Get answers to your most frequently asked import export questions regarding registrations, taxes and SARS Customs compliance.
What is an import export license?
It is a number, or code, that you receive when you register at customs as an importer, exporter, or both. It is also referred to as a customs code or CNN number. It allows an individual or business to clear goods through customs and to make international payments for imported and exported goods.
When do I need an import export license?
An import export license is officially required when:
- The total imported/exported cargo is R150 000 or more in one calendar year; or
- There are more than 3 imports/exports in one calendar year.
- You are importing for resale or business purposes and not for your own personal use.
Practically, however, when the value of imported or exported goods is above R10 000, or you have imported or exported more than three times, customs may ask for a license.
You also require a customs license if you want to make or receive an international payment for imported or exported goods through your bank (this is not necessary if you use your credit card, but credit card transactions typically involve very high forex costs).
How long does it take to receive my import export license?
Customs’ official turnaround time for import export licenses is 10 working days after submission of all the necessary documentation. In our experience, 95% of the licenses do arrive in this time frame, and most normally arrive in less than 10 working days.
Potential reasons for delays include:
- Customs’ bank authentication taking longer than usual
- Customs changing computer systems
- Customs staff shortages
- Delays due to year end office closures
What do I receive once I am registered?
Your custom’s import export code will be emailed to you once registration is complete.
Should I apply in my business or personal name?
Whether you apply in your business or personal name depends on individual preference. If you are buying and selling goods, do you want to generate income and pay tax in a personal or business capacity? Note that the name on your commercial invoice needs to match the name on your import export license.
Can I change my existing license from a personal name to a business name?
No, your license is linked to a specific ID number or business registration number. It is possible however, to change the business name or registered address reflected on the current license.
Can I use an import export license to import or export anything from or to any country?
Yes – one import export license covers all goods. Note that items indicated in our prohibited and regulated goods look up may require an additional permit.
You can use the same license to import or export to different countries (one license covers all countries). If you export goods to Europe or Southern Africa we recommend that you also get EUR1 or SADC certificates to enable you to benefit from import duty tax reductions. If you export agricultural goods to America registering for AGOA may also bring you import duty tax savings.
Will my import export license work in other countries?
No, your import export license is only valid within South African borders (for example, you cannot use the license to export goods from Mauritius or other African countries, or to import goods from other countries to a non-South African destination).
What is the maximum quantity of goods that I can import or export?
There is no prescribed maximum for the quantity of goods that you are allowed to import or export.
Do I need to be VAT registered to apply for an import export license?
No, you do not need to be VAT registered to apply for an import export license.
Do I need to pay any yearly fees once I’ve received my license?
No, yearly fees are not applicable to import export licenses. Registration is secured by a once-off fee when you apply.
Does an import export license expire?
Import and export licenses (or custom codes) registered during 2020 and 2021 were initially valid for 10 years. In November 2021 SARS amended this expiry date so that all licenses are valid as long as the registered entity (business or individual) exists. An import export license is therefore a lifelong registration regardless of when it was registered.
This arrangement is subject to change if customs changes its current practices.
Do note, however, that you import export license must be amended at SARS if any details regarding the registration change. This includes the name of the business, the contact details of the registered individual or business, or if there is a change in the business’ directors/members/trustees .
Who do I have to present my license to when importing or exporting goods?
You have to present the license to customs if you clear the goods yourself. Alternatively, if you make use of a clearing agent or freight agent, you will have to provide the agent with the license. You will also need to present the license to your bank or foreign exchange broker to clear international payments.
My business has been dormant for more than a year. Can I still apply for an import export license?
If your business has been dormant for more than a year, you can still apply for an import export license if you’ve paid your annual CIPC renewal fees. If you have not paid your renewal fees, CIPC would have deregistered the business and you will first need to reregister it first. We can do this for you.
Can a foreigner apply for a South African import export license?
Yes, a foreigner can apply for a South African import export license. There are two scenarios:
- If a foreigner has a valid South African bank account and South African address, then they can apply for the license as per the normal procedure.
- If a foreigner does not have a valid South African bank account or address, they will need to have a nominated agent in South Africa to apply for the license on their behalf.
Can I use someone else’s import export license?
No, you cannot use someone else’s import export license to clear your own goods. The name on the commercial invoice needs to match the name on the import export license; otherwise customs will not clear your goods.
Who needs to apply for a rebate, drawback or refund?
A rebate is used for duty free imports of goods used in manufacturing. A business can apply to register as a rebate user if the item they are importing is used in manufacturing AND has been published in customs rebate book OR is used to manufacture a product that will be exported.
A drawback is used to claim back the duties paid on imported goods that were used in manufacturing and later exported.
A refund is used to claim back the duties paid on imported goods that were later exported in the same condition as when they were imported.
Which countries can I export to with a SADC certificate of origin?
The following countries offer no import duties on 85% of goods exported to them with SADC certificates: Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, Eswatini, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. More information is available on our trade agreements blog.
How do I fill in a SADC certificate of origin?
Access a step by step guide on how to correctly complete a SADC certificate of origin in our blog here.
How do I know if my goods qualify for a SADC certificate of origin?
A SADC Certificate of Origin may be obtained when the components/parts and finished product are fully obtained in a SADC country. In the case where some of the components/materials were imported, a minimum of 35% of the value should have been added in the SADC country during the manufacturing process.
Which European counties can I export to with a EUR.1 certificate of origin?
The following countries offer no import duties on 85% of goods exported to them with SADC certificates: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. More information is available on our trade agreements blog.
What other trade agreements can I benefit from?
