South Africa - Country Commercial Guide
Import Requirements and Documentation
Last published date:

Processes South Africa has a complex import process. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) defines approximately 90,000 product tariff codes that are strictly enforced on all imports. New-to-Market U.S. exporters are actively encouraged to engage the services of a reputable freight forwarding/customs clearance agent well versed in South African convention.   Customs South Africa (Customs SA), a division of SARS, requires that an importer register with its office and obtain an importer’s code from SARS. This impacts many importers and may cause delays to clearance of goods.

Documents SARS uses a Single Administrative Document (SAD) to facilitate the customs clearance of goods for importers, exporters, and cross-border traders. The SAD is a multi-purpose goods declaration form covering imports, exports, cross border, and transit movements.  The following is required for shipments to South Africa:

  • For customs purposes in South Africa, one negotiable and two non-negotiable copies of the Bill of Lading are required. The Bill of Lading may be made out either “straight” or “to order”.
  • A Declaration of Origin Form, DA59, is to be used in cases where a rate of duty lower than the general rate is claimed as well as for goods subject to antidumping or countervailing duty.  DA59 is a prescribed form with stipulated format, size, and content. This form does not require Chamber of Commerce certification. One original signed copy of the form must be attached to the original commercial invoice covering goods which require such a declaration.
  • Four copies and one original Commercial Invoice are required. Suppliers must give, in their invoices, all data necessary for the importer to make a valid entry and for the South African Customs to determine value for duty purposes.
  • Invoices from suppliers will not be accepted as satisfying the requirements of the customs regulations unless they state, in addition to any proprietary or trade name of the goods, a full description of their nature and characteristics together with such particulars as are required to assess the import duty and to compile statistics.
  • One copy of the insurance certificate is required for sea freight.  Follow the importer’s and/or insurance company’s instructions in other matters.
  • Three copies of the Packing List are required. Data contained in this document should agree with that in other documents.

To reduce the likelihood of a dutiable assessment of samples, the shipper must state the following: “Sample: Of no commercial value / Value for customs purposes is $xxx.”  

Zero-value invoices are not accepted by South African customs authorities; the correct value must be stated of the shipment in question.

Licenses/Permits Import licenses are required for restricted items. Importers must possess an import permit prior to the date of shipment. Customs SA may impose penalties on importers who fail to produce a required permit. The permit is only valid with respect of the goods of the class and country specified. It is non-transferable and may only be used by the person to whom it was issued. Import permits are valid only for the calendar year in which they are issued.

Restricted Goods The Director of Import and Export Control at the Department of Trade and Industry issues import permits required for specific categories of restricted goods. These categories have been reduced, but still must be obtained for most used / second-hand items. During 2020, medicine exports were placed under scrutiny, but these controls have been partly lifted to facilitate exports to neighboring states. See:

Department of Trade and Industry

International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC)

Import Control

Private Bag X753

Pretoria, 0001

Tel: +27 (0)12 394 3590/1; Fax: +27 (0)12 394 0517



The updated SARS import manual can be found at: