South Africans who purchase technology products in the United States and ship them to South Africa run the risk of big penalties if the country of origin (COO) is not what customs expects.
The problem is that the country of origin on the packages is given as the United States by default by Amazon and many other online retailers in the US.
To fully understand the problem and the unfair penalties which are levied by the South African Revenue Service (SARS), here is a real-world example.
Well-known South African futurist and ITSI director Pieter Geldenhuys recently purchased a range of tech products from Amazon in the United States.
These products included an Amazon Kindle, an Oculus Quest, and various specialised motion sensors and security products.
To his surprise, he was told he faced a penalty of R16,500 for this shipment, as many items which he shipped to South Africa had the wrong country of origin.
“Customs has come back stating we need to change the country of origin to China [for 11 line items]. The shipper declared this as USA,” Fedex told Geldenhuys.
They explained that SARS imposed the penalty as R1,500 for each line item which was “incorrectly” labelled as the USA for the COO.
SA shoppers punished for things they did not do
Geldenhuys explained that most people would say the country of origin of an Amazon Kindle or an Oculus Quest purchased from Amazon US would be the United States.
This could, however, be a costly mistake which would result in a penalty of thousands of rands because the SA Customs Service decided that these products are Chinese.
He said he tried to communicate with the customs agent to clear up this matter, but he could only communicate with them via the courier company, Fedex.
The other “problem” is that the invoices from Amazon states the products were bought in the United States from US companies, and shipped from the US.
This is, of course, entirely accurate. However, because customs deems the Amazon Kindle and Oculus Quest to come from China, it resulted in a big penalty.
No way for South Africans to avoid this penalty
Geldenhuys said he had sent 20 emails over the last six weeks trying to resolve the issue, but he was told there is no way to prevent it from happening.
“I have asked what I can do in future to ensure that the fine is not levied again, and the answer is that I cannot do anything,” said Geldenhuys.
“The shipper should declare the country of origin, and if they do not get it right you simply will have to pay the fine again.”
Here is what Fedex told Geldenhuys regarding the penalties from the SA Customs Service:
The shipper will need to declare the correct details. The reason for customs imposing this penalty is because upon inspection they saw that the goods are from China. So, with any shipments coming in… that is where they supplier needs to add the country of origin as.
No comment from SARS
A Fedex spokesperson told MyBroadband that decisions regarding penalties levied by Customs are made solely by Customs and FedEx does not have any control or input over such determinations.
“Should you wish to verify the accuracy of the penalty levied, kindly reach out to SARS Customs directly,” Fedex said.
MyBroadband asked SARS for comment regarding this issue, but it did not respond by the time of publication.
The images below show the document in question and the penalty message regarding the country of origin.