The SA Post Office says there's an increased incidence of South Africans trying to send prohibited items abroad. Photo: iStockPhoto
The SA Post Office says there's an increased incidence of South Africans trying to send prohibited items abroad. Photo: iStockPhoto

With Christmas coming up, you may find yourself inadvertently breaking the law by sending cash, local face creams, biltong or jewellery to friends or family abroad. The South African Post Office (SAPO) has warned customers against posting prohibited items (see list below) overseas as it dramatically delays outgoing mail.

The Post Office said there have been several incidents recently. Apparently an x-ray machine, similar to that used to scan hand luggage, is used to scan all mailbags before they’re loaded.

“Should a single prohibited item be detected in a mailbag, the entire mailbag is returned to the sorting centre to be opened and searched until the offending parcel is found,” said SAPO. So “all the items in the mailbag miss the flight and are delayed until the next flight departs.”

Items that are potentially dangerous on an aircraft may not be posted to other countries. They include the following:

  • Liquids, including creams and lotions. Certain explosives are produced in the form of gels or creams.
  • Explosives – ammunition, fireworks. These may explode in the hull of an aircraft.
  • Compressed gas – aerosols, carbon dioxide gas, cigarette lighters. These may also explode in the hull of an aircraft.
  • Flammable liquids: alcohol, thinners, varnish remover, turpentine, petroleum products.
  • Flammable solids: Magnesium, matches and zinc powder
  • Oxidising material: Bleach, some hair dyes, peroxide, fibreglass repair kits. If these items leak, they could produce lethal and explosive gases.
  • Poisons, including drugs and medicine. An import permit is required for all countries.
  • Radioactive material (including mercury-filled thermometers)
  • Magnetised materials. These items can interfere with the navigation system of the aircraft.

The following goods are prohibited:

  • Bank notes and coins. You need an import and export permit to send these items.
  • Jewellery, precious stones or precious metals. An import permit is also needed to these items.
  • Asbestos
  • Any animal, insect or living organism
  • Any biological substance
  • Firearms or parts thereof
  • Fur, ivory or any other animal product
  • Human remains, including ashes.

Other tips for sending parcels abroad from South Africa

Since parcels are loaded in bulk into the holds of planes, customers are urged to ensure your precious parcels are packed in sturdy packaging. Fill any empty spaces with packaging material.

“It is best to state the contents on the parcel and to include the word ‘gift’ if it is an item sent by one individual to another. This facilitates customs clearance in the country of arrival. Write the mobile phone number of the receiver on the parcel; that allows the postal administration in the receiving country to send the receiver a text message for collecting the item,” said the Post Office.

If you have urgent items to send to other countries, you can use the cost-effective Expedited Mail Service. These items are delivered within 24 hours of arrival in the destination country.

Sources include SAPO and