What is an import export license?

An 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 R50 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. Customs will also send the original import export license document to the postal address you provided on your affidavit. If the document does not arrive within one month, we can request an electronic copy for you.

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 indicated in our prohibited and regulated goods look up here 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?

No, currently import and export licenses (or custom codes) do not need to be renewed – they do not expire and are not subject to annual fees. This is subject to change if customs changes its current practices.

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, CIPRO would have deregistered the business and you will first need to reregister the business with CIPC. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.