invoice

Unlike a purchase order, a proforma invoice is not a binding document. It's more like a sales quote, providing the buyer with an advanced estimate of the total cost and detailed information about the transaction, goods, and payment details. This allows the buyer to make an informed decision before committing to a purchase.

Understanding the difference between purchase orders and proforma invoices can help businesses streamline payment processes, avoid misunderstandings, and ensure a transparent and efficient transaction flow. Whether you're a buyer or a seller, grasping the nuances of these documents is essential.

In the upcoming sections, we will explore the characteristics, use cases, benefits, and potential drawbacks of purchase orders and proforma invoices in more detail. Stay tuned for a comprehensive understanding of these critical components of business transactions.

Purchase Orders: Essential Elements and Usage

Purchase orders are a fundamental part of the procurement process. They serve as a formal request from a buyer to a seller for the purchase of goods or services.

A purchase order contains crucial information that ensures a smooth and transparent transaction between the buyer and the seller. It includes the following elements:

Buyer and Seller Information

The buyer and seller information section includes both parties' names and contact details. This information is vital for effective communication and establishing a clear line of responsibility. It ensures that both parties can easily reach out to each other in case of any questions or issues.

Item Details

The item details section lists the goods or services being purchased. It comprehensively describes each item, including specifications, models, or any other necessary details. This section helps the seller understand precisely what the buyer requests.

Quantities and Prices

The quantities and prices section specifies the quantity of each purchased item and the agreed-upon price per unit. This information is crucial for accurate invoicing and helps prevent any billing errors. It also ensures that both parties are on the same page regarding the quantity and price of purchased items.

Terms and Conditions

The terms section outlines the agreed-upon terms and conditions of the transaction. This includes payment terms, delivery terms, and any other specific requirements or instructions. Clearly defining these terms helps prevent any confusion or disputes later on.

Usage of Purchase Orders

Purchase orders are typically used in the following situations:

  • Large Orders: Purchase orders provide a structured and organised way to manage the procurement process for large orders. They help track the items purchased, their quantities, and the agreed-upon prices. This ensures the buyer receives the correct items in the right quantities and appropriately compensates the seller.

  • Recurring Purchases: Purchase orders streamline the ordering process for recurring purchases, such as monthly office supplies or regular inventory restocking, and ensure consistent and timely delivery of the required items.

  • New Suppliers: A purchase order establishes an explicit agreement between the buyer and the seller when working with new suppliers. It outlines the transaction's expectations, terms, and conditions, providing security for both parties. This helps build trust and minimises the risk of any misunderstandings or disputes.

The Significance of Proforma Invoices in International Trade

Proforma invoices play a crucial role in international trade and business transactions. They serve as a preliminary bill of sale sent to the buyer to request payment for goods and services before they are supplied. But what exactly is the purpose of a proforma invoice? Let's dive deeper into its significance and its use in various situations.

What is a Proforma Invoice?

A proforma invoice is an advanced total or estimate of the total cost, including transaction details, goods, and payment information. It provides the buyer with a good faith estimate of the order, allowing them to review the details and decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase. By receiving this information upfront, buyers can make informed decisions and clearly understand what they are committing to.

Key Elements of a Proforma Invoice

One key element of a proforma invoice is its ability to provide essential details about the transaction. It includes crucial information such as seller and buyer details, item descriptions, quantities, prices, and terms. This comprehensive breakdown ensures that both parties are on the same page and minimises the chances of misunderstandings or disputes later on.

Situations Where Proforma Invoices are Used

Now, let's explore some everyday situations where proforma invoices are commonly used:

  1. Pre-Shipment Inspections: Proforma invoices are often utilised for pre-shipment inspections. By providing a proforma invoice to the buyer, the seller can ensure that the goods meet their expectations before they are shipped. This allows any necessary adjustments or modifications to be made, ensuring the buyer receives the desired product.

  2. Customs Clearance: Proforma invoices are frequently used for customs clearance. Customs authorities require detailed information about imported or exported goods, including their value and description. By providing a proforma invoice, sellers can comply with these requirements, making the customs clearance process smoother and more efficient.

