South Africa’s Top 10 Imports

South Africa's Top 10 Imports


The Republic of South Africa imported US$93.4 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2018. That dollar value reflects a -6.4% setback over the 5-year period starting in 2014 but a 12.5% gain from 2017 to 2018.

From a continental perspective, 45.1% of South Africa’s total imports by value in 2018 were purchased from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 30.6% of imported bought by South Africa while 12.4% worth originated from fellow African nations. North American exporters accounted for 7% of South Africa’s imports with 2.6% coming from Latin America (excluding Mexico) plus the Caribbean, and 1.6% shipped from Oceania led by Australia.

Given South Africa’s population of 55.4 million people, its total $93.4 billion in 2018 imports translates to roughly $1,700 in yearly product demand from every person in the resources-rich South African country.

South Africa’s Top 10 Imports

Top 10

The following product groups represent the highest dollar value in South Africa’s import purchases during 2018. Also shown is the percentage share each product category represents in terms of overall imports into South Africa.

  1. Mineral fuels including oil: US$17 billion (18.2% of total imports)
  2. Machinery including computers: $11.5 billion (12.3%)
  3. Electrical machinery, equipment: $8.6 billion (9.2%)
  4. Vehicles: $7.1 billion (7.6%)
  5. Plastics, plastic articles: $2.8 billion (3%)
  6. Pharmaceuticals: $2.5 billion (2.7%)
  7. Optical, technical, medical apparatus: $2.3 billion (2.4%)
  8. Other chemical goods: $1.7 billion (1.8%)
  9. Organic chemicals: $1.6 billion (1.7%)
  10. Inorganic chemicals: $1.6 billion (1.7%)

Note that the results listed above are at the categorized two-digit Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) code level. For a more detailed view of imported goods at the four-digit HTS code level, see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article or under the adjacent product folder tabs.

South Africa’s top 10 imports accounted for three-fifths (60.7%) of the overall value of its product purchases from other countries.

Fastest-growing among the top 10 categories was mineral fuels including oil which gained 39.1% from 2017 to 2018.

In second place was South African exported inorganic chemicals which appreciated 26.8% year over year. In third place was organic chemicals which rose 16.4% then plastics including items made from plastic via its 14.3% increase.

Also see the section Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products further down near the bottom of this article.


In 2018, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of mineral fuels-related products.

  1. Crude oil: US$10.8 billion (up 68.8% from 2017)
  2. Processed petroleum oils: $4.5 billion (up 2.2%)
  3. Coal, solid fuels made from coal: $541.8 million (up 13%)
  4. Petroleum gases: $426.8 million (up 30.4%)
  5. Coke, semi-coke: $266.1 million (up 5.6%)
  6. Electrical energy: $234 million (up 44.6%)
  7. Petroleum oil residues: $122.3 million (up 25.1%)
  8. Petroleum jelly, mineral waxes: $36.4 million (down -11.5%)
  9. Tar pitch, coke: $28.8 million (up 79.3%)
  10. Peat: $8.9 million (up 41.9%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of tar pitch and coke (up 79.3%), crude oil (up 68.8%) and electrical energy (up 44.6%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.

These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of mineral fuels-related imports among South African businesses and consumers.


In 2018, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of machinery including computers.

  1. Computers, optical readers: US$1.8 billion (up 13.2% from 2017)
  2. Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers): $760.5 million (up 6.9%)
  3. Printing machinery: $757 million (up 12.5%)
  4. Machinery parts: $614.7 million (up 8.9%)
  5. Centrifuges, filters and purifiers: $469.4 million (down -0.6%)
  6. Taps, valves, similar appliances: $454.3 million (up 11.9%)
  7. Liquid pumps and elevators: $439.6 million (up 16.4%)
  8. Miscellaneous machinery: $401.4 million (up 15.9%)
  9. Transmission shafts, gears, clutches: $388.7 million (up 2.3%)
  10. Air or vacuum pumps: $311 million (down -0.8%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of liquid pumps and elevators (up 16.4%), miscellaneous machinery (up 15.9%) and computers including optical readers (up 13.2%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.

These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported machinery among South African businesses and consumers.


In 2018, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of electronics.

  1. Phone system devices including smartphones: US$3.4 billion (up 8.1% from 2017)
  2. Insulated wire/cable: $430.4 million (up 8.1%)
  3. Electrical converters/power units: $419.3 million (down -9.4%)
  4. Lower-voltage switches, fuses: $355.5 million (down -2.6%)
  5. TV/radio/radar device parts: $300.9 million (down -0.4%)
  6. Unrecorded sound media: $282.5 million (up 1.1%)
  7. Electric storage batteries: $280.4 million (up 29.9%)
  8. Electric water heaters, hair dryers: $279.2 million (up 8.9%)
  9. Electric motors, generators: $224 million (down -13%)
  10. Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels: $211.7 million (down -0.6%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of electric storage batteries (up 29.9%), electric water heaters and hair dryers (up 8.9%) then phone system devices including smartphones (up 8.1%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.

