As with all formal activities in the society we live in, exporting requires adherence to certain rules which in turn require copious amounts of documentation. In this section we discuss the documentation required by a person or company if they are wanting to export from South Africa.

The first and arguably the basic requirement to become an exporter (or importer for that matter) is that you acquire a customs client number and an exporter/importer registration number. You do this through the Customs and Excise division of the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The exporter registration page gives detailed information on how to do this.

Once this mandatory step has been completed, there follow a myriad of documents which are used by the exporter (and importer). Before a sale is completed, most often a quotation is required by the potential client of the exporter. This quotation can take the form of a typical quotation or more often, in the form of a proforma invoice.

Assuming the proforma invoice/quotation has been accepted, a commercial invoice needs to be prepared and sent. This invoice is important as it plays a role in obtaining customs clearance and forms a part of the customs documentation required. It will differ from sale to sale.

Although not directly forming the documentation required by the exporter, documentation for the payment of the exporter’s goods often take the form of Letters of credit (L/Cs), a type of documentary credit which involve further documentation from the buyer’s financial institution. Payment for an exporter’s goods is multi-faceted and is covered in the section on Letters of credit.

If you are an exporter and you make use of Letters of Credit (L/Cs), then you will need to familiarise yourself with the UCP 600 set of guidelines. UCP 600 provides a set of internationally recognised set of rules for governing the use Letters of credit.

When you prepare your goods for shipment, you will be required to prepare a detailed export packing list. The export packing list is a document detailing the items contained in each package and the dimensions and weight of each package. The export packing lisy is an essential document for customs clearance.

Depending on what you are exporting, you may also require an export permit if your product falls into the restricted category (eg. certain pharmaceuticals, armaments animals etc.). Other documents may be required depending on your product and the country you are exporting to such as health certificates, licensing and additional permits.

South Africa is one of the few countries that still applies fairly strict exchange control regulations to the movement of foreign currency in and out of the country. To this end, exporters are expected to make a declaration to the SA Reserve Bank (not directly, but through the normal commercial banking system) when they enter into an agreement with a foreign buyer. Essentially, they declare that they will pay across to their local bank any foreign exchange that they receive as a result of the export within a given period of time. The declaration needs to be completed before the export can take place as this document is one of the key documents that will need to be presented to the Customs authorities at the time that the goods are exported. The forms used to make this declaration are discussed in the section on South African exchange control forms.

Don’t forget insurance! The purpose of any insurance is to protect you from loss as a result of actions outside of your control (such as your customer not paying you, or the ship containing your cargo sinking) and can take different forms. All insurance documentation is unique to the insurer in question and the documentation will differ from insurer to insurer but the Insurance forms page on ExportHelp gives general guidelines.

That is not all – before exporting goods from South Africa, a Customs Declaration (SAD 500) must be submitted to the Commissioner of Customs. Goods may leave South Africa only after approval of this document. Other SAD documents may need to be completed. These are described on the Customs documents page.

Many of these documents and others are also described in Step 8 of Steps to Export Success where Outbound logistics are discussed.