Importing samples, gifts and personal items duty free
Consignments like gifts, personal property and samples from a supplier are no different to a commercial import in the sense that these goods must go through SA customs before entering South Africa. If there is no payment made to a supplier, importers often make the error of assuming no value is to be declared and therefore no duty is payable. It is true that these shipments can be imported duty free, but only if the necessary customs regulation and limits are adhered to.
Note: Regardless of whether imports are dutiable or not, you cannot by law import more than three times per year, or goods with a value of more than R50,000 without an import license (or customs code).
Importing samples into South Africa
Before importing on a large scale, traders will most likely obtain samples of potential products as part of their market research. As long as the following rules regarding samples are carefully adhered to, no duty is charged for these imports.
According to the Customs and Excise act section 38(1)(a), no duty is applicable on items which in the opinion of the Commissioner are of no commercial value. In order to qualify as such samples may only be used for the purpose of advertising or demonstrating the actual product and may not have any potential for commercial re-sale. Samples must also be given to a client free of charge, except in cases where it is a common business practice for clients to purchase them, and cannot be accompanied by an existing sale. Suppliers often include samples in standing orders to solicit additional business. In this case the samples are “gifts with purchase” and do not qualify to be exempt of duty under the same regulation.
Even when the importer is not paying for samples, the consignment must be accompanied by a commercial invoice of zero value clearly stating the goods as “samples not intended for re-sale”. In addition the import must be accompanied by a DA306 form which is an application for release of goods in terms of section 38(1)(a) of the Customs and Excise Act, Act 91 of 1964. More detail regarding these regulations can be found in SARS’s Customs and Border Management External Policy for Samples of No Commercial Value which can be viewed here.
In addition, the following regulations must be followed where applicable:
For importing material and clothing samples
Samples for the clothing industry have additional regulations in that all items should be mutilated to the point that it is suitably unfit for resale before entering South Africa.
Footwear – Both shoes of a pair must be present with a 2cm diameter hole drilled in each sole. Both shoes must also be permanently and clearly marked with the word “sample”.
Fabric swatches – Any fabric swatches larger than 203x203mm must be clearly marked with the word “sample’ stamped in contrasting permanent ink. This must be done in block letters so that the word is at least 26mm x 51cm in size. Alternatively, a hole of 26mm in diameter must be cut or punched in a prominent area of the sample. Where several fabric samples are bound in a book or wad, each sample must be treated this way.
Any piece of material exceeding 1,829mm in length is not considered a sample. A sheet of material smaller than this must be stamped or cut as per above every 457mm along the length of the material and diagonally across.
Garments – As with swatches, all garments must be clearly stamped in contrasting permanent ink with the word “sample” or a 26mm hole must be cut into it. In either case this must be on a prominent place in the garment, away from a seam, which cannot be covered by a pocket or patch. As an alternative to a hole, garments may also be administered a cut or tear that is a least 51mm in length.
For importing food, perfume and chemical samples
Generally speaking, only one sample of a consumable product or variant thereof is allowed in a consignment of samples. This is however not the case with foodstuffs, non-alcoholic beverages, perfumes and chemical products, providing the packaging is clearly marked as samples not intended for re-sale. The packaging and volume in the case of these samples must also be undeniably intended for single use.
Importing gifts into South Africa
SARS classifies a gift as any item sent from a natural person abroad to another natural person in South Africa that is unsolicited by the recipient. These include but are not limited to weddings, birthdays, etc.
In accordance to the 412.10 rebate a person can receive two gifts per calendar year, of which the value must not exceed R1,400 for each parcel on which the duty will be rebated (excused). Wines, spirits, tobacco and perfume are excluded from this rebate.
When the receiver of a consignment did not order or pay for the goods, as in the case of an unsolicited gift, customs still requires that the consignment is accompanied with a commercial invoice and all other documentation required by the commodity. This invoice may be compiled by the carrier (the courier company) based on a declared value, or the sender.
Download our commercial invoice template here.
Bear in mind a sender living in a country with a much stronger currency may fill in the purchase amount on a commodity, such as clothing, which incurs a high percentage of duty in South Africa. Once customs have converted this value to rand, and the 412.10 rebate is not applicable, the receiver would be liable for a substantial duty payable on the total declared value before they can receive their gift.
How to avoid duty on imported gifts
For gifts that exceed the R1,400 value threshold, or the two-per-year limit, senders can avoid incurring duties payable by South African friends and family by sending gifts under the Incoterm DDP. This means all transport and duty is paid by the sender.
An important note on wedding gifts: On gift parcels where the contents are intended for more than one person and the total declared is more than R1,400, customs charges will be paid by the recipients as the rebate cannot be split and the gifts cannot be linked to people other than the recipient. Couples who are aware of a wedding gift coming from abroad should therefore warn the sender to address the parcel to one name only.
Alternatively, senders can keep their gifts small. In accordance to section 38(1)(a), SA customs do not consider imports with a value equating to less than R500 to be dutiable. This may seem like a great opportunity to send expensive gifts and merely declare them as low value, but customs will likely penalise the receiver if a consignment’s value is misdeclared.
Sending used goods into South Africa as gifts poses an additional challenge in that the receiver must have a an ITAC permit to import second-hand items. The need for this can be avoided by refraining from using terms such as “pre-owned”, “used”, “antique” or “second-hand” on the commercial invoice.
Importing personal items into South Africa
After an extensive stay in another country, residents returning to South Africa often need to bring more than their airline’s luggage allowance with them. It is therefore quite common to ship personal property such as furniture, hobby gear and appliances. Customs tend to always inspects imports marked as “personal effects”, so it is well worth making sure these shipments comply to their regulations in order to avoid paying duty.
Customs requirements for imports of personal property
Personal items may only be imported by the same person up to six times within one year, unless the importer holds the appropriate ITAC permit. A returning resident who has been abroad for more than six months may apply for a 407.06 rebate which would allow for a rebate (non-payment) of any duties and VAT provided the imported goods are bona-fide property of the importer. The importer must also provide indisputable proof, in the form of a passport stamp, that they have returned to South Africa. The same applies to immigrants moving to South Africa permanently , as well as temporary South African residents in possession of a temporary work permit which is valid for at least six months, and with goods that have been in their possession for at least one year prior to the import.
For clearing purposes an itemised inventory (or packing list), as well as a DA304 and P1.160 form must be produced. Upon inspection customs officials may exercise their own discretion as to whether they believe the personal items in question are applicable to the importer’s household, and imported for personal use only.
Inherited goods may be imported duty-free as personal property provided the inheritor is in possession of a certified copy of the Last Will and Testament wherein the specific items are bequeathed, as well as a copy of the Death Certificate
Customs requirements for importing a vehicle
Immigrants moving to South Africa permanently and returning South African ex-pats may import one car per family under full rebate (non-payment) of customs duties. The condition thereof is obtaining permanent residence in South Africa or returning to South Africa with the intention of remaining indefinitely. Producing documents to prove residence and ownership of the vehicle is also mandatory. If the vehicle has been in the importer’s possession for less than twelve months prior to the import, the rebate is reduced pro-rata.
Keeping import in line with customs regulation can be tricky, but luckily we’re here to help. Contact our knowledgeable consultants for the customs registrations you need, as well as free advice to ensure your samples, gift and personal items make it to you safely.
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.