What is a tariff (HS) code?

Tariff codes (also called HS codes or commodity codes) are the numerical codes customs authorities across the world use to classify goods for taxation and regulation.

Everything you need to know about clearing your goods for import and/or export will depend on what classification it falls under in the South African tariff book. Almost every country’s tariff book is created based on the international HS system, which contains all the classification types.

To find the tariff codes on a particular product or material you want to import, export, or manufacture, follow the steps below in our tariff code lookup tool.

How to determine the tariff/HS/commodity code for your import or export

Step 1 – Find your chapter

To determine your tariff code, we’ll look at Schedule 1 of the South African Customs and Excise Act.

This Schedule is divided into sections which are subdivided into chapters. Click the button below to consult the Schedule 1 Chapter Index and determine which sections and chapters may be relevant to your goods.

Step 2 – Consult Schedule 1 Part 1

Schedule 1 Part 1 of the Customs and Excise Act lists all the tariff codes that exist within the HS system in numerical order, according to section and chapter. Click the button below to open Schedule 1 Part 1, and navigate toward the chapters you’ve identified in Step 1.

Step 3 – Read the relevant section and chapter notes

Each section in Schedule 1 Part 1 starts with a few section notes, and each chapter starts with a few chapter notes. These notes often contain exceptions to what is included in the section or chapter and can give you a good indication of where else to look if your goods happen to be the exception.

Step 4 – Find your heading and subheading

Each chapter in Schedule 1 Part 1 is divided into tariff headings. Headings are the lines with only 4 digits in the first column called “Heading/Subheading”. These lines are easily visible because they are highlighted in grey.

Look through your chapter for the most applicable heading to your goods.

The codes under a heading are also divided into subheadings – these can help you further narrow down your search.

Step 5 – Identify your tariff (HS) code

Carefully read the text in the “Article Description” column for each of the codes that fall under your heading or subheading.

The description best suited to your goods corresponds to your tariff code.

You may find more than one description relevant to your goods. In this case, it is advisable to have a tariff classification done. To enquire about a professional tariff code classification click the button below.

How to write a tariff (HS) code

Tariff codes must be written in the below format.

Where a 7th and 8th digit (subdivision) is not provided by the tariff book .00 is used.

The check digit that goes at the end of the code is only relevant in a South African context as a means for SARS to double-check the code’s relevance. The check digit for your tariff code can be found in the column of Schedule 1 Part 1 called CD.


This document serves merely as a guide. Import Export License does not take any liability for any incorrect interpretation of this information. For an in-depth understanding of tariff codes and doing your tariff classifications, we recommend signing up for online training on tariff codes and the HS system.