  3. Providing Cost Estimates: Proforma invoices also come into play when providing cost estimates to buyers. For example, if a buyer plans a project involving multiple suppliers and services, they may request proforma invoices from each party to determine the overall project cost. These proforma invoices provide a clear breakdown of the expenses, allowing the buyer to make informed decisions and plan their budget accordingly.

Proforma Invoices are Not Legally Binding Agreements

It's important to note that while proforma invoices are a valuable tool in international trade, they are not legally binding agreements. The terms of sale outlined in a proforma invoice are still subject to change. Instead, they serve as a sales quote or estimate, giving the buyer the necessary information to decide. To avoid duplicate payments, it is recommended to include a reference to the proforma invoice number on the final invoice.

Proforma invoices are an essential part of international trade and business transactions. They provide buyers with detailed information about the goods and services offered, allowing them to make informed decisions. Proforma invoices streamline the sales process and ensure transparency between buyers and sellers, whether for pre-shipment inspections, customs clearance, or providing cost estimates.

Proforma Invoices vs. Purchase Orders: Understanding the Differences

Proforma invoices and purchase orders play different roles in the ordering and payment, with each document serving specific purposes. Here is a breakdown of the key differences between the two:

Proforma Invoices

  • Proforma invoices are itemised lists that provide price estimates to customers before goods or services are delivered.

  • They contain detailed information, including the estimated total, quantity, contact details, and general delivery terms.

  • Proforma invoices are not legally binding because the terms of sale are subject to change.

  • They serve as a preliminary bill of sale, providing the final details of an order to the buyer before they commit to a purchase.

  • Sellers send proforma invoices to buyers, giving them an advanced estimate of the total cost before the goods or services are supplied.

  • Proforma invoices provide flexibility, allowing for adjustments before sending the final invoice.

  • They can potentially lead to surprise fees for buyers as they are only estimates.

Purchase Orders

  • Buyers use purchase orders to request goods or services from sellers.

  • They typically have a finalised price and a unique invoice number for tracking purposes.

  • A purchase order is considered a legally binding agreement once accepted by the seller.

  • It acts as a contractual document that both parties must adhere to.

  • Buyers issue and send purchase orders to sellers.

  • Purchase orders create a paper trail for purchase requests and communicate to suppliers what is needed and expected.

  • They protect the buyer if the seller doesn't fulfil their end of the deal.

  • It is essential for a company to receive a binding invoice later to ensure there are no surprises and legally binding documentation tied to the sale.

By understanding these distinctions, businesses can streamline their payment processes and improve efficiency. Platforms like Nook offer features like multi-step approval workflows, bulk payments in multiple currencies, scheduled payments, and a self-service portal for suppliers. Nook eliminates the need for manual work and reduces the risk of fraud.

So, whether you're a business owner or an accountant, it's time to make your payment processes more efficient and secure. Try Nook's supercharged operating account today with a 30-day free trial and experience the ease of making bulk payments in just a few clicks. Sign up for Nook now and take your payment processes to the next level.


In the world of accounting, it's crucial to understand the difference between purchase orders and proforma invoices. These two documents play a significant role in ensuring smooth and efficient financial operations.

Purchase Order

A purchase order is more than just a request for goods or services; it's a legally binding agreement. This document, once accepted, holds both the buyer and the seller accountable for fulfilling their obligations, making it a crucial part of any transaction.

Proforma Invoice

Unlike a purchase order, a proforma invoice is not a binding document. It's more like a sales quote, providing the buyer with an advanced estimate of the total cost and detailed information about the transaction, goods, and payment details. This allows the buyer to make an informed decision before committing to a purchase.

Understanding the difference between purchase orders and proforma invoices can help businesses streamline payment processes, avoid misunderstandings, and ensure a transparent and efficient transaction flow. Whether you're a buyer or a seller, grasping the nuances of these documents is essential.

In the upcoming sections, we will explore the characteristics, use cases, benefits, and potential drawbacks of purchase orders and proforma invoices in more detail. Stay tuned for a comprehensive understanding of these critical components of business transactions.

Purchase Orders: Essential Elements and Usage

Purchase orders are a fundamental part of the procurement process. They serve as a formal request from a buyer to a seller for the purchase of goods or services.

