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Updated: The how-to of registering mobile devices for people returning to (or visiting) Pakistan

Updated December 12, 2018

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Director Type Approvals of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Nauman Khalid said all devices used on Pakistani networks till Dec 1 were automatically white listed. — File photo
Director Type Approvals of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Nauman Khalid said all devices used on Pakistani networks till Dec 1 were automatically white listed. — File photo

A 'mobile tax policy' for foreign visitors and travelers returning to Pakistan has been announced, and the Federal Board of Revenue has released the details of duties it has imposed on imported handsets.

For people still confused about how the two things affect them, we've put together this brief explainer to help them navigate the process.

Please bear in mind that although this process had initially gone into force on December 1, 2018, the government later decided to extend the implementation date to January 15, 2019 to allow all users active on the network by that date to auto-register.

What is the registration process?

The registration process is entirely voluntary. When you arrive in the country, you can register your device(s) at the customs counter at the airport you land at.

You can download and print the declaration form beforehand and hand it to the customs authorities at the airport upon arrival to save time. You can also ask for a copy of this form at the airport counter.

The form is available here.

Please note that this form is meant to be printed out, filled in, and handed to customs authorities. Do NOT send it or email it to the PTA.

You will be asked to provide a 15 digit IMEI number for your device at Customs and a proof of identity (usually your NIC or passport number). Customs will use that information to register the device's IMEI on the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's network. Your mobile phone will not be confiscated during this process.

Alternatively, you may choose to leave the airport and have your mobile device registered later at a Custom House near your location within 15 days of arrival.

Please bear in mind that the documentary requirements at the Custom House may be different than the requirements at the airport customs counter.

Documentary and other requirements specified at the Karachi Customs House.
Documentary and other requirements specified at the Karachi Customs House.

The Custom House Karachi is located near the KPT Head Office in Kharadar. Custom House Lahore is located near the AG Office in Anarkali; Custom House Islamabad is located near the KRL Hospital in G-9/1; and Custom House Peshawar is located in University Town off GT Road.

Many more offices have been set up in other cities to facilitate citizens. Please check with your local customs office for guidance.


Question: What if I want to sell or gift the device I am bringing into the country? Will the device's IMEI be registered in my name only? Is it something I have to be concerned about?

Answer: The registration of the IMEI has nothing to do with how the device is used in the future, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority's Director (Type Approvals) Nouman Khalid explains. "We don't know who is using the IMEI. The system only analyses whether the IMEI [provided by the traveler] is legitimate, whether it was reported stolen in Pakistan (we can detect if it was) and whether the IMEI [of the device] you are bringing is already being used by somebody else in Pakistan ... No personal information is linked to the registration."

Question: Then why do the customs authorities want my identification information?

Answer: The purpose of asking for the CNIC number or passport number is to help customs keep an eye on the number of devices you have brought in to the country in one year. The first device is duty free, and you are allowed to bring in a maximum of four more devices after paying the proper taxes, Khalid explains.


How much will the registration cost me?

The first device is duty free!

Under customs regulations, every traveler flying in to Pakistan is allowed to register one handset without having to pay any duty charges.

This one device allowance extends to each traveler, even if they are only 1-year-old. One device per passport is allowed duty-free. Therefore, a family of five people (mother, father and three children) can bring in five devices without having to pay any taxes.


When do i not have to register my phone?

  1. You do not have to register or pay any duty charges on mobile devices that will be used on a roaming network (i.e., used with a foreign SIM card).
  2. You do not have to register or pay any duty charges on mobile devices that will be used in Pakistan with a local SIM for less than 30 days.
  3. If you are carrying a phone that was used in Pakistan with a local service provider SIM before December 1, you do not need to worry about anything. That device is already registered on the relevant authority's monitoring system.

In case you are carrying extra devices, you will be informed about the taxes applicable on them based on their pre-assessed value. You will be asked to settle those taxes before your device can be registered.

Keep in mind that each person is allowed to bring in a total of five devices every year. This quota is reset on December 31. Only the first device is duty free, and the remaining devices have to be paid duty on.

The following calculator can help you figure out roughly how much in taxes you can expect to pay based on the dollar value of your device.

Please bear in mind that these figures are very close to, but NOT the exact amount you will be required to pay in tax.

For simplicity's sake, the calculator also assumes that you are a tax non-filer.

The exchange rate is assumed to be $1=Rs140.

You can also calculate your tax liability using this information.
You can also calculate your tax liability using this information.

Why is this system in place?

The government is basically attempting to control the influx of smuggled mobile devices through a system called 'DIRBS'. That's short for Device Identification Registration & Blocking System.

PTA Director 'Type Approvals' Nauman Khalid told us that DIRBS forces anyone who plans to import a mobile device or purchase an imported device within Pakistan to ensure that the device's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number is "PTA approved and compliant".

This basically means that the PTA keeps an eye on all mobile phones brought into the country and makes sure they are taxed properly under the tax regime defined by the government.

Smuggling phones into the country had previously been a big problem and DIRBS has been set up to render smuggled phones useless as communications devices.

With a flip of a (virtual) switch, any unregistered and non-compliant device will be unable to register onto a mobile phone network (and therefore make phone calls, send and receive messages, use a mobile data network, etc).

Help! I have a dual SIM phone but only one IMEI is registered as compliant!

PTA Director Nauman Khalid has assured people who may have forgotten to register both IMEIs of a dual-SIM phone that they can still have the second IMEI registered if their case is genuine.

Users who are facing this issue can email "typeapproval@pta.gov.pk" with the subject line: "Registration of second SIM slot non compliant IMEI"

You need to specify which IMEI is compliant and which one is not compliant. Secondly, you need to provide contact details (an email ID and a phone number) and your CNIC number.


UPDATE: The deadline for automatic mobile phone registration has been extended to January 15, 2019, after which this procedure will be re-implemented. Till January 15, if you use your mobile phone in Pakistan with a local SIM, it will be auto-registered. Please make sure to use both SIM slots at least once before that deadline to avoid any inconvenience going forward.