Individuals or Businesses who are importing or exporting goods for commercial and personal reasons (or to the value of R2500+) need to be registered with South Africa’s Customs Department for an Import / Export Number. This number is obtainable from SARS. It is also known as an Importer’s / Exporter’s Customs Code.
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In this post, I’ll explain everything you need to know about Export and Import Licenses in South Africa. I’ll explain why you need an Import / Export License in South Africa, what the fastest way of getting one is, if it expires and whether you need both or just one.
This post is for you if trying to decide whether you want an Export or an Import License – or both. It’s specifically for you if you want to export of import multiple times in or out of South Africa and you want it to be as easy as possible.
There’s no need to feel overwhelmed by red tape like getting an Import / Export License. It’s intimidating enough to figure out the logistics of a business that requires you to import or export products. In this piece, we’ll answer all your questions on Import and Export Licenses.
An Import and an Export License is simply an assigned code that informs the government what kind of goods you’re important and/or exporting. This code is also sometimes referred to as a customs code or a CNN number.
You get an Import Licence or an Export Licence when you register as an Importer or an Exporter in South Africa.
Almost all goods that leave or enter South Africa are checked and taxed, that’s why they first need to be evaluated at customs. Customs are designated points, at points of entry (like postoffices or airports) that are used to check goods and to determine appropriate tax for them before they enter or exit the country.
You use a CNN number or a customs code to clear goods through customs or to make and receive international payments for goods.
The South African government needs to keep track of what items are imported and exported firstly to ensure it is only legal goods that enter or exit the country.
Secondly, it’s important to ensure that no goods enter or exit South Africa that could be harmful to the natural environment. Natural products like fruit or meat could for e.g. have bacteria or pests on it that could be threatening to other plants and animals and put the natural resources of our or other countries in danger. That’s why it’s really important to regulate imports and exports.
Thirdly, it’s important for the South African government to ensure the economy stays competitive to the rest of the world. Essentially that means that we don’t want to export or import too much or too little, or it can affect the resources and job opportunities in South Africa.
That’s why certain products are more heavily taxed than others. The government may not be able to stop the free trade of goods, but it can limit it by making it more expensive for people to do so with specific products that can harm the economy if done on a large scale.
Products that aren’t readily available in South Africa, usually have a lower tax rate. Products that are readily available usually face higher import tax; it would be better for the economy to use local suppliers. That’s why it’s really important to do your research on the customs costs, before importing or exporting.
The government also keeps track of all the goods that move through South Africa to other parts of the world.
An Import or an Export Licence is really helpful when you import or export goods in and out of the country multiple times.
It’s helpful simply because your registration serves as a form of pre-approval of the goods you want to import or export. It makes the whole import and export process much simpler.
Without registration, the government needs to assess every import or export individually.
If your import or export value is over R10 000, customs will most probably ask for a license. So that means if your business relies on regular or significant imports or exports, you probably need an import or an export license.
Here are the specifics.
Import or export license apply in the following cases:
If you want to make or receive international payments you will probably also need a license. You could use your credit card; however, that often means you have really high forex costs to pay. You could also use 3rd parties like PayPal, however that also has high costs linked to it.
A customs code allows payments in an out of your normal bank account without those extremely high rates. It’s just much easier.
It’s pretty simple. You definitely need the license you’re going to use. If you import, that’s an Import Licence. If you Export, that means an Export License.
However, it’s usually best just to get both, because they do often go hand-in-hand. If you’re an importer, you might want to return a batch of goods if there’s a fault in them or you would need a refund on faulty products directly into your bank account without having high Forex rates deducted from your refund.
In these cases, having both just really simplifies your business process.
So yes, it might seem like more effort and more costs upfront getting both. However, in the long run it’s much easier and it can save you money throughout the year.
Also, when you actually do need the other license you don’t have a lot of time, so rather getting it preemptively will be much easier in the long run.
If you need to import or export goods in or out of South Africa it will definitely make your life easier and it can save you significantly on bank costs.
Getting an Import / Export License is quite a complicated process with various application forms that need to be filled out in detail. You also have to do two completely different processes for either an Import or an Export Licence.
However, there’s a much easier and simpler way to do it sign up for our Import / Export Service. In short, this is the easiest and the fastest way to get an Import / Export Permit.
Why use us?
We will guarantee you a designated Import / Export Permit expert who will help and guide you through every step of the way.
The best part is, it’s all online and you never have to come into our offices. You’re welcome to come in if that’s convenient to you, but it’s by no means necessary to get your license.
