How to Claim Back VAT in South Africa

By Trev Gami •  Updated: 01/23/24 •  6 min read

Value-added tax (VAT) is an indirect consumption tax levied on most goods and services sold in South Africa. It is also charged on imports. Business operators that have reached a VAT threshold must register for VAT. Like other forms of tax, registered vendors can claim VAT, and foreign visitors are also eligible to do the same. Not everyone is entitled to claim a VAT refund since certain conditions must be fulfilled first. Read on to learn how to claim back

value-added tax in South Africa.   

How to Claim Back VAT in South Africa

If you are a registered VAT vendor, you can claim a refund if you mistakenly pay more than what is required. Furthermore, you will be entitled to get a VAT refund if your input VAT is more than the output VAT. Under normal circumstances, VAT is only payable to SARS when output VAT exceeds input VAT. 

Vendors can claim a VAT refund by booking an appointment with a SARS official, where they can submit their application. They can also file a claim via the eFiling platform. A VAT refund should be processed within 21 business days. If SARS fails to process the refund within the stipulated time, the vendor will get the money together with interest.

Foreign visitors, including diplomats, tourists, and non-residents, can claim VAT on the products they intend to take out of the country. To be eligible to claim a VAT refund, you must purchase tangible products with a total value exceeding R250.

Visitors must submit their application for VAT at the VAT refund Administrator’s (VRA) offices at designated international airports, commercial harbors, and land borders. When you buy items you want to take out of the country, you need to request an invoice from the shop assistants. You can do this by producing your passport showing that you are a visitor. Your invoice must have the following information: 

You must physically declare the goods for export at the port of departure and present the original documents to the customs official. If there is no VRA official, you can claim your VAT refund by writing to the right office. However, you should do this before the day of departure. 

On What Items Can You Claim VAT in South Africa?

If you are a foreign visitor to South Africa, you can claim VAT on movable goods acquired from VAT-registered vendors. VAT refund only applies to unused goods, so they must be sealed when you declare them at the point of departure. You cannot claim a VAT refund for any services rendered in the country.  

In the case of registered vendors, VAT refunds are inclusive and apply to taxable supplies only. When you operate a business, you should know that the following items are zero-rated, meaning that no VAT is charged. 

If you intend to claim VAT in South Africa, you should know the conditions to fulfill first.  

How Do I Claim My VAT Refund Online?

You cannot claim VAT online, especially if you are a foreign visitor. When you qualify for VAT, you must physically present yourself together with your goods to the customs official at the designated port of departure. Your tax invoice should be endorsed by the VRA official before the refund is approved. 

You can also claim a VAT refund by writing a letter to the appropriate office. Your letter must be accompanied by the following documents:

When you choose this option, you should make sure you submit your application before your departure day. 

How Do I Know SARS Will Refund Me?

If you are a foreign visitor, you know that SARS will refund you when you meet the following requirements:

If you are a registered vendor, you must provide correct information to ensure that your application for a VAT refund is approved. You should not have outstanding returns, or your account has been selected for verification. 

How Long Does SARS VAT Refund Take?

For foreign visitors, a VAT refund is processed on the day you submit your application. A customs official will assess your application and process a refund before you leave the country. However, this can only be possible if you meet all the requirements.

VAT refunds for registered vendors are paid within 21 days if the applicants provide all the relevant supporting materials. If SARS requests additional details, it means you will not get a refund within the stipulated 21 days. If you don’t get your refund within 21 days, SARS must pay interest on the outstanding amount. 

There are exceptions when SARS can decide to withhold or suspend the issuance of a VAT refund to a vendor within 21 days. A refund is withheld under the following circumstances: 

If you are selected for verification, you must provide the necessary documents to facilitate the processing of your refund. If your claim for refund is a result of overpayment, you should submit the application within 90 days. Remember that your refund may be used to offset your outstanding debt. 

Registered vendors and foreign visitors can claim VAT if they meet the requirements stipulated by SARS. It is important to provide the correct details to facilitate the payment of your refund. However, SARS can withhold your VAT refund due to different reasons.   

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