A purchase order contains crucial information that ensures a smooth and transparent transaction between the buyer and the seller. It includes the following elements:

Buyer and Seller Information

The buyer and seller information section includes both parties' names and contact details. This information is vital for effective communication and establishing a clear line of responsibility. It ensures that both parties can easily reach out to each other in case of any questions or issues.

Item Details

The item details section lists the goods or services being purchased. It comprehensively describes each item, including specifications, models, or any other necessary details. This section helps the seller understand precisely what the buyer requests.

Quantities and Prices

The quantities and prices section specifies the quantity of each purchased item and the agreed-upon price per unit. This information is crucial for accurate invoicing and helps prevent any billing errors. It also ensures that both parties are on the same page regarding the quantity and price of purchased items.

Terms and Conditions

The terms section outlines the agreed-upon terms and conditions of the transaction. This includes payment terms, delivery terms, and any other specific requirements or instructions. Clearly defining these terms helps prevent any confusion or disputes later on.

Usage of Purchase Orders

Purchase orders are typically used in the following situations:

  • Large Orders: Purchase orders provide a structured and organised way to manage the procurement process for large orders. They help track the items purchased, their quantities, and the agreed-upon prices. This ensures the buyer receives the correct items in the right quantities and appropriately compensates the seller.

  • Recurring Purchases: Purchase orders streamline the ordering process for recurring purchases, such as monthly office supplies or regular inventory restocking, and ensure consistent and timely delivery of the required items.

  • New Suppliers: A purchase order establishes an explicit agreement between the buyer and the seller when working with new suppliers. It outlines the transaction's expectations, terms, and conditions, providing security for both parties. This helps build trust and minimises the risk of any misunderstandings or disputes.

The Significance of Proforma Invoices in International Trade

Proforma invoices play a crucial role in international trade and business transactions. They serve as a preliminary bill of sale sent to the buyer to request payment for goods and services before they are supplied. But what exactly is the purpose of a proforma invoice? Let's dive deeper into its significance and its use in various situations.

What is a Proforma Invoice?

A proforma invoice is an advanced total or estimate of the total cost, including transaction details, goods, and payment information. It provides the buyer with a good faith estimate of the order, allowing them to review the details and decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase. By receiving this information upfront, buyers can make informed decisions and clearly understand what they are committing to.

Key Elements of a Proforma Invoice

One key element of a proforma invoice is its ability to provide essential details about the transaction. It includes crucial information such as seller and buyer details, item descriptions, quantities, prices, and terms. This comprehensive breakdown ensures that both parties are on the same page and minimises the chances of misunderstandings or disputes later on.

Situations Where Proforma Invoices are Used

Now, let's explore some everyday situations where proforma invoices are commonly used:

  1. Pre-Shipment Inspections: Proforma invoices are often utilised for pre-shipment inspections. By providing a proforma invoice to the buyer, the seller can ensure that the goods meet their expectations before they are shipped. This allows any necessary adjustments or modifications to be made, ensuring the buyer receives the desired product.

  2. Customs Clearance: Proforma invoices are frequently used for customs clearance. Customs authorities require detailed information about imported or exported goods, including their value and description. By providing a proforma invoice, sellers can comply with these requirements, making the customs clearance process smoother and more efficient.

  3. Providing Cost Estimates: Proforma invoices also come into play when providing cost estimates to buyers. For example, if a buyer plans a project involving multiple suppliers and services, they may request proforma invoices from each party to determine the overall project cost. These proforma invoices provide a clear breakdown of the expenses, allowing the buyer to make informed decisions and plan their budget accordingly.

Proforma Invoices are Not Legally Binding Agreements

It's important to note that while proforma invoices are a valuable tool in international trade, they are not legally binding agreements. The terms of sale outlined in a proforma invoice are still subject to change. Instead, they serve as a sales quote or estimate, giving the buyer the necessary information to decide. To avoid duplicate payments, it is recommended to include a reference to the proforma invoice number on the final invoice.

Proforma invoices are an essential part of international trade and business transactions. They provide buyers with detailed information about the goods and services offered, allowing them to make informed decisions. Proforma invoices streamline the sales process and ensure transparency between buyers and sellers, whether for pre-shipment inspections, customs clearance, or providing cost estimates.

