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Importing and exporting of goods requires a customs clearance at a border post, a process regulated by customs. Importing or exporting services require no customs clearance, but are still monitored by SARS and need to comply with SARS regulations. For tax and Value-Added Tax (VAT) purposes, a service is defined as any commercial activity other than the supply of goods. Examples of services that are commonly imported or exported include consulting, management services, writing, research, design, programming, and an array of professional services. In this article, we will discuss the tax implications of these cross-border service transactions.

For a transaction to be classified as a cross-border transaction it needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The transaction is between a local South African entity
  • and a foreign or non-resident entity
  • and utilized outside of the country of the seller.

It is important to point out at this point that services are not the same as electronic products and follow different tax rules. For clarity, some examples of commonly imported or exported electronic products include webinars, games, ebooks, educational products not provided by a recognized educational authority, online advertising, music, films, access to membership portals, online booking services, web hosting, applications or “apps” and photographic images. Educational services provided by recognized educational institutions also follow their own tax rules.

Importing Services

In all local sales, VAT is paid over to SARS by the supplier. However, with imported goods, VAT is paid by the importer. As imported services are not cleared by customs, it is up to the vendor to declare and pay the VAT according to the Value-Added Tax Act 89 of 1991 (VAT Act) section 7(1)(c).

In terms of triggering VAT, there is an additional requirement for an imported service to be liable for VAT – the imported service must not be used in the production for the production of taxable suppliesThe reason for this is that, for the production of taxable supplies, any VAT added would be claimed back as input tax making the transaction overall VAT neutral. If an entity or individual is not VAT registered and therefore does not produce taxable supplies, VAT must be paid. This ensures that local service suppliers, who are required to charge VAT, are not disadvantaged.

If VAT is due, it must be paid, and a VAT215 form completed within 30 days of the foreign supplier invoice, or upon payment, whichever date is earlier.

There is an exception, services of the value of R100 or less are VAT-exempt.

Fortunately, there are no import duty taxes on services

Exporting Services

The exporting of goods and services is essentially treated the same. Services typically fall under the category of direct exports, where the South African supplier is responsible for the “export” of the service and can provide reasonable evidence that the service was provided for use outside of South Africa. All direct exports can be zero-rated. If you supply a service to a non-resident within South African borders, you will need to add VAT to your invoice at the standard rate. There is also no export duty tax on services sold abroad.

All income received from international services rendered needs to be accounted for to SARS in the same way as that locally derived income is. For South African residents who provide services while working abroad and while in South Africa, take note of the Foreign Employment Income Exemption. This is only applicable for South African residents that are out of the country for more than 183 days in a 12 month period.

Need help calculating your Value-Added Tax? – refer to our VAT and Import Duty calculator

Tracy Venter

Tracy transitioned from industry to founding Import Export License in 2011, aiding importers and exporters with customs compliance. In 2014, she launched Trade Logistics, focusing on supporting startups and SMMEs in international trade. Since then, Tracy's team has assisted 35,000+ businesses, reaching 32,000 traders monthly through newsletters. She's contributed to publications like Entrepreneurs Magazine and SME Toolkit, spoken at trade events, and participated in customs forums. Import Export License helped with the pilot trial to launch customs' new online registration platform (RLA). Through Trade Logistics she has launched 3 online import-export training courses. She holds an Honours degree from Stellenbosch University and a Cum Laude Masters from Middlesex University. In her spare time, Tracy enjoys running, mountain biking, playing piano, and cherishing moments with her husband and four children.