South Africa is Africa's southernmost country. It is a large country with widely varying landscapes, 11 official languages, and an equally diverse population and is often known as the "Rainbow Nation".
South Africa is divided into 9 provinces:
Contains Pretoria, the administrative capital of the country, and Johannesburg, which is the seat the provincial government and tourist heart of southern Africa.
|Western Cape |
Features Cape Town; the winelands near Stellenbosch; the Whale Coast along the Overberg; Agulhas, southernmost point in Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet; and the Cape Floral Region. The Garden Route, one of the country's top destinations, runs along the Southern Coast from Mossel Bay to Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape) and includes towns like Knysna while the ostrich capital Oudtshoorn involves a 50 km detour.
|Eastern Cape |
The eastern part of the Garden Route, known as the Tsitsikamma, is in this province, which also features the former homelands, the spectacular and uncrowded Wild Coast, superb beaches in Port Elizabeth, East London and Jeffreys Bay, the surfing mecca of South Africa and great parks like Addo Elephant National Park and Tsitsikamma National Park.
|Northern Cape |
This is the biggest province and has the fewest people. Capital Kimberley is known for its diamonds and the "Big Hole". Upington is the second largest city, a good base when exploring the Kalahari desert, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park and the Augrabies Falls on the Orange River. Also Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park and the semi-desert Northern Cape Karoo.
|Free State |
Capital Bloemfontein which also hosts the Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest court in non-constitutional matters (the Constitutional Court is in Johannesburg since 1994). The world heritage site Vredefort Dome, remnants of the largest and oldest meteorite impact crater.
Durban, the largest city in the province and third largest in South Africa, is a popular coastal holiday destination for South Africans. The Drakensberg mountain range (highest peak Mont-Aux-Sources: 3282 m) which borders Lesotho is a good place to hike. The Tugela Falls (947 m) located in the Royal Natal National Park are the world's second highest waterfall.
|North West |
Rustenburg, famous for Sun City and Pilanesberg Game Reserve.
Capital Mbombela is a gateway to Mozambique and southern section of the Kruger National Park. The Drakensberg Escarpment with the Blyde River Canyon is the third largest canyon in the world.
Capital Polokwane (formerly known as Pietersburg) is a good jump-off point for visits to the northern parts of the Kruger National Park and Zimbabwe.
- Prince Edward Islands, more commonly known as Marion Island (the largest of the two) - two small islands in the sub-Antarctic Indian Ocean. Access is restricted to research and conservation management.
- 1 Pretoria – the administrative capital of the country. Home to numerous embassies as well as three universities.
- 2 Cape Town – the legislative capital and seat of Parliament. A world-class city named for its proximity to the Cape of Good Hope. Also within a stone's throw of South Africa's winelands. One of the most beautiful cities in the world, nestled between the sea and Table Mountain, it is a popular summer destination by both domestic tourists and those from abroad. The heart of South Africa's coloured and Cape Malay communities.
- 3 Bloemfontein – location of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the highest court in non-constitutional matters. The Constitutional Court in Johannesburg became the highest court in constitutional matters in 1994.
- 4 Durban – largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, third largest in South Africa, the heart of South Africa's Indian community, and is a popular coastal holiday destination for South Africans.
- 5 Johannesburg – the economic heart of South Africa and the most common entry point into Southern Africa.
- 6 Kimberley — capital of the Northern Cape Province. Famous for its diamonds and the "Big Hole".
- 7 Polokwane – capital of Limpopo (formally known as Pietersburg) and a good jump off point for visits to the northern parts of the Kruger National Park and Zimbabwe.
- 8 Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth – coastal city in the Eastern Cape with Port of Ngqura (a deepwater harbour) and Addo Elephant National Park located close by.
- 9 Upington – located in the arid Northern Cape province, this city is a good base when exploring the Kalahari desert and the national parks located in the Northern Cape.
South Africa is a paradise for anyone interested in natural history. A wide range of species (some potentially dangerous and endangered) may be encountered in parks, farms, private reserves and even on the roads.
- 1 Kruger National Park is an exceptionally well managed and favorite tourist destination.
- 2 Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in the heart of the Kalahari desert with wide open spaces and hordes of games including the majestic 'Gemsbok'. This is the first park in Africa to cross international borders.
- There are also a large number of smaller parks, like the 3 Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Park, 4 Addo Elephant National Park, 5 Marakele National Park, 6 Pilanesberg National Park or the 7 iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
See African Flora and Fauna and South African National Parks for additional information. There are hiking trails available in almost all the parks and around geographical places of interest, Hiking in South Africa contains information on those.
- The 8 Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg is a must see for anyone interested in where it all started. A large collection of caves rich in hominid and advanced ape fossils.
- 9 Robben Island just off the coast from Cape Town, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.
- The Cape Floral Region in the Western Cape
- 10 iSimangaliso Wetland Park
- Mapungubwe Kingdom in the North-West
- Richtersveld Cultural and Botanical Landscape in the Northern Cape
- 11 Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park for its landscape, biodiversity and rock art.
- 12 Vredefort Dome, remnants of the largest and oldest meteorite impact crater.
|Population||60.1 million (2021)|
|Electricity||230 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, AC power plugs and sockets: British and related types, BS 546, IEC 60906-1)|
|Time zone||UTC+02:00, UTC+03:00, Africa/Johannesburg|
|Emergencies||112 (police, emergency medical services, fire department)|
|edit on Wikidata|
If you want to travel in southern Africa then South Africa is a good place to start. While you can fly into any country in southern Africa, most flights will route through South Africa anyway. South Africa is also a good place to get used to travelling in the region (though some would argue that Namibia is better for that). Of course South Africa is not only a jumping off point, it is itself a superb destination rich in culture, fauna, flora and history.
