Advice for travellers


South Africa: traveller's customs guide

Whether you arrive in South Africa by air, sea or land, you have to pass through customs control, where you may be questioned and your baggage may be scanned or searched for dutiable, restricted or prohibited goods.

On arrival, travellers with goods to declare must complete a Traveller Card and make a verbal declaration of their goods to a customs officer, who will then generate a Traveller Declaration (TRD1).

If you're found with undeclared, restricted or prohibited goods, you could be fined or even face prosecution. To help you avoid this, and make your arrival and departure from South Africa as smooth as possible, here's a quick guide to moving goods in and out of the country.

Note: This information serves as a guide only. It remains subject to change without notice. If you are in any doubt as to whether the goods you intend to bring into South Africa are restricted, contact your nearest South African embassy or high commission abroad (see links in box on right).

What can you bring in duty free?

You can bring the following goods into South Africa without paying customs duty or value-added tax (VAT):

Consumable goods in accompanied baggage:

  • Cigarettes up to 200 per person.
  • Cigars up to 20 per person.
  • Cigarette or pipe tobacco up to 250g per person.
  • Perfume up to 50ml per person; eau de toilette (scented liquid lighter than cologne) up to 250ml per person.
  • Wine up to 2 litres per person.
  • Spirits and other alcoholic beverages up to 1 litre in total per person.

People under 18 can claim this duty-free allowance on consumable goods with the exception of alcohol and tobacco products provided the goods are for their personal use.

Medicines: You are allowed to bring in one month's supply of pharmaceutical drugs or medicines for your personal use. Any other pharmaceutical drugs or medicines must be accompanied by a letter or certified prescription from a registered physician, and have to be declared.

Personal effects, sport and recreational equipment: You can bring in personal effects, sport and recreational equipment, either as accompanied or unaccompanied baggage, for your own use during your visit.

In the case of very expensive articles, you may be required to lodge a cash deposit to cover the potential duty/tax on their re-export. The deposit will be refunded on departure after a customs officer has inspected the items and verified that they are being re-exported.

Additional goods: In addition to the personal effects and consumables duty-free allowances, you are allowed to bring in new or used goods in accompanied baggage to the value of R5000, or R25000 if arriving from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia or Swaziland.

What if I am over the duty-free limit?

Once the above limits are exceeded, all goods brought into South Africa are subject to the payment of customs duty and value-added tax (VAT) including goods bought duty-free on aircraft or ships or in duty-free shops.

For goods of up to R20000 in value, you have the option of paying customs duty at a flat rate of 20%. Flat-rated goods are also exempt from payment of VAT. This is valid only once per person per 30-day period.

People under 18 can opt for the flat-rate assessment, provided the goods are for their personal use.

Once you're over the additional R20000 limit or if you waive the flat rate option then duty will be assessed and paid on each individual item you're carrying, and an additional 14% VAT will be charged.

Goods that do not qualify for the flat-rate assessment include:

  • Firearms.
  • Goods for commercial purposes.
  • Consumable goods in excess of the quantities detailed above.
  • Goods or gifts carried on behalf of other people. Not only are these are subject to duties and taxes, but they may also require an import permit.

Goods that you have to declare

Certain goods are restricted, and may only be brought into South Africa if you have the necessary authority or permit, and these must be declared on arrival. They include any firearms, as well as:

Currency: South African bank notes in excess of R25 000; foreign currency above $10 000; gold coins; coin and stamp collections; and unprocessed gold.

Endangered plants and animals: Species of plants or animals that are listed as endangered, whether they are alive or dead, as well as any parts of or articles made from them.

Food, plants, animals and biological goods: All plants and plant products, such as seeds, flowers, fruit, honey, margarine and vegetable oils. Also animals, birds, poultry and products thereof, such as dairy products, butter and eggs.

Medicines: You are allowed to bring in one month's supply of pharmaceutical drugs or medicines for your personal use. Any other medicines must be accompanied by a letter or certified prescription from a registered physician, and have to be declared.

  • A full list of prohibited and restricted goods is available on the South African Revenue Service website: www.sars.gov.za

Goods you're not allowed to bring

It is illegal to bring the following goods into South Africa:

  • Narcotics: any narcotic or psychotropic substances, including drugs such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, mandrax or ecstasy; or any paraphernalia relating to their use.
  • Any fully automatic, military or unnumbered weapons, as well as explosives, fireworks or weapons of mass destruction.
  • Any poison and other toxic substance.
  • Cigarettes with a mass of more than 2kg per 1000.
  • Any goods to which a trade description or trademark is applied in contravention of any law (for example, counterfeit goods).
  • Unlawful reproductions of any works subject to copyright.
  • Any prison- or penitentiary-made goods.

If you're in any doubt about the goods you want to bring into South Africa, contact your nearest South African Embassy or High Commission abroad or the nearest SARS customs office.

Rather safe than sorry

You can avoid problems by making sure that you:

  • Always declare all goods in your possession.
  • Produce receipts for goods purchased abroad including goods bought duty-free on aircraft or ships or in duty-free shops.
  • If you are unsure of the value of goods which you should declare, ask for assistance from the customs officer on duty.

Remember, failure to declare goods, under-declaration of the value of goods, or production of false receipts or invoices could lead to the seizure of your goods as well as criminal prosecution or fines of up to three times the value of the goods.

Travellers in transit

Travellers in transit to countries outside the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland do not have to comply with customs formalities in South Africa.

This applies only if you have been booked from an airport outside the SACU, and you are not travelling to your final destination by road. These passengers may not leave the transit area of the airport between flights. Their baggage will automatically be transferred from their international flight.

Note, however, that customs officials may still search travellers in transit and their baggage for any illegal drugs or counterfeit goods. Anyone found with such goods will be detained and handed over to the police for prosecution.

VAT refunds for tourists

Value-added tax (VAT) at a rate of 14% is levied on the purchase of most goods in South Africa. As a foreign visitor you may apply for a refund of the VAT you pay while in the country provided you apply before you depart.

To apply, make sure you get tax invoices for your purchases. Then present these to the VAT Refund Administrator at your point of departure. If he/she is not available, present your goods to a customs officer, who will inspect the goods, stamp your invoices and deliver them to the VAT Refund Administrator, who will correspond with you on the matter.

How much money can I travel with?

Currency brought into or taken from South Africa is monitored by law. Should you have more than R25 000 in South African currency or $10 000 or the equivalent thereof in foreign currency, this must be declared.

As a foreign visitor, you can bring in up to R25000 in South African currency (rands), plus an unlimited amount in foreign currencies and traveller's cheques, provided you declare this on arrival.

On departure, you can also take out R25000 in South African currency (rands), and up to the amount in foreign currencies and traveller's cheques that you declared when you arrived provided you didn't stay for more than 12 months.

Source: South African Revenue Service

Reviewed: September 2013
Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material

South Africa: traveller's customs guide

Red or green channel: a SA Revenue Service guide. Click to enlarge it

South African offices abroad SA OFFICES ABROAD
Alphabetical country listing:
A / B / C / D / E / F / G / H / I / J / K / L / M / N / O / P / Q / R / S / T / U / V / Y / Z

FOREIGN OFFICES IN SA
Alphabetical country listing:
A / B / C / D / E / F / G / H / I / J / K / L / M / N / O / P / Q / R / S / T / U / V / Y / Z

MediaClubSouthAfrica

MediaClubSouthAfrica.com

Helping the media cover the South African story >

Weather forecasts

South Africa weather forecasts

Snap daily forecasts for 20 cities and
towns. >