Ordered clothes from overseas? How to work out customs fees.

I’m ashamed to admit I contribute significantly to the UK economy due to an ASOS addiction. But until I can have a local online shopping experience with the same variety and brilliant UX , I will continue taking advantage of mega-sales from overseas.

The only problem is CUSTOMS. Your amazing package of goodies eventually arrives after sitting at OR Tambo for a month and then they nail you with fees that are nearly the total value of what you ordered. It’s laughable that imports flowed almost freely in the 90s for just long enough to kill our local manufacturing industry before government decided this might not be a wise idea. So now we have a situation where there is almost-zero local manufacturing plus you can’t get your hands on decent international clothing either.

But that’s another debate entirely. A few months ago I patiently had a long conversation with a very helpful SARS official who spelled out how those damn fees actually work. I wrote down the formula, but for those who didn’t pass mathematics I’ve put it into an example below using the amount of R1000 as a base.


R1000 x 10% (customs fee) = R100

R1000 x 45% (customs duty) = R450

R1000 + R100 + R450 = R1550

R1550 x 14% (VAT) = R217

R1550 + R217 = R1767

R1767 – R1000 = R767

Total Fees: R767 (for R1000 worth of goods)

Note that this applies to all textiles and clothing imports. The only way you won’t pay duties is if the package is clearly marked “Samples”, and even then SARS might decide to charge you, especially if the tags are still attached.

For those who do like formulae, here is the original:

x10% = y

x45% = z

x + y + z = a

a14% = b

a + b = c

c – x = Total Fees


  • Hollie
    January 23, 2013 - 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Probably the most useful post I’ve read all decade! Thanks AS! x

  • Grant Duncan
    January 23, 2013 - 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Hey Amanda, but do South Africans trust the postal service yet? This is another major factor, no?

  • Jane
    January 23, 2013 - 10:44 pm | Permalink

    No need for a complicated formula – it’s 76.7% of the amount. I just tested it with another random amount…

  • Claire
    April 23, 2014 - 7:40 am | Permalink

    After being hit with a few hefty customs fees to pay the first few times I ordered online I now limit myself to R500 online shopping limits. This worked pretty well for me as I would place more orders but at smaller amounts so I could receive my package hassle and expense free. However I have recently been paying customs fees on orders placed well within my R500 (customs fee free) limit. For example a coat arrived this morning from NastyGal and even though the value of the coat was under R400 I’m the sucker that has to pay In almost an extra R300 in import duties. Even with the extra import duties the coat is still cheaper than what I could go and buy at an average local retailer like Woolworths. So I’ve sucked it up and paid the extra fee. (which I have calculated to be 76.7% of my original order amount). So farewell to the R500 custom fee free days!

  • vuyani
    July 22, 2014 - 5:24 pm | Permalink

    How did you get to 76.7% , when is you add up her percentage it’s 69% where does the 7.7% go to?

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