Love shopping from online international retailers like Asos and Amazon? Be careful, SARS wants to register you as an importer

A young woman browsing on her phone, making a purchase.
A young woman browsing on her phone, making a purchase.

Recently a discussion on Radio 702 brought to light a subject that many consumers may not be aware of: SARS has implemented a new rule that places restrictions on international purchases.

If you buy more than three items from international retailers, you have to apply for an import code as SARS will recognise you as an official importer after your third purchase.

According to My Broadband, this rule has actually been in existence under the Customs and Excise act since 2013, but has only officially started being enforced earlier this year. 

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While there have been early reports on this, it seems as if consumers are still being taken by surprise by the information. Not only that, but it seems like it’s set to be one laborious process which is designed to actively discourage people from purchasing online imports.

As Mike Hibbert, the listener on Radio 702 confirms – the whole process not only caught him off guard, but became a bureaucratic nightmare.

He relates to John Maytham that he received a call after his fourth online purchase – one that was meant for his own consumption and wasn’t intended to be sold. He adds that in the past he was simply called and asked to provide his ID number in order to pay the customs duties, but things became much more complicated with the last buy.

This time around he needed an import code – and so will you if you make more than three international purchases in an annual year.

A SARS spokesperson confirmed to TimesLive that consumers will indeed need to apply for an import code and added that it won’t matter if it’s for personal use or not.

But what does applying for an import code entail?

Here’s what you need to know

In order to apply for an import code, you’d first have to register to be an importer. The Daily Maverick reports that this can be tricky because it means you cannot be listed as one as a private individual.  

You have to establish and register a company first. Once you’ve completed that, you then need to fill out forms DA185and DA185.4A1 and send on to the relevant customs office after which a code will be given to you.

You’ll also need to provide the following (information courtesy of SARS):

Proof of address i.e. your municipal water and electricity account
Certified copy of your identity document
VAT, IT, PAYE, SDL, UIF letters from SARS to confirm revenue registration details
Telkom and/or cellphone account older than three months to confirm contact details
A cancelled cheque or a legible certified copy or original bank statement which confirms the account holder's name and your banking details
Bank statement
It’s also important to note that you need to be older than 21 and MUST have a permanent South African address

You'll also need the fingernail of a toad and a translated hieroglyphic tome dating back to the days of Ancient Egypt.

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Depending on circumstances (for example, if you’re a warehouse stocking goods), there may also be additional costs involved. 

It’s very frustrating for consumers who particularly purchase internationally because they cannot find the product locally. 

Of course, the way around this is to purchase from local companies that stock imported goods, but that’s not always a guarantee that you’ll get what you want.

It appears as if SARS wants to restrict private individuals from spending their own money on things that they want and to force people to buy locally. Of course we support any initiatives to boost local business but we should be able to choose to do so.

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