SARS wants to introduce a new travel pass next month – and no one knows how it will work


  • South Africa’s tax authorities want all travelers to use a new online system for declaring goods and paying tax from November 1.
  • And with the launch date approaching, no one knows exactly how this new pass will work and what its impact will be on passengers.
  • The Revenue Service was due to provide details on Tuesday, but stifled a briefing, citing insufficient alignment across government.
  • And the tourism sector, which says it was not consulted, cannot provide details either.
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A new online travel declaration form is due to be rolled out by the South African Revenue Service (SARS) at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 1. But no one, including the government, knows how it will work.

The country’s beleaguered tourism sector is shy, says Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (Satsa) CEO David Frost during Tuesday’s media and stakeholder briefing on the recent SARS announcement about the South African traveler management system. It also comes at a time when tourism is banking on a busy summer season after two years marred by pandemic-induced restrictions.

And while the pandemic has crushed South Africa’s tourism industry, failed government initiatives, like the e-visa program and airport biometric systems, have made travel-focused businesses jittery when confronted new systems imposed by the state. The SARS Traveler Management System – or travel card – is one such project that has the industry shivering.

“South Africa will introduce an online traveler declaration system to simplify the movement of passengers through South African airports,” SARS said in a notice on Oct. 12.

“The new system requires all travellers, including South African citizens and residents, children and infants, leaving or entering South Africa by air to complete and submit an online traveler’s declaration, as well as receive a pass before travelling.”

According to SARS’ own description, this new travel pass, which will be launched at OR Tambo on November 1, will have far-reaching consequences for passengers entering and leaving South Africa.

But the practical details of how this pass works and the exact implications for travelers are not yet known. For travel associations like SATSA to say they weren’t consulted further confuses the issue. The decision to launch this untested system at the start of the summer holidays in South Africa has also been heavily criticised.

SARS had, according to Frost, contacted SATSA on September 27, announcing plans to introduce a new system that would allow travelers to “declare goods purchased, received or otherwise acquired in advance, and pay duties and taxes applicable via the online system”. web platform.” Noting SATSA’s important role in the sector, SARS asked for “a commitment” to discuss the project and its impact on tourism.

“So we were in the process of getting a small group together to have, what we thought would be, a consultation where we could give our opinion and comment on this [and] we could have a SARS briefing and we were looking forward to it,” Frost said during Tuesday’s webinar, which was scheduled to be attended by a SARS representative but ultimately was not attended.

“We were totally caught off guard when the announcement came out late last week and was widely reported in the press. So I immediately came back to SARS and said, look, this is came out, there is much consternation [and] there are a lot of questions, and without proper information, it’s kind of frustrating for people, and there are a lot of things that need to be dealt with and answered.”

SATSA and SARS agreed to hold a briefing on Tuesday to address those concerns. But a day before the event, SARS backed down, citing, according to Frost, “insufficient alignment within government on this project.”

“Obviously, this is extremely disappointing,” Frost says of SARS’ reluctance to engage industry on this new system just two weeks before its implementation.

“They [SARS] realize, and I’ll just put it in the vernacular, which they stuffed [and] they apologize profusely.”

SARS’ last-minute no-show only stoked concerns among industry players, although Frost admits that a digital traveler management system – if done right, moving away handwritten forms susceptible to corruption – will “really make things better” and “in no way impede” the movement.

But South Africans looking to travel abroad and foreigners planning their summer holidays through OR Tambo remain wary of looming and unclear pass requirements. With no further details on SARS and the fast approaching deadline, SATSA requested that the November 1 launch date be pushed back.

“We will write to the SARS Commissioner today [Tuesday]. We will consider all input and concerns that have been raised, and raise them directly with them as a matter of urgency,” Frost says.

“The main message we want to get across is that trying to do this on November 1 at OR Tambo is just not the way to go. We need to take the cold shower here and just relax and take a step back and the do it in a way that brings everyone together.”

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