All commercial invoices and supporting documents must be in one of the official languages of South Africa. SARS will only accept English as the official language for business purposes. This is also confirmed in the Rules to the Customs Control Act when referring to translations, i.e. Rule 41.29 (1).
If any invoices, supporting documents or literature is in a foreign language and you are not able to have these changed, then translations may be used.
However, you should evaluate the merits of any translation required before you proceed. For example, Dutch or German languages may be easily read and understood by an Afrikaans speaking person. Provided there are only a few words or there is only a sentence or two, then you should submit it to SARS and request permission from them to utilise it. In your submission you must state the purpose for which the document will be used (i.e. Clearance purposes). You must request whether SARS will accept the foreign language document without translation. Such applications must be made before attempting to use them for official purposes.
If SARS does not accept it or if the language is not legible then you will need to have it translated. According to the various SARS guides on this matter, translations must be undertaken by a “sworn translator” certified by the South African Translators Institute. Again, before you use the translated material for official purposes, you must make an application to SARS to request permission from them to utilise it.
This may become a costly and time- consuming exercise. Another alternative and one that is often accepted by SARS is to have it translated by an independent third party. Such a third party can be any South African registered business which has a foreign language speaker in its employ. The translation must be on a company letterhead, signed by the person doing the translation and stamped with an official company stamp. Once again, do take care to make an application to SARS to request acceptance of the translation prior to using it for official purposes. In some instances SARS may request such translation to be certified by a Commissioner of Oaths.
Finally, any e-mail correspondence whether from a South African registered company or foreign supplier will not be accepted as a form of translation material.