What is a customs inspection?

From the first day we started our first business, we have dealt with customs in some way or form. From dealing with them directly, through an agent and now daily as part of our Clearing and Forwarding company, we have learned a lot through the years.

Knowledge is power and we want to ensure our customers always learn more from us.

Customs inspection is an official measure carried out by the customs office and is an important part of freight transport. Specific reasons for a customs inspection may include doubts regarding the customs declaration, monitoring, or suspicion of smuggling or trademark violations.

During a customs inspection, your goods are inspected by customs, or more specifically by a clearance officer, to check their quantityproperties or value. Either a sample (partial inspection) or the entire inventory of goods (full inspection) may be reviewed during the inspection. Also, you may need to unpack a certain selection of goods, sometimes resulting in damage to the goods themselves.

Customs Inspections – How to Prepare

  • In advance: You must prepare for the customs inspection in advance. Prepare your inventory in an easy to manage way and ensure that all required documents such as contracts, transportation documents or payment documents are available.
  • During: During the customs inspection you will need to unpack and then repack goods. You will be under enormous time pressure, as you will only be allowed to continue shipping your goods once you have obtained the customs findings.
  • After: The customs findings are provided after the customs inspection is completed. The findings are stated on the customs declaration and digitally in the ATLAS process
  • Done with your customs inspection? Get ready for the next one! A customs inspection might be finished quickly or might drag on. Learn from your mistakes and write them down after the customs inspection so you can have your goods pass through the process much more quickly next time and optimize the process.



  • Random Examination.
    There can be no particular reason for your cargo to be inspected, but it is chosen randomly, as SARS regularly does random examinations on a small percentage of shipments. It can be a VACIS (x-ray), tailgate, partial, or intensive exam.


  • Type of Commodity.
    Based on the type of commodity being imported, further exams may be required. Pharmaceuticals and chemicals can be sent for chemical analysis, for example, to ensure the correct classification of the goods. Animal products and perishable cargo are subject to approval by The Department of Food and Agriculture.


  • Country of Origin.
    If you are importing from some countries that are under South Africa’s flag list, your shipment is most likely to be inspected. For instance, if your cargo originates from Colombia, customs officers will likely be looking for drugs in their inspection. Also, be aware that there are some countries considered embargoed or sanctioned countries – Crimea (a region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria) – where the government prohibits ALL transactions (including imports and exports) without a license authorization.


  • Flagged Shippers.
    SARS Customs has a huge database of all shippers importing to  Some of them are flagged for inspection if there are suspicions that the shipper previously miss-declared their goods under an HS code that pays fewer duties to the government or even undercutting the commercial invoices so that they will be taxed on smaller amounts. For that reason, in particular, there are antidumping duties imposed, in addition to regular duties for countries like China, for specific shippers or factories.


  • Flagged Importers.
    The same rule applies to the importer, too. If you have a history of penalties imposed on you because you tried to miss-declare cargo, your next shipments are going to be inspected. Also, first-time importers are flagged for examination until it is determined that they comply with customs rules and regulations.


Whether you are an importer or exporter, remember one golden rule. Run an honest business. The damage you can do to your business for providing false information is far worse than paying the actual custom fees from the beginning.

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