Custom Guide for African Travel


When foreign countries admit travelers from abroad, they take on a small amount of risk when it comes to protecting their economy and their ecosystem. Just one invasive species specimen is all it takes, for instance, to set off an environmental disaster. Smuggling of low-cost goods from abroad can also disrupt long-established trade patterns.

So, to be allowed access to countries like South Africa, you will have to prove that you are not up to mischief by complying with the procedures and restrictions for bringing goods through customs. Here are just some of the most important things you should know:

Items That Are Banned From Entry to South Africa

The following items are not allowed into the country and may even subject you to criminal charges for bringing them into the airport:

  • Illegal narcotics, including cannabis, cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and illegally procured prescription painkillers
  • Fully automatic weapons, military-grade weapons and weapons lacking a serial number
  • All explosives, fireworks and “weapons of mass destruction”
  • Poisons and toxic substances
  • Large cigarettes weighing over two grams each (2kg per 1,000)
  • Counterfeit goods and goods that violate international copyrights and trademarks
  • Goods made by prison labor

Goods That Must Be Declared

Certain goods must be declared to indicate that the traveller is aware of the stated limits and to get on-record that the goods are being brought with them. When in doubt, declare everything.

The following goods must be declared:

  • Currency in excess of R25,000; all foreign currency over $10,000 in value; coins or stamp collections; gold coins; unprocessed gold
  • Endangered plant or animal species, alive or dead, as well as any products or parts derived from them
  • All agricultural and plant products, including honey, seeds, fruit, flowers, margarine, vegetable oils, dairy products, chicken eggs, butter, poultry and all animals living or dead
  • Medicines — A one-month’s supply of pharmaceutical drugs intended for personal use can be brought in; amounts in excess of this or not for personal use must be declared and accompanied by a physician’s letter or certified prescription

Goods That Can Be Brought in Duty Free

The following goods can be brought into South Africa without having to pay a duty:

  • Wine — Up to two liters a person
  • Spirits and/or other alcoholic beverages — Up to one liter total per person
  • Perfume — up to 50 ml a person, or up to 250 ml a person for less-concentrated eau-de-toilette products
  • Cigars — Up to 20 a person
  • Cigarettes — Up to 200 a person
  • Loose tobacco — Up to 250g a person
  • Personal belongings, including recreation and sports equipment
  • Up to 25 kg in handmade goods, even if they are intended for sale
  • If arriving from Swaziland, Lesotho, Namibia or Botswana, up to R25,000 total in duty free allowances
  • For all countries not listed above, up to R5,000 in duty free allowances

Paying Duties and Reclaiming VAT

All items not covered by exceptions or in excess of stated limits are subject to both a duty and a value added tax (VAT), even if the items were bought in a “duty-free” shop. All VAT amounts you pay to customs and throughout your entire trip can potentially be claimed and repaid when exiting the country, so make sure to keep original receipts for all purchases.

Find Out More Information on Respective Customs Guide Pages

You can consult the respective embassy website for you destination country, such as this page of customs guidelines for entry into South Africa, to make sure that you understand the rules and your obligations when entering the country.

You can also contact us for advice on getting through customs, packing and avoiding issues in general during your African safari vacation.

Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa


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