Traveller's Guide

Arriving in South Africa

All travellers arriving in South Africa at land, sea or air ports of entry are required to pass through immigration control, a service offered by the South African Department of Home Affairs, on arrival and before collecting their baggage. Thereafter, they have to pass through Customs Control, which falls under the auspices of the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Travellers with goods to declare must complete a Traveller Card and make a verbal declaration of their goods to a Customs Officer, who will then generate a Traveller Declaration.

Baggage may be X-rayed or examined by Customs officers to detect dutiable, restricted or prohibited goods and you may be questioned. Should travellers be found to be carrying undeclared, restricted or prohibited goods they could be fined or face prosecution.

Prohibited and restricted goods (A full list of prohibited and restricted goods is available on the SARS website:

It is illegal to bring in the following prohibited goods to South Africa:

  • narcotics: all narcotic and psychotropic substances, as well as habit-forming drugs such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, Mandrax, Ecstasy and any paraphernalia relating to their use
  • firearms, weapons and ammunition: fully automatic, military and unnumbered weapons, explosives and fireworks and weapons of mass destruction
  • poison and other toxic substances
  • cigarettes with a mass of more than 2kg per 1 000
  • goods to which a trade description or trademark is applied in contravention of any Act (for example, counterfeit goods)
  • unlawful reproductions of any works subject to copyright
  • prison-made and penitentiary-made goods.

Goods you have to declare

Certain goods may only be imported if you are in possession of the necessary authority/permit and these have to be declared on arrival. These include:

  • Currency: South African bank notes in excess of R25 000.
  • Gold coins, coin and stamp collections and unprocessed gold.
  • Endangered plants and animals: species of plants or animals that are listed as endangered, whether they are alive or dead. The restriction includes any parts of and articles made from them.
  • Food, plants, animals and biological goods: All plants and plant products, such as seeds, flowers, fruit, honey, margarine and vegetable oils. All animals, birds, poultry and products thereof, for example, dairy products, butter and eggs.
  • Medicines: Travellers are allowed to bring in no more than three months’ supply of pharmaceutical drugs and medicines for their personal use. All other pharmaceutical drugs and medicines have to be declared and have to be accompanied by a letter or certified prescription from a registered physician.

Duty-free allowances

The following goods may be imported into South Africa without the payment of Customs Duty and Value-Added Tax (VAT):

  • Consumable goods in accompanied baggage. Goods falling within the following allowances may be imported without the payment of Customs duty and VAT as accompanied baggage. Crew members, including the master of a ship and the pilot of an aircraft, are only entitled to this rebate provided such members are returning to South Africa permanently.
  • No more than:
    • 200 cigarettes and 20 cigars per person
    • 250g of cigarette or pipe tobacco per person
    • 50ml perfumery and 250ml eau de toilette per person
    • two litres of wine per person
    • one litre in total of spirituous and other alcoholic beverages per person.

Persons under 18 years of age may claim duty-free allowances on goods imported by them, with the exception of alcohol and tobacco products, whether or not they are accompanied by their parents or guardians and provided that it is for their personal use.

  • Personal effects, sporting and recreational equipment. Visitors may bring in new or used personal effects, sporting and recreational equipment either as accompanied or unaccompanied baggage, for own use during their visit.

You may be required to lodge a cash deposit to cover the potential duty/tax on expensive articles pending their re-exportation. The deposit will be refunded on departure after a Customs Officer has physically inspected the items and verified that they are being re-exported. Visitors must notify the Customs Office at which the deposit was lodged at least two days before departure to ensure that the refund is ready. You will find the office number on the documents which will be given to you when lodging your deposit.

If you are departing from a port other than the port where you lodged the deposit, the inspection report confirming the re-exportation of the items will be forwarded to the office where the deposit was lodged and a cheque will be posted to the address you had provided.

Residents of South Africa who had exported new or used personal effects, sporting and recreational equipment for their own use while abroad can bring these back either as accompanied or unaccompanied baggage.

Any goods such as jewellery which were exchanged, remodelled, processed or repaired while you were abroad, do not fall within this allowance and must be declared for duty assessment purposes. They include new and used goods.

In addition to the personal effects and consumable goods allowances, travellers are allowed new or used goods in accompanied baggage to the value of R5 000 (or R25 000 if arriving from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia or Swaziland).

This allowance is only valid once per person during a 30-day period and does not apply to goods imported by persons returning after an absence of less than 48 hours.

Crew members (including the master or the pilot) are only entitled to a duty-free allowance on a value not exceeding R700. Consumable goods as mentioned above are excluded from this entitlement.

Goods on which duty has to be paid

Other than those specified above, all goods and gifts acquired abroad are subject to the payment of Customs duty and VAT when they are brought into South Africa. These include goods purchased duty-free on board aircraft and ships or in duty-free shops.

Customs duties and taxes are payable in rands, the currency of South Africa. Goods that attract duty and do not qualify for the flat rate assessment explained below include:

  • firearms acquired abroad or at any duty-free shop imported by residents of South Africa returning after an absence of less than six months
  • goods for commercial purposes
  • goods carried on behalf of other persons.

In cases where residents of South Africa who are travelling abroad have had goods such jewellery re-modelled, processed or repaired, duty is payable on the costs incurred in these processes.

In cases where goods have been exchanged, duty is payable on the full value of the article received in exchange. These goods may qualify for the duty-free allowance of R5 000 and the flat-rate assessment. Returning residents must ensure that the goods in question are clearly described and that they can provide documentary proof of these transaction(s) and the costs involved.

Travellers have the option to pay Customs Duty at a flat rate of 20% on goods acquired abroad or in any duty-free shop to expedite their passage through Customs. The total value of these additional goods, new or used, may not exceed R20 000 per person. Flat-rated goods are also exempted from payment of VAT.

This option can only be chosen if the total value of goods imported does not exceed R25 000 in value. This excludes consumable goods in excess of the quantities specified under duty-free allowances.

If the value of the additional goods exceeds R20 000 or if you decide not to use the flat rate option, the appropriate rates of duty and VAT will have to be assessed and paid on each individual item. In addition, 15% VAT will be payable on the assessed goods.

This flat-rate assessment will be allowed unlimited times per person during a period of 30 days and shall not apply to goods imported by persons returning after an absence of less than 48 hours.

The flat-rate assessment may be used by those under 18 years of age, provided the goods are for their own use. In the case of crew members, including the master of a ship or the pilot of an aircraft, the value of the items that may be assessed on a flat-rate basis is restricted to R2 000 per person.

Travellers in transit

Travellers in transit to countries outside the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, who have been booked from an airport outside the common customs area, will not be required to comply with Customs formalities in South Africa.

Travellers arriving in South Africa and taking a connecting flight to another SACU member country will be required to complete all Customs formalities upon arrival. Baggage belonging to passengers in transit will automatically be transferred from the international flight at the airport of transit in South Africa.

These passengers may not leave the transit area of the airport between flights. Should you travel to your final destination by road, Customs formalities must be complied with at the port of arrival in South Africa.

Refund of tax on visitors’ purchases

VAT at a rate of 14% is levied on the purchase of most goods in South Africa.

Tourists and foreign visitors to South Africa may apply for a refund of the VAT paid at departure points.

The tax invoices for the purchases and the goods must be presented for inspection to the VAT Refund Administrator. No refund will be made if the claim is not lodged before departure.