Customs Procedures in Ethiopia

A person undergoes several customs procedures in order to import goods, export goods, or transit. The major proceedings as stipulated under the Customs Proclamation No. 859/2014 (herein after the Proclamation), are discussed below.

Customs Proclamation No. 859/2014 DOWNLOAD
Customs Proclamation Amendment No. 1160/2019 DOWNLOAD

However, the reader is advised to consult all relevant laws pertaining to customs proceedings, especially the directives issued by ERCA (now the Ministry of Revenues).

1. Goods Declaration

(Article 8-Article 15 of the Proclamation)

The first proceedings of Customs in Ethiopia is to apply a declaration of goods to be imported, exported or transited. Article 12 declares that any import, export or transit good is subjected to a Goods Declaration, unless otherwise provided by law.

The person making the declaration is the ‘declarant’ who is any person having the right to dispose of the goods and is entitled to be represented by a customs clearing agent. This being said, the declarant is responsible for the completeness and accuracy of the particulars given in the goods declaration and the payment of the duties and taxes. The declarant may however be allowed to inspect the goods and draw samples, upon fulfilling the conditions laid out by the Authority (now the Customs Commission).

Regarding the form and presentation of the Goods Declaration the Proclamation provides for the following rules;

  • Goods Declaration may be made in writing form, orally, by bodily action or electronically.
  • If the Goods declaration is to be presented in written form or electronically, it must be filled and signed in the form prescribed by the Authority and shall contain the particulars only necessary for completing customs formalities.
  • On the presentation of goods declaration made in written or electronic form, original copies of the following supporting documents or electronic copies shall be submitted as required by the Authority: 
      1. transportation document;
      2. invoice;
      3. bank permit;
      4. packing list;
      5. certificate of origin; and
      6. other documents necessary to ensure compliance with customs laws and prescribed by directive issued by the Authority.
  • These supporting documents and goods declaration constitute a single indivisible legal instrument upon acceptance of the declaration.
  • Where, for reasons deemed valid by the Authority, the declarant does not have all the information required to make the goods declaration, a provisional goods declaration is allowed to be lodged, provided that it contains the particulars deemed necessary by the Authority for the assessment of customs duties and that the declarant undertakes to produce final goods declaration within a specified period.
  • If the Authority allows the presentation of a provisional goods declaration, the tariff treatment to be accorded to the goods may not be different from that which would have been accorded had a complete and correct goods declaration been lodged in the first instance.
  • Any goods in respect of which goods declaration is: presented shall, in the declaration, be identified as:
      1. dutiable or duty free, if entered for home use or under duty draw back import regime;
      2. out right export or temporary export, if entered for export;
      3. imported for inward processing and whether then is duty draw back;
      4. exported for outward processing and whether the import is for home use or whether there is duty draw back; or
      5. temporarily imported without payment of duties and taxes.

A goods declaration, upon fulfilling all conditions, is deemed to be accepted when the declaration and supporting documents have been registered in the customs database and verified by the Authority for completeness and accuracy. Verification of goods declaration is effected immediately after its presentation.

Any error that makes goods declaration or supporting documents incompelete or defective must be rectified by the declarant before having the goods declaration registered. Nevertheless, errors committed, after presentation of goods declaration, with fraudulent intent or gross negligence will entail penalty.

Amendment of Goods Declaration

The declarant may amend one or more of the particulars of a goods declaration already presented; provided, however, that such amendment may not have the effect of rendering the declaration applicable to goods other than those originally declared and is authorized by the Authority.

Cancellation of Goods Declaration

Note worthily, where the declarant fails to comply with the customs formalities within five working days after the presentation of a goods declaration or after completion of the preparation of an assessment notice, the goods declaration may be cancelled.

In a different manner, goods declaration may be cancelled upon the request of the declarant, where it is proved that the declaration has been presented contrary to the provisions of this Proclamation or any appropriate customs procedure and payment has not yet been effected. The request for cancellation may not be permitted after release of the goods.

The Authority may also allow cancellation of the goods declaration on good cause prior to the payment of the duty and tax.

