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Confusion around customs requirements for SA resident travellers

Sars demonstrating how it will flex its muscles at individuals.
Travelling with proof of ownership of jewellery or electronic goods is cumbersome. Picture:George Frey/Bloomberg

Sars has issued a media release for South African resident travellers returning to South Africa with personal effects such as laptops, iPads, cell phones, golf clubs, cameras and/or other personal valuables. Sars is attempting to clarify what they quaintly refer to as “confusion in the media” in regard to the SA resident who recently had to pay R1 500 at customs for his laptop, when he couldn’t produce proof of purchase.

In doing so, Sars has merely added to the confusion.

Sars advises that no resident can be penalised for not declaring or registering their personal effects when leaving SA, but that they may be required to “provide proof of local purchase or ownership” on return.

But who on earth travels with proof of local purchase or ownership of personal effects? How do you prove that your diamond ring given to you when you got engaged was locally purchased, or that it is actually yours? Must you furnish the original invoice, or will a copy suffice? And that fake Louis Vuitton bag? Actually, it is illegal to bring fake goods into South Africa, be warned.

Why does Sars refer to “personal” laptops? Many residents would be carrying business laptops and business cell phones. Would a letter from the business concerned suffice? What about leased laptops?

A happy snappy photographer (like me) can travel overseas with a cell phone, laptop, two cameras and four lenses. That is eight invoices… And quite frankly, I would rather keep the invoices in a safe place in case required for insurance purposes.

My advice to you is that you declare (register) these goods on leaving South Africa. You will find the customs officer at the airport departure hall where you will complete a TC-01 form, which the customs officer will capture online. After signing on a digital signature pad, a copy will be printed for you. On your return, you may be asked to present this. This will be valid for six months. But if you are a frequent traveller, and don’t always travel with the same personal effects, it won’t actually assist you.

When registering your personal valuables on departure, the customs official will usually want to check the registration number on the cell phone, laptop, camera or lens. If you have a number of items, this can take some time. Hold thumbs that there isn’t a long line of travellers waiting to register their personal effects in front of you, and that the printer is in operation. Expect lost looking tourists to butt in and ask a question. And for safety purposes, I advise you to take out your valuables one item at a time. The counter in front of the customs official should be larger, it is fairly stressful handing over a very heavy lens for the customs official to scrutinise the registration number. If you are lucky, the customs official will let you write down the registration numbers.

I suggest that Sars allows for the online registration of personal valuables before departure. If proof of purchase is required to prove ownership, why is it necessary for the customs official to “inspect” the valuable at the airport? An interested customs officials can check the online registration on one’s return. If not, Sars will have to have more customs officials on duty to service every passenger declaring a cell phone and laptop.

For those who would rather travel with proof of ownership, I suggest that Sars clarifies whether the invoice can be a copy, and if so, whether it must be certified. In terms of business cell phones and laptops, Sars should state what document would satisfy the customs official. I’m not sure what personal identification on a cell phone or laptop will be necessary, as all this could be stored in the cloud and loaded onto any cell phone or laptop anywhere. And what is valuable? Over R10 000? Over R20 000? Is Sars referring to the current value, or the original cost? Please Sars, provide some clarity.

But the more important question is, what is the risk of South Africans purchasing laptops and cell phones overseas in any event? And if they do, how much money is the fiscus losing? Anywhere near what Sars incurred in irregular expenditure in regard to executive bonuses? Anyhow, anyone purchasing a grey good overseas, runs the risk of the guarantee not being met in South Africa, and they may not even be able to have it repaired in South Africa. It isn’t advisable.

Of all the low hanging fruit that Sars is desperately trying to gather up, this must surely be of lesser significance. However, what is significant, is that once again, Sars is demonstrating how it will flex its muscles at individuals.

