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Importing Used or Salvage Vehicles from the United States into South Africa

By Mike Richards Updated: 06/29/2022 Posted: 11/18/2016

The United States and South Africa enjoy an incredibly strong trade relationship, especially when it comes to cars. In fact, many American auto markers own and operate manufacturing plants in South Africa, and the auto-manufacturing industry overall is a primary driver of the South African economy. This sounds good for someone who’s looking to import cheap used cars from the United States into South Africa. Although there are some things that you’ll need to know. Namely, several restrictions have been put in place, explicitly concerning used cars, to protect South Africa’s auto industry.

If you are going to import a used vehicle from the United States into South Africa, you need to understand these restrictions. Also, you need to understand the various import duties and taxes for which you’ll be liable. You will also need to know how the customs clearance process works. Below, we’re going to review everything you need to know when it comes to importing used U.S. vehicles into South Africa. South Africa is one of the largest African markets for car exports.

Purchasing Used Vehicles at U.S. Online Car Auctions

To get the best possible deal on used and salvage vehicles in the United States, there’s only one place you should go: online car auctions. Savvy car buyers know that auctions are a much cheaper alternative to buying from car dealers. Furthermore, when importing cars for the African car market, you will want to save as much money as possible. Through websites that provide this service, you can gain access to used car auctions taking place across the country every day that had previously only been open to those with dealer’s licenses. Because of this, you can enjoy a dealer’s level of savings, which sometimes ranges up to 80% or even more.


Even better, online car auctions are convenient and easy to get started with. You merely need to create an account with an online car auction website and make a deposit. The deposit will establish your bidding power in the auctions you’re interested in, with the size of the deposit typically representing 10% of what your maximum bid can be.

With an account created, you can browse an extensive database, looking for used cars that meet your criteria. To help you throughout the process, there will also be an auction agent or broker. He or she can help to refine your search, devise bidding strategies, and can even connect you with used car auctions that cannot be displayed online. All told, online car auctions give you the best opportunity to purchase used U.S. vehicles at the most affordable prices. In many places, you can even use car finance.

Shipping a Used or Salvage U.S. Car to South Africa

South Africa is home to one of the busiest ports in the world. As such, it serves as a significant economic hub for its region. As such, finding a port in the United States from which you can ship a used vehicle to South Africa should be a relatively straightforward affair. The only thing you’ll have to concern yourself with is in choosing a shipping method that makes sense for you. It’s quite common. For many of the cars in Africa someone has had to import to Africa, as the local markets do not have any major car manufacturer. Individuals shipping cars to Africa, especially locally popular cars, has led to a wide range of vehicles available. This has been one of the great success stories of how the export of used cars has helped the vehicles market in this African country.

Types of Shipping

First and foremost, you can opt for traditional container shipping. However, if you’re looking to cut shipping costs a bit, there is another option. It’s known as RORO shipping, which stands for “roll-on roll-off.” With this method, your vehicle will be rolled onto the ship at its departure port and then rolled off upon arrival in South Africa. Because this involves significantly less labor, it’s considerably cheaper. Also, it’s far more convenient.

The only drawback is that your vehicle could become damaged in transit due to the lack of protection afforded by a container. While the risks are minimal, this is something you’ll want to keep in mind if you’re shipping a classic or otherwise valuable automobile to South Africa.

Cars For Export

The Ports

There are three major container ports in South Africa. The largest of those is the Port of Durban, which is the fourth-largest port in the entirety of the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to this, there is also the Port of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Aside from these three major container ports, there are five others along the South African coastline prepared for commercial shipping.

The Transnet National Ports Authority oversees all of South Africa’s ports. Should you have any questions about your options, you can consult the Transnet National Ports Authority’s official website right here.

Once your vehicle is unloaded, which takes longer if you are using container shipping, you need to clear customs.

Clearing Your Used Vehicle Shipped to South Africa Through U.S. Customs

To clear a used vehicle through U.S. customs, you’ll need to do two things. First, you’ll need to gather the appropriate documentation. Second, you’ll need to provide that documentation and your vehicle to U.S. customs at least 72 hours in advance of your ship date.

As far as documentation is concerned, you will need to have the vehicle’s Original Certificate of Title. In addition to this, you will also need to provide one of the two following things. First, you can provide customs with a certified copy of the Original Certificate of Title. If you cannot, you can give customs two complete copies of the Original Certificate of Title. The choice is yours.

Once U.S. customs has both your vehicle and the documentation outlined above, they will do two things. First, they will inspect your vehicle thoroughly. This is to ensure that you have not illegally placed any items inside of the car before shipping. Second, they will verify that the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the documents provided is a match for the vehicle presented.

export car middle east

After you pass the inspection and the VIN has been matched you will be cleared by U.S. customs. Should you have any additional questions about this process, consult the official website for U.S. Customs and Border Security right here.

Import Restrictions for Used Vehicles Imported Into South Africa

In recent years, the government of South Africa has taken several steps to protect its ever-important automobile manufacturing industry. Most notably, it has made importing used vehicles into the country especially difficult, only designating a certain class of used vehicles as being permissible for import.

First and foremost, the majority of used vehicle imports are restricted to either returning South African citizens or those who are immigrating into the country. In these cases, there are no specific restrictions placed upon the vehicle itself. Instead, the returning citizen or immigrant must do several things.

For returning citizens, an “Application for the Importation of a Secondhand or Used Vehicle Form (IE462)” must be completed. You can find a link to this form here. Also, you must provide proof of employment abroad. This proof of employment should take the form of a letter from your employer and must specify your period of work. Finally, you must be able to provide a copy of the vehicle’s registration.

