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How does e-invoicing work?

August 31, 2022

As many e-invoicing standards and formats differ, it pays to look into the details to understand how each one works. Learn about how e-invoicing actually works and provide your business with a more thorough understanding of the steps to take when getting set up with an e-invoicing process.

Before jumping into the details of e-invoicing, it’s important to understand what exactly electronic invoicing is.

Electronic invoicing (or “e-invoicing”) is the electronic exchange of an invoicing document between a supplier and a buyer. When sent and received via a structured electronic format, the invoice can be automatically processed without the need for traditional paperwork.

E-invoicing is now common practice for businesses of all sizes across the globe and has steadily grown over the past 30 years. You can read more about what e-invoicing is via our blog

While the concept is largely the same across the globe the legal requirements differ from country to country. From formats to procedures to local e-invoicing rules. Many countries have started to determine their own format and structures in line with their tax compliance rules. Many are putting mandatory processes in place to help close their “VAT gap” and improve their overall tax compliance. Read about how tax compliance and e-invoicing relate and what is meant by the VAT gap here.


E-invoicing standards

Many countries and networks have their own e-invoicing standard:


European standard 

The European Commission and EU members introduced a European Standard for e-invoicing relating to B2G (Business-to-Government) and G2G (Government-to-Government) transactions. This is outlined as part of the European Directive 2014/55/EU.

The European standard is a semantic data model which lists the necessary elements that an e-invoice needs to include in order to be legally and tax compliant. This data model is technology neutral and can be employed using two XML formats – UBL and CII. Read in more detail here.

Peppol standard

Pan-European Public Procurement Online (Peppol) is an international network that enables businesses to exchange documents and data securely with other registered users. Businesses join the Peppol network via an access point and all e-invoices are processed within the Peppol framework. Currently there are around 200 certified access point providers internationally. Learn more about Peppol via our blog post.

EDIFACT standard

EDIFACT is an abbreviation for "Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport". This is a global set of rules that was designed in 1986 for the inter-company electronic data exchange between two or more business partners via EDI. But the process can be different depending on the setup between each business.

EDIFACT was defined by the United Nations (UN) and is widely used across Europe. The standard defines the type of address, format and infrastructure that is required for compliant e-invoicing to take place. 

Country-specific standards

Some countries have specific standards designed for their own requirements. For example, in Italy it is FatturaPA — an XML invoicing format. Discover which countries have which formats via our Global E-invoicing Guide.


The three parts of e-invoicing

To make e-invoicing work, three key things are needed:

1. E-invoicing addresses

Firstly, any parties involved in e-invoicing must have their own e-invoicing address. An e-invoicing address can vary depending on the country and service provider. Such as a standard email address or ID number.

2. Formats

E-invoicing formats are often determined by each country. A common European format is XML, adapted by each country to include country-specific information such as: 

  • Value Added Tax (VAT) number - a unique number which is different for each country  
  • Global Location Number (GLN) - a 13-digit number which is globally unique
  • Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) - a 9-digit number issued by Dun & Bradstreet

3. Infrastructure

There are generally three types of infrastructure used to exchange e-invoices:

  • 2-corner model - a simple, P2P (peer-to-peer) model in which supplier and buyer exchange electronic documents using EDI or XML files.
  • 3-corner model - supplier and buyer use the same third-party service to exchange documents. The third-party provider might use the cloud or e-invoicing software.
  • 4-corner model - both supplier and buyer use different providers to process their electronic documents. Here, the two service providers work together to complete the transfer through an international network which connects businesses and organisations.


The e-invoice journey

  1. An electronic invoice is created using an ERP system, e-invoicing provider or via a manual online form. The number of invoices will determine what process a business chooses to take.
  2. Information is added, generally the same information included in typical paper invoices. However, a tax authority or supplier may need additional, tailored information that complies with their rules.
  3. The invoice is then converted to the format the receiver requires. Different customers and tax authorities will use different formats, therefore it is vital to choose an e-invoicing provider that converts your e-invoice into any format the recipient needs. The invoice is then distributed via the recipient’s channel of choice. Such as straight into their ERP system, via a government portal or even print and post.


Choosing the right e-invoicing provider

With no singular global e-invoicing format, it’s beneficial to select an e-invoicing provider that converts data automatically and supports all formats. A trusted provider should connect to international networks to ensure tax compliance across many countries with different standards.

Services such as invoice templating, digital payment buttons and electronic signatures can add extra value. A provider that also has an inbound solution, such as Unifiedpost Group can make Accounts Payable (AP) and Accounts Receivable (AR) processes even simpler.


How our solutions can make the difference

Unifiedpost Group’s e-invoicing solution makes the process simple, no matter how big or small your business may be.

Our solution is tailored for businesses of any size that need a quick, automated solution to convert their documents and data into any format. Tax compliant in over 60 countries, meaning your business can connect to international networks and also benefit from numerous e-invoicing benefits.

Take a look at our e-invoicing solution for your business, and tailor our modular services to fit your business' needs.

By Stanislava Filcheva
Banqup's E-invoicing and E-reporting Compliance Officer

Stanislava has a vast background in accounting and finance, which transitioned her to a role in e-invoicing and tax compliance with Unifiedpost Group in 2020. She studied Industrial Management, which provided her with a comprehensive understanding of financial, managerial, and engineering sciences and processes. Stanislava is fluent in four languages and has experience working with many international companies all over the globe.

Connect with Stanislava on LinkedIn
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