A guide to import export registration for foreigners
Individuals and entities who are not South African and not based in South African may still register with SARS customs to get their import export license.
Let’s address the reasoning behind this first.
Why would a foreigner want a South African import export license?
Local suppliers are not by default importers or exporters. For example, a foreign company may want to buy from a South African supplier who is not registered as an exporter, or who is simply not interested in handling export procedures. This is often called an ex-work (EXW) transaction.
In an EXW transaction the supplier’s only responsibility is producing or sourcing the goods and making it available for collection by the buyer. If the buyer is a foreign company who wants to move the goods out of South Africa, this is not the supplier’s concern. The buyer must handle the export clearance which makes them both the South African exporter and the importer in their own country. This is also true of a tourist visiting South Africa who makes a significant enough purchase in their personal capacity that they can’t take it home without being a registered SARS exporter.
Similarly, if a foreign person or company wants to bring products to South Africa to sell it on our local market after it has been imported, they would be the South African importer.
Besides the examples given here, there are many reasons and business models where South African import export registration for a foreigner is necessary.
The legal aspect of South African import export registration as a foreigner
The South African Revenue Service (SARS) allows import export registration for foreigners under the strict condition that they nominate a local agent. The local agent is a person or entity in South Africa who SARS may hold accountable for import-export legalities, taxes and compliance on behalf of the foreign trader.
To be more specific, the agent carries the following responsibilities:
- Liability for the fulfilment of all obligations imposed on either the importer, exporter, or licensed remover for up to 5 years after an import or export entry. This includes outstanding taxes.
- Completing and submitting import and export customs clearance declarations (CCD) on behalf of a foreign entity.
- The right to submit application forms to customs on behalf of a foreign entity to register them as (for example) an importer, exporter or remover of goods in bond.
To assign a nominated agent to the foreign entity who nominates them, SARS will need to see a signed contract between the parties.
When a local person or entity registers with SARS customs, they must have an existing SARS profile (income tax number) and a local bank account that SARS keeps on record for the purpose of making tax refund or drawback payments as required.
A foreign trader does not have these requirements for registration. The agent must therefore act as the associated contact person for legal and tax purposes, and the agent’s bank account is credited if SARS needs to make any payments. This makes it very important that the foreign entity nominates an agent they can trust.
The requirements for being a nominated agent
Any South African person, entity or company may be a nominated agent for a foreign importer or exporter as long as they have:
- A South African address
- A SARS income tax number
- A local contact number
- A South African bank account
- An import export license
- An agent registration– this is a SARS registration which permits a local person or entity to represent a foreign entity as their agent.
Foreign companies may, for example, nominate a South African accounting firm or a local business associate to be their agent.
To register your South African company, or yourself, as an agent so that you may be nominated as an agent by a foreign entity, click here:
Want to get South African import export registration as a foreigner or for your foreign company?
Our consultants are ready to assist regardless of where you are or where your company is registered. Simply get in touch for a free consultation, or to get started with your registration.
About the author
Frieda-Marié de Jager
With a degree in design from CPUT, Frieda-Marié started her career in digital and content marketing in 2013. Since joining Import Export License in 2019, she’s created several e-books, guides, blog posts, and newsletters on international trade. On weekends you can find her building Lego with the family, walking her beagle, or whipping up a storm in the kitchen.