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A Guide to Importing Goods into South Africa

Released On 20th Jan 2022

Importing Goods into South Africa

South Africa is a growing import market, particularly in the ICT sector. Here’s our guide to the country’s complex import process. 

South Africa is a widely diverse country – from sprawling mountain ranges to endless rolling grasslands and tree-dotted plains. Its population resides in equally diverse landscapes, from remote towns and villages, which attract swathes of tourism, to the bustling busy financial centres of Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

Despite an uneasy history of conflict, and a slower technological evolution than some countries, South Africa should not be underestimated in its drive and ambition for growth and consumption. 

Growth of South Africa's technology sector

A 2021 industry report on South Africa’s IT forecast, produced by Fitch Solutions, indicates that South Africa has one of the largest information and communications technology (ICT) markets in Africa. Electronic banking services, and the mobile and security software sectors all demonstrate South Africa’s increasingly strong technological leadership in the region.

The developing sophistication of South Africa’s technology and electronics sector is proving increasingly important to the country’s GDP. 

In recognition of the opportunities for growth and development in the ICT field, several international corporates operate subsidiaries from South Africa, seeing it as a regional hub and a supply base for neighbouring countries. These include IBM, Unisys, Microsoft, Intel, Systems Application Protocol (SAP), Dell, Novell, and Compaq. 

South Africa’s own ICT products and services companies, as well as locally based subsidiaries of international corporations, have supplied most of the new fixed and wireless telecoms networks across the African continent in recent years.

A summary of important South Africa import details

Globally, South Africa is the 37th largest market for eCommerce with a revenue of US$4 billion in 2020, placing it ahead of Portugal and behind Nigeria.

Its main imports

South Africa’s main imports are: 

  • Machinery (23.5 % of total imports) 
  • Mineral products (15.1%) 
  • Vehicles and aircraft vessels (10%) 
  • Chemicals (10.9%) 
  • Equipment components (8.1%) 
  • Iron and steel products (5.3%) 

Its main trading partners

Main trading partners are: 

  • China (18.3%)
  • Germany (11.5%)
  • United States (6.6%)
  • India (4.7%)
  • Saudi Arabia (4.6%)
  • Japan (3.4%)

(Source: Trading Economics). 

The process for importing into South Africa

Importing goods into South Africa can be quite complicated, but as with any country, the process ensures that goods comply with quality, consumer safety and environmental standards, as well as health regulations. 

Provisions from international agreements must also be adhered to, and checks put in place to reduce the flow of smuggled and counterfeit goods.

The import process is controlled by the country’s national tax collection authority, the South African Revenue Service (SARS). 

All exporters are heavily encouraged to engage with SARS, or a reputable third-party customs agent, to make sure the import of their goods into South Africa proceeds smoothly and correctly. Delays in clearing goods can have expensive repercussions!


SARS defines around 90,000 product tariffs that are strictly enforced, with no room for variance.  You can download detailed tariff schedules here, which set out the relevant duties for any kind of imported and exported goods to South Africa.

Importer registration and applying for an import permit

Customs South Africa (Customs SA), a division of SARS, requires that any importer of goods into the country register with its office, nominate a registered agent located in South Africa, and obtain an importer’s code from SARS. 

After registration, an importer must then apply to the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) for an import permit. 

This is an essential process. Without registration, companies cannot import. 

Customs brokerage and document particulars

Common mandatory information that is required on the commercial invoice and/or packing list:

  • Shipper name, address
  • Consignee name, address, contact person name, phone and email
  • Payment term
  • Incoterm
  • Shipper’s HS codes of each item
  • Country of origin of each item
  • Gross weight of each shipping package 

Duties and taxes

Value Added Tax (VAT) in South Africa is a static 15% of the CIF (cost, insurance and freight) value; this mean the value of the goods plus the cost of freight are used as the base for the calculation for levied charges.

If your end-user doesn’t wish to be involved in the import process, or they don’t possess the necessary permits to import, using an Importer of Record service such Mouse & Bear Solutions is the ideal alternative.

For further assistance, please email iorsolutions@mouseandbear.com, call 01935 848526 or send the enquiry form below.

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Tags: Africa

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