South Africa has beneficial trade agreements with a number of countries that offer reduction or removal of import duties to goods originating from South Africa. A summary of these agreements is provided in our trade agreements blog.
How do I fill in a EUR.1 certificate of origin?
Access a step by step guide on how to correctly complete a EUR.1 certificate of origin in our blog here.
How do I know if my goods qualify for a EUR.1 certificate of origin?
The Eur1 movement certificate may be obtained when the components and/or the finished product is fully obtained in South Africa. In the case where some of the components/parts were imported, there must be “sufficient processing”. This means that the components/parts used must change tariff heading during the manufacturing process (i.e. the finished product must fall within a different tariff heading from all of the non-originating parts and materials).
When do I need a cross border permit?
If you are exporting goods or passengers for profit and the vehicle (or combination of vehicles) exceeds a total mass of 3,500kg, then you need a cross border road transport permit. Foreign registered vehicles that are used commercially within South Africa also require this permit.
Can I use one cross border permit for different countries?
You will need one permit for each country where goods or passengers are dropped off or collected.
Do I need a cross border permit for the countries that I am driving through on the way to my destination country?
No, you only need a permit for each country where goods or passengers are dropped off or collected. You will need to indicate the route that you will be driving to and from your destination country on the permit application.
Can one cross border permit cover all my trucks or vehicles?
No, each vehicle needs it’s own permit. Each vehicle also needs it’s own road worthy certificate which is submitted during the application process.
What else do I need when I am crossing a road border? When do I need to register as a Road Hauler/Transporter or Carrier?
We have created this blog post to cover all that is needed when carrying cargo across a South African border. For all exports to SADC countries remember to get SADC certificates to save on import duty tax.
All businesses carrying bonded cargo need to register as either a Remover of Goods in Bond (if the bond is in the business’s name) or a Transporter/Road Hauler (if the bond is in a client’s name). In order to submit manifests (a list of all items on a truck) to Customs a Carrier registration is required. Electronic manifests can be submitted through Electronic Data Interchange (EDI). More information on these services is given in our blog on moving bonded goods.
When do I need to register for a Remover of Goods in Bond?
If you are transporting bonded goods (goods that still have VAT and import duty due to Customs) you will need to register as a Remover of Goods in Bond. For example, if you collect bonded cargo from the airport and transport it to a bond store or out of South Africa.
I am a Namibian trucking company, how do I get a Remover of Goods in Bond License in South Africa?
You can register as a Foreign Remover of Goods in Bond, you will need to appoint a South African-based agent to represent you at Customs.
What security do I need to provide if I am registering as a Remover of Good in Bond?
All applicants need to provide Customs with a Security Bond, in the form of a Bank Guarantee or an Insurance Policy, for the approximate value of the VAT and Import Duty of the goods that they will be carrying.
What is the differences between Remover of Goods in Bond and Road Hauler or Transporter?
What do I need to submit manifests to Customs electronically?
When carrying cargo across a border post manifest (list of all items on a vehicle) needs to be submitted to Customs. In order to submit manifests you need to be registered at SARS as a Carrier. In order to submit manifests electronically you ALSO need to be registered at Customs for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
How do I know if I need an ITAC permit or other permit?
Customs lists all the items that require permits on their prohibited or restricted list. Items can be searched using their tariff code. A copy of these lists are located on our Calculators page. A blog explaining how to use these lists is available here. Alternatively, if your supply us your tariff code can check if you require any permits for you. Our office can also get you the majority of these permits.
What is the difference between an import export license and a permit?
An Import Export license, also referred to as a Customs Code, is registration at Customs as an importer and/or exporter. A unique 8 digit number is assigned to you which you must use when clearing all your imports/exports and when paying for or receiving payment for these goods.
Certain items, for example scrap metal or second hand clothing, is regulated by Customs. These items require an ADDITIONAL permit. The type of permit required depends on the regulation on the item imported and is specified by Customs.
How long does the ITAC permit last?
Most ITAC permits need to be renewed annually.
Is there a limit on the quantity of goods I can import/export with my ITAC permit?
You need to give ITAC an estimation of the value of goods you will be trading with in one year. If you are going to exceed that amount before the year is over you need to apply for an additional permit.
Can I import my second-hand car into South Africa?
Second hand vehicles are not allowed to be imported into South Africa unless the following conditions are met:
- You are a citizen of a foreign country and are emigrating to South Africa.
- You worked and owned a car in a foreign country for longer than 6 months and want to bring that car back to Sough Africa.
When do I need to register for a Clearing Agent?
In order to clear other people’s cargo through Customs, for profit or as a service, you need to a Clearing Agent registration.
How often do I need to renew my Clearing Agent license?
Clearing Agent registration needs to be renewed annually between October and December each year for the following year.
What additional requirements are there for transporting bonded cargo.
Transporting bonded cargo has additional security requirements from Customs. A Remover of Goods in Bond needs to register their own Bond at Customs. A Transporter (previously called Road Hauler) can use their client’s Bond. More information on these services is given in our blog on moving bonded goods.
What security do I need to provide for a Bond?
All applicants need to provide Customs with a security for their Bond for the approximate value of the VAT and Import Duty of the goods that they will be carrying. This security is usually in the form of a Bank Guarantee or an Insurance Policy.
What do I need to clear cargo at Customs electronically.
In order to communicate electronically with Customs you need to be registered for Electronic Data Interchange (EDI).
In order to improve efficiency and minimise errors, SARS is legally mandated to enforce electronic communication. It has numerous benefits for the user such as:
- full automation with little or no intervention required by either party;
- a 24 hour window for submission and acceptance of declarations;
- quicker retrieval of cargo due to a reduction in clearance times.