No such thing as a free gift

The SA Post Office has implemented a handling or clearance fee on parcels from abroad.

Social media sites are buzzing with posts by outraged online shoppers who’ve ordered from foreign sites and been “hit” with unexpected clearance-fee charges. That’s on top of a “shipping” fee.

The SA Post Office has introduced a handling or “clearance fee” on parcels from abroad to cover the cost of parcel sorting, processing, assessment for import duty and fuel cost: R24 a parcel, even if it contains a number of items.

Clearance fees are not new, says the post office’s spokeswoman Martie Gilchrist. They were introduced in 2004 by the Universal Postal Union (UPU). In South Africa, the post office has listed it in its rates brochure since 2011.

So what are they for? “To cover costs incurred in clearing the parcel on behalf of the recipient,” says Ms Gilchrist. “We have recently streamlined the processes by which international parcels are processed, and we have seen a dramatic reduction in processing time as a result,”

Asked if other countries charge them, she said some do. “Yes, because postage is paid in the country of origin, but the receiving country also has expenses to cover. The UPU gives its members the
option to apply this principle at their own discretion. A quick look at the websites of the Irish, Swiss, Dutch, Canadian and Czech postal administrations shows that they all impose clearance fees for items above a certain value, which differs from one country to the next,” says Ms Gilchrist

Asked why clearance fees have suddenly been imposed this year by the post office and not since 2011 when they were supposedly introduced, she says the clearance fee is now applied consistently because it is built into the assessment system and no longer depends on the knowledge of individual employees.

As for a noticeable increase in goods being received from overseas, Ms Gilchrist says, “Yes, definitely. We’ve had a huge increase in South Africans buying goods from foreign-based online retail sites. Since people discovered, we have seen a 400% increase at our Johannesburg International Mail Centre.”

If your family and friends want you to get your gift before Christmas, they should have sent it from their post office by airmail by December 8.

The clearance fee only applies to parcels from overseas. If you are charged it when collecting a parcel sent from elsewhere in South Africa, you must inform the postmaster and refuse to pay it.

While some sites, such as Amazon, include the customs and VAT payable to the South African authorities in their “shipping” fee, others do not.

It is also advisable to read the terms and conditions on every online retailer’s website.

The post office says that in order to qualify as a gift, a parcel sent from overseas must have a declared value of no more than the equivalent of
R1400. However, perfume, wine, spirits and tobacco goods are never free of customs duties and tax – gift or