Our service is extremely fast, and we’ve been helping many South African businesses get their Export and Import Licenses over the years.
Our experts have great relationships with the CIPC and the Customs Departments and if you need another document to submit your License application, we can help with that at lightning speed too.
After you’ve submitted your documentation it usually takes about 25 working days to get. There can be delays, but usually, there are not.
There’s a list of documents you need to submit, so actually submitting can sometimes take you much longer than you think. However, our company has over 30 License Experts, so the fastest way of making sure you get your application in ASAP is using our Import / Export Permit service. We’ll send you all the documents asap, we’ll walk you through filling them out and we’ll be helping you in record-time is there’s some document you still need.
We can help with that because we specialize in Company Documentation with a whole team of Import / Export professionals who know exactly how and where to get the legal documentation you need.
It’s also important to note that you can’t apply for an Import or an Export permit as an individual or a Sole-Proprietor (that the automatic business structure you get if you run a business, but you haven’t registered it at the CIPC). You have to apply as a registered Company with a registration number.
The license itself is just a code. However, there is an original file with the code and an affidavit stating your business details.
If you use our Import and Export Licence service, we’ll email you the code and mail you the original via courier. We’ll also send you an electronic copy of the affidavit if you need it.
According to current regulation, never. Your licence is valid forever. However, there is talk about Customs changing the law to 3 years.
No, you only pay once-off for your license.
No. You don’t need to be registered for VAT to apply for an Import / Export License.
No, you cannot. If your name doesn’t match, Customs will not clear your goods.
Usually, yes. There are some exceptions on specific products that are exported to Europe or the United States. However, you don’t need a new license, you will just need extra documentation.
15) Can I use my License for different products?
Yes, you can. However, some products do require extra documentation, but not a new licence.
16) Will this lower duty costs?
No, it won’t lower duty costs, but it will lower Forex costs regarding payments to and from your South African bank account.
Yes, you can, but there are restrictions. You can get an Import or an Export permit the normal way if you have a South African address and a South African bank account.
However, if you don’t you need a South African who serves as your nominated agent. This person needs a South African address and a South African bank account and they need to be willing to take full responsibility for your goods and the nature of your imports or exports.
There is no way of getting a license if you don’t have an address and a bank account in South Africa, or alternatively a nominated agent – with a South African address and bank account – who acts on your behalf.
A number or code that is given to the client when they register at customs as an importer or exporter or both.
It is also called a customs code or CNN number.
It allows an individual or business to clear goods through customs and to make international payments for imported/exported goods.
Practically: when the value is above R10 000 or you have im/exported more than 3 times customs may ask for a license.
If you want to make/receive an international payment for im/exported goods through your bank (if credit card it is not needed but then you have high forex costs)
Customs official turnaround time is 10 working days after submission. 95% are in this time and normally before the 10 days.
Reasons for delays may be customs bank authentication taking longer, customs changing systems, customs staff shortages, year end.
For us to submit we need all documents from client by email and courier. If the courier arrives before 10am submissions are done the same day, otherwise the next day.
Your custom’s import and/or export code will be emailed to you.
Customs will send the original to the postal address provided on the affidavit. If it does not arrive after a month we can request an electronic copy for the client.
WHY IT IS BETTER TO GET BOTH
With once off registration you can get both – more expensive to get other one later and need to redo all the admin work again which has a time cost.
You never know when you may need it – for export code if you want to send something back or get a refund, for import code if you buy something you want off Amazon.
When you need it there is normally time pressure, better to get it done before you need it.
Guaranteed service – we will get the licence.
Fast as possible – submissions are made to the national customs hub to speed up response time and reduce missing applications.
8 years of building relationships with customs – if customs looses or delays your application we know who to call to get it done.
100% online – you can be based anywhere in South Africa.
One stop shop for all other accounting and business secretarial services.
At the moment it is a permanent life long license, however customs may change that to renewing every 3 years in future
One licence covers all goods except some regulated goods that require an additional permit.
One license covers all countries, however if you export to Europe or Southern Africa or agricultural goods to America then you need an extra certificate for tax savings.
Your clearing agent or freight agent or customs (if you clear the goods yourself) or the bank for international payments.
If you have paid your annual CIPC renewal fees then yes. But, if not and CIPC has deregistered you then you will first need to re-register on CIPC
Yes, there are 2 scenarios 1. they have a South African bank account and a South Africa address, license is done as per normal 2. if not they need to have a nominated agent in SA
No, the name on the commercial invoice and the import/export permit need to match, otherwise customs will not clear your goods.