Contrary to the beliefs of some outsiders, South Africa is not devastatingly poor with an unstable government. Although some rural parts of South Africa remain among the poorest and the least developed parts of the world and poverty in certain areas of townships can be appalling and squatter camps can grow overnight, progress is being made. The process of recovering from apartheid, which lasted almost 46 years, is quite slow. In fact, South Africa's United Nations Human Development Index, which was slowly improving in the final years of apartheid, has declined dramatically since 1996, largely attributed to the AIDS pandemic, but also due to maladministration and squandering of state resources which led to an increase in the poverty rate and ever-widening income disparity between rich and poor. South Africa boasts a well-developed state and privately funded infrastructure and keeps up to date with all the modern amenities and technologies. National quality standards of construction, roads, technologies, goods manufacture, medicine and hospitals, communications and IT, aeronautics, banking, brokerage and investment, beverage and food chain quality are on a par with the best worldwide. The government is stable, although corruption has become prevalent in certain areas such as obtaining drivers licences, academic diplomas and certifications, immigration officials at land border posts for a fee, stamping any passports or home affairs personnel dealing with visas and permits, traffic enforcement officers trying their luck and crime syndicates buying their way out of trouble. Bigger business may bribe high placed government officials to improperly push paper work through or be granted special privileges, also graft may be solicited higher up by willing individuals. The government and the primary political parties generally have a high level of respect for democratic institutions and human rights while the press is free and uncensored and the judicial system and constitutional court are fully independent.
Despite structural governance problems the country faces, South Africa remains the strongest and most diversified economy in Africa, and is the only African country to be a member of the elite G-20 group of major economies.
South Africa is renowned for its wines and fruits. Its agriculture output keeps the nation roughly self-sufficient in food, with maize, sugarcane and sunflower oil being major crops. Sea fishing and processing are increasingly important. It is the world's largest producer of platinum and its family group metals and a major producer of gold, iron, coal, diamonds, nickel, chromium, aluminium, stainless steel and uranium, among others. It also manufactures many industrial products and is a pioneer in the production of synthetic fuels. It maintains sizable armed force and is an influential player in African politics.
All that said, the economy has more potential than has been realised, as reflected in a 35% unemployment rate, which many South Africans and foreign observers agree is due to mismanagement and corruption. However, the new administration, in power since early 2018, campaigned on cleaning up governance and management and has already taken concrete steps to do so. Another important challenge the state is trying to tackle is a "brain drain" which has worsened since 2000 and includes all types of skilled professionals from doctors and engineers to artisans and teachers.
South Africa is located at the southernmost tip of Africa, with a long coastline that stretches more than 2,500 km (1,553 mi) and along two oceans (the South Atlantic and the Indian). It is a relatively dry country within the interior and the Kalahari Desert proof of this, particularly in the Northern Cape and north west Atlantic region. The two major river systems are the Limpopo, running easterly along the northern border and the Orange river, running roughly from the central regions southwestwards to the Atlantic Ocean. The Drakensberg Mountain range runs from the lower Eastern Cape to the KwaZulu-Natal and Eswatini with elevations exceeding 3000 meters (Mafadi is 3450m). The Highfelt and Platterland regions of Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo and Northwest, range between 1200 and 1800 meters altitude and is home to some of the best wildlife conservation reserves in the world. The coastal areas from the southern Cape and farmland region, up the Indian Ocean seaboard all the way to KwaZulu-Natal and the Eswatini and Mozambique borders, provide the country with the densest green regions.
The tip of Africa has been home to the Khoikhoi (collective name for Hottentot (derogatory)), Bushmen (San) and Bantu people for thousands of years. Khoisan or according to the contemporary Khoekhoegowab orthography Khoesān (pronounced: [kxʰoesaːn]), is an artificial catch-all name for the so-called "non-Bantu" indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, combining the Khoekhoen(formerly "Khoikhoi") and the Sān or Sākhoen (also, in Kitchen Dutch: Boesmans, or in English: Bushmen). Rock art believed to be of Khoisan tribes can still be found in many places throughout the South Africa. It is thought that Bantu tribes may have started to slowly expand into the northernmost areas of what is today South Africa more than 2,500 years ago the different cultural groups as we know them today had been established in the areas to the north, east, east central and south east of South Africa. The desert and semi-desert areas of the Western and Northern Cape provinces, as well as the western parts of the Eastern Cape province remained unsettled by the Bantu as the arid climate, limited seasonal rainfall, sparse vegetation, scarcity of natural resources and water could not sustain large migrations of people and herds of cattle.
Nguni Cattle were the primary livestock reared by the Bantu and fulfilled numerous cultural and economic functions within the tribal society while growing numbers of Bantu populations settled within green fertile areas. Cattle remains to this day a status symbol and served as a rudimentary currency and basic unit of exchange with a mutually agreeable value between bartering parties, thus fulfilling the function of money.
The regions of the Karoo, Cape Peninsula, the Kalahari, Namaqua, Graqua and Bushman land gradually become "Khoisan" territory in South Africa. In these mostly dry areas, the "Khoisan" being already semi-nomadic, are believed to have not permanently settled as conditions of searching desert game and dwindling water sources during winter months, consequently determined their own migration. Not until the Boer "Voortrekkers" keen to avoid conflict with the Bantu (see next paragraph) came into these areas and established boreholes and containment ponds, could any permanent settlements be established in these regions.
In the southeast, the Zulu Kingdom would grow into a powerful kingdom under King Shaka, who ruled from 1816-1828, and was also known for being a brilliant warrior and military commander.
