Customs regulations, import regulations and export regulations of South Africa

Overview of import regulations

The customs and excise regulations to be observed when importing into the South African customs territory are regulated in the Customs and Excise Act 91 of 1964. The Value-Added Tax Act No 89 of 1991 governs the collection of VAT.

Customs regulations in South Africa state that companies wishing to import goods into South Africa must be registered as importers with the South African Revenue Service "SARS" and then apply for an import permit from the International Trade Administration Commission "ITAC".

An import permit ensures that the goods you wish to import meet the safety, quality, environmental and health requirements of the country.

Import permits also help control the flow of goods of a strategic nature or contraband, so they are a mandatory part of import regulations.

The regulations that apply to the import of goods vary from sector to sector. Most new goods are exempt from import control measures. However, all used goods, second-hand goods, waste and scrap are subject to import control measures.

Due to the complicated import process, exporters are advised to find a local partner who is familiar with the regulations and procedures.

With Enterprise Africa International, you are already at the right address - we take the work out of the import process and provide an import permit.

Duties and taxes on imports

Customs taxes on imports average 5.8%. Agricultural products are exempt from this. Please refer to the data on tariffs in South Africa provided by the World Trade Organisation (p. 167).

Tariff rates mostly fall in eight tiers from 0 to 30%, but some are higher (e.g. most clothing items). The final duty rate on garments is 40%, yarns 15%, fabrics 22%, finished goods 30% and fibres 7.5%.  Effective duty rates on cars, light vehicles and minibuses are still at the high level of 34%, while the duty rate on original engine parts is 20%.

South Africa is working to reduce the tariff on these products.

The customs threshold above which duties are required is ZAR 500.

South Africa applies the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) tariff rate on imports from the rest of the world, as well as preferential tariff rates on products sourced from trading partners with whom it has negotiated trade agreements.

Average MFN rate: 7.7%.

South Africa has an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union.  Customs tariffs are detailed here and are part of the Southern African Customs Union agreement. The SACU comprises South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Namibia and administers a common external tariff for third countries.

ITAC is responsible for customs investigations, amendments and trade restrictions in South Africa and on behalf of SACU.

In addition, South Africa has free trade agreements with a number of countries. The country is also part of the COMESA customs union.

Classification of goods

The South African Customs Tariff is based on the nomenclature of the Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding System (HS 2022 applies from 1 January 2022).

Customs tariff and duty rate

The South African Customs Tariff corresponds to the South African Customs Union (SACU) Common External Tariff, which is drawn up in consultation with the other member states of the Customs Union.

As a rule, South African import duties are ad valorem duties. Some goods, notably agricultural products, mineral fuels, textiles and footwear, are subject to specific duties (cents per unit of quantity) or mixed duties (combination of ad valorem duty and specific duty). The bound and applied tariffs are listed in the WTO schedule for South Africa.

The basis of assessment for the determination and collection of ad valorem duties is the customs value. In accordance with the WTO Customs Valuation Code implemented by South Africa, this is usually the transaction price, i.e. the price actually paid or payable in a purchase transaction between an independent buyer and seller on a fob (free on board) basis at the point of shipment to South Africa. If necessary, the transaction price is adjusted accordingly (surcharges/deductions).

Import procedure

South Africa has a complex import procedure. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has approximately 90 000 product codes that strictly apply to all imports. Foreign exporters planning to export and ship goods to South Africa are strongly advised to seek a local customs clearance partner who is well versed in South African legislation.

Customs SA, a division of SARS, requires importers to register and obtain a SARS importer code. SARS uses a Single Administrative Document (SAD) to facilitate customs clearance for importers, exporters and cross-border traders. The SAD is a multi-purpose goods declaration form that covers import, export, cross-border and transit movements. The following documents are required to obtain the SAD:

  • One negotiable and two non-negotiable copies of the bill of lading.
  • An origin declaration form, DA59, is to be used in cases where a lower duty rate than the general duty rate is requested and for goods subject to an anti-dumping or countervailing duty.
  • Four copies and one original of the commercial invoice. Invoices from suppliers will not be accepted as meeting the requirements of customs regulations unless they meet certain requirements of the SARS (see the SARS website for more information).
  • One copy of the insurance certificate (for sea freight).
  • Three copies of the packing list. The information in this document should match the information in the other documents.

