Cyber Monday tips: What to know before buying from overseas online sites

28 November 2016 - 14:14 By Wendy Knowler

Be careful where you click this Cyber Monday - buy from an overseas retail site and that bargain will be anything but by the time it gets to you.

That’s because what you buy from an overseas or cross-border retailer will be subject to import duties and VAT.

A few e-retailers offer Delivered Duty Paid (DDP) terms, with all costs, inclusive of delivery, duties, taxes and clearance costs, being payable upfront at checkout, to avoid any surprise costs at destination.

But, warns Hennie Heymans, MD of international couriers DHL, most e-tailers who offer delivery across borders only include the delivery cost. “All additional costs specific to the import country are for the consumers to pay on receipt.”

Stephen of Kempton Park learnt this the hard way this month. His wife bought him a rugby shirt from a UK-based online retailer for his birthday, which cost her the equivalent of R1300, including delivery costs.

“But when the shirt got to DHL here in SA, they refused to release it until R850 in duties and VAT had been paid.

“Do I have grounds to appeal this hefty duty, given that this was a gift?”

Unfortunately not - gifts coming into this country via postal service or courier company are indeed customs duty and VAT exempt, provided they are not worth any more than the Rand equivalent of R1400.

(This amount was only very recently increased from just R400, which had been in place for 22 years despite the drastic depreciation of the Rand.) But the parcel has to have been bought abroad and then delivered to South Africa as a gift; not bought in South Africa from an overseas online retailer, intended as a gift.

So if Stephen wants that rugby jersey, he has no choice but to pay that R850.

DHL and other couriers pay the duties and taxes on the recipient’s behalf and then recover them from the recipient on delivery.

How much is payable depends on where the goods were sent from, the type of goods, their transactional value and the weight of the package.

If you are expecting a Christmas gift from a friend or loved one overseas, make sure you tell them to make sure that the declared value is no more than the equivalent of R1400. If not the parcel will be subject to customs duties and VAT as if it was a regular purchase, rather than a gift.


A person can receive two gifts per calendar year, of which the value must not exceed R1 400 for each parcel on which the duty will be rebated.

The following consumables are excluded from the rebate:

- Wines

- Spirits

- Tobacco (Including cigarettes and cigars)

- Perfume