Today, with more reliable sources of water and modern methods of water conservancy, the agricultural activity remains limited mainly to sheep and ostrich ranching as these animals are better suited to the sparse feed and limited water.
The Portuguese explorer Bartolomeo Dias is the first known European to have rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1488. 10 years later, Vasco da Gama made his first voyage to India, but the Portuguese ignored the Cape of Good Hope as a stopover base; the first permanent European settlement was built at Cape Town by the Dutch East India Company in April 1652. In the late 1700s, the Boers (the settling farmers) slowly started expanding first westward along the coastline and later upwards into the interior. By 1795, Britain took control of the Cape, as a consequence of the Napoleonic wars on the Dutch, and in 1820, a large group of British settlers arrived in the region, disrupting the Dutch Boers way of life. In 1835, large numbers of Boers known as the "Voortrekkers" (pioneers) started out on the Groot Trek (the great migration) northwards into the interior after becoming dissatisfied with the British rule. In the interior, they established their own internationally recognized Oranje Free State and Transvaal republics. Meanwhile, the British would defeat the Zulu Kingdom in the Anglo-Zulu War 1879, thus establishing colonial rule over the Zulu people.
- See also: 20th-century South Africa
After the discovery of large deposits of diamonds in Kimberley and gold in the Transvaal, two wars for control over the region were orchestrated by English investment interests to cause the fight between the Boer Republics and the British in 1880 and 1899, to alienate control of the mineral resources from the "Boers" hands. The second war occurred after British settlers flooded into the area surrounding Johannesburg known as the "Witwatersrand" (white water escarpment) in response to the discovery of gold in 1886. The Second Boer War (Afrikaans: Die Tweede Vryheidsoorlog or 'Second War of Independence') was particularly brutal, as the British administration imprisoned the Boer civilian population in concentration camps, resulting in one of the earliest recorded genocides. With the victory at any cost and scorched earth policy, most Boer farms, livestock, crops and homesteads were also largely destroyed. Ironically, this war was the first to be captured on motion pictures, with the resulting screenings causing public opinion in the UK to turn against the British Army's inhumane treatment of prisoners in the camps.
After peace was restored by the 1902 Treaty of Vereeniging, the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910, consolidating the various Boer republics and British colonies into a unified state as a member of the British Commonwealth, contributing significantly to World War I, World War II, and the Korean War, with raw materials, arms production and soldiers. In 1961, the Republic of South Africa under the apartheid regime, was formed and SA exited the Commonwealth. Non-Europeans were largely excluded from these political changes as they had received sovereign lands in which to live under self-rule, in accordance with their own tribal legal system and hierarchical form of government.
In 1948, the National Party came to power. The NP introduced numerous apartheid laws to give a national/tribal, independent and sovereign "homeland" to each of the various tribes within South Africa, who were frequently engaged in raids and border wars against each other. The laws also implemented a system of institutionalised, or systematic, racial segregation and discrimination, and ensured a continuation of white minority rule over the black majority, and over Indian, Coloured and other minority groups. This move was welcomed by the majority of the different tribal kings and chieftains, as most of the tribes sought self-governance. But soon, apartheid became practically synonymous with racism and oppression as millions of non white people were forced to leave their homes under housing policies that enforced racial segregation. The African National Congress (ANC) was banned and forced into exile for conducting and plotting terrorist activities. Other political parties that were considered 'dangerous' and 'subversive' were also banned by the South African government during this time, while free thinking individuals and unaffiliated anti apartheid activists of all races were also harassed, ostracised, imprisoned or murdered. Meantime, the refining of the apartheid system became insidious and very efficient, as victims won small legal battles in court, the regime used its parliament majority to pass new laws to close legal loopholes, creating a vicious circle of judicial moving goal posts to suit their objectives, therefore, tying up sympathetic high officials and judges hands to keep everything "legal". South Africa in its attempt to keep apartheid going, used the cold war and communist danger as an excuse to bypass UN sanctions and violently suppress civil disobedience within and on the former German colony of "South West Africa" (Namibia), invaded Angola, supported UDI Rhodesia and aided anti government armed insurrections in post colonial Mozambique and Angola.
The Republic, despite experiencing rapid infrastructure development and strong economic growth until the late 1980s, also experienced frequent domestic uprisings in response to the apartheid laws. During this time the international community also increased political pressure mechanisms and trade embargoes against South Africa, and banned its athletes from competing in the Olympic Games and most other international sporting competitions.
By the late 1980s, many white citizens began to recognize that change was inevitable, seeing as international sanctions and internal strife were beginning to take a severe toll on South Africa. Thus, moderates within the security services, armed forces and the National Party followed the white liberals' lead and began quietly reaching out to ANC leaders to negotiate how to dismantle apartheid, which started with the freeing of political prisoners in 1990.
Political violence worsened during the early 1990s as extremists of all kinds attempted to derail ANC-NP peace talks in favor of their own visions of the future of South Africa. In 1992, 73% of the eligible white population voted in a referendum to have the apartheid system abolished. This was quickly followed by a new constitution in 1993 and the nation's first truly all inclusive democratic election set for April 1994, in which all voting age South African citizens were allowed to vote regardless of their ethnic and cultural background. Former political prisoner Nelson Mandela became the country's first democratically elected president. The ANC won a 63% majority and proceeded to form a Government of National Unity with the NP.