Proforma Invoices vs. Purchase Orders: Understanding the Differences

Proforma invoices and purchase orders play different roles in the ordering and payment, with each document serving specific purposes. Here is a breakdown of the key differences between the two:

Proforma Invoices

  • Proforma invoices are itemised lists that provide price estimates to customers before goods or services are delivered.

  • They contain detailed information, including the estimated total, quantity, contact details, and general delivery terms.

  • Proforma invoices are not legally binding because the terms of sale are subject to change.

  • They serve as a preliminary bill of sale, providing the final details of an order to the buyer before they commit to a purchase.

  • Sellers send proforma invoices to buyers, giving them an advanced estimate of the total cost before the goods or services are supplied.

  • Proforma invoices provide flexibility, allowing for adjustments before sending the final invoice.

  • They can potentially lead to surprise fees for buyers as they are only estimates.

Purchase Orders

  • Buyers use purchase orders to request goods or services from sellers.

  • They typically have a finalised price and a unique invoice number for tracking purposes.

  • A purchase order is considered a legally binding agreement once accepted by the seller.

  • It acts as a contractual document that both parties must adhere to.

  • Buyers issue and send purchase orders to sellers.

  • Purchase orders create a paper trail for purchase requests and communicate to suppliers what is needed and expected.

  • They protect the buyer if the seller doesn't fulfil their end of the deal.

  • It is essential for a company to receive a binding invoice later to ensure there are no surprises and legally binding documentation tied to the sale.

By understanding these distinctions, businesses can streamline their payment processes and improve efficiency. Platforms like Nook offer features like multi-step approval workflows, bulk payments in multiple currencies, scheduled payments, and a self-service portal for suppliers. Nook eliminates the need for manual work and reduces the risk of fraud.

So, whether you're a business owner or an accountant, it's time to make your payment processes more efficient and secure. Try Nook's supercharged operating account today with a 30-day free trial and experience the ease of making bulk payments in just a few clicks. Sign up for Nook now and take your payment processes to the next level.


Ready to step into the future of payments?

Try Nook for free for 30 days or book a demo with the team to see how it could help your business

Ready to step into the future of payments?

Try Nook for free for 30 days or book a demo with the team to see how it could help your business

Ready to step into the future of payments?

Try Nook for free for 30 days or book a demo with the team to see how it could help your business

© Nook 2023 - Nook is a trading name of Payaable Limited


Payaable Limited (T/A Nook) is an EMD Agent of The Currency Cloud Limited. Payment and e-money  services are provided by The Currency Cloud Limited. Registered in England No. 06323311. Registered Office: Stewardship Building 1st Floor, 12 Steward Street London E1 6FQ. The Currency Cloud Limited is authorized by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Electronic Money Regulations 2011 for the issuing of electronic money (FRN: 900199); 

All testimonials, reviews, opinions or case studies presented on our website may not be indicative of all customers. Results may vary and customers agree to proceed at their own risk.


*Confirmation of Payee is only available in the UK

© Nook 2023 - Nook is a trading name of Payaable Limited


Payaable Limited (T/A Nook) is an EMD Agent of The Currency Cloud Limited. Payment and e-money  services are provided by The Currency Cloud Limited. Registered in England No. 06323311. Registered Office: Stewardship Building 1st Floor, 12 Steward Street London E1 6FQ. The Currency Cloud Limited is authorized by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Electronic Money Regulations 2011 for the issuing of electronic money (FRN: 900199); 

All testimonials, reviews, opinions or case studies presented on our website may not be indicative of all customers. Results may vary and customers agree to proceed at their own risk.


*Confirmation of Payee is only available in the UK

© Nook 2023 - Nook is a trading name of Payaable Limited


Payaable Limited (T/A Nook) is an EMD Agent of The Currency Cloud Limited. Payment and e-money  services are provided by The Currency Cloud Limited. Registered in England No. 06323311. Registered Office: Stewardship Building 1st Floor, 12 Steward Street London E1 6FQ. The Currency Cloud Limited is authorized by the Financial Conduct Authority under the Electronic Money Regulations 2011 for the issuing of electronic money (FRN: 900199); 

All testimonials, reviews, opinions or case studies presented on our website may not be indicative of all customers. Results may vary and customers agree to proceed at their own risk.


*Confirmation of Payee is only available in the UK