South African online shoppers who want to do a lot of buying from international stores will require a SARS importers code.
Popular global retailers like Amazon.com offer great prices on tech and gadgets, and sells many products that aren’t available in South Africa.
In general, smartphones, smartwatches, and laptops are cheaper when bought from Amazon than when purchased locally.
A few examples of products that are cheaper to import, even when taking shipping and taxes into account, are shown in the table below.
Note that the banking fees for international purchases are not included. These are typically between 2-2.75% of the transaction’s value.
|Tech prices — Local vs Amazon|
|Best South African price||Amazon price (incl. shipping and taxes)
Exchange rate: $1 = R14.91
|Lenovo Legion 5 15.6-inch gaming laptop||R23,899||$1,265.45 (R18,864)||R5,035 / 21%|
|Fitbit Versa 3 Black||R4,999||$278.63 (R4,144)||R855 / 17%|
|Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G 256GB||R27,999||$1,545.41
|R5,016 / 18%|
|Beats Solo Pro Wireless||R4,795||$213.49 (R3,173)||R1,622 / 34%|
|WD Black SN850 2TB NVMe SSD||R8,049||$441.50 (R6,561)||R1,488 / 18%|
South Africa’s tax law states that an individual may only import three times every year for personal use, provided that none of the imported items are worth more than R50,000.
If you want to import more products per year or buy something with a value exceeding R50,000 you must get a customs code — often referred to as an “importers code” — from SARS.
Shipping companies like Aramex and DHL could ask for your importers code if you have exceeded these limits.
A MyBroadband employee who often buys from overseas recently managed to get his code and took note of the experience.
Most of the information about registering as an importer is available on the SARS site, but it can be difficult to find among the thousands of documents and regulations that are only applicable to companies that do commercial imports.
Some forums have information on the process, but people’s accounts vary from struggling for months with many different visits to SARS offices, to others claiming they got their codes in less than a week.
Based on the information online, the employee decided to go to his nearest SARS branch to do his application with the completed DA185 and DA185_4A1 forms that can be downloaded from the SARS website together with proof of residence and a copy of his ID.
A SARS clerk then told him it was possible to complete the application faster online.
The clerk provided a PDF guide on how to register for the importers code and gave a number to call if he experienced any problems.
Firstly, he had to change his e-filing profile from “individual” to “organisation” to get access to the customs tab, as shown in the images below.
Note that this has no tax implications and that you can simply switch back to individual after you have received your importers code.
He was then able to access the new RLA (Registration, Licensing and Accreditation) section on e-filing, where he could apply for his customs code
He was then asked similar questions as on the DA185 forms. It is faster to complete the online form as most of your personal information will be pulled in from your SARS eFiling details.
After this, he had to upload supporting documentation, such as verification of his cell number and address.
He uploaded a cellphone contract statement, municipal statement, and the signed letter from the owner of the property that confirmed he lived there, and submitted his application.
On that same afternoon, he received an email stating that his application had been approved and that he could get a certificate on the RLA site with his importers code.
The entire process, including the visit to the SARS branch, took him less than a day.
It is also important to note that getting the importers code was free.
Below is the step-by-step guide from SARS on applying for an importers code.