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What it takes to import into SA as a small business

Article by China Homelife Fair and China Machinex

You have found the product from China which will take South Africa by storm. In this exhilarating process you are excited, yet overwhelmed because the importing process seems complicated and daunting. Here are a few tips to guide you through the process.  

Start the paperwork  

The very first step will be for you to have a commercial invoice to import. Importantly this should not be a proforma invoice. This commercial invoice will give the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer a thorough description of what you are importing. This includes a detailed description, precise quantity and the true financial value of your product.

The importance of precision

The description of the goods being imported needs to be clear, precise and non-generic. For example, instead of stating that you are importing a man’s suit, indicate the exact materials it is made of, whether it is 100% cotton, polyester etc. Reason being, different materials are charged at different duty rates. An accurate description will prevent confusion and delay in the long run.

You will also need to specify whether the product is a sample or not, and SARS will check if this has been specified. Samples are mutilated goods, for example a left shoe with drilled holes, or a shirt with a cut out diamond in the back.

Stating the accurate commercial value of your products or samples needs to also be stated correctly, as anything found to be undervalued could lead to a hefty fine or trouble with the law.

SARS is your new best friend

The next stage will be to become a registered importer through their straightforward website. When you register, you receive an importer’s code. With this code you will be able to accurately import goods regularly.

SARS will then use the code to check your goods against the declared price and for that reason you must ensure that you are honest and accurate. If you are an irregular importer, you may apply as such, whereby you will be allowed to import products three times a year.

Be knowledgeable about China

In China alone there are 55 states, each with their own unique rules and duty fees. There is therefore a high chance for suppliers to under-declare the goods for importation. In this case, it is essential to work hand-in-hand with a clearing agent from the get-go to ensure that they are aware of the veritable value of the goods being imported. It will then be more likely that your commercial invoice will reflect the true value of your product. If your products have been under-declared you could face penalties such as fines or delays that could be anything between 3 and 18 working days.

Avoid these products

There are certain products that are not authorised to enter South Africa.

Unauthorised products include:

  • second-hand cars
  • certain medications that have not been approved by the medical control council
  • plant material without a license
  • certain animal products – including animal skins, and
  • certain liquids that may not be airfreighted.

If you are importing any goods that might be considered Dangerous Goods (flammable items for example) you must declare these items as such and make sure you provide a Material Safety Data Sheet for their import.

These steps, when implemented will enable you to import from China with ease and have your new business up and running.

China Homelife Fair and China Machinex is a proud partner of the National Small Business Chamber (NSBC).

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