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Want To Start An Import Business – Here Are The Importing Terms And Documents Involved

An informative guide to understanding the terms, tariffs and documents involved with importing.




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Check for import restrictions with SARS


However if you intend to import products to South Africa you will have to contact the South African Revenue Services (SARS) to establish whether or not the products you wish to import are restricted.

You can check this information yourself by going to the SARS website:

  • On the right-hand side of the home page is a drop down menu. Select “All publications”
  • A list of all the publications will appear on the screen
  • Scroll down until you find “Customs – Operating Procedures – custom rulings”
  • Click on “More”

If the products you intend to import do have restrictions, then it is best to contact SARS for more information.

New and second-hand cell phones


If you are importing new cell phone products to South Africa you have to register with the South African Revenue Services (SARS) as an importer and you also have to register separately to obtain an import code.

  • Timeframe: To register with SARS for an import permit and import code takes approximately 14 working days.
  • Cost: No cost to register
  • Contact: Visit the SARS website for more information.


When registering with ICASA a variety of documents including a test report from the manufacturer of the product will be required.

Documents are:

  • Two identifying colour photographs of at least postcard size of the equipment to be type approved.
  • A functional description of the equipment, at least at block diagram level.
  • Operating instructions.
  • The original or a certified copy of the test report (both RF and EMC), issued by an accredited communication testing facility.
  • Detailed circuit diagrams, approved and stamped by the test facility and highlighting any modifications which have been incorporated.
  • The originals or certified copies of the test report and certificate of compliance – issued by an approved test facility.
  • The original or a certified copy of the test report for Safety Regulations issued by an approved safety test facility.
  • Timeframe: To register with ICASA takes 2 weeks

Cost: ±R4 000


In the case where an importer is unable to supply a test report, they must contact the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) to perform product testing so that the product conforms to national and international standards. The tests undertaken by the SABS are Electronic Magnetic Compatibility (EMC) and safety testing (RF).

  • Timeframe: 4-6 weeks
  • Cost: R10 000 – R20 000
  • Contact: To apply to the SABS for a test report
  • Call: +27 012 428 7911 or visit the SABS website

Importing Second Hand Cellular Goods

If you import second cellular products to South Africa, you need to register with SARS, ICASA and the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa, ITAC.


Not all goods or products are subject to import and/or export control measures. All used goods and second-hand goods, are subject to import control measures. This is why you have to register with ITAC when importing second hand goods.

A list of goods subject to import control and export control measures is available and can on submission of your contact details be mailed, faxed, or e-mailed to you by ITAC

  • Timeframe: To register with ITAC to import second hand goods is immediate
  • Cost: No cost
  • Contact:


If you are importing new cell phone products to South Africa you have to register with the South African Revenue Services (SARS) as an importer and you also have to register separately to obtain an import code.

Timeframe – To register with SARS for an import permit and import code takes approximately 14 working days.

  • Tinned, bottled and dried food

The right route would be to obtain samples of the products you wish to import and request that the SABS test and check them. If the products do not fall under their umbrella, they will refer you to the correct organisation in order to meet with South African compliance regulations.

  • Hair products

Register with the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association of South Africa (CTFA). This organisation regulates the hair and cosmetic industry in South Africa and works hand-in-hand with the South African Bureau of Standards, the Department of Health and other important international bodies to set up responsible self-regulation for cosmetics in South Africa.

Related: Expert Advice on Importing

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Import Export

How do I know whether my product is export-ready?

Your product has to tick several boxes before you can consider exporting it.




I want to start exporting my product into Africa. I’ve made contact with some buyers in Nigeria and they’re interested in signing a contract. How do I make sure that my product is ready for export?

Whether or not your product is export ready depends on the buyer’s needs, your product’s ability to meet those needs, and how your product will shape up against international competition.

In order to determine export readiness, you need to research the following:

  • Your target market
  • Any potential competitors
  • The buyers themselves.

Common factors that would affect the exportability of a product include:

1. Market

Unless there is a market for it, your product won’t sell. Look at your domestic market for an indication. If you are meeting a need locally, you should be able to meet the same need internationally.

This, however, is not the only consideration. International markets are usually further away, meaning that you will have to add transport costs, and will most probably have to include the cost of import duties and taxes in the final delivery price.

2. Product adaptability

A key quality of an export product is its ability to adapt to suit an international market. Cultural differences between countries could affect the use or acceptability of a product in each country. A product name could have a totally different and possibly derogatory meaning in another language and might have to be changed for that market.