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Just another attempt to squeeze every penny out of the 5% (or something like that) who actually pay taxes. Stealing milk out of coffee…

Why has Mr. Zuma not paid his Tax??? Apparently R60,000,000?
Why has Mr. Zuma not paid his Tax??? Apparently R60,000,000?
Why has Mr. Zuma not paid his Tax??? Apparently R60,000,000?
Why has Mr. Zuma not paid his Tax??? Apparently R60,000,000?
Why has Mr. Zuma not paid his Tax??? Apparently R60,000,000?

Does this politburo never learn it’s lesson. they are trying to undo their cockup with the children’birthday certificate issue , now they come with this kak !!

” You will find the customs officer at the airport departure hall …”
Not if you are flying internationally out of Durbs. Good luck with that one.

Pointless exercise – the amount lost to the fiscus is negligible of the individuals buying a laptop and phone or two overseas. I’d be more concerned about large scale ‘smuggling’ without customs permits, but the occasional shopper who brings in a couple laptops a year like this for himself and friends – it would cost SARS more in employee costs than the income earned surely?

Probably the brainfart, sorry brain child of an official with a stake in a hijacking syndicate. Just think, you register any valuables when you leave, now some enterprising official with access to booking systems can see exactly when your scheduled to return, plus same officials have access to your address and a recent list of any valuables, that they can now prioritize and plan for. Online shopping for hijacking syndicates. I bet there’ll be a spike in hijackings on returning traveller’s pretty soon.

Local shops pulling strings. Any traveler from S.A compare stuff for sale. Take the U.K one pound shop. All their stuff cost double, or more, at home, on first sight. Electronics can be tempting to. Check the online possibility like Argos. At home shop owners are clusters of friends. One card counts for many. Prizes of stuff are sett and not fiddled whit. Except for the famous sale with slogans like, up to 80 percent discount. That up to, and save, are their greatest invention. After the wordless Rand.

This is like stepping back into SA circa 1982 when Customs & Excise were playing the same silly games. A British customs official laughed out loud when I told him about this saying it was a complete waste of resources and that the UK had abandoned this approach in the 1970’s to focus on doing their job, i.e. catching real smugglers and other criminals.

If SARS wants to stuff around with this nonsense then at the very least they must provide an online solution where you can upload scans of invoices (or insurance valuations, etc) and images of the items and then carry out an online registration. Then, if they want to check something on arrival they can just open the digital records on their PC’s and compare the data to the item(s) concerned. Pie in the sky I know!

I happen to think that this isn’t organised or understood at all; SARS simply do not have the capability for this. It is a Zim style, every man for himself as to what he can score by any means possible; made up, intimidatory etc. The “media release” tacitly accepts this as I guess a bit of the ripoff gets spread around and upwards and the upper echelon are political ANC appointees; they know little of law and regulation, only how to corrupt and steal on any scale.

Wifey got an I Pad 2 for her birthday. No invoice ….. what is she supposed to do for proof of payment?

You can register your device on departure. In any case, your iPad 2 is close to worthless by now (unless you meant an iPad Air 2).

Desperate moves by a desperate regime!

Billions gone to Zupta but Joe Soap suffers for the missing money. To hell with the regime

25y ago there were meaningful differences in buying consumer electronics on trips – as in ⅓ the SA price. Now, not so much.

SARS must be hard-up going for this, they should focus on Panama, Lichtenstein, Mauritius, tax haven structures for the billions, not couple of 100 thousand in duties and taxes on 10,000 travel dodgers per year

I know of no one who purchases I-phones or laptops overseas. Local Windows, OSX issues as well as Vodacom subsidies, keep 95% of these purchases local. There is no law compelling you to carry proof of purchase. Walk over to the airport police station, depose an affidavit, searing under oath that your wife received an I-pad as a birthday present. It is now up to SARS to prove you did not. Sounds like a hijacking intel gathering festival to me

This has always been the case. It’s interesting how South Africans complain about lawlessness, and then when the law is enforced, they make excuses and whine.

End of comments.


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