Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority (ZATCA) introduces Clearance Within Two Hours Initiative

21 February 2024
By the Saudi Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority

Five years ago, clearing shipments imported through Saudi ports of entry was a lengthy process that could take importers up to 12 days, and 8 days on average.

To facilitate reporting and the exchange of data between all parties involved in the clearance of goods, whether private or governmental, 2017 saw the introduction of a national electronic system for the management of cross-border trade operations, called FASAH. FASAH acts as a Single Window environment, connecting all the organizations involved in the regulation of trade, such as environment, commerce and agriculture authorities, Customs, and the ports authority. The FASAH platform enables trade actors to access 149 import and export services electronically. Importers and Customs brokers can use the Shipment Tracking Service to track the movement of shipments, from their departure to their release from the port of entry, easily and accurately. They also receive notifications of the status of their Customs declarations via the system.

In 2019 ZATCA, looking specifically at how to further improve the procedures, launched the Improved Clearance Programme enabling Customs to clear 80% of Customs declarations in less than 48 hours; this involved encouraging trade operators to submit documents in advance, and ensuring that inspections were completed in 24 hours.

To support the momentum gained so far and further reduce clearance times, in 2023 ZATCA launched the Clearance Within Two Hours Initiative. This Initiative brought together 26 government agencies involved in the clearance process, plus several public and private entities, with the aim of identifying inefficient processes, designing new procedures and implementing new services and IT solutions, while taking into account the competencies of each authority and the nature of its missions.

Bottlenecks were identified through field visits and Time Release Studies. For its part, ZATCA reviewed all Customs procedures at air, land and sea ports of entry, from the time the Customs declaration is received to the issuing of a Customs invoice. The factors found to be causing delays included the requirement to submit several documents with the Customs declaration, differences in the implementation of procedures from one Customs office to another, the mandatory inspection of most imports according to loose risk criteria, and the lack of integration between the IT systems of ZATCA and those of other regulatory agencies.

Under the Improved Clearance Programme, the number of supporting documents required from trade operators was reduced from 12 to just 2, namely the invoice and the bill of lading. Other documents such as the Delivery Order, Certificate of Origin, Proof of Payment and Certificate of Conformity are directly exchanged between the regulatory agencies through the FASAH platform.

Under the Clearance Within Two Hours Initiative, a fist range of measures was taken in  2023. It included:

  • the automation and digitalisation of all procedures, and centralization of the procedural work in order to limit the role of Port Customs officers to the inspection of goods when required,
  • the automation of risk analysis through the use of a risk engine,
  • promoting the pre-arrival clearance process among trade operators,
  • connecting the IT systems of all the regulatory agencies through the FASAH platform, allowing data exchange (when required) and communications between those agencies and Customs to be dealt with electronically,
  • the obligation for regulatory agencies to review documents and inform ZATCA and the importer of their decision to conduct an inspection within a specific timeframe (a Royal Decree issued in 2022 set this timeframe at two hours from the moment the Customs declaration is received),
  • the obligation for regulatory agencies to inspect consignments within two hours from the moment the consignment is ready for inspection,
  • the signing of service level agreements with sea port operators, under which they commit to transport and unload containers required for physical inspection within a specific timeframe. These agreements also include other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which are monitored periodically, aimed at keeping the time required for the clearance of goods below two hours.

Procedures which have been automated include those related to the issuing of permits and licences for the import of “restricted” goods. The issuing process is carried out either prior to the import or during clearance, after the submission of the Customs declaration, depending on the nature of the goods. To enable the automatic exchange of data, ZATCA integrated its IT system with those of the relevant regulatory agencies. It also developed a service called “Restricted Goods Clearance” as an alternative solution for agencies not wishing to integrate their systems. Related government services include issuing the results electronically, via the FASAH platform, so that they are reflected directly in the ZATCA system.

A second range of measures was implemented more recently, following a decision – taken by Royal Decree – to expand the Clearance Within Two Hours Initiative. These measures are aimed especially at streamlining and simplifying the inspection process; for example, consignments to be sent for inspection can be transported directly to the Port inspection area immediately after being unloaded.

To conclude, it is worth noting in particular that, according to ZATCA, two factors have greatly contributed to its capacity to clear consignments in record time, namely the possibility given to importers to submit requested documents 72 hours before the consignment arrives at the Port, and compliance with all the requirements established by the regulatory authorities.

More information

International Relations and Treaties Department