Home Moving to South Africa Relocation Customs regulations for South Africa
Last update on May 04, 2020
Written by Frances Van Den Berg

Whether you are relocating to South Africa or importing goods for business purposes, here’s an outline of South Africa’s customs regulations.

Before you can bring goods into the country there are a plethora of regulations you need to get through. These regulations have changed greatly in the last 15 years, since South Africa’s first democratic election when all sanctions were finally lifted. If you intend to ship goods through South African borders, you should know exactly what the current customs regulations are.

Imports permits

Individual countries maintain control over what enters and exits their borders. Every county has a list of restricted goods, although South Africa has relaxed a bit and recently decreased its list of restricted goods. The restricted goods that still require permits are fish products, petroleum products, ozone-depleting chemicals, firearms, gambling equipment and radioactive chemicals. These restrictions protect countries from danger, and in the case of South Africa, also protect her bordering countries. A case in point is when a Chinese ship tried to bring in arms bound for Zimbabwe by docking near South Africa’s coast, but customs officials refused to allow the crew to unload the weapons.

Prohibited products

Along with the products that are obviously prohibited from importation into South Africa, such as drugs, pornography, diamonds and gold, are a number of prohibited foodstuffs. Anything related to bees such as honey or wax is prohibited, as is anything plant related such as bulbs, seeds, plants and raw cotton. Second-hand goods, such as cars, are also not let through shipping customs.


South Africa reformed its shipping tariff structure in 1994 to comply with international standards. The tariff system is a lot simpler than before and duties on goods range between 0 and 30 percent. Textiles tend to have higher tariffs and some goods have tariffs which exceed 30 percent. South Africa has had a free trade agreement with the EU since 2000, so tariffs are suspended for goods on the free tariff list. In 2006, automotive products were added to the list but there were problems with implementing the free trade agreement for automobiles. Duties also need to be paid for alcoholic good and perfumes. When shipping these products, they must be easy to access by customs officials and should be accompanied by a detailed list of what the containers hold.

Agricultural products and animals

Owing to health reasons, the import of agricultural products is strictly controlled and many types of agricultural produce are denied entry into South Africa, particularly meat and fruit which can carry disease. There are restrictions on the importation of apples, cherries and pears, as well as irradiated or raw meat. Animals are also strictly monitored to avoid the transmission of disease over borders and to prevent the illegal animal trade, which is notorious for cruelty to animals. Quarantining personal pets before entry into South Africa is sometimes compulsory, although it is dependent upon circumstances.

It can take up to ten days for customs officials to release goods into the country, so it’s advisable to arrive ten days before the ship, with passports and the correct paperwork including permits, to avoid delay.