Importing – useful information on this complex process

Posted by Barloworld Logisitics on 19 Oct 2017 9:00:00 AM

Useful information on importing

South Africa has an abundance of both natural resources and local manufacturing; however there comes a time when most local organisations want to join the global market place, and as most often is the case, this means importing goods. Importing is simply the act of bringing goods into a country from another country for the purpose of sale. Although this sounds simple more often than not, isn’t.

Prohibited vs Restricted Goods

South African law classifies certain goods as either prohibited or restricted. Prohibited goods are never allowed to enter the country and include, but are not limited to narcotics, counterfeit goods and poisons. Certain products are restricted, meaning the import of such is only allowed under certain conditions, e.g. under permit, and these include, for example, endangered plants or animals, medicines and currency.  For more information regarding the classification of goods, follow this link.


Any product entering South Africa must be cleared through customs before being delivered to its intended destination. Customs duties vary between 0% and 45% depending on the type of goods. The average duty rate is approximately 18.74%. All imports are required to be classified according to a tariff heading which not only identifies the type of product but links to the customs duty owed upon entry into the country. Tariff codes are complex, with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) detailing over 9000 codes. Sometimes a product can seemingly fall into two categories, and in such cases, it is advisable to seek assistance from any local SARS office.


The documentation required with a shipment varies, dependant on the product, but every product will need a commercial invoice. The standard language to be used on all documentation accompanying goods entering South Africa is English, and this should be communicated to international suppliers to avoid delays at customs. Documentation is rather onerous, and there is little margin for error if wishing for a speedy customs clearance.


Labelling is required in line with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) and is in place to ensure customer and environmental protection. Imports must comply with the local specifications for each classification of product, and foreign manufacturers are required to label accordingly. For more information about specific product labelling requirements visits the SABS page by following this link.

The above are just some of the complexities to consider when importing goods and underscores the importance of the right Freight Forwarding partner when doing so. The use of a clearing agent becomes vital when regularly importing as the automation of the process requires the use of an Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). An EDI facilitates the flow of information and allows data exchange from the point of origin to the point of destination.  Further to this practical benefit, a Freight Forwarding partner can advise on a customised solution that fits both your financial and delivery needs. The advantage of using a forwarder arises from their ability to negotiate rates and facilitate shipments on your behalf and the better their reputation and industry relationships, the greater benefit to you.

Freight forwarding is one cog in the chain that ensures your goods are in the right place at the right time and a value creating forwarder will assist you in creating a freight network that drives productivity, profitability and performance. The integration of forwarding into your greater supply chain provides visibility and creates a customised, sustainable end-to-end solution as part of your global supply chain. If the supply chain is a key enabler of a successful business strategy, a smart freight forwarding solution is a key enabler of a successful supply chain.

Read our blog post on insider tips when choosing a freight forwarder

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