How long does a shipment take to clear customs in South Africa?

Each and every day, there are millions of international shipments being made. All of these packages being shipped internationally will have to be cleared by a customs agency, as it enters the destination country. The customs clearance process will differ from country to country and its effectiveness will depend on the agency that oversees it.

In South Africa, we have a rigorous and strict customs clearance process. Our customs clearance process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to a few weeks. There are several factors that could extend – or shorten – the time it takes for your goods to be allowed through customs. These factors could include congestion, faulty documentation, inspections and even where they are coming from.

Estimated times for customs clearance

The estimated time for exported and imported goods to clear South African customs can range from a few minutes to about five days. These are only rough averages and, as mentioned, these times can be impacted by a variety of factors that might slow the customs process down.

The time it takes for any parcel to be shipped, clear customs and arrive at its destination will vary at each stage. The process will depend on what kind of goods you are shipping and how many of them, as well as the quality of packing and shipping and the upkeep of necessary payments and documentation.

The problem with faulty documentation

The most common reason for packages being delayed during the customs process is faulty documentation. If any of the information provided is incorrect or there is information missing, your shipment will not be released by customs officials until the necessary information has been received.

For example, every shipment that arrives in South Africa needs to be accompanied by a copy of the commercial invoice. Shipments without a commercial invoice will be held until a copy of the document has been supplied to our customs agents. Pro Forma invoices, consignment notes or handwritten invoices will not be accepted. These rules may differ for other countries you want to export to.

The person receiving the shipment is the considered the official importer of record and is responsible for ensuring that all the required paperwork is accurate, complete and in accordance with the law. Any discrepancies could result in financial penalties or the seizure of your goods. If you are importing goods into South Africa, please ensure that your retailer provides a complete and appropriate invoice with your shipment.

The potential for congestion

Congestion is another common factor that could cause your shipment’s customs clearance to take longer than expected. If there are large quantities of goods entering our borders on a particular day or your shipments are coming out of a busy trade route, your cargo may take a little while longer. Depending on the type, size and origin of your shipment and the severity of the congestion, it could cause up to a two-week delay in the overall customs clearance procedures.

Inspections and security checks

This is one of the factors that, usually, comes down to blind luck. Packages are often chosen for random inspections and screenings, like check-in luggage after an international flight. This is in addition to inspecting any shipments that appear suspicious or dangerous, or if the attached documentation does not match the parcel. The inspection process can become a long one as there are so many packages that are being checked every day.

These inspections are notoriously thorough and will require patience from those who are eagerly awaiting their international packages. This is an unfortunate, but necessary, part of the customs clearance process that helps to ensure all imports in South Africa are safe and legal. A random inspection could take a few weeks to be completed and suspicious goods could take a month – or longer – for further investigations.

What comes next?

The complex and busy world of international shipping has necessitated the use of a customs agency to help monitor and secure all of the goods leaving or entering a given country. It is an unavoidable part of international shipping and must be accepted by all importers and exporters, buyers and sellers. However, if you complete all of the required documentation and make all of the necessary payments, your goods should be on their way to you in no time.

For years, M6T has offered industry-leading customs clearing solutions for South Africans to help simplify what is, sometimes, a complicated process. Whether you’re a buyer or seller, importer or exporter – M6T will take care of the necessary formalities associated with the customs clearance process.