If you’re new to international trade in Ghana, you may not be aware of the complicated and lengthy importation process. For those who are beginning to contemplate importing goods into Ghana, this guide will help familiarize you with certain aspects of the process. The steps below are the abridged version, but they will help you better understand the overall process of importing goods into Ghana.
Register Your Company
Your first step to importing into Ghana should be to register your company. You can do this through the Registrar General’s Department, where you will obtain a certificate. You must also register with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to obtain a tax clearance certificate. Then, you’ll apply at the Revenue Agencies Governing Board for a Tax Identification Number (TIN)—a number specific to your company that will be necessary when filling out all your importation documents.
Finally, apply as an importer with Customs. This is a one-time only registration and will be valid for the duration of the validity of your TIN. You can begin the registration process online at GCNet. After filing out the form, print it and take it to your nearest Ghana Customs Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS) Registration Office.
Hire a Clearing Agent and Obtain Trade Insurance
To safely import goods into Ghana, you must purchase trade insurance, which will protect you by providing insurance coverage for damage to your goods while they are being stored or shipped—whether by air, land, or sea. Additionally, Customs Act 2015 Act 891 Section 43 requires all importers—except for self-declarants—to hire licensed Customs House Agents to clear cargo at any freight station in Ghana. This means that you will need to hire a clearing agent in Ghana. Ask for proof that the agent is registered before hiring her or him.
Register for Ghana Single Window
Ghana Single Window System is a secure online portal where you can exchange information with the logistics community and the Ghana government. It facilitates and speeds up the customs clearance process for documents and the clearance of imported goods through the ports. Four separate electronic systems are integrated within Ghana Single Window: 1) GCNet eMDA Portal, for documentation relevant to trade overseen by the Government of Ghana; 2) GICCS, the Ghana Integrated Cargo Clearance System that tracks cargo online; 3) eTax Portal, where you can manage your tax documents and payments; and 4) eRegistrar Portal, where you are able to register legal entities in Ghana. Ghana Community Network Systems (GCNet allows you to submit documentation, track your application’s progress, and interact with clearing agents, logistics companies, and governmental agencies all in one location.
Because you’ve already registered as a company, you’re eligible to submit a Fast Track TIN form to register as a user of the Ghana Single Window System. You will provide your TIN and identification to the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA), which will input your TIN data, grant TIN approval, and generate your TIN certificate. You’re now registered.
Apply for a Unique Consignment Reference
A Unique Consignment Reference (UCR) is a unique electronic reference number used to identify import consignments in Ghana. This should be obtained as early as possible in your import process—preferably as soon as you execute the sales contract with your supplier for the goods. It’s the first document to be created before all the other documents, such as ePermits, eExemptions, eImport Declaration Form (IDF), and Customs Declarations.
To apply, you first need to have registered with GRA for your TIN and you must have registered with GCNet to use the eMDA portal. First, go to the homepage of GCNet and click on the “Apply for a new UCR” hyperlink on the right of the page, under the heading, “New Application.” You must input information such as your supplier’s details, your TIN, and data regarding the shipment itself. You will also scan supporting documents, such as your Bill of Lading and Commercial Invoice. After creating your UCR and attaching the scanned documents, you will submit the UCR, which is automatically approved. A copy of your UCR will be forwarded to Customs.
You should place your UCR on all subsequent trade documents, including the supplier’s order, the invoice, the IDF, the CCVR, the Bill of Lading, the Customs Declaration, and all MDA permits and exemptions.
Begin the MDA Sub-Process
Certain imported goods are restricted in Ghana, meaning that if you want to import them, you must first obtain special permits or authorizations from government agencies. Examples of items regulated by the Ghanaian government include fish, spirits, tobacco, medical devices, diamonds, petroleum products, and food products. You will need to determine if the items you are importing are restricted, and if so, through which governmental agency you must apply to receive permission. For instance, to import milk, you must obtain approval from the Customs Commissioner, whereas to import diamonds, you must get a license from the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning.
Fortunately, around 20 government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) oversee restricted items online through the Ghana Single Window. MDAs that issue ePermits and eExemptions through the Ghana Single Window include the Energy Commission, Veterinary Services Department, Environmental Protection Agency, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
To begin, you will login to the Ghana Single Window and scan the required attachments—including your Commercial Invoice, Bill of Lading (BL) and Packing List. For an ePermit, issued by MDAs such as the Animal Production Directorate for imports of livestock feed and the Veterinary Services Department for imports of animal products, you’ll first need to select your UCR for the consignment. Next, you’ll submit your ePermit information to the appropriate MDA and pay your ePermit fee through an authorized bank. After approval, a copy of your ePermit will be forwarded to the Ghana Customs Management System.
To obtain an eExemption—a concession for various taxes and duties—you will need to apply through the Ghana Single Window to the appropriate MDA. For Free Zone exemptions, you’ll apply to the Ghana Free Zone Board, and for special governmental exemptions, you’ll apply through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning. First, login to Ghana Single Window and choose the UCR for your shipment. Send your exemption information to the MDA, pay your eExemption Fee through an authorized bank, and wait for approval. Once you’ve been approved, a copy of your eExemption will be sent directly to the mandated DIC.
