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What you need to know about the SARS requirements for declaring valuable goods

There has been a lot of confusion about customs requirements for travellers when it comes to personal valuables.

In terms of Customs legislation, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) said in a press release that South African residents travelling abroad are not required to declare their personal effects when leaving the country, nor upon return.

'Personal effects' is defined in legislation as including items such as personal laptops, iPads, cell phones, golf clubs, cameras and/or other high-value items forming part of the traveller’s possessions when leaving the country.

Based on these provisions, SARS says no traveller can be penalised for not declaring or registering their personal effects upon leaving the country.

SARS does, however, state that upon return to South Africa, the traveller may be challenged by a Customs officer to provide proof of local purchase or ownership. "It is within the mandate of the Customs officer to establish whether the goods fit the description of “New or Used goods acquired whilst abroad," says SARS.

Travellers need to be able to provide proof of ownership, in the form of "an invoice, an insurance record, in the case of a laptop even the content on the laptop", says SARS. It would be at the discretion of the Customs officials to determine if the proof is sufficient or questionable, says SARS.

Penalties could be imposed for non- or false declaration in the event that the traveller has no proof. Travellers can also choose to pay a security amount to cover duty and VAT, in the event that he or she wants to retain the item, says SARS. This amount is refunded to the traveller once the proof of local purchase or ownership is presented to Customs.

Travellers who want to avoid the inconvenience of having to explain ownership upon returning from travel abroad can choose to complete a TC-01 (Traveller Card) before their departure.

Traveller24 outlined the process for the TC-01 or the Registration for Re-importation:

- Go to Customs before you check-in. It will be located in the departures hall.
- To declare goods: complete a TC-01 (Traveller Card) notifying your intent to register goods for re-importation. Provide device type and serial number.
- Present this to the Customs Officer who will then capture this online on a Traveller declaration system (TRD1).
- You will need to authenticate the declaration by signing on a digital signature pad.
- You will be provided with a printed copy to retain as proof of registration.
Following this process saves the traveller the burden of having to be questioned on their personal effects when they return.

SARS confirmed recent incidents have seen Customs reinforce its internal processes by providing these practice guidelines to front-line staff. What however remains of concern to ASATA is the fact that Customs officials are currently empowered to use their discretion to demand proof of local purchase of such items from travellers upon return, with a duty implication and/or a penalty, if the items were not declared on departure. We will continue to monitor and pursue the matter with SARS. Travellers who travel frequently would see their Registration for Re-importation process remain valid for six months.

Listen to SARS on Cape Talk

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