These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported electronics among South African businesses and consumers.


In 2018, South African importers spent the most on the following 10 subcategories of vehicles.

  1. Cars: US$3.9 billion (down -1% from 2017)
  2. Automobile parts/accessories: $1.5 billion (up 12%)
  3. Trucks: $844.3 million (up 7.4%)
  4. Tractors: $309.2 million (down -7.2%)
  5. Trailers: $108.1 million (up 10%)
  6. Public-transport vehicles: $91.2 million (down -14.9%)
  7. Motorcycles: $79.5 million (down -20.4%)
  8. Motorcycle parts/accessories: $52 million (down -13.6%)
  9. Special purpose vehicles: $44 million (down -21.7%)
  10. Bicycles, other non-motorized cycles: $33.9 million (up 29.1%)

Among these import subcategories, South African purchases of bicycles plus other non-motorized cycles (up 29.1%), automobile parts or accessories (up 12%) then trailers (up 10%) grew at the fastest pace from 2017 to 2018.

These amounts and the percentage gains within parenthesis clearly show where the strongest demand lies for different types of imported vehicles among South African businesses and consumers.


Searchable List of South Africa’s Most Valuable Import Products

At the more granular four-digit HTS code level, the top South African import products are crude oil followed by refined petroleum oils, cars, smartphones then medication mixes in dosage.

The following searchable table displays 200 of South Africa’s most in-demand imported goods during 2018. Shown beside each product label is its total import value then the percentage increase or decrease since 2017.

