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Know the law when shopping online

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In the run-up to the festive season, consumers are increasingly turning to online shopping portals instead of visiting physical stores due the convenience that these platforms offer – but they may be unwittingly breaking the law.
According to Oliver Facey, vice-president: operations for DHL Express Sub Saharan Africa, while local consumers are embracing the shift towards e-commerce, many are still not aware of the regulations involved with importing products purchased online from international retailers, which could lead to consumers incurring unexpected expenses. These charges also apply when receiving gifts from international origins.
He explains that consumers are often caught off-guard when their shipments and gifts arrive from international origins with unexpected additional charges.
“These are incurred when going through Customs where, depending on the type of goods being shipped, parcels may be subject to duties and taxes. All shipments transported across international borders must be cleared through Customs, and gifts are not necessarily exempted from duties and taxes.
“Import duties and taxes differ in each country and are usually calculated as a percentage of the item value but in certain instances they could also be a flat fee, depending on the product type. Import shipments may also be subject to interventions by Customs where the price, contents and country of manufacture are often investigated to mitigate a wide range of risks. This could result in delivery delays as well as additional costs.”
He says that as many consumers make use of e-commerce platforms to purchase and send gifts over the holiday season, they need to take note of the receiving country’s regulations to avoid the recipient being liable for additional charges. “For example, customs bureaus in Angola have legislated tax-free exemptions for gifts to an individual as long as the value is less than $350 and in Zimbabwe, the limit is $50. In South Africa, the value is R400, while Tanzania’s threshold is $15.
“With the weakening rand in South Africa, this needs to be top of mind for shoppers should they not want to incur additional charges for gifts purchased online. It is also important to note that each South African citizen may only receive two gifts, up to the value of R400, each year without incurring additional customs charges – so the third or fourth gift will not be exempt from customs charges. Also note that all types of alcohol and cigarettes are taxable when entering South Africa, regardless of value.”
He points to the European Union as another example, where customs charges have been relaxed over the festive season to stimulate trade during the period. This highlights the varying limits for exemptions, and demonstrates the importance of checking local regulations prior to making online purchases.
“Online shopping offers convenience and in many instances, cost savings, so once consumers become familiar with their local regulations, they will be able to reap the rewards. Customs duties and taxes are unfortunately beyond the control of shipping companies, and are regulated by the government of the relevant countries.”