SARS has issued a media release for South African resident travellers returning to South Africa with personal effects such as laptops, iPads, cell phones, golf clubs, cameras and/or other personal valuables. Sars is attempting to clarify what they quaintly refer to as "confusion in the media" in regard to the SA resident who recently had to pay R1 500 at customs for his laptop, when he couldn't produce proof of purchase.
In doing so, Sars has merely added to the confusion.
Sars advises that no resident can be penalised for not declaring or registering their personal effects when leaving SA, but that they may be required to "provide proof of local purchase or ownership" on return.
But who on earth travels with proof of local purchase or ownership of personal effects? How do you prove that your diamond ring given to you when you got engaged was locally purchased, or that it is actually yours? Must you furnish the original invoice, or will a copy suffice? And that fake Louis Vuitton bag? Actually, it is illegal to bring fake goods into South Africa, be warned.
Why does Sars refer to "personal" laptops? Many residents would be carrying business laptops and business cell phones. Would a letter from the business concerned suffice? What about leased laptops?
A happy snappy photographer (like me) can travel overseas with a cell phone, laptop, two cameras and four lenses. That is eight invoices... And quite frankly, I would rather keep the invoices in a safe place in case required for insurance purposes.
My advice to you is that you declare (register) these goods on leaving South Africa. You will find the customs officer at the airport departure hall where you will complete a TC-01 form, which the customs officer will capture online. After signing on a digital signature pad, a copy will be printed for you. On your return, you may be asked to present this. This will be valid for six months. But if you are a frequent traveller, and don't always travel with the same personal effects, it won't actually assist you.
When registering your personal valuables on departure, the customs official will usually want to check the registration number on the cell phone, laptop, camera or lens. If you have a number of items, this can take some time. Hold thumbs that there isn't a long line of travellers waiting to register their personal effects in front of you, and that the printer is in operation. Expect lost looking tourists to butt in and ask a question. And for safety purposes, I advise you to take out your valuables one item at a time. The counter in front of the customs official should be larger, it is fairly stressful handing over a very heavy lens for the customs official to scrutinise the registration number. If you are lucky, the customs official will let you write down the registration numbers.
I suggest that Sars allows for the online registration of personal valuables before departure. If proof of purchase is required to prove ownership, why is it necessary for the customs official to "inspect" the valuable at the airport? An interested customs officials can check the online registration on one's return. If not, Sars will have to have more customs officials on duty to service every passenger declaring a cell phone and laptop.
For those who would rather travel with proof of ownership, I suggest that Sars clarifies whether the invoice can be a copy, and if so, whether it must be certified. In terms of business cell phones and laptops, Sars should state what document would satisfy the customs official. I'm not sure what personal identification on a cell phone or laptop will be necessary, as all this could be stored in the cloud and loaded onto any cell phone or laptop anywhere. And what is valuable? Over R10 000? Over R20 000? Is Sars referring to the current value, or the original cost? Please Sars, provide some clarity.
But the more important question is, what is the risk of South Africans purchasing laptops and cell phones overseas in any event? And if they do, how much money is the fiscus losing? Anywhere near what Sars incurred in irregular expenditure in regard to executive bonuses? Anyhow, anyone purchasing a grey good overseas, runs the risk of the guarantee not being met in South Africa, and they may not even be able to have it repaired in South Africa. It isn't advisable.
Of all the low hanging fruit that Sars is desperately trying to gather up, this must surely be of lesser significance. However, what is significant, is that once again, Sars is demonstrating how it will flex its muscles at individuals.