For those immigrating to South Africa, you must also submit a completed “Application for the Importation of a Secondhand or Used Vehicle Form (IE462)” (see link above). Also, you must provide a copy of your permanent South African resident certificate, your passport, and a copy of the vehicle’s registration certificate.

Further Reading

New vs used cars

If you are not importing a used vehicle as a returning citizen or as an immigrant, then there are several other restrictions in place, these on the kind of vehicle that you can import. Namely, the South African government only permits the importation of the following types of vehicles from non-citizens or non-immigrants:

  • Vintage Automobiles (25 Years or Older).
  • Racing Vehicles.
  • Vehicles that Will Be Donated to Charitable Organizations.
  • Vehicles Adapted for Use by Disabled Individuals.

To import a vehicle into South Africa that meets the above criteria, you will first need to obtain a Special Import Permit from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). To do this, please consult their website here. You will need to get in touch with SABS, who can then provide you with the form to complete and submit. Typically speaking, it takes SABS five days to process and grant or deny these permits.

Note, however, that you can import a used vehicle into South Africa that will subsequently export to another neighboring country. In these instances, one takes possession of the vehicle at the port under bond and then transports it to the South African border, where it will transfer to the buyer.

Getting Your Used or Salvage Car Through South African Customs

Unlike the restrictions placed upon used vehicles imported into South Africa, the process for clearing a used vehicle through South African customs is fairly straightforward. At least provided that you’ve ensured that your used U.S. vehicle meets all of the requirements outlined above. You will then be required to present the following documentation when your vehicle arrives in South Africa:

  • Original Certificate of Title
  • Original U.S. Vehicle Registration
  • Passport or Other Identification
  • The Original Bill of Landing
  • Special Import Permit (If Applicable)
  • Approved IE462 Form (If Applicable)
  • Letter of Authority

car export for UK

The last document is something that you’ll need to obtain from the National Regulator of Compulsory Specifications (NRCS). Specifically, you will need to fill out and submit a completed LA01 form. When submitting this document, you will also be required to pay a fee. The size of the fee will depend upon the type of vehicle imported and that vehicle’s value. For more information about the Letter of Authority and to obtain a copy of the LA01 form, please visit this website.


Once South African customs has verified the documentation outlined above, and you’ve paid all essential duties, taxes, and fees, your used U.S. vehicle will then be cleared. Should you have any additional questions about the customs clearance process in South Africa, please consult the official website for South African Customs, which overseen by the South African Revenue Service.

Note that car importers ship cars in large volumes from the USA to Africa, and are experienced in helping ship a car to Africa. Selling secondhand cars shipped to South Africa or any of its neighbors is a tried and tested business model. Selling a car overseas is always dependant on the market you’re going into.

Import Duties and Taxes for U.S. Vehicles Imported into South Africa

Import duties and taxes due on used vehicles imported into South Africa are the same for returning citizens, immigrants, and those importing used vehicles that meet the criteria outlined above. There are, however, certain circumstances in which a returning citizen or immigrant can exempt himself from these duties and taxes. These circumstances are described below.

In the case of used vehicles purchased secondhand, a car’s value can only be depreciated up to 45%. In cases where a vehicle was purchased new but is now “used,” the value of the vehicle can be depreciated up to 60%.

All used vehicles are subject to an import duty of 32%, regardless of size. This includes everything from light vehicles to heavy trucks. In addition to this duty, there is also an “Ad Valorum” duty of approximately 2%. Depending upon the vehicle’s value, this could be slightly less or slightly more. Please contact South African Customs for questions about your specific vehicle. In addition to the above, there is also a Value Added Tax (VAT) assessed on imported used vehicles that are equivalent to 14% of the car’s value.

Customs Officer


To qualify for an exemption to the above taxes and duties, the individual importing the used vehicle must meet the following criteria:

  • The vehicle must be registered in your name for 12 months or longer.
  • You must be changing your address to reside in South Africa permanently.
  • You must sign a non-sale certificate attesting that you will not sell or otherwise dispose of the vehicle for at least two years.

The rules for import duties and taxes are overseen by the South African Revenue Service (SARS). Should you have any further questions or need to address any confusion, please consult their official for customs-related inquiries right here.

Don’t forget if you will be driving the car yourself – you will also need to consider local car insurance.

The Used Car Market in South Africa

As in many other countries around the globe, Toyota is the top dog in the South African auto market. However, there is good news for those looking to import used vehicles from the United States. Several American auto makes enjoy tremendous popularity with South African car buyers. This has much to do with the numerous American auto manufacturers operating within the country.

Most notably, Ford and General Motors are the third and fourth most popular makes in the country. These two finish behind Toyota and Volkswagen. When it comes to popular vehicles from these manufacturers, there’s one that stands above the rest, the Ford Ranger. This lightweight pick-up truck is, in fact, one of the top-5 most popular vehicles in the country overall. The Ranger competes for market share with the relatively similar Toyota Hilux.

Also, as with nations across North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, and the Middle East: a Japanese car is always popular. Especially a Japanese used car. Those buying vehicles in Africa are not likely to want a luxury car, a sports car or any expensive car. Buyers are rather looking for a cheaper secondhand car to import or an imports vehicle already in the country.

In 2015, the best-selling car in South Africa was far and away the Volkswagen Polo. In that year alone it moved over 50,000 units, double that of the second-most popular vehicle, the Toyota Corolla. That year, Ford also managed to land three other vehicles in the top 10, including the Fiesta and the Ecosport. Overall, the market is pretty well divided between those who want fuel-efficient and cheap light vehicles and those who require pick-up trucks and heavy-duty SUVs for practical purposes.

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