Fill Out and Submit Electronic Import Declaration Form (eIDF)
As the importer, you must submit the electronic Import Declaration Form (eIDF) to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoTI) using the Ghana Single Window system. The eIDF declares your intent to import goods into the country. Later in the process, it can also be used as an input document to allow you to open a letter of credit to pay for your goods or to begin the Destination Inspection Company (DIC) sub-process.
Once you’ve logged into the Ghana Single Window, you will:
• Choose the proper UCR for the shipment.
• Confirm that the UCR’s information remains accurate, including your scanned Commercial Invoice.
• Update the UCR, if needed.
• Choose the correct “Process Code.” The Process Code depends on the DIC that must issue a CCVR for your cargo (see below for more information on CCVRs).
• Fill out the eIDF and submit it to MoTI
If you do not have the original invoice, you can scan and submit a pro forma invoice instead. This will allow you to obtain an incomplete eIDF, which can only be used to obtain a letter of credit from your bank. Afterwards, you must provide the actual commercial invoice to finalize your IDF and complete the process.
After submission, you will receive automatic acceptance of your eIDF. From here, a copy will be submitted to the mandated Destination Inspection Company (DIC) and the Customs Division at GRA.
The importer/agent must obtain an electronic Import Declaration Form (IDF) online and submit it electronically to the Ghana Customs Management System (GCMS). You can do this through the Ghana Community Network, also known as the GCNet system. The importer/agent will complete the IDF online, print it, and submit it, together with a Supplementary Information Document (SID) for all sea imports. You will complete the IDF by submitting the supplier’s invoice online through the GCNet system.
Pre-Arrival Assessment Reporting System (PAARS) Process
On September 1, 2015, the Custom Division of the GRA began processing the Customs Classification and Valuation Report (CCVR) through the Pre-Arrival Assessment Reporting System. The CCVR replaces the formerly-used Destination Inspection Report (which was also called the Final Classification and Valuation Report [FCVR]). It will feature an assessment of the dutiable value, import duty, and VAT for your shipment. The PAARS process begins when you submit your eIDF, which you already completed in the step above. When you did this, a copy of your eIDF was automatically directed to PAARS.
The Customs Valuation team will use your documents and eIDF to verify both the classification and valuation of your goods. The team will then issue an electronic copy of your CDVR report and send a separate copy to Ghana Customs Management System.
If the original invoice is unavailable, the importer/agent can submit a pro forma invoice to receive an incomplete eIDF. This eIDF can only be used to obtain letters of credit from the bank. To obtain the complete IDF and finish the process, you must later submit the actual commercial invoice, packing list, sea/air waybill, and other shipping documents.
You can check on the progress of your eIDF by visiting the Ghana Single Window site. Simply enter your TIN and UCR or eIDF number to login and view your status.
Obtain a Certificate of Conformity
In March 2015, Ghana began requiring shipments to present a Certificate of Conformity (CoC) to be cleared at customs. A CoC is a document that demonstrates the shipment’s compliance to relevant standards. The CoC is meant to minimize the importation of unsafe or counterfeit goods and to ensure that the products meet a certain quality. Any shipments arriving without a CoC are assessed a 30% CIF penalty. If a Non-Conformity Report (NCR) is issued, this means that the testing or inspection demonstrated discrepancies in the quality of the goods and the criteria for such goods. If an NCR is issued, your goods will not be allowed to enter Ghana. Your supplier will be tasked with completing this step, so merely confirm that it has been completed.
The customs clearance process is the process through which GRA’s Customs Division grants permission to your consignment to enter Ghana’s customs territory. As a brief, high level overview—omitting several of the details—what happens here is that you will make sure that all the proper pre-clearance documents have been processed and submit a Bill of Entry (BoE) to Customs. A BoE is a declaration that the goods which have landed in Ghana are of the precise nature, quantity, and value as they are described in the BoE. The duty and taxes that you are required to pay will be automatically calculated. At the same time a risk level will be assigned to your consignment based on the BoE details. You will visit an authorized bank—you may use either ECOBANK or Ghana Commercial Bank— to pay for the duty and taxes. You’ll receive a special bank receipt that acknowledges your payment.
Customs will verify your documents for compliance. The length of this process depends on the level of risk that has been assigned to your consignment. For low-level risk, Customs will verify the documents with your BoE and clearance approval may happen quite quickly. BoEs assigned higher levels of risk experience a compliance check. After this, a mandatory cargo exam is conducted. A “Release Message” will inform your shipping agent that it can continue with the Delivery Order (DO) processing. Next, Customs will examine your cargo, if required by the risk level. Upon approval, a “Delivery Allowed Message” will inform the Terminal Operator that your cargo can be released.
The Customs Preventive Section will conduct an “Exit Verification” on your cargo. Customs Gate will then carry out a final verification before creating a “Gate Out” event, meaning that your goods are now able to exit the port.
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If the process of importing goods into Ghana, as summarized above, appears confusing and complex—that’s because it is. The Ghana import regulations outlined here are not comprehensive—there are numerous other regulations, steps, and instructions you must learn and follow when importing goods into Ghana. It takes a substantial amount of experience, time, and knowledge of Ghanaian import/export regulations to properly import goods into Ghana.
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Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority, http://www.ghanaports.gov.gh/.
Ghana Revenue Authority, Customs Guide, http://www.gra.gov.gh/docs/info/customs_guide.pdf.
Ghana Single Window, http://www.ghanasinglewindow.com/.