How is Customs VAT Calculated in South Africa?

How is Customs VAT Calculated in South Africa? When it comes to importing goods into South Africa, understanding how Customs VAT (Value Added Tax) is calculated is crucial. Customs VAT is a tax levied on the importation of goods and is determined based on the value of the goods, including shipping and insurance costs. In this article, we will delve into the process of calculating Customs VAT in South Africa and provide you with a clear understanding of how it works.

What is Customs VAT?

Customs VAT, also known as import VAT, is a tax imposed by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) on the importation of goods from outside the country. The purpose of Customs VAT is to generate revenue for the government and protect local industries by ensuring that imported goods are subject to the same tax burden as similar goods produced domestically.

How is Customs VAT Calculated?

The calculation of Customs VAT in South Africa involves the following steps:

Step 1: Determine the Customs Value The Customs Value is the value of the imported goods for Customs purposes. It includes the cost of the goods, packaging, freight, insurance, and any other charges incurred during transportation. To calculate the Customs Value, you need to refer to the invoice or commercial documentation provided by the supplier or seller.

Step 2: Convert the Customs Value to South African Rand (ZAR) Since Customs VAT is calculated in South African Rand (ZAR), it is essential to convert the Customs Value from the currency stated on the invoice to ZAR. The exchange rate used is the rate published by SARS on their website on the date of payment of Customs duties and taxes.

Step 3: Determine the Customs Duty Customs Duty is a separate tax imposed on imported goods, which is calculated based on the Harmonized System (HS) codes assigned to the products. While this article focuses on Customs VAT, it is worth noting that Customs Duty is also payable and needs to be factored into the overall import cost.

Step 4: Calculate Customs VAT Customs VAT is calculated as a percentage of the sum of the Customs Value and Customs Duty. The current standard rate for Customs VAT in South Africa is 15%. However, certain goods may be subject to different rates or exemptions. It is essential to consult the SARS website or seek professional advice to determine the applicable VAT rate for specific goods.

Step 5: Additional Costs In addition to Customs VAT, there might be additional costs associated with the importation process, such as handling fees, storage charges, and any applicable surcharges. These costs are separate from Customs VAT and need to be considered when calculating the overall import cost.

Customs VAT Exemptions and Relief

Certain goods may qualify for Customs VAT exemptions or relief. For example, goods imported for personal use by individuals may be exempt from Customs VAT if they fall within the prescribed thresholds. Additionally, certain essential goods, such as medicines, may qualify for VAT relief. It is crucial to familiarize yourself with the specific exemptions and relief provisions provided by SARS to understand whether your imported goods qualify for any preferential treatment.

Registering for VAT and Compliance

If you are a business involved in importing goods into South Africa on a regular basis, it is generally advisable to register for VAT with SARS. By registering, you can claim input VAT on your imports, which can offset the VAT payable on your sales. Registering for VAT also entails complying with various reporting and payment obligations, such as submitting VAT returns and remitting VAT payments within the specified timeframes.


Understanding how Customs calculated VAT is essential for anyone involved in international trade. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can calculate the Customs VAT accurately and be better prepared for the importation process.

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