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What do I have to declare at South African customs?

By April 19, 2023October 5th, 2023FinGlobal

What do I have to declare at South African customs?

April 19, 2023


What do I have to declare at South African customs when entering or leaving the country? It’s a question the FinGlobal team is often asked by expats about to head off into the big blue yonder. Unfortunately, few South Africans are aware of South African customs regulations unless they are seasoned international travelers. In this article, we look at this question more closely and hopefully clear up any confusion you may have.

What do I have to declare at South African customs:

All travelers (residents, tourists, or foreign nationals) arriving in South Africa must pass through customs control. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) manages the South African customs regulations, which stipulate that travelers with items to declare must complete the South African Customs declaration form/ Traveller Card (TC-01). In addition, they must verbally report any dutiable goods (goods for which VAT must be paid) to the customs officials.

Red vs. Green channel at the Airport

Once travellers have reported to immigration, they should collect their baggage and go to Customs selecting either the red or green channel.

  • Red Channel

This queue is for travelers with goods to declare, including prohibited and restricted items or goods in excess of the duty-free allowance. This is also the place to go if you are unsure if the goods you are carrying are duty-free.

  • Green

The green channel is for travellers who don’t have any restricted or prohibited goods in their luggage and therefore have nothing to declare.

What happens if I don’t declare my goods?

While it may be tempting to ignore the ‘Anything to declare’ signs seen dotted along the way to passport control, especially if you are unsure, it’s likely to get you into some very hot water. Should customs officials decide to x-ray or examine your baggage and find you are carrying undeclared restricted, prohibited, or dutiable items, you may incur a fine or face prosecution and have your goods confiscated.

So what do you have to declare at customs South Africa to remain on the right side of South African customs regulations?

Prohibited items travellers may not bring to South Africa

When considering the question of what you have to declare at customs, you should be aware of the below list of prohibited items you may not bring into the country.

  • Narcotics, including drugs like heroin, cocaine, and cannabis
  • Poisons or toxic substances
  • Any goods manufactured in prison
  • Counterfeit goods containing illegal copies of trade descriptions or trademarks
  • Copyright breaches – illegal reproduction of copyrighted works (movies/music etc.)
  • Illegal weapons, unlicensed firearms, ammunition, explosives, and fireworks.
  • Cigarettes weighing more than 2kg per 1000

Restricted items that must be declared on arrival

Certain items may be imported into South Africa if you have the required permission or permit; these include:

  • Animal or plant matter (alive/dead) listed as endangered, including products/items made from them.
  • Plant and plant products (flowers, seeds, honey, fruit) and dairy products (milk, butter, eggs).
  • South African currency (banknotes and coins) over R25 000.00, coin and stamp collections, unprocessed gold, and gold coins.
  • Travelers may bring 3 months’ supply of medication (pharmaceutical drugs/medicines) for personal use. Anything in excess of this must be declared, and travelers must provide a doctor’s letter or medical prescription as evidence the drugs are required.

What is the duty-free allowance in South Africa?

The duty-free allowance in South Africa affords all its visitors and returning residents allows goods to be brought into the country without paying VAT (value-added tax) so long as the prescribed quantities and limits are adhered to.

  • Personal belongings
  • New or used goods under R3000.00
  • Goods (new/used) over £12 000.00 will incur duty charges of 20%
  • Cigarettes – 200 per person / 250g
  • Cigars – 20 per person
  • Pipe tobacco – 250g
  • Wine – 2 litres per person over 18
  • Spirits/ Alcoholic beverages – 1 litre per person over 18
  • Perfume – 50 ml per person
  • Eau de toilette – 250 ml per person

The duty-free allowance South Africa stipulates per person (resident or visitor) can apply to persons under 18 years old, except for tobacco and alcoholic items.

South African customs allowance returning residents

Paying VAT on your goods as a returning resident depends on how long you have been out of the country. For example, according to the Customs and Excise Act, if you have been out of the country for an unbroken period of six months for purposes other than a holiday, you may re-import the household goods taken with you duty-free.

However, if you have lived abroad for less than six months, Customs will apply full duty and taxes. This means the South African customs allowance returning residents may be counting on will not be applicable. In addition, you will need to apply for an import permit for each commodity (wooden furniture, electrical appliances, etc.)

South African customs allowance, the final word

The last thing a weary traveler in desperate need of a shower wants to see after a long-haul flight are those ‘anything to declare signs.’ However, a little homework before you travel can ensure you are on the right side of the long arm of the law!

It’s also advisable to check with your nearest South African Embassy abroad or Customs office in South Africa if you are unsure what to declare at customs. The last thing you need is to have a bag full of prohibited items; trust us, it’s going to be a costly and stressful affair! You can also check the extensive list of restricted items on the SARS website.

Trustworthy advice for SA expats at FinGlobal

Financial emigration advice is the FinGlobal team’s forte. With over a decade in the industry, the accredited and experienced team supports expats throughout their emigration journey.

For straightforward advice regarding retirement annuities, tax, forex, pensions, and more, look no further than the friendly FinGlobal team. Get your immigration journey started today; the FinGlobal team is just a phone call away!

To discuss your unique needs with our team, simply get in touch with us. Give us a call on +27 28 312 2764 or send us an email at, and we will assist you promptly.

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