Despite much hope for a "rainbow nation" as Nelson Mandela envisioned following the end of apartheid, South Africa's economy began to take a turn for the worse after Mandela stepped down in 1999 and Thabo Mbeki succeeded him. Mbeki would invite controversy by calling into question the causal relationship between HIV and AIDS, instead believing that AIDS was caused by poverty. Mbeki banned anti-retroviral drugs from South African hospitals, leading to countless premature deaths of HIV positive patients. Mbeki would be forced to resign in September 2008, and he would eventually be succeeded by Jacob Zuma in May 2009. As Zuma grew up in poverty and never received any formal education, the masses of poor black South Africans were initially hopeful that he could empathise with them and enact policies to alleviate poverty. However, Zuma's tenure would be plagued with massive corruption scandals, and he was forced to resign in February 2018. Zuma was succeeded by Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised to fight corruption, revitalise the economy and close the massive wealth gap, though whether or not his policies will prove successful remains to be seen.
While affirmative action policies have resulted in the formation of an elite black upper class, much of the black population continues to live in poverty with no access to proper sanitation facilities or good schools. This has caused significant racial tensions, with some extremists in the black community proposing depriving the white community of their properties without compensation for re-distribution to black people as restitution for the atrocities committed under colonialism and apartheid. On the other hand, many right-wing whites blame the black majority for mismanaging the country after power was handed over to them. The Indian and coloured communities, who were also discriminated against under apartheid but to a lesser extent than the black community, also harbour some degree of resentment for not being eligible for affirmative action policies, often using the moniker "not white enough then, not black enough now". Similarly, the Khoisan people, despite having settled in South Africa long before the arrival of the black Bantu peoples, have been largely left out of the post-Apartheid affirmative action policies, resulting in some degree of resentment against the Bantu-dominated government.
Modern South Africans are very diverse, with many different ethnicities making up the population numbers. Nevertheless, besides the Xhosa, Venda, Shangane, Sotho, amongst others, the Zulu people constitute the largest group with approximately 20% of the total. There are also two main ethnic groups among white South Africans; the Afrikaners, who are descended from Dutch settlers and form the majority of white community, and Anglo-South Africans, who are descended from British settlers. This melting pot of people also includes sizable numbers of other Africans, Asian and European descendents, with Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Malawians, Middle Eastern, Indians, Malays, Chinese, Portuguese, Greek, English, Italian and many mixed peoples, to name a few contributing to a true rainbow nation. The existence and survival in Southern Africa of the ancient "Khoikhoi" and "San" people, their culture, language and traditions, provides a window into a way of life largely gone unchanged for more than 10,000 years. By and large, the vast majority of its people irrespective of background, colour or creed, are friendly, helpful and a bit curious about visitors while good manners and respect go a long way towards an enjoyable rapport.
The South African immigration regulations under a special temporary residence permit system that after some years can be elevated to a permanent residence status, allows older or retired foreigners in an otherwise good health condition, with a certain level of legally obtained steady income or pension and in possession of a clean criminal record certificate, to settle down and buy property locally in their retirement. Such an opportunity may be attractive to Northern Europeans seeking sunny mild weather in a country that offers the best of both worlds by being very cosmopolitan and at the same time, keeping African traditions very much alive, and with a much lower cost of living, given the advantageous exchange rates while being in approximately the same time zone of country of origin. Such permit holders are treated like all South Africans nationals from a legal stand point, thus, subjected to all laws and regulations governing the nation.
Many region, city, street and building names in South Africa have been changed after the end of apartheid and some of them are still being changed today. These changes can sometimes lead to confusion as many of the new names are not yet well known. This travel guide will use the official new names, but also mention the previous names where possible.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35 °C (95 °F) in some places.
The South African Weather Service provides up to date weather information, forecasts and radar imaging.
Football, cricket, rugby union and track and field athletics are the most supported and participated national sports. South African swimming, cycling and tennis produce some world-class athletes from time to time. In 2010, South Africa hosted the first FIFA World Cup to be held on the African continent. South Africa was also host of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the only edition of that tournament to be held in Africa.
The public holidays in South Africa are:
- New Year's Day (1 January)
- Human Rights Day (21 March)
- Easter weekend A 4-day long weekend in March or April consisting of "Good Friday", "Holy Saturday", "Easter Sunday" and "Easter Monday", the dates are set according to the Western Christian tradition.
- Freedom Day (27 April)
- Workers Day (1 May)
- Youth Day (16 June)
- Woman's Day (9 August)
- Heritage Day (24 September)
- Day of Reconciliation (16 December) - see Bloodriver.
- Christmas Day (25 December)
- Day of Goodwill (26 December)
If a public holiday falls on a Sunday, then the following Monday will also be a public holiday.
The school year is divided into four terms. School holidays occur early December to the middle of January, early in April, middle June to the middle of July and in late September. Most South Africans go on leave during these times and accommodation will be harder to find. The main holiday period is in mid-summer (December-January).
South African Tourism operates a number of offices in other countries. You might wish to contact the office in your country for any additional information or assistance
- Angola, Travessa Rodrigo de Miranda, R/C N33, Luanda, ☏ , fax: .
- Australia, Level 3, 117 York St, Sydney, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- China, 6 Gong Ti North Road, Suite 2606, Beijing, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- France, 61 Rue La Boetie, Paris, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Germany, Friedensstrasse 6-10, Frankfurt, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- India, Unit No.3, Ground Floor, TGC Financial Centre, Mumbai, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Italy, Via XX Settembre 24, 3F, Milano, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- Japan, Akasaka Lions Bldg, 1-1-2 Moto Akasaka, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Netherlands, Jozef Israëlskade 48 A, Amsterdam, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
- United Kingdom, No 1 & 2 Castle Lane, 2nd floor, London, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org.
- United States, 500 Fifth Ave, Ste 2200, New York, ☏ , fax: , email@example.com.