After registering as an importer with the SARS, one can apply for an import permit from the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC), which ensures that imported goods meet the country's safety, quality, environmental and health requirements. They must also comply with the provisions of international agreements.

Duration and costs of an import permit procedure

Import permits are usually issued after five working days.

ITAC does not charge service fees, but you will have to pay customs duty to SARS. Customs duty is calculated as a percentage of the value of the goods (set out in the Schedules to the Customs and Excise Act).

Import licences and controls

Import licences are required for certain products. The licence is only valid for the goods of the specified class and country. It is not transferable and may only be used by the person to whom it is issued.

These licences are issued by the following authorities (depending on the type of product): the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Ministry of Water and Sanitation, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Energy and the Ministry of Health.

Some products are subject to special controls, some examples are:

  • A phytosanitary certificate is required for vegetables and related products as well as for animal products such as bacon, hides and honey. It is issued by the Ministry of Agriculture of the country of origin.
  • A veterinary certificate is required for the import of live animals and fresh, frozen or preserved meat.
  • A certificate of disinfection is required for the import of wool products, cotton, clothing, etc.
  • An inspection certificate from a recognised institute is only required for exporters exporting to South Africa for the first time, it is not required if a good business relationship already exists.
  • A quality certificate may be required for fruit and vegetables.

Importing samples to South Africa

South Africa uses the ATA (Temporary Admission) carnet system for the importation and shipment to South Africa of commercial samples, promotional materials and professional equipment. The goods should be sufficiently marked for identification to facilitate their passage through customs. South Africa is a member of the ATA Convention. Goods with an ATA carnet are exempt from customs duties and VAT.

Export regulations - Export from the EU

EU export regulations state that all goods exported to a non-EU country must be cleared through customs.


The cross-border movement of goods and services is generally free. However, restrictions are imposed on certain goods, countries or persons for various reasons. Special regulations may also apply to the movement of capital and payments.

Restrictions have been imposed on certain countries for foreign or security policy reasons, which in some cases significantly restrict economic trade with the country concerned.

Restrictions can generally be divided into 3 following embargo measures:

  1. Arms embargo - prohibits the export of military equipment to the country concerned, usually results from §§ 74 ff. Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance (AWV)
  2. Partial embargo - certain prohibitions and restrictions on trade with the country concerned, regulated by EU regulations.
  3. Total embargo - prohibition of all economic transactions with the country concerned (currently non-existent), regulated by EU regulations.

None of these embargoes currently affect South Africa. The list of affected countries can be found here.

In addition, the EU has taken measures to help combat terrorism and restrict economic transactions with persons held responsible or liable for the political situation in an embargoed country.

These restrictions apply, inter alia, to ISIL (Da'esh), Al-Qaida, Taliban and other suspected terrorist individuals and entities, as well as individuals, groups and entities associated with them.

A list of the persons and entities concerned can be found here.

There are also restrictions and prohibitions on the export of certain groups of goods. A list of the goods this affects can be found here.

Capital and payment transactions with foreign countries are also generally free. However, there are restrictions and reporting requirements in certain cases. More information on capital and payment transactions can be found here.

Export duties

Export duties can be levied on the export of goods from the customs territory of the EU. As it is usually in the EU's interest to export goods to third countries and thereby generate revenue, export duties are rarely levied. However, if world market prices for a product that is in short supply within the EU market are higher than prices in the EU market itself, export duties are also levied to make exporting this product less attractive.

EORI number

The EORI number (Economic Operators Registration and Identification number) is used to register and identify economic operators throughout the European Union.

If your company does not yet have an EORI number, you should apply for one in particular in good time before lodging a customs declaration or an entry or exit summary declaration for the first time.

Origin preference

There is a mutual economic partnership agreement between the EU and the SADC states based on preferential origin.

