SARS takes a further step towards improving the integrity of trade and traveller facilitation as part of implementing Smart Borders

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) on 20 October issued the following statement:


Travellers are required by law to make certain declarations of goods and cash on entering or leaving South Africa. The declaration process is in line with practices around the world and in compliance with the provision of the Customs and Excise Act No. 91 of 1964 which makes it mandatory for any person entering and leaving the Republic to declare any goods in their possession. Full details of prohibited and restricted goods are available on the SARS website (www.sars.gov.za), and travellers are advised that it is their responsibility to comply.

Failure to make a proper declaration as required under the Customs and Excise Act, 1964, is an offense that may result in the detention and forfeiture of the goods not declared and accompanying goods, imposition of an administrative penalty, and/or criminal prosecution depending on the seriousness of the offense.

In line with the Strategic Intent of voluntary compliance, the South African Revenue Service (SARS) provides clarity on the legal obligations of individuals as well as makes it easy to comply with these obligations. At the same time, SARS has improved its capability to detect and respond to non-compliance.

During November 2022, SARS will launch a pilot implementation of an electronic on-line portal for travellers to make declarations on a voluntary basis, well ahead of their arrival or departure to/from South Africa. This pilot will initially be implemented at the King Shaka International Airport. The new system will allow travellers to pre-declare goods purchased, received, or otherwise acquired. For travellers who choose not to use the on-line portal on their mobile devices, SARS will make available a paper form as well self-service counters at our terminals. A number of our Customs Officers will also have hand-held devices to assist travellers, and facilitate passage. Travellers will be permitted to continue to use the travellers’ card if they so choose.

SARS is of the view that the process of pre-declaration will enable travellers to have a swift and seamless movement when they arrive, and those departing, will also experience a smooth boarding process.

The South African Traveller Management System is part of the broader Customs Modernisation Programme that seeks to provide “pre-clearance” as far as possible to travellers and facilitate passage through our ports. SARS aims to create “SMART borders” by leveraging data and technology to create a seamless experience for legitimate traders and travellers at our ports of entry while enhancing its detection capabilities to respond to any risks.

A number of interventions are planned to realise our vision, and these include:

  • Collaborating with stakeholders such as airlines to have access to additional sources of passenger data in order to enhance our risk profiling
  • Deploying technological tools such as modern scanning equipment to automate the management and monitoring of trade and travel through our borders
  • Implementing tools such as the Single Window that can be used by government departments to simplify the submission of required declarations on the one hand, whilst also enhancing information exchange amongst government agencies to reduce trade and travel costs.
  • Enhancing cooperation with other countries to enable automatic exchange of information to support the integrity of disclosures, which in turn results in faster legitimate movement.


This new system, which is an improvement on the current manual completion of traveller declaration forms, will make it easy and simple for travellers to comply with their legal obligations. In line with SARS’ strategic objectives, the new systems provide a number of benefits in providing clarity to travellers on their obligations and making it easy to comply. When fully implemented, the system will leverage pre-arrival data to enhance an effective risk management approach, and introduce automated arrival processes to provide a “green lane” experience for compliant travellers while enabling, at a later stage, the online payment of appropriate duties seamlessly. The automation of the process also has the added benefit of dealing with traveller information in a more secure manner.

SARS understands the importance of facilitating the movement of legitimate travellers in supporting tourism and contributing to our economy whilst also putting necessary controls to detect any illicit movement of goods and currency

South Africa, like other countries around the world, has a responsibility to facilitate legitimate trade and travel in line with international standards by using risk management to manage the increasing number of trade and travel.

The new online traveller declaration system will, during the pilot phase, be fine-tuned based on insights gained as well as further engagement and feedback with various government departments and other stakeholders. Progressive implementation across all South African ports of entry, will commence as of 1 April 2023. 

By law, Customs must provide a Customs and Excise service that will facilitate legitimate trade and travel as well as protect the economy and society. This mandate is executed as part of the whole-of-government approach. Flowing from this mandate, it is also the responsibility of Customs to monitor financial flows through ports of entry, to detect and make it costly for those engaged in illicit financial flows, and to enforce the country’s laws and regulations. Travellers who have not submitted pre-declarations will still be allowed to enter or leave the Republic, but they are encouraged to voluntarily declare pre-departure or arrival to avoid the inconvenience of making a declaration at a port of entry. SARS will, in good faith, regard travellers who choose not to complete a declaration to have nothing to declare travellers are however reminded that they may be at risk, should they be stopped and searched by a SARS Customs official, and it is discovered that they ought to have made a declaration.

SARS will continue to work with and through stakeholders to improve the tax and Customs ecosystem. SARS has started and will continue engagements with relevant stakeholders to address any challenges or concerns. SARS values these engagements as an opportunity to partner with our stakeholders in creating a seamless border experience for all legitimate travellers in and out of South Africa. Further consultations and engagements with all stakeholders will continue even as implementation is underway.

SARS Commissioner Mr. Edward Kieswetter expressed his confidence that this approach, like in other countries where it’s implemented such as the United States, New Zealand, and Australia where travellers are expected to make declarations on entry, will assist to maintain the integrity of the domestic economy as well as contribute towards the integrity of the country’s financial system. He said that “all goods that are brought to the country or taken out of the country, must comply with our laws and be properly accounted for”. This remains the responsibility of the traveller or business entity.

For further information, please contact SARSMedia@sars.gov.za

Webinar and comments on International perception

SARS was unfortunately not able to join our webinar earlier this week. You can view the webinar recording during which CEO David Frost shared their statement here.

In its statement, SARS recognised that the tourism industry has been through significant turmoil in recent years and confirmed it did not want to add to the burden. It further committed to consulting with industry.

SATSA wrote to the SARS Commissioner to request urgent clarity and request a postponement of the 1 November implementation date.

SATSA has also received hundreds of questions from the sector, which have been curated and sent to SARS.

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