Foreign nationals of the following countries/territories can enter South Africa visa-free:
- For up to 90 days: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Eswatini, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (maximum 90 days in 1 year), Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia (maximum 90 days in 1 year) and Zimbabwe
- For up to 30 days: Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong, Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, South Korea, Thailand and Turkey
If you are required to have a visa, don't arrive without one, as they are not issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs[dead link], ph +27 012 810 8911.
The Department of Home Affairs does not handle visa applications directly: VFS.Global, a separate office deals solely with immigration services, visa applications and processing. The VFS.Global portal provides information regarding offices in the country and online services available. The Johannesburg, Sandton office is in Rivonia Boulevard next to the ShopRite Checkers Supermarket. Make sure to apply for visas and visa extensions as early as possible. A way to 'extend' your visa while avoiding bureaucracy is by leaving and re-entering South Africa via Mozambique. A 30-day visa cannot be 'reset' when leaving and re-entering South Africa from the bordering countries of Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. You will not get a new visa. For example, when you have a 30-day visa, and exit South Africa and enter Lesotho or Eswatini after 5 days of validity, then re-enter South Africa after 5 days, you are only allowed to stay the remaining 20 days of the original visa for South Africa and will not be given a "new" 30-day visa. However, if you fly back to Europe or go to Mozambique, and then re-enter South Africa, you will be issued a new 30-day visa.
Make sure you have 2 blank pages back to back in your passport and that it is valid for at least 30 days after your intended date of departure, or you will be sent back! Make sure you have a return ticket available or they will send you back. If you need to pick up a ticket at the airport have the flight number and details handy and speak with the customs officer, they should check your story out and let you in (be firm). Be wary of arriving with a damaged passport as new security measures might trip up your entry.
South Africa had the world's strictest laws about travelling into and out of the country with children to combat child trafficking. However, this has changed in 2019. From 2019 on, all foreign children are allowed to enter South Africa without carrying additional supporting documents such as birth certificates and consent letters.
Within South Africa, if you plan to spend time travelling around, like touring with a vehicle, you can use copies of documents to safeguard originals. Such copies of important papers like passports, ID cards and drivers licences, must be authenticated (for free) at any Police Station. Just bring the original and the copies and ask the agents on duty to help you. In case of passports, the relevant pages showing the visa and entry stamps must also be copied and placed together with the personal details page. These authenticated copies are only recognised within the national borders.
South Africa is a major hub for air travel in the Southern African region. The country's flag carrier, South African Airways (SAA), has an extensive global and pan-African network of connections, some of which are operated by its short-haul subsidiaries SA Airlink and SA Express[dead link].
South Africa has 10 international airports. The primary intercontinental hub is the O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg; the secondary one is Cape Town International. They serve as gateways for tourists and foreign visitors, and hubs for travel within South Africa and Southern Africa in general. O.R. Tambo International Airport, has a convenient but rather costly (R175 for single trip to Sandton (incl. cost of reusable card)) commuter rail link system known as "Gautrain", connecting the airport to Sandton, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Depending on final destination, two or more people traveling together maybe better off using a taxi or shuttle service but enquire at airport info desk or check the web about all options available.
Direct flights arrive from major European centres, including: Amsterdam, Athens, Madrid, London, Paris, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Lisbon. There are also direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, São Paulo, Singapore, Sydney, Tel Aviv and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.
All the larger airports in South Africa used to be state-owned, but have been privatised and are now managed by the Airports Company of South Africa. Durban International Airport is the third biggest airport. Regular Flights from and to: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
Baggage theft at airports is common especially at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg so avoid putting valuables in your main luggage if you can. Since these thieves have only a window of a few seconds to steal, you can make it harder for them by using plastic quick-tie straps in all zippers, even if there are metal locks already and having your luggage wrapt up in cling wrap. The cling wrap can be done at the airport for R80 per item or you can buy a large roll of the stuff in any supermarket and DIY for a fraction of the cost.
Some popular services include:
- Cape Town to Gaborone - SA Express on Mondays and Fridays
- Cape Town to Maun - Direct on Monday and Friday
- Cape Town to Mauritius - Thursday and Saturday on Air Mauritius
- Cape Town to Walvis Bay - Sunday to Friday on SA Express
- Cape Town to Windhoek - Daily on SA Airlink
- Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg - Daily on SAA and Air Tanzania
- Eswatini to Johannesburg - Daily on SA Airlink
- Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam - Daily on SAA and Air Tanzania
- Johannesburg to Eswatini - Daily on SA Airlink
- Johannesburg to Gaborone - Daily flights on SA Express
- Johannesburg to Kilimanjaro - Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday on Air Tanzania
- Johannesburg to Lusaka - Daily on SAA
- Johannesburg to Maputo - Daily flights on either SAA or Mozambique airlines.
- Johannesburg to Mauritius - Daily on either SAA or Air Mautirius
- Johannesburg to Maun - Daily flights
- Johannesburg to Maseru - Daily flights on SAA Airlink
- Johannesburg to Nairobi - Daily on either SAA or Kenya Airways
- Johannesburg to Seychelles - Tuesday and Saturday on Air Seychelles
- Johannesburg to Victoria Falls - Daily on SAA and BA
- Johannesburg to Walvis Bay - Sunday to Friday on SA Express
- Johannesburg to Windhoek - Daily on SAA
- Johannesburg to Zanzibar - Tuesday and Sunday on SAA. Daily connecting flight via Dar es Salaam.