RankSouth African Import2018 Value (US$)Change
1Crude oil$10.8 billion+68.8%
2Processed petroleum oils$4.5 billion+2.2%
3Cars$3.9 billion-1%
4Phone system devices including smartphones$3.4 billion+8.1%
5Medication mixes in dosage$1.9 billion+13%
6Computers, optical readers$1.8 billion+13.2%
7Automobile parts/accessories$1.5 billion+12%
8Unused stamps (current or new issue)$1.2 billion+327%
9Trucks$844.3 million+7.4%
10Heavy machinery (bulldozers, excavators, road rollers)$760.5 million+6.9%
11Printing machinery$757 million+12.5%
12Aluminum oxide/hydroxide$697.8 million+36.5%
13Rubber tires (new)$689.1 million+11.7%
14Diamonds (unmounted/unset)$649.1 million+26%
15Machinery parts$614.7 million+8.9%
16Electro-medical equip (e.g. xrays)$609.8 million+7.8%
17Scents used for beverage or industrial manufacturing$574.2 million+0.5%
18Coal, solid fuels made from coal$541.8 million+13%
19Rice$518.8 million+1.1%
20Poultry meat$490.6 million+2.1%
21Aircraft, spacecraft$472.6 million-33.7%
22Centrifuges, filters and purifiers$469.4 million-0.6%
23Packaged insecticides/fungicides/herbicides$458.2 million+4%
24Taps, valves, similar appliances$454.3 million+11.9%
25Liquid pumps and elevators$439.6 million+16.4%
26Ethylene polymers$432.5 million+15.3%
27Insulated wire/cable$430.4 million+8.1%
28Petroleum gases$426.8 million+30.4%
29Electrical converters/power units$419.3 million-9.4%
30Wheat$415 million+26.6%
31Blood fractions (including antisera)$406.5 million+5.7%
32Miscellaneous machinery$401.4 million+15.9%
33Transmission shafts, gears, clutches$388.7 million+2.3%
34Lower-voltage switches, fuses$355.5 million-2.6%
35Footwear (textile)$353.5 million+10.5%
36Chemical industry products/residuals$353.4 million+11.5%
37Polyacetal/ether/carbonates$347.2 million+35%
38Seats (excluding barber/dentist chairs)$336.1 million+5.7%
39Men's suits, trousers (not knit or crochet)$333.1 million+15.5%
40Footwear (rubber or plastic)$329.4 million+7.1%
41Nitrogenous fertilizers$317.9 million+9.7%
42Air or vacuum pumps$311 million-0.8%
43Coins$309.9 million+70321.8%
44Tractors$309.2 million-7.2%
45Sugar (cane or beet)$306.9 million-35.3%
46Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)$302.3 million+8.9%
47TV/radio/radar device parts$300.9 million-0.4%
48Palm oil$298.3 million-9%
49Orthopedic appliances$294.6 million+25.7%
50Flat-rolled iron or non-alloy steel products (plated/coated)$285.3 million+14.9%
51Women's clothing (not knit or crochet)$283.3 million+10.3%
52Unrecorded sound media$282.5 million+1.1%
53Electric storage batteries$280.4 million+29.9%
54Copper wire$280.2 million-15.5%
55Electric water heaters, hair dryers$279.2 million+8.9%
56Gold (unwrought)$277.1 million-7.9%
57Sort/screen/washing machinery$275.8 million+36.2%
58Coke, semi-coke$266.1 million+5.6%
59Cellulose fiber paper$264.2 million+13.2%
60Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$260.5 million-0.9%
61Other diagnostic/lab reagents$253.2 million+8.5%
62Aircraft parts$252.6 million-1.2%
63Aluminum plates, sheets, strips$242.2 million+40.6%
64Flat-rolled other alloy steel products$242 million+24%
65Miscellaneous plastic items$240.2 million+10.3%
66Refrigerators, freezers$239.1 million+10.8%
67Iron ferroalloys$235.4 million+53.4%
68 Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines $235.1 million-0.2%
69Electrical energy$234 million+44.6%
70Ceramic wares for technical uses$224.2 million+27%
71Electric motors, generators$224 million-13%
72Cases, handbags, wallets$222.1 million+11.9%
73Coated paper$221.5 million+9.8%
74Beauty/makeup/skin care preparations$218.2 million+14.3%
75Ball, roller bearings$214 million+11.8%
76Computer parts, accessories$213.9 million+9%
77Electrical/optical circuit boards, panels$211.7 million-0.6%
78Footwear (leather)$211.4 million+7.5%
79Piston engine parts$207.9 million+2.1%
80Fork-lift trucks$206 million+6.1%
81T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)$202 million-2.2%
82Physical/chemical analysis tools$201.5 million+3.5%
83Air conditioners$200.6 million+12.4%
84Other food preparations$199.9 million+10.1%
85Miscellaneous furniture$194.7 million+14.2%
86Iron and steel screws, bolts, nuts, washers$193.9 million+4.3%
87Carbon electrodes, brushes$191.5 million+212.8%
88Harvest/threshing machinery$186.6 million+1.9%
89Plastic packing goods, lids, caps$185.9 million+14.7%
90Engines (diesel)$184.2 million-9.1%
91Anti-knock/oxidation/gum inhibitors$182.1 million+4.1%
92Solar power diodes/semi-conductors$178 million+18.9%
93Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys$177.8 million+3.8%
94TV receivers/monitors/projectors$176.7 million-0.3%
95Whole fish (frozen)$176.4 million+21.8%
96Microphones/headphones/amps$166.7 million+20.8%
97Miscellaneous animal feed preparations$166.7 million+16.5%
98Light vessels, fire boats, floating docks$166.1 million+320.2%
99Live bovine cattle$165.5 million+9.6%
100Rubber/plastic article making machines$164.7 million-19.4%
101Soya-bean oil-cake, other solid residues$163.4 million-11.2%
102Carbonates, percarbonates$163.4 million+1.9%
103Spray/dispersing mechanical appliances$162.9 million-12.4%
104Temperature-change machines$162.7 million-5.3%
105Interchangeable hand/machine tools$161.7 million-25.5%
106Integrated circuits/microassemblies$161.6 million+4.4%