(See also directive No. 118/2008 on Customs Declaration)

Directive No. 118/2008 on Customs Declaration DOWNLOAD


2. Customs Transit and Transshipment

(Article 16-22 of the Proclamation)

Customs transit refers to customs procedures under which goods are transported under customs control from one customs office to the other. According to article 16 there are four types of transit operation: 

  • Through transit: from a customs station of entry to a customs station of exit;
  • Inward transit: from a customs station of entry to an inland customs station;
  • Outward transit: from an in land customs station to a customs station of exit; or
  • Interior transit: from one inland customs stations to another inland customs station.

This being said, The Authority may, when it is satisfied that the conditions laid down by a customs transit directive are met, authorize: (a) a consignee to receive goods directly at his premises without having to present them at the customs station of destination; or (b) a consignor to send goods directly from his premises without having to present them at the customs station of departure.

Goods being carried under customs transit may not be subject to the payment of duties and taxes provided the conditions laid down by the Authority are complied with and that any security required has been furnished.

The declarant and the carrier are jointly and severally be responsible for ensuring that the goods are produced intact at the customs station of destination in accordance with the conditions imposed by the Authority.

The following procedures will be applied by the customs office of departure to commence customs transit:

  1. Presentation and Verification of Goods Declaration for Customs Transit (Article 17): Any commercial or transport document setting out clearly the necessary particulars may be accepted as the descriptive part of the goods declaration for customs transit and such acceptance shall be noted on the document. The required supporting documents vary according to the type of transit undertaken. (ERCA, Ethiopian Customs Guide, March 2017, herein after the Customs Guide)
  2. The transport unit will be checked to assure it is secure for the purposes of customs transit. (see the Customs Guide)
  3. Duty and tax paid or guarantee submitted by the declarant is verified.
  4. Identification and Sealing of Consignments (Article 18 of the Proclamation): The customs station of departure takes all necessary action to enable the customs station of destination to identify the consignment and to detect any unauthorized interference. Where the accompanying documents make it possible unequivocally to identify the goods such goods may be transported without a customs seal or fastening unless: (a) the customs station considers it necessary in the light of risk management: (b) it is necessary to facilitate the customs transit operation as a whole: or (c) an international agreement so provides.

According to the Customs Guide, the following types of transit cargo are required to be affixed with a customs seal; containerized cargo, Cargo convenient to cover and seal with canvas, and fuel products. On the contrary, the following types of cargo are not required to be affixed with a customs seal: Big industrial and construction type machinery; Iron and steel cargos; Non-containerized vehicles; Cargo adequately secured and affixed with a customs seal by a foreign customs authority; Relief goods, fertilizers and charcoal that are not loaded by train; and Goods not difficult for customs transit control.

(See also directive No. 117/2008 E.C. on Customs Transit)

Directive No. 117/2008 E.C. on Customs Transit DOWNLOAD

Termination of Customs Transit

(Article 21 of the Proclamation)

For the purpose of termination of a customs transit operation, the goods and the relevant goods declaration must be presented to the customs station of destination;

  • within the time limit fixed (vary based on the route, See the Customs Guide, Page 49-51 for particulars)
  • without the goods having undergone any change
  • without having been used, and
  • with customs seals, fastenings or identification marks intact.

The customs station of destination, as soon as the goods are placed under its control, arranges without delay for the termination of the customs transit operation after having satisfied itself that all conditions have been met.


(Article 22 of the Proclamation)

Transshipment means the customs procedure under which goods are transferred under customs control from the importing means of transport to the exporting means of transport within the area of one customs port, which is the port of both importation and exportation. Transshipment of goods may be allowed upon request submitted by the importer, carrier or by the customs agent. Any commercial or transport document setting out clearly the necessary particulars is accepted as the goods declaration for transshipment application. Goods admitted to transshipment may not be subjected to the payment of duties and taxes.

When the Commission considers it necessary, it must take precautionary measure at importation to ensure that the goods to be transshipped is identifiable at exportation and that unauthorized interference shall be readily detectable. The Authority may fix a sufficient time limit for the exportation of goods declared for transshipment.


3. Customs Procedure for Clearance of Goods

The customs procedures for clearance of goods include the followings.

