HS Codes / Tariff Codes

Tariff codes (also called HS or Harmonised System codes):

When goods are imported or exported you have to classify them. The tariff code is the international system that is used to classify traded items. Tariff codes exist for almost every product involved in global trade. This number is based on an international classification system and therefore enables Customs departments from different countries to be able to communicate with each other.

The tariff code is often also called the HS (Harmonised System) number. A tariff heading will have a minimum of four digits and represents a broad category of products. A full tariff code is made of 8 digits and a 9th check digit. This code represents a specific product or commodity. In the following table you can see how the digits (on the left) increase as the product gets more specific in its definition.

Below is an example from the Customs Tariff book:

Heading/ Subheading Article Description
06.03 Cut flowers and flower buds of a kind suitable for bouquets or for ornamental purposes, fresh, dried, dyed, bleached, impregnated or otherwise prepared.
06 03.1 –  Fresh:
06 03.11

06 03.12

– –  Roses

– – Carnations


It is important that you use the correct tariff or HS code to declare imported and exported goods as the duty tax payable by the buyer  is linked to it. The use of the wrong code could therefore make a big impact on the cost of your goods. Additionally, using the wrong code could results in Customs clearing delays and/or Customs charging hefty penalties.

The easiest way to get the correct tariff code is to ask your supplier. They need to put the relevant code on all their export documents and will have made the effort to get the correct one. If you are a first-time exporter or want to double check your tariff code, you can arrange for a professional tariff determination. Or simply use our Tariff Code Look Up which is available in our Calculators section.

For more information on how to calculate the import duty and VAT of your shipment consult our Calculating Import Duties and VAT  guide.

Find more original resources, leading-edge training and assistance with customs licenses & foreign exchange on TradeLogistics.


  • Hello
    I work for Thomson Reuters
    I had few question for “Check – Digit” – number
    1. What is this check – digit number ?
    2. where it it used in South Africa ?
    3. Is it declared with Full 8 digit HS Code while trading outside South Africa by Economic Operators ?

    • frieda

      Thank you for the comment. The check digit is for SARS Customs to validate the HS code internally. It has no context outside of the Southern African Customs Union. Besides the check digit, South African HS codes are 8 digits.

  • Charne

    Good Day,

    I urgently need to find a tariff heading for 2 machines that is being shipped from Netherlands. SARS said they cannot help me over the phone and said I should send them a email with the full description of the machines. Now they telling me I have to phone in again.

    I just need to know how and where I can find these machines tariff headings please.

    Kind Regards

  • Berna

    Good day,

    I manufacture cold drink premixes and a client from the DRC (Congo) requested HSN codes. Nou the product consist of atleast 11 ingredients. Where will I be able to get a HSN code in order for the client to get a tariff for export purposes?

    • frieda

      The tariff book includes classifications for blended concentrates. You can use our lookup tool to determine the correct classification according to the nature of your product. Note: HS (tariff) codes are international up to the first 6 digits. Thereafter the digits you’ll find are unique to South Africa. Your client will need to consult the DRC tariff book for their full classification, but they should be able to find it easily based on the international classification you provide.
      You’re welcome to give us a call if you get stuck.
      Link to HS code lookup: https://tradelogistics.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/tariff-code-look-up.pdf

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