Durban - The weak rand affects our lives in all sorts of ways, including when we are the grateful recipients of gifts sent by family and friends from overseas by post.

Did you know that if a gift parcel has a declared value of the dollar or pound equivalent of just R400, customs duty will be imposed on the value of the item?

Lynda Jackson certainly didn’t.

“I and a number of my friends and family have recently had unhappy experiences with the post office, relating to gifts sent from overseas,” she told Consumer Watch.

“In the past, my understanding has been that reasonable or modest gifts received from abroad are exempt from payment of any import duty.

“However, in recent months I have come across a number of instances where, upon production of the delivery slip at the package counter, payment must be made of a significant amount of money before the package – marked as a gift – is handed over.

“The charge is simply explained as import duty, but there is no invoice or indication of how the duty has been calculated, and no receipt is issued. The package is still sealed when handed over, and apart from the fact that it is marked as a gift, there is no indication of what the contents are or what the value of the contents is. The package is not handed over unless payment is made and no proper explanation of any kind can be obtained from the post office staff.”

What’s happened, of course, is that as the rand has weakened against other currencies, a much higher percentage of gifts have a value of more than R400 when converted into local currency.

“In two recent instances of which I am aware, a payment of R950 was demanded for a wedding present sent from Ireland and an amount in excess of R1 000 was demanded in respect of children’s clothes sent as a gift from New Zealand,” Jackson said.

“Is this legitimate? How should one deal with a demand of this nature from the post office?”

The short answer is yes – it is legitimate.

A post office spokesman began his response by stressing that the import duty is levied by Sars, not the SA Post Office.

“We only collect the levies on their behalf and pay them over.”

Sars policy stipulates a person may receive two gifts a year, with a value of R400 each, without being made to pay customs duty.

So if you have several friends or relatives sending you gifts from overseas, you are going to be paying dearly for them.

“In addition,” the spokesman said, “if an item has a value and contents are declared, but no description is made that it is a gift, then the item is assessed (for customs duty) on the value declared”.

What is a gift? As far as Sars is concerned, it’s “an unsolicited item from one person to another”.

But be aware that certain products are exempt from gift status – wine, spirits, tobacco products and perfume.

Thanks to the weak rand, “modest” gifts bought overseas are now costing recipients in South Africa considerable sums.

The R400 cut-off equates, at the time of writing, to £22.27, $37.46, A$40.11 and NZ$44.08.

As for why Jackson’s parcels didn’t have an indication of gift value on them when handed over to the recipients, I was unable to confirm this at the time of writing. But I think those labels, declaring the description of goods and value, are regarded as a bill of entry for importation and removed by customs officials before they make their way to post offices.

l For a quick and easy way to do exchange rate calculations, go to: For customs queries, contact Sars at 0800 00 7277. - Cape Times