3. Cost structure

The cost structure of the product will obviously impact on its competitiveness. For example, depending on the cost of materials, and whether or not those materials can be locally sourced, international transport costs and customs duties in the importing country will collectively determine the final delivery price.

4. Competitors

The more you know about your competitor’s product, the better your position when determining your own chances of succeeding. Price is an important factor in determining success, but not the only way to compete. You can also differentiate your product by highlighting some of its unique selling points.

5. Product complexity

The greater the complexity of your product, the more important the strength of your business. Products that need a high level of support or installation assistance will need a strong local network with trained staff to support them. The investment in setting up a sales and support structure in the importing country could be prohibitive, making it unviable to export the product.

For more information, read more here.

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Import Export

How do I verify foreign suppliers?

Do your homework to reduce the likelihood that you’ll end up out of pocket.




I run a small import business and want to find some new suppliers in the Far East. How do I establish their credibility from South Africa?

It’s essential to establish that any new suppliers that you intend to do business with are credible and reliable. Here are some ways that you can check up on their credentials:

  • Use internet trading forums such as that on eBay to establish whether the supplier has a history of being trustworthy and dependable
  • Do online research to find out more about the company, including how long it’s been in business for and how long it’s had the product line that you’re interested in.
  • What does their website look like? Has it been professionally designed and kept up to date? Does it have proper contact details including a physical address and telephone number?
  • If you can’t afford to visit the supplier, contact them by phone or email and discuss your requirements. Find out about delivery times, payment methods and ability to deliver what you need, when you need it. These discussions should give you a feeling for how professional the supplier is in conducting its business.
  • Ask for references and check them.
  • You can consider using the services of a reputable inspection agency to make absolutely certain that the supplier is trustworthy.
  • Obviously a site visit is the number one way of establishing a supplier’s credibility.

See the full article here.

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Import Export

What insurance does an importer or exporter need to take out?

Being under-insured can cost you dearly in the long run.

Carmen Pasqualle



Can you point out some of the common insurance mistakes that SA exporters and importers should avoid?

As South Africa continues to strengthen its trade ties with countries like China, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom, it is becoming increasingly important for exporters and importers to get to grips with the complexities of arranging marine cargo insurance.

With the rise of cargo ship accidents worldwide, including the bulk carrier Smart, that recently ran aground off the main beach at Richards Bay, exporters and importers can least afford skimping on cover, or making costly mistakes that could present their businesses with even bigger problems, in the event of an accident.

Marine cargo insurance helps exporters and importers to cover the physical damage or loss of their goods while being transported by sea. Failing to arrange appropriate cover can potentially harm a business and have a serve impact on its revenue stream.

Exporters and importers should take note of the following when taking out marine cargo insurance cover:

  • Limited cover:  Inexperienced exporters and importers often view insurance as a grudge purchase and risk not having adequate cover in place. This exposes their businesses to financial and liability risks in the event of an accident.
  • Picking on price: During tough economic conditions, exporters and importers have the tendency to shop around for cover only using price as determining factor. Businesses should rather focus on what the policy covers, instead of basing their decision solely on price. Rushing to sign a contract without fully understanding the terms and condition of the policy is a mistake. Each business is unique and has its own insurance needs. For example, a perishable goods importer will have different insurance needs to a components importer.
  • Reducing liability: Opting for lower liability, or other limits, in order to save on monthly premium costs is certainly not advisable. Exporters and Importers should seek advice from their brokers and insurers to arrange the right amount of cover for their business, as well as to protect personal assets.
  • Unaffordable deductibles: Exporters and importers should avoid opting for deductibles that they cannot afford. A deductible, commonly known as excess, is the amount that a business will have to pay upfront before an insurer can settle a claim. While choosing a higher deductible may help to reduce monthly premium costs, it is best to choose a deductible that will be affordable in the event of a claim.

Know about the general average

Exporters and importers should also be familiar with general average, which is independent from marine cargo insurance. It is an agreement between the ship owner and cargo owners, to share any losses resulting from a voluntary sacrifice of part of the ship or cargo to save the whole during an emergency.

General average claims can arise from the ship being stranded, catching fire, damaged engine, and when the ship is in any danger of sinking.

The 2 types of policies

Marine cargo policies come in two forms, namely, open policy, which covers a number of consignments and a specific policy, which normally covers specific consignments.

There is also an option to take out an all-risk or total loss cargo policy, which covers against all fortuitous losses.

Regardless of the nature of business, it is advisable to seek advice from a broker or insurer before arranging any type of marine cargo cover, to fully understand exclusions and avoid being over and underinsured in the event of a loss.

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