- Gaborone to Cape Town - SA Express on Mondays and Fridays
- Gaborone to Johannesburg - Daily flights on SA Express
- Kilimanjaro to Johannesburg - Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday on Air Tanzania
- Lusaka to Johannesburg - Daily on SAA
- Maputo to Johannesburg - Daily flights on either SAA or Mozambique airlines.
- Maseru to Johannesburg - Daily flights on SAA Airlink
- Maun to Cape Town - Direct on Thursday and Sunday
- Maun to Johannesburg - Daily flights
- Mauritius to Johannesburg - Daily on either SAA or Air Mautirius
- Mauritius to Cape Town - Thursday and Saturday on Air Mauritius
- Nairobi to Johannesburg - Daily on either SAA or Kenya Airways
- Seychelles to Johannesburg - Tuesday and Sunday on Air Seychelles
- Victoria Falls to Johannesburg - Daily on SAA and BA
- Walvis Bay to Johannesburg - Sunday to Friday on SA Express
- Walvis Bay to Cape Town - Sunday to Friday on SA Express
- Windhoek to Johannesburg - Daily on SAA
- Windhoek to Cape Town - Daily on SA Airlink
- Zanzibar to Johannesburg - Tuesday and Sunday on SAA. Daily connecting flight via Dar es Salaam.
Should you be entering from one of the other countries in Southern Africa you might want to do so by car. South Africa operates a number of land border posts between itself and immediately neighboring countries. The more commonly used ones are:
- Skilpadsnek (On the N4, 54 km/34 mi from Zeerust), ☏ . 6AM-10PM.
- Maseru Bridge (15 km/9 mi from Ladybrand on the N8 towards Maseru), ☏ . Open 24 hours.
- Ficksburg Bridge (Just outside Ficksburg), ☏ . Open 24 hours.
- Sani Pass (In the KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg park), ☏ . 8AM-4PM.
- Lebombo (On the N4 btwn Mbombela and Maputo), ☏ . 6AM to 10PM.
- Kosi Bay (R22 btwn Hluhluwe and Ponta do Ouro), ☏ . 8AM-4PM.
- Nakop (132 km/82 mi from Upington on the N10 towards Ariamsvlei), ☏ . Open 24 hours.
- Vioolsdrift (On the N7 N of Springbok), ☏ . Open 24 hours.
- Oshoek (120 km/75 mi from Ermelo on the N17 towards Mbabane), ☏ . 7AM-10PM.
- Beit Bridge (On N1 approximately 16 km (10 mi) N of Messina), ☏ . Open 24 hours.
Open times are often extended during South African holidays.. For a full list of entry ports or any additional information see the South African Border Information Service [dead link] or contact them on +27 086 026-7337.
- See also: Disabled travel in South Africa
South Africa has a well-established domestic air travel infrastructure with links between all major centres. There are multiple daily flights to all the major airports within the country. Contact any of the airlines for details. It is worth comparing low cost airlines like Mango with the SAA rates as they usually have online specials which can be cheaper than the "low cost" carriers.
- See also: Driving in South Africa
Driving can be a practical way for getting around in South Africa, for instance national parks are some of the country's foremost attractions but they are rarely served by public transport. Visitors hiring or buying a car is fairly common.
Major roads are in general in good condition, though South Africa still has a high rate of road accidents. Traffic rules including speed limits are not always respected, and in the countryside animals (wild and domestic) next to or on the road are not an uncommon sight.
There are scheduled bus services between Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and other cities (with stops in between), as well as connections to neighboring countries. The main bus companies are:
Booking for the above can also be done via Computicket[dead link] .
An alternative is the Baz Bus . It offers a regular hop-on-hop-off service on some of the most interesting routes for the tourist (Cape Town to Durban via the Garden Route;Durban to Johannesburg via the Drakensberg). Baz Bus picks you up and drops you off at many hostels along the route, so you don't have to hang around at a downtown bus stop at night.
If you're really in a pinch, you can use minibus taxis. They are poorly maintained and rarely comply with safety standards. They also require patience as they make many detours and changeovers at the taxi rank (hub) where the driver will wait for passengers to fill up the bus. But they cover many routes not covered by the main bus service and are quite cheap (25 cents per kilometre per person on the main routes).
Warning: Many buses are removed from service by the police, due to lack of legal road-worthiness. Seek up-to-date advice on which companies are more reputable. Occasionally, the driving can be rather wild, and if you're prone to motion sickness, be prepared.
The Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA) is the national rail operator. There are budget passenger services between major South African cities (known as Shosholoza Meyl[dead link]) and luxury services (known as Premier Classe) between Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
Central Reservations (for both Shosholoza Meyl and Premier Classe) can be contacted as follows:
- From within South Africa, phone 086 000 8888 (share-call)
- From outside South Africa, phone +27 11 774 4555
- By using the 0027 prefix instead of +27 calls may cost less, the same applies calling SA from outside.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
To book tickets, phone Central Reservations on one of the numbers given above and make your booking. You can pick up and pay for the tickets later at any train station.
There are also commuter trains in larger cities (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town, Durban, Gqeberha/Port Elizabeth and East London); these are run by MetroRail[dead link] . Most services are perfectly safe, but certain routes are overcrowded and not always safe.
- Blue Train, ☏ , BlueTrain@Spoornet.co.za. This world famous luxury train operates between Pretoria and Cape Town, with a stopover in Kimberley. They advertise as a "five-star hotel on wheels" and charge accordingly: prices start from R15,500 one-way per person in low-season "Deluxe" twin-sharing. You can pay as much as R34,925 (high-season "Luxury" single) (2017 prices) The trip takes 27 hours, and your fares includes a private suite with attached bathroom, and all meals and drinks (except champagne and caviar).