Origin preferences require the preferential origin of a good. The basis for the determination is the rules of origin contained in autonomous preferential arrangements applied unilaterally by the European Union on the basis of its own legislation in favour of certain countries, groups of countries or territories, as well as the preferential agreements concluded by the European Union with other states or groups of states.

The reciprocal preferential agreement between the EU and the SADC countries offers the possibility of claiming preferences for goods originating in the EU when imported into South Africa. It is advisable to obtain the relevant information in South Africa before concluding any trade transactions. We will be happy to assist you with this.

Customs costs

The administrative action of the customs authorities is usually free of charge. However, if the customs authorities provide special services, they may charge fees or demand reimbursement of expenses on the basis of the Customs Costs Ordinance.

The following, for example, are subject to fees:

  • Clearance outside the place of business or outside opening hours
  • The storage of non-Union goods at the Customs office
  • A necessary official act at an aerodrome which is not a customs aerodrome
  • The official guarding and escorting of vehicles or goods
  • The examination of goods in certain cases
  • The making of photocopies.

Information on the amount of customs charges can be found here.

Information on the procedure for levying charges can be found here.

Final export - normal procedure

The export procedure consists of two stages. The first stage is the opening of the export procedure at the customs office of export. You present the goods to the customs office responsible for your place of business. Presentation means that you have to inform the customs office about the presence of goods you want to export.

You must also submit an electronic export declaration for the goods presented. You can also be represented directly or indirectly. The customs office of export examines the electronic export declaration and the export goods to check the admissibility of the export. If the export is admissible, the customs office of export issues an export accompanying document (ABD) and releases the goods for export.

In the second stage, you present the goods at the customs office of exit, i.e. the customs office through which the goods are exported from the customs territory of the Community, and present the ABD. The customs office of exit checks whether the goods are identical to those listed in the ABD. If no irregularities are found, the customs office of exit releases the goods for exit and ends the export procedure.

Further information on procedural possibilities can be found here.

Export regulations South Africa

Registration as an exporter

Commercial exporters, like commercial importers, must be registered with South African Customs and the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC).

Information on registering as an exporter in South Africa can be found here.

Enterprise Africa International is happy to assist you with your registration as an exporter.

Export - declaration and customs duties

The export declaration is usually made electronically via the Export Customs Clearance Declaration. In individual cases, however, South African Customs may also require a manual declaration. In addition to the export declaration, the following documents must be submitted upon request:

  • Export invoice,
  • Transport documents (Bill of Lading, Airwaybill and others) and
  • Export licence and/or other certificates, if required.

More information on required documents can be found here.

Export duties are a rarity. However, South Africa imposes an export duty on the export of uncut diamonds.

Export licences

Although exports from South Africa are generally liberalised, a licence from the ITAC is required for certain goods.

The licensing requirement mainly concerns strategic goods (scarce goods), agricultural products and metal waste and scrap. In addition, further licences/certificates from other authorities may also be required for export. This concerns e.g. live animals and plants and their products, pharmaceutical products as well as medical technology. When exporting protected animal and plant species, the provisions of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) must also be observed.

For information on the licensing regime when exporting goods from the South African customs territory, see Government Notice R 92 and the subsequent amending regulations.


When goods are exported from South Africa to a third country, the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) carries out a conformity assessment procedure. Such a procedure may include one or more of the following steps:

  • Certification: The SABS provides written assurance that a product or service complies with the specified requirements.
  • Inspection: The SABS checks selected parameters of a product (for example: quality, operational safety).
  • Testing: The SABS tests products against certain criteria (for example: suitability test).

A list of export-limited and export-prohibited goods provided by the South African Customs Service can be found here.

Further information on the export procedure from South Africa can be found here.

Further information on export control in South Africa can be found here.

About Enterprise Africa International

Enterprise Africa International is an online B2B E-Commerce store/platform focused on marketing and selling quality brands in Africa.

Enterprise Africa International aims to become one of the leading B2B online marketplaces in Southern Africa by providing a secure and convenient way for people to buy and sell quality products from a wide range of industries online. Our continued growth will be in terms of both user base and the range and number of products offered on our website.

Enterprise Africa International assists you with customs, permits, import, export as well as administrative tasks in addition to entering new markets in Africa.

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