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I am slightly concerned about this question and the way we are treating it:

What should be on an invoice?

It seems there is a lot of disagreement as to whether the question should be on or off topic because there are some local rules that specify some requirements for invoices. These local rules can be significant and sometimes strict, but regardless there is also a lot of room for a general answer which gives both a guide to the commonality between countries and an idea of what sorts of things may need to be asked of a local specialist.

My thinking is that such a question should be on topic, because expecting a fully complete answer in a topic like this gets you into "too localized" territory quickly. If we want to nitpick, the requirements of a Canadian freelancer to send an invoice to a Canadian customer are different than they are to send the invoice to a US customer. For example, there is no reason to send the tax registration numbers to a US customer, but you would have to send them to a Canadian customer. Similarly if you are in the UK, you would send your VAT number to a UK customer or a French customer but it would not be required to send it to a Canadian customer. The fact that the requirements end up specifically pertaining to not only the issuer of the invoice but the recipient make this extremely fact-bound.

What I would like to see is some tolerance for modestly overbroad questions, provided they can be summarized and pointers given as to likely trouble spots for local laws. Otherwise I am afraid such questions can't be reasonably asked because any question asked with sufficient specificity for a fully complete answer would be too localized.

Does this seem way off?

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    Yes, way off :) Canada is not "too localized". See my answer. – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 13:32
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Canada is certainly not "too localized". Nor would be the U.S., the U.K., Australia, etc. Considering a country to be too localized for a Q&A site that talks about business and taxes and laws would be like Stack Overflow considering a programming language to be too localized and removing it from a question so it could be answered all in pseudo-code.

If the question is asked by a Canadian and pertains to him doing business in Canada, then let's provide the best answer in that context that we can.

There will be a variety of experts on board here — from all kinds of countries — and the most useful answers are those that don't gloss over important details. Tax jurisdiction is certainly an important detail when discussing invoicing and what is acceptable documentation.

Does that mean there may be similar questions but each for a different country or tax jurisdiction?

Yes and let's embrace it.

We handle these issues just fine over at the Personal Finance & Money Stack Exchange using location tags (and simply mentioning where you are, right in a question) and I invite anybody who is concerned about location tagging to drop by for a friendly visit :-) We've hashed out these issues over a few years and have a good grip on when a question needs a location tag specified, and when it doesn't. We have questions for the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia, India .. and plenty of questions where location didn't matter.

Experts should ask for the location to be disclosed _ when it matters substantively _, and the OP should oblige, or else the question may be closed as not a real question, since it is too broad and not answerable in the current form.


Also, have a look at Joel Spolsky's post at The Wikipedia of Long Tail Programming Questions and Jeff Atwood's post Dr. Strangedupe: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Duplication. Quoting from that one:

It’s far more common to have many subtle variations of a question. I think that’s OK, because that’s how the world works. Trying to shoehorn a bunch of semi-related things into one arbitrary container in service of some Highlander-ish “there can be only one” rule is ultimately harmful. Remember: while there are aspects of wiki to our system, we are not Wikipedia. There is not one canonical question about every possible subject. Rather, there are many.

... much of that applies to the situation we're discussing here.

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  • But would "I am in Canada and only export services to the US and UK?" Or "I am in a non-HST province and mostly do business with HST privinces?" or "I am in the UK and all of my customers are in Southeast Asia?" – Chris Travers Jun 5 '13 at 13:50
  • The reason is, for example, if you are in the UK and all your customers are outside Europe, there is no real requirement to include certain things like VAT numbers on the invoice. These are there to assist with client audits and intra-EU things and so even within a single country, a single answer may not be possible. – Chris Travers Jun 5 '13 at 13:51
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    @ChrisTravers Those would be fine. Very specific questions like that may starve for answers, but the questions are perfectly valid. If somebody has some general knowledge to offer up, that might be partially helpful but not completely answer the question, they can post an answer with a caveat. The important thing is not to dumb the question down so much that it can be answered, but not actually helpful or applicable to the OP. – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 13:51
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    We definitely don't want to re-ask the same questions that have already been asked and answered all over the Internet, so the long-tail is definitely where we should target our content. As for location tagging, I'm not against the idea, but I still believe it's important that the location be included in the actual content of the post and that they not be used as a crutch for missing content that should go in the body. As for the linked question about what should be on an invoice, it definitely needs more details. – jmort253 Jun 5 '13 at 14:06
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    @jmort253 I agree that location should be specified in the content of the post, whether title or body, so it won't be missed by somebody reading the question (tags can be overlooked, in that perspective), but the tags also help immensely because experts for a certain jurisdiction can follow those tags and ignore others. Check out money and witness that each location tag has followers, and not just a couple. – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 14:07
  • Ok so this leads to questions like freelancing.stackexchange.com/questions/366/… (where as I pointed out, in the US the danger level could vary state by state). Should we vote to close that question and re-open if national and local information is added? – Chris Travers Jun 5 '13 at 16:22
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    @ChrisTravers I wouldn't vote to close, but if it were sufficiently demonstrated that location is a key factor to answering, the question could certainly be tagged with the OP's location. Some questions will require state/province information on top of country, some won't. Sometimes it is up to the experts to educate the OP about region-specificness, where the OP might not have realized it matters. Sometimes there's a mini-debate with comments as to whether the question needs a location specified, or not. – Chris W. Rea Jun 5 '13 at 18:09
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    Hi @ChrisTravers, the key takeaway here based on ChrisWRea's input is to just use common sense. Ask yourself if the question would be useful to others. Not every question without location details needs them, and not every question that has location details is necessarily bad. In my experience, the too localized close reason is simply misunderstood and widely mis-applied. It's reserved for cases that are so specific to the asker that no one else in the world will likely ever have that same problem. In many cases, this has nothing to do with location at all. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Jun 6 '13 at 4:09

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