- Rovos Rail, ☏ . Offers luxury rail travel throughout Southern Africa. Destinations include Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, George, Swakopmund in Namibia, Vic Falls in Zimbabwe and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
Ride-hailing is available in South Africa and the following are the most anticipated providers:
Hitchhiking in South Africa is not so hard, but most people will think you are catching a ride with the local taxis and thus expect you to pay. You may want to tell them you are looking for a free ride before climbing aboard. The main issue is crime: some drivers may hijack you and your belongings. Hitchhiking is generally frowned upon and considered unsafe. Drivers are also wary of potentially criminal hitchhikers. Never hitchhike at night. It is unwise to be outside at night, if you are in an area considered unsafe. Remember, most middle-class homes are protected with walls and armed guards; they have this for a reason.
Cycling is probably the best way to experience the country, as you really get to admire the views and get the opportunity to mingle with the locals. It could be considered unsafe to cycle through the cities because of crime and reckless drivers. However, Cape Town is somewhat bicycle friendly with several bike lanes. There are many farm/dirt roads throughout South Africa. Locals and Farmers are generally willing to provide you with food and a place to sleep, as long as you are willing to talk.
South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, Southern Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda and English. Afrikaans is the mother tongue of the majority of the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'Afrikan' or 'African' by foreigners. This is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-African languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African'). Afrikaans has roots in 17th-century Dutch dialects, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal - South Africa's largest single linguistic group) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in.
English is the lingua franca and spoken as a second language by most urban South Africans, but as a first language only by a minority of the white community. However, English proficiency can be limited in some rural black communities. South African English primarily follows British spelling and vocabulary choices, but is also heavily influenced by Afrikaans and, to a lesser extent, other South African languages.
A few words you may encounter are:
- eish - as in, "eish, it's hot today", "eish, that's expensive" or "eish, that's too far to drive"
- lekker - nice, enjoyable
- howzit - how is it? (generally a rhetorical question)
- yebo - yes
- boet, bru, china or ou - brother or man (equivalent to dude or bro)
- koppie - a small hill (can also mean a cup)
- Madiba - Nelson Mandela
- Molo - Hello (in Xhosa)
- robot - traffic light
- tannie - (auntie) respectful term for an older woman
- oom - (uncle) respectful term for an older man
- tinkle - phone call
- just now - sometime soon (from Afrikaans "net-nou")
- now now - sooner than just now! (from Afrikaans "nou-nou", pronounced no-no)
- braai - barbecue.
- cheers - used for saying good-bye, as well as saying thank you and for the occasional toast.
- heita - hello
- sharp - (usually pronounced quickly) OK
- sure-sure more pronounced like sho-sho - Correct, Agreement, Thank you
- ayoba - something cool
- zebra crossing - a crosswalk. named for the white & black stripes that are generally painted on crosswalks.
- bakkie - pick-up truck (from Afrikaans)
- Ekse -whats up
Hundreds of thousands of visitors come to South Africa every year to see the country's many natural and cultural attractions. From wild elephants to stunning landscapes, cave paintings, colonial heritage and bustling townships, South Africa is an enchanting land of contradictions and great beauty. Some of the best ways visitors can explore South Africa's natural scenic and cultural experiences, apart from private run enterprises, are provided by state-developed entities such as the various Provincial Park Boards and National Nature Reserves. Also available but less known by outsiders are government resorts mainly operated under the Forever Resorts brand for example. There are more than 20 of these resorts nationwide. They provide a mix of activities to be enjoyed by small or large groups of people. Activities such as thermal water spas, leisure, kids activities, hiking, camping, mountain biking and guided game viewing are all catered for. Accommodation available in these resorts is reasonably priced outside school holidays or long weekends and consists of a choice between, 3- or 4-star hotel, bungalows, cottages, thatched rondavels, caravan park and camping grounds, accommodation is priced per unit, therefore, making a six-sleeper bungalow or four sleeper cottage, a very affordable proposition. The resorts provide all amenities within and you are free to go to the restaurants or cater for yourself. Bring in your own supplies, as wine, beer, whisky and soft beverages and food items like meat, butter, cheese, coffee, can be substantially more expensive bought inside than from outside supermarkets.
Wild animals in their natural habitat
South Africa is the most popular safari destination in the world and for many visitors a glance at the "Big Five" and other wildlife is a must. The iconic Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga is surely the most famous place to have that glance, but Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape is another popular pick. The vast dry plains of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park with its migratory herds of wildebeast covers parts of both South Africa and Botswana. Along the border with Mozambique another transfrontier park, the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, offers very different landscapes and fauna. For scuba divers, South Africa's underwater wildlife has a lot to offer, with the annual sardine run being a highlight. The popular seaside town of Hermanus is probably the best place in the world to go whale watching, with cage diving opportunities with great white sharks for the truly adventurous.
Areas of natural beauty and botanical interest
South Africa's landscapes are grand and diverse, varying from flat desert scrublands to lush green coastal areas and high peaks. The view from the famous, flat-topped Table mountain is a classic Africa experience. Also in the Cape Town region, the beautiful beaches attract thousands of sun lovers. The green coastal Garden Route is a great natural experience, passing countless lagoons, several interesting towns and the beautiful Tsitsikamma National Park. The Augrabies Falls National Park boasts a 60-m-high water fall. Close to the Kruger Park is God's Window and Blyde River Canyon, the largest green canyon in the world, not far from there are the high peaks of the Drakensberg mountain range. The Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Park is one of the country's 8 Unesco World Heritage sites for its exceptional natural beauty and the many cave paintings found there. The Namaqualand transformation from a dry monochromatic landscape into a colourful myriad of flowering during spring season, is a sight to behold, but there are many others including areas of the Kalahari desert, where stubborn endemic life forms defy the harsh environment and thrive.
