If you are one of those people who go on holiday with an empty suitcase so you can bring it back full, it’s important to know with how much of what you may fill that suitcase. It is always safer to declare your shopping at customs if you bought lots. If you are caught with products that you should have declared but have not, you may be fined or charged.
When you arrive at the airport, you must complete a ticket indicating whether you have anything to declare. If you indicate that you do have goods to be declared, you must also confirm that verbally to a customs officer.
Each person may bring the following into South Africa without being taxed:
- 200 cigarettes
- 20 cigars
- 250 g cigarette or pipe tobacco
- 250 ml perfume
- 2 ℓ wine and 1 ℓ of any other type of liquor
- One month’s medical supplies for personal use
- Up to 25 kg of leather, wood, plastic or glass products from countries that are members of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) or the Southern African Development Community (SADC). These include Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. Handmade products from these countries are also permissible.
- Sports equipment for personal use
Customs duties and VAT
Besides the products for personal use above, you may also bring in products worth up to R25 000 from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland, and products worth up to R5 000 from any other country. If you exceed this notch, you are subject to customs duties and VAT. This even applies to products that you bought in a duty-free shop at an airport. For goods up to R20 000, the customs duties are 20% of the product value. For goods worth more than R20 000, there is no fixed fee; it is calculated separately for each product. And you also have to pay 15% VAT on all those products.
VAT and customs duties are automatically charged on weapons and products for commercial use, as well as consumer goods that exceed the prescribed maximum.
You must declare all weapons, gold coins, collector coins or stamps and unprocessed gold, as well as all South African banknotes worth more than R25 000 and foreign currency worth more than $10 000.
You must also declare all food, plant, animal and biological items in your luggage. These include plant products such as seeds, fruits, honey and flowers, as well as dairy products and meat. And yes, that means you may not smuggle in your biltong everywhere.
Claiming a VAT refund
If you are a tourist, you can claim a VAT refund on your purchases. Simply keep your receipts and submit it to a tax agent at the airport, or have it stamped by a customs agent.
The best precaution is to have the receipts of everything you bought abroad and at duty-free stores at hand. If you are uncertain about the value of the goods, you can ask a customs official. The golden rule is to declare if you are unsure.
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