Physical Inspection

What is physical inspection?

Physical  inspection is the process of examining goods and making sure they are according to the requirements of the law. A Customs Inspector may for the purposes of the Act:

  •  Stop, detain and examine any goods while under Customs control in order to determine compliance with the Act or any other law in respect of such goods;
  • Question with respect to any matter dealt with in the Act, any person:
    • Found, or on reasonable grounds believed to be employed, on any premises entered for search purposes; and
    • On reasonable grounds believed to be or to have been in possession, custody or control of anything in respect of which any provision of the Act is applicable. Physical inspections encompass investigating, searching or examining goods, areas and modes of transport in an effort to pursue a specific objective in validating compliance with the Act. 

How will I know that my goods will be inspected?

All goods must be declared on importation or exportation thereof.  Once in the declaration system and the goods are selected for physical inspection, a Case will be created on the SARS Service Manager System (SSM) which links the declaration made on the cargo with a physical inspection due.  A Customs response message (CUSRES code 2) will be generated, which indicates that cargo has been identified for physical inspection. EDI registered Clients will receive an electronic message and Clients who are not EDI registered will be verbally informed once enquiry is made about their goods. The Client must make a booking for the physical inspection at a dedicated email address which will be communicated to the Client. The Client will receive electronic confirmation of a booked physical inspection.  

The client or his/her representative is entitled to be present during the inspection. However, this right to observe the inspection ceases if the person impedes the inspection.  

Packages may also be opened and examined in the absence of the client at the risk and expense of the client.  Reasonable efforts will first be made to locate the client and afford the client the opportunity of opening the package(s) in question.  

Cargo identified on SARS Service Manager (SSM) for physical inspection may be subject to:

Handlers and detector dogs of the Detector Dog Unit (DDU) may be deployed during inspection operations to detect specific contraband and substances.  

Physical inspection of premises

Any premises may be searched on strength of a warrant issued by a Magistrate or a Judge, however, the following premises may be inspected without a warrant, as these are premises of the Government or SARS clients with a minimal expectation of privacy due to participation in a regulated environment where it can be assumed that inspections aimed at compliance with the Act must be tolerated:  

  • Premises managed or operated by the State or a public entity as part of a port, airport, railway station or land port and on which an activity to which the Act applies is carried out or allowed;
  • Premises licensed or registered in terms of the Act; and
  • Premises occupied by a person licensed or registered and used for purposes of the business for which that person is licensed or registered, e.g.
    • Premises leased as a warehouse by a licenced or registered client and used for the specific business purposes; or
    • The part of a house used as office of a licensed or registered client.

Payment for physical inspection services

Attendance required by the Commissioner or a Controller/Branch Manager (SSM generated inspections) is exempted from special or extra attendance charges, but there are various circumstances where Clients may request physical inspections for which the Client will have to make payment for the service rendered.  

Examinations without prejudice (EWP)

Examinations without prejudice (EWP) are conducted where goods are released and have left the control of Customs, and where the client requests such examination; e.g. where goods are packed or repacked at an exporter’s premises or any other premises as requested by the exporter; or where goods are destructed under Custom’s supervision.  

In certain instances it becomes necessary to release goods which have been detained or stopped for inspection. This is termed as “release under embargo” and is usually allowed where consignments are too bulky to handle; where consignments are considered fragile or dangerous and special handling by experts in the field is required; in the handling of household effects; books, periodicals and other printed matter packed and palletised in FCL containers; and for goods requiring immediate refrigeration.  

Clients may request that goods be sighted for their information, i.e. examination is effected by the client so that they may be in a position to make proper entry of the goods. Such goods are entered on a sight bill of entry (DA 22).  

The rendering of such special or extra attendance will be at specific charges. 

If my goods are stopped

If  your goods are stopped there might be a provisional declaration where goods are imported and at the time you as an importer are not able to declare the correct tarriff heading or value for Customs due to a dispute. In instances like this, you will be requested to lodge a provisional payment to cover the additional duties and taxes that may be applicable.  

Provisional payments lodged  will act as security for the compliance of a certain condition. The process of goods in transit also contains details of the process to follow when transporting goods.  

For more information refer to the following documents:  

SC-CF-22 – Special and Extra attendance – External Policy for reference of attendance fees which may be charged for physical inspections.
SC-CF-25 – Provisional Payment – External Policy
SC-SE-05 – Bonds – External Policy

For the Customs Query Resolutions process, click here.

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