Large numbers and some of the oldest hominid fossils have been found in South Africa, especially in the Cradle of Humankind, another World Heritage Site. Over 30 different caves held important fossils, but the caves of Sterkfontein are perhaps the most important one at the site. Far more recent, the 17th-century Castle of Good Hope in beautiful Cape Town is one of the cultural heritage sites from colonial times. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned, has become a major destination. For more insight in the Apartheid times, visit the District Six Museum in Cape Town or the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg.
- Although regularly criticized, visits to the infamous townships are increasingly popular. Some say such trips turn poverty into entertainment while others think they benefit all those involved. In any case, a township tour is an experience that will stick.
- The Cango Caves near Oudtshorn is an extensive and complex cave system within the Swartberg Mountains, containing many unique natural limestone formations. Management of the site falls under the Western Cape Parks Administration and is open to visitors. The shorter "standard tour" is available for everyone and lasts about an hour, however, the "adventure tour" is only open to experienced cavers, as it can last 4 to 6 hours and requires a high degree of physical fitness to belly crawl through tight spots and nooks to reach the various chambers spread over 4 km.
- Soweto, in Johannesburg, is particularly well known.
- South Africa has gained world-wide fame as a wine country, and if you're interested, a visit to one of the over 800 wineries can be a great addition to your trip. Head to the Cape Winelands around Stellenbosch for some of the best picks.
- Rand Airport in Germiston, near Johannesburg, is a regional airport serving mostly private pilots, small air service operators and flying schools. It also houses several well kept and maintained vintage aircraft such as the privately owned World War II "Harvard Squadron" usually quite active on weekends. Helicopter sight seeing and nostalgic air tours, specifically flying on a "Dakota DC3" and a wind in the face "Tiger Moth" biplane, are also available.
- Don't be astonished that South Africa is a republic run by a democracy, but it is possible to visit dozens of non-sovereign kingdoms governed by their own traditional rulers.
- Hot air ballooning, the "Cradle of Mankind" in Gauteng near Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape offer some spectacular balloon safaris. Booking arrangements can be made through a variety of operators easily found online.
- Dive, see Diving in South Africa for details.
- River rafting: The Orange River on the border to Namibia is a popular destination for rafting tours. Several tour operators launch 4-6 day trips in blow-up boats from Vioolsdrif with camping under the stars.
- Hiking and mountaneering are very popular in the Highlands of KwaZulu-Natal and in certain areas of the Eastern and Western Cape. Advance bookings may be essential to secure a place as some eco-sensitive places allow only a limited number of people to visit per year.
- Rugby union, cricket and soccer are all popular spectator sports, traditionally associated with Afrikaner, Anglo-South African and black South African culture respectively, although this has changed, and the Springboks (national Rugby union team) has had a lot of black fans at least since the 1995 World Cup, hosted in South Africa, when South Africa won with Nelson Mandela (then president) in attendance wearing a Springbok jersey. In 2019, South Africa won the Rugby World Cup for the third time, this time with a multi-racial team and a black captain.
- Friends of the Rail are based in Pretoria. This non-profit preservation society looks after steam locomotives and period rolling stock. Steam train outings are organized regularly departing in the morning from their own station in Hermanstad, Pretoria, and arriving in Cullinan for an extended stop over allowing sufficient time for lunch or a picnic before returning to base in the afternoon.
- The Magaliesberg steam train is another vintage steam train trip, operated by South African Railways (Transnet). It departs Johannesburg's main Park Station in the morning once or twice per month, offering a day long scenic tour through the nearby Magaliesberg Mountains. A packed lunch or picnic basket is essential.
- Battle sites: Many well documented Zulu-Indigenous, Boer-Indigenous, Zulu-British and Boer-British war sites are well kept, easy to access and worthwhile a visit. Mostly found in the KwaZulu-Natal Province, The War Museum in Johannesburg can provide maps and literature to help one plan a tour of where to go.
- Self-driving tours: Due to the size of the country and well developed extent of the national road network, a practical and fulfilling way of seeing the country is by driving through. The natural beauty of areas like "Golden Gate", "God's Window", "The Garden Route", "The Wild Coast", "St. Lucia and Cape Vidal", offer the leisurely vacationer unskeptic to mingle with locals or stay in farmsteads, a wide variety of tinkling sensations not experienced any other way.
- Motor racing in Gauteng is a regular calendar event, with Kyalami and Swartkops raceway facilities being among others, the main backdrops for all sorts of top notch national and regional two and four wheel competitions.
Exchange rates for South African rand
As of January 2023:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
The currency is the rand, denoted by the symbol "R" (ISO code: ZAR). It is divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark. A new series of banknotes was introduced in 2012, and both the old and the new series are circulating and legal tender.
Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in 2002 although those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins. There are two types of R5 coins in circulation: one is a silver-coloured coin while the other is silver-coloured with a copper insert. Both are legal currency.
South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the rand can be used in Namibia (where it is an official currency along with the Namibian dollar), and in Lesotho and Eswatini (where it is widely accepted, but not an official currency). The currencies of each country are tied to the rand at the rate of 1:1.
Traveller's cheques are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (which are found throughout the country even in rural areas) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card and all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs. South African bank ATMs charge fees in addition those levied by your own financial institution: e.g., R50 by Nedbank, or R75 by ABSA, as of March 2023
It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). Do not accept help from strangers when withdrawing money at an ATM. If you are approached and offered unwanted help, cancel the transaction immediately and go