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I'm honestly surprised nobody has ever asked this. I'm a native-level speaker of Mandarin Chinese and English and yet I don't know.


In case you don't know what 发票 is, here's a short explanation:

In mainland China, when you sell anything as a business, you are legally obligated to provide your customer with two certificates on request: 收据 (receipt) and 发票 (?). 收据 is self-explanatory and is the same as in any other country; 发票 is like 收据, but it also states some extra information. For example:

  • The name and taxation ID of the seller.
  • The name and taxation ID of the buyer (when buying on behalf of a company/organisation).
  • The amount of tax included in each item's price.

Notably, unlike 收据, 发票 also has a unique serial number like bank notes, which allows taxation agencies to more accurately track sales. This makes 发票 much more legally binding than 收据. For this reason, most people usually only request 发票 when making large purchases, and/or buying on behalf of their employer and are looking to get reimbursed, which is known as 报销 (lit. reporting expenditure).

There are multiple types of 发票 as well, but we'll ignore that here.


The trouble is that this concept simply doesn't really exist (or rather, very rarely exists; thanks for @JustinHancock for pointing this out in the comments) outside of China. It reminds me of that time when an American translator was struggling to translate Прописка (Propiska, basically 户口) to an American president (I think it was Nixon but I could be wrong). He ended up calling it "domestic passport" in case you're curious.

Anyways, I've searched far and wide for an official (or at minimum, good-looking) translation for 发票 and I am yet to see one. Here are some common ones:

  • Invoice/bill: Inaccurate; that's 账单.
  • Receipt: Inaccurate; that's 收据.
  • Fapiao: 🤦 No.

So I suppose the best option is to coin a term that best describes its purpose, which turns out to be extremely difficult to do concisely. Here are some that I came up with (none of which I'm satisfied with):

  • Tax ticket: "Ticket" sounds wrong. In most use cases it's associated with "permission to do", e.g. train ticket 火车票, concert ticket 演唱会门票, which is not the case with 发票.
  • Tax certificate: It sounds better, but it can be easily confused with 完税证明, which is a document certifying that you have paid your taxes.
  • Tax receipt: Sounds like 完税证明 even more.
  • Taxable receipt: This makes it sound mutually exclusive with a "normal receipt", which is not the case. You can (and people often do) request both 收据 and 发票.

The best I've got is expenditure certificate, which accurately describes its use from the POV of the purchaser. But funnily, this term literally translates to 报销凭证, which is a word already in use that refers to a category of documents similar to but distinct from 发票. It's all very confusing, I know.


So, help. I recognise that this is a difficult question and there might not be a good answer. So all I'm asking for is some brainstorming from the community. Thank you.

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  • Note that this kind of terminology difference is vital when Mainland businesses operate in HK - "国内发票跟香港发票有什么不同?", where the 香港发票 does correspond to the (British-influenced) concept of a receipt, and it is often stated that 香港公司发票相当于国内的收据.
    – Michaelyus
    May 31, 2023 at 10:57
  • From the taxation point of view, both 发票 and the receipt are bases/records for government-imposed tax; and are proof of purchase for the customer.
    – r13
    May 31, 2023 at 18:58
  • 1
    Adding to the confusion, there's also 小票.
    – Becky 李蓓
    Jun 1, 2023 at 0:59
  • 1
    Do you mean that the concept doesn't exist in the U.S.? There are plenty of countries where businesses are required to issue tax documents after taxable sales or upon request, and they are often called VAT invoices. Here's an example from the Irish Revenue Commissioners' website. In Taiwan, the system is called 统一发票, and its official translation is "uniform invoice." Here's the website for the uniform invoice lottery on the Ministry of Finance's website. Jun 13, 2023 at 21:16
  • @JustinHancock that's cool; didn't know that. I've travelled pretty extensively, but never to Ireland or Taiwan. It was a bit rash of me to use a blanket statement like that. I'll edit the post.
    – cyqsimon
    Jun 14, 2023 at 3:03

3 Answers 3

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发票 = Certificate of Dispatch (发货的凭据). The original meaning is that "this is to certify that you have received this much of merchandise". While 收据 = Certificate of reception, meaning "I have received this much cash or goods".

Both words are used in modern business in China. Most of the time, they mean the same thing. Before the application of computers, the sells person may give you a couple of pages of paperwork in different colors (yellow, green, pink, etc.) The paper you need to hand to the gate guards is called 发票 (发货单). The paper you need to give to your accountant is called 收据.

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  • No no. I think you are very mistaken. 收据 and 发票 most certainly do not refer to the same thing, and 发货单 is completely unrelated. Here are some examples for each: 收据, 发票, 发货单.
    – cyqsimon
    Jun 1, 2023 at 2:19
  • As explained by @Pedroski, 发货单 is most accurately translated as packaging list (or perhaps shipping manifest). 发票 does not mean 发货的凭据.
    – cyqsimon
    Jun 1, 2023 at 2:25
  • packaging list is 装箱单,明细表。
    – PdotWang
    Jun 1, 2023 at 12:24
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Proviso: not a businessman, but 发票 is not just 发票:

增值税普通发票
Ordinary Sales Tax Added Receipt

增值税专项发票
Special Sales Tax Added Receipt

Ordinary Sales Tax Added Receipt is used when you pay something for your company and then want the money back from your boss. (报销)

The Special Sales Tax Added Receipt is the one you need to try to get a tax rebate from the tax office.

At least in international trade, 发货的凭据 would, probably, according to my friend who works in foreign trade, be the packing list, which is really just information for the customs and contains HS codes, amounts of items, number of boxes 等等。

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  • Thanks for elaborating. Yeah those are the different types of 发票 that I opted to overlook in my question. I guess it's more okay to use receipt in this case since it's prefixed by a rather specific description of its purpose so it won't cause confusion. I'm still looking for a term you can use when talking about all kinds of 发票 more generally though.
    – cyqsimon
    Jun 1, 2023 at 2:33
  • So for example, this kind of conversation is rather commonplace. Buyer: 请帮我开张发票。 (I would like a 发票 please.) Seller: 能开普票,专票加3个税点。 (I can issue you an ordinary VAT receipt; if you want special VAT receipt, you need to pay 3% extra tax.) Buyer: 那算了,普票就行。 (Alright, then ordinary VAT receipt will do.) Seller: 好,发票开好邮寄给你。 (Okay. I will send you the 发票 by post once it's issued.) As you can see, for an accurate translation of this conversation, the term 发票 would have to be generically translated.
    – cyqsimon
    Jun 1, 2023 at 2:43
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How about Tax Invoice?

Not a native speaker but learning Mandarin for a while now. While 发票 has not popped up in my lessons yet, I did come across this at work where my company needed to implement the 发票 system for our customers in China (we are a website).

While we just call it "Fa Piao" even at work (where we speak English), my Chinese coworker once translated it for our director using the term "Tax Invoice".

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  • 1
    I don't like "tax invoice" either. Since "invoice" is a request for payment, "tax invoice" sounds like something sent by taxation agencies to a legal entity, requesting tax payments from that entity. It's not that. "Taxable receipt", while still bad, is a bit more accurate than "tax invoice" IMO.
    – cyqsimon
    May 31, 2023 at 6:53
  • Got you! Taxable receipt it is then! But considering it has no equivalent concept in any country which has official communications in English, Fapiao can be the term as well! Most of English language is words that have been added from other languages as well.
    – ZeMoon
    May 31, 2023 at 9:32

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