Examination of Goods

(Article 23 of the Proclamation)

The Authority may, to ensure that goods to be released are covered by a registered declaration, examine the goods and take samples for examination and analysis. The authority should also ensure that the goods do not pose peril to the safety and health of the people. The declarant is entitled to be present when the goods are examined or samples are taken unless he/she fails to appear. If the declarant fails to appear the Authority proceeds to conduct the examination or to take the samples in the presence of the warehouse operator. In any circumstances, the cost of taking samples and the cost of examination as well as any expense related thereto is borne by the declarant.

Note that other government organs also examine the goods for selected import or export goods.

(For further information on Examination of Goods See directive no. 119/2008 E.C.)

Directive No. 119/2008 E.C. on Examination of Goods DOWNLOAD

Placing Identification Mark on Goods

(Article 24 of the Proclamation)

The Authority places identification mark on the goods where identification is required in order to ensure compliance with the procedure for which the goods have been declared. The identification mark affixed to the goods or the means of transport can only be removed or destroyed by the Authority or by a person authorized by the Authority except in the case of force majeure to be determined by a directive of the Authority, where their removal or destruction is essential to ensure the protection of the goods or means of transport.

Release of Goods

(Article 25 of the Proclamation)

Goods declared is released as soon as they are examined by the Authority or the Authority decided not to examine them, provided that:

  • they are not subject to prohibition or an offence is committed in relation to them;
  • where the conditions of placing the goods under the customs procedure in question are fulfilled;
  • in the case of restricted goods, the permit issued by the appropriate body pursuant to the relevant law is presented; and
  • any applicable duties and taxes have been paid or security is furnished.

The Authority may, in accordance with a directive issued by the Ministry, release goods upon receiving a guarantee from the importer to secure payment of the taxes and duties within a certain period of time: provided, however that the period of such deferred payment may not exceed 12 months. Where samples are taken and technical documents and expert advice is required to determine taxes and duties, the Authority may release the goods with security before the results of such examination are known.

All the goods covered by a declaration must be released at the same time unless the condition requires otherwise.

Release of Goods for Free Circulation

(Article 27 of the Proclamation)

Unless otherwise provided by law, any goods may, not be released before the payment of duties and taxes. Any imported goods that have completed the necessary customs formalities and released for free circulation are considered as domestic goods. Nonetheless, goods released for free circulation may lose their status of domestic goods where:

  1. the goods declaration for their release for free circulation is invalidated;
  2. they are imported for inward processing and treated under the duty draw back or voucher scheme;
  3. they have to be re-exported in accordance with the terms of the contract due to the fact that they are defective or fail to meet the require standards; or
  4. they are re-exported or used only for the permitted purpose and subject to drawback system.

Pre-arrival Clearance

(Article 28 of the Proclamation)

The importer or his agent may lodge his declaration with supporting documents prior to the arrival of the goods and may request for a pre-arrival clearance to be issued upon examination of the declaration and supporting documents. The Authority may examine the declaration and supporting documents presented to it prior to the arrival of the goods and issue release of goods rights upon their arrival.

Clearance Subsequent to Release of Goods

(Article 29 of the Proclamation)

The Authority may release goods prior to the completion of customs formalities if it is satisfied that the declarant can subsequently accomplish the customs formalities; provided, however, that the declarant produces a commercial or official document containing the main particulars of the consignment concerned and acceptable to the Authority, and that security, where required has been furnished to ensure collection of an applicable duties and taxes.

The Proclamation also encompasses several customs procedure applicable for specific purposes, such as:

  • Customs Procedure for Travelers (article 30-35 of the Proclamation);
  • Customs Procedure for Importation and Exportation of Goods through the Postal System (Article 36-39 of the Proclamation);
  • Customs Procedure Applicable to Means of Transport for Commercial Use and Stores (Article 40-46 of the Proclamation);
  • Customs Warehouse Procedure (Article 50-64 of the Proclamation);
  • Customs Procedure for Inward or Outward Processing (Article 65-67 of the Proclamation);
  • Customs Procedure for Processing of Imported Goods for Home Use under Customs Control (Article 68-70 of the Proclamation); and
  • Customs Procedure for Temporary Importation or Exportation and Re-importation or Re-Exportation of Goods (Article 71-77 of the Proclamation).