Importing into South Africa: Getting Started

Posted by Barloworld Logistics on 24 Jan 2019 10:00:00 AM

importing and exporting

In 2018, goods to the value of just less than $90 billion were imported into South Arica, with about 45% of this originating from China. European and African trade partners accounted for 33% and 10% respectively, with the balance of trade originating throughout the rest of the globe. As the local economy continues to emerge from a recessionary period, it is likely that the demand for foreign goods will continue to grow, making this an economic segment ripe with opportunities for those organisations looking to capitalise on this demand.

As with any other country, the local market is governed by specific import regulations, and it is crucial for any organisation looking to bring goods into the country to be aware of, and abide by these, to make the process as easy as possible. In our series of posts, we will be sharing top tips and useful information to those seeking to participate in the South African import economy.

Assuming you have done your market research and established that a viable demand exists for your imported goods, the next step would be to register as an importer with South African Revenue Service (SARS), should your goods fall under “controlled goods”, used goods, second-hand goods, waste or scrap you would then also need to apply to the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) for an import permit. Imports permits assist in the control of goods into the country and ensure that the products imported conform to local health, safety and environmental regulations.


To register as an importer with SARS, click here.

To access the applicable ITAC forms, click here.


Once you have successfully registered as a legal importer into South Africa, you will be issued with a unique SARS code that will allow you to import aligned to your business requirements. This code is then utilised by your nominated clearing agents during the customs clearance process pre arrival of goods into South Africa. Your next step is deciding how to move your goods to South Africa. There are four main methods of transportation, specifically sea, air, road and rail freight. Once established there are a variety of documents you will need according to the type of product you are importing and mode of transport selected.  There are many complex procedures that need to be complied with and importers are encouraged to appoint customs brokers, as specialists, to perform these formalities on their behalf. Basic documents are:

1. Clearing Instructions 

The clearance instruction provides customs broker and customs with all the relevant information that is required to submit a valid customs clearance declaration (SAD500).  The clearance instruction must be prepared and signed by an employee of the importer.

2. Customs clearance declaration (SAD500) 

The purpose of this document is to ensure that imported goods are properly declared to SARS, i.e. exact nature, value and quantity of the goods, seeking SARS permission to release in South African on payment of relevant VAT and duties due .

3. Commercial Invoice 

An invoice is important in any commercial transaction as it details the information with regards to the sale of goods between two parties. When importing the invoice requires details including the seller and buyer details, goods description, INCOTERMS,  terms and payment method, freight and insurance costs, shipment origin and destination and packing specifications. A pro-forma invoice may be used as a quote in order to obtain an import permit, raise finance or check order details but a commercial invoice is required for SARS clearance into South Africa.

4. Bill of Lading (Sea) / Air waybill (Air) / Road or Rail consignment note (Road/Rail) 

These are contracts of carriage entered into between the freight carrier and the cargo owner to carry out the transportation of the cargo as per the sale between buyer and selling. It is issued by the freight carrier to the shipper on receipt of goods, serving as proof of receipt pending final delivery as endorsed.

5. Certificate of Origin 

This is a document that used to identify the country of manufacture of the products being imported. Amongst others, the origin of the goods may impact the customs tariff payable according to trade agreements between South Africa and the country of origin.

To talk to an expert about the documentation required for your specific goods, click here. 

Talk to an expert 

For more useful information on importing into South Africa, click here

Topics: Services

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