107Heterocyclics, nucleic acids$161.2 million+8.2%
108Fish, caviar (preserved/prepared)$160.7 million+30.2%
109Malt beer$160 million+68%
110Zinc (unwrought)$158.4 million-20.3%
111Lifting/loading machinery$156.7 million-15.3%
112Self-adhesive plastic in rolls$156.6 million0%
113Lamps, lighting, illuminated signs$154.7 million+9.1%
114Miscellaneous iron or steel items$154.3 million-10.1%
115Other measuring/testing machines$154 million-17.3%
116Vulcanized rubber items$152.5 million+6.8%
117Plastic plates, sheets, film, tape, strips$152 million+5.9%
118Acyclic alcohols$150.4 million+32.4%
119Move/grade/scrape/boring machinery$146.5 million+12.8%
120Pneumatic hand tool$146 million+5.2%
121Chemical woodpulp (non-dissolving)$144.9 million+112.9%
122TV receiver/transmit/digital cameras$144.2 million-7.7%
123Polycarboxylic acids$143 million+81.8%
124Unglazed ceramic flags, tiles, cubes$142.9 million+11.9%
125Synthetic yarn woven fabrics$141.4 million+11.7%
126Electrical machinery$140.2 million-1.2%
127Unmanufactured tobacco, tobacco waste$137.8 million+7.1%
128Uncoated paper for writing/printing$136.7 million+21%
129Platinum (unwrought)$136 million+259.7%
130Sports equipment$135.7 million+12.5%
131Base metal mountings, fittings$135.2 million+12.9%
132Industrial preparation machinery$134.9 million-3.3%
133Styrene polymers$134.7 million+16.4%
134Liquid/gas checking instruments$131.3 million+11.2%
135Regulate/control instruments$131 million+16.6%
136Plastic tubes, pipes, fittings$130.3 million+13.1%
137Fertilizer mixes$129 million+21.7%
138Sanitary towels, baby napkins/liners$127.8 million-0.4%
139Potassic fertilizers$127.2 million+36.5%
140Miscellaneous engines, motors$124.4 million+10.7%
141Table games, bowling equipment$123.5 million-11.8%
142Turbo-jets$122.8 million-25.4%
143Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)$122.3 million+19%
144Petroleum oil residues$122.3 million+25.1%
145Sun/safflower/cotton-seed oil$121.6 million-17.4%
146Other organic cleaning preparations$121.6 million-1.7%
147Electrical lighting/signaling equpment, defrosters$121.5 million+6.1%
148Animal guts, bladders, stomachs$121.4 million+3.9%
149Sawn wood$121.1 million+12.6%
150Acrylic polymers$118.7 million+11.9%
151Propylene/olefin polymers$118.1 million+28.1%
152Electric ignition/start equipment$117 million+3.5%
153Chocolate, other cocoa preparations$116.9 million+13.5%
154Iron or steel pipe fittings$116.6 million+9.1%
155Miscellaneous heterocyclics$113.4 million+17.8%
156Uncoated kraft paper$111.3 million+26.3%
157Refractory ceramic bricks, blocks, tiles$110.9 million+72.2%
158Printed books, brochures$110.2 million-2.2%
159Sodium/potash hydroxide, peroxide$109.8 million+18%
160Aluminum bars/rods$108.6 million-7.3%
161Trailers$108.1 million+10%
162X-ray equipment$107.6 million+4.7%
163Initiators/accelerators, catalytic preps$107.6 million-10.3%
164Miscellaneous railway/tramway locomotives$106 million-5.8%
165Electric circuit parts, fuses, switches$105.2 million-3.2%
166Soya-bean oil$104.4 million-31.8%
167Other coloring matter, luminophores$104 million+22.3%
168Fruit and vegetable juices$103.4 million+31.8%
169Synthetic rubber$102.1 million+39.7%
170Aluminum (unwrought)$101.9 million+4.4%
171Cigars/cigarellos, cigarettes$100.9 million+9.1%
172Print/write/draw inks$100.2 million-13.9%
173Saturated acyclic mono acids$97.8 million+28.8%
174Amino-resins$96.5 million+18.9%
175Washing machines$96.2 million+17.1%
176Coated/laminated non-wovens$96.1 million+4.8%
177Paper/pulp/paperboard making machines$95.2 million+47.2%
178Women's clothing (knit or crochet)$94.6 million+7%
179Filament/discharge lamps$94.5 million+12.8%
180Non-sublimed sulphur$93.2 million+59.5%
181Mixed alkylbenzenes, alkylnaphthalenes$92.4 million+20.6%
182Perfumes, toilet waters$92.3 million+10.7%
183Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates$91.7 million+12.3%
184Public-transport vehicles$91.2 million-14.9%
185Coffee$90.3 million-1.8%
186Piston engines$88.3 million-5.9%
187Synthetic filament yarn$86.2 million+11.8%
188Precious metal compounds$85.9 million+174.4%
189Steam/vapor turbines$85.5 million-23.4%
190Sutures, special pharmaceutical goods$85.4 million+22.3%
191Electric generating sets, converters$85.3 million-80.4%
192Cyclic hydrocarbons$84.2 million+1.8%
193Metal sheeting joints, gaskets$83.6 million+16.4%
194Amino-compounds (oxygen)$83 million+22.7%
195Vulcanized rubber tubes, pipes$82.1 million+11.2%
196Men's shirts (not knit or crochet)$82 million+2.4%
197Provitamins, vitamins$81.9 million+38.3%
198Electric sound/visual signal bells or alarms$80.7 million-5.2%
199Linens$80.6 million+18.5%
200Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries$80.4 million+7.2%

These 200 imported goods cost a subtotal of US$70.2 billion or three-quarters (75.2%) by value for all products imported into South Africa during 2018.

See also South Africa’s Top 10 Exports, Top South African Trading Partners and Top African Export Countries

Research Sources:
International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database (GDP based on Purchasing Power Parity). Accessed on February 3, 2019

The World Factbook, Country Profiles, Central Intelligence Agency. Accessed on February 3, 2019

Trade Map, International Trade Centre, Accessed on February 3, 2019