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Customs & Import regulations in South Africa - What you need to know

Overview

Customs regulations in South Africa state that companies wishing to import goods into South Africa must be registered as an importer 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.

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 care of the import process for you 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 several countries. The country is also part of the COMESA customs union.

Classification of goods

South Africa uses the Harmonised System (HS) for the classification of goods.

Import procedure

South Africa has a complex import procedure. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has about 90 000 product codes that strictly apply to all imports. Foreign exporters 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 imports, exports, 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 SARS, one can apply for an import permit with 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 Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the Department of Water and Sanitation, the Department of Environmental Affairs, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Energy and the Department 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

South Africa uses the ATA (Temporary Admission) carnet system for the importation 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.

 

Enterprise Africa is a perfect solution for foreign suppliers, wholesalers and manufacturers interested in selling their products in African markets. We ensure minimal risk as your brand grows in Southern Africa - all with the help of our sophisticated E-Commerce tools and with a minimum of investment.

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