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Do you need an Import License for your
South African Import Business?

Import License south africa

As part of Company Partners, we’ve observed the impact of import regulations and the subsequent import license on South African businesses. Understanding these regulations is vital for successful importing. An import license plays a crucial role in this process, ensuring that goods enter the country legally and in compliance with local standards.

In 2022, South Africa’s economy was significant globally, ranking 34th in total exports and 38th in imports. The country’s top exports were gold, platinum, and coal briquettes, mainly to China, the United States, and Germany. South Africa’s imports were led by refined petroleum and cars, primarily from China, Germany, and India.

What is an Import License in South Africa?

An import license in South Africa is a legal document required by the government for the importation of certain goods into the country. The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is responsible for the management of import and export in South Africa.

The license is essential for controlling the entry of goods that may affect the local market, environment, or consumer health and safety. Its primary purpose is to ensure that these goods meet South African standards and regulations before they are allowed into our market.

The process of obtaining your import license involves submitting specific documentation and undergoing a review by SARS and/or as the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa (ITAC). ITAC assesses the nature of the goods, their intended use, and compliance with South African import regulations to determine if a license should be granted.

It’s important to note that not all goods require an import license. The requirement for a license depends on the type of goods being imported and their potential impact on the local economy and public welfare.

Goods that commonly require an import license include:

  1. certain agricultural
  2. products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals,
  3. and used equipment.


On the other hand, many consumer goods and raw materials may be imported without a license, streamlining the process for businesses engaged in international trade.

Do I Need an Import License in South Africa?

Determining the need for an import license in South Africa hinges on various factors, such as:

  1. the type of good,
  2. its value,
  3. and the quantity being imported.


The necessity of obtaining an import license is governed by both the nature of the goods and their potential impact on the South African market and public health.

Let’s briefly touch on each of these 3 points and what they mean to you:

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1. Type of Good:

Certain categories of goods, such as agricultural products, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and used vehicles, are often subject to strict regulatory control. These goods usually require an import license to ensure they comply with national safety and quality standards.

2. Value:

High-value imports might necessitate an import license as part of the government’s efforts to monitor and control the inflow of luxury goods and ensure compliance with tax regulations and economic policies.

3. Quantity:

Large-scale imports, especially of regulated products, often require a license. This is to prevent market saturation, protect local industries, and ensure that the imports align with national economic and development goals.

The distinction between import licenses and import permits in South Africa is crucial. While import licenses are required for the general authorization to bring certain goods into the country, import permits, issued by the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC), are specific to regulated products.

Import permits are often related to quota management and control of goods that could affect local industries, such as textiles, electronics, and machinery.

ITAC permits ensure that these imports are in line with the country’s industrial and trade policies, aiming to balance international trade and domestic market protection.

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How Much Can I Import Without a License in South Africa?

In South Africa, the threshold for import value and frequency that necessitates a license is determined by the specific category of goods and their intended use.

While there is no universal monetary threshold applicable to all imports, certain regulations and guidelines indicate when an import license is required based on the value and frequency of shipments.
For general imports, small consignments below a certain value, often set for convenience and to facilitate easy trade for low-value items, may not require an import license.
However, this exemption typically applies to goods valued at a few thousand Rand and is intended for personal use or small-scale commercial activities.

The frequency of imports also plays a role in determining the need for a license. Regular import activities, especially of the same type of goods in large quantities, are likely to attract the attention of customs authorities.

Additional Considerations for Importing Goods in South Africa

While obtaining the necessary import license is crucial for importing certain goods into South Africa, several other factors are equally important to ensure a smooth and compliant import process.

These include understanding import duties, customs clearance procedures, the importance of registering with SARS as an importer, and the SARS Single Administrative Document (SAD).

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  1. Import Duties and Customs Clearance Procedures: Import duties in South Africa are levied on imported goods and vary according to the product type and its country of origin.

    These duties are designed to protect local industries and generate revenue. Customs clearance involves submitting the required documentation and ensuring that the imported goods comply with local laws and regulations.

    This process includes the payment of import duties, VAT, and any other applicable taxes or charges. It’s vital for importers to understand these costs and procedures to budget accurately and avoid delays in the clearance process.

  2. Importance of Registering with SARS as an Importer: To legally import goods into South Africa, businesses must register with SARS as an importer.

    This registration process involves obtaining an importer’s code, which is a unique identifier used in all import transactions and documentation.

    Being registered not only legitimizes the business’s activities but also facilitates smoother transactions with customs and ensures compliance with tax requirements.

  3. SARS Single Administrative Document (SAD): The SAD is a key document used in South African customs. It’s required for declaring imported goods to customs officials and serves as the basis for assessing duties and taxes.

    The SAD contains detailed information about the goods being imported, including their:

    1. value,
    2. description,
    3. and origin.

    Proper completion of this document is essential for ensuring that the import process proceeds without unnecessary hindrances or penalties.

Conclusion on our Import License Guide

Understanding the nuances of import licenses in South Africa is crucial for businesses engaged in international trade. Import licenses are mandatory for certain goods, particularly those that could impact the national economy, health, and safety.

Proper import procedures and compliance with South African customs regulations are fundamental to ensure smooth business operations and to avoid legal and financial penalties.

For comprehensive support in import registration and understanding the import regulations in South Africa, reach out to Company Partners. Let us guide you through every step of the process, ensuring your business’s successful and compliant entry into the South African market.

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