The South African Revenue Service (SARS) recently published a media release to clarify the confusion about the customs requirements for South African travellers returning from abroad regarding their personal effects (such as laptops and other electronic equipment). The confusion stems from various media reports on the inconsistent treatment of returning travellers by customs officials, some having to pay a fine when they could not produce a proof of purchase.
SARS confirms that in terms of current customs legislation, travellers are not required to declare their personal effects when leaving the country and they cannot be penalised for not doing so. The practical difficulty that travellers face, however, if they do not declare their personal effects on departure is that upon return, customs officials may require that they produce proof of local purchase to prove that the goods are not ‘new or used goods acquired whilst abroad’ and which could attract duty implications. Customs officials have discretionary powers of what would constitute sufficient proof. There is, however, an option available to travellers if they want to ensure that the proof they produce is sufficient for the customs official, and which exists in terms of the ‘registration for re-importation’ framework.
Travellers can complete a TC-01 Traveller Card indicating their intent to register goods for re-importation (the TC-01 form is available on the SARS website for download). The form is very user-friendly and only requires minimum information to be completed, including personal and travel details. A customs official captures the details from the TC-01 form on an online traveller declaration system at a port of departure. After digital authentication, the traveller is presented with a copy to retain the proof of registration. This registration can remain valid for a period of up to six months.
The TC-01 form is also a useful guideline on the goods that may be imported duty-free into South Africa, including 2 litres of wine, 1 litre of other alcoholic beverages, 200 cigarettes and up to 50ml of perfume. Importantly, this allowance is available once every 30 days, and only after 48 hours of absence from South Africa.
SARS has also confirmed that customs officials have been provided with the new guidelines, as well as reinforcing its internal procedures. Although it is likely that there could be some practical issues with the traveller card system initially, it is important that travellers are aware of their rights and start using the system. Travellers are encouraged to download and complete the TC-01 form well in advance of travel and confirm the operating times of the customs desk at the airport where they depart from and return to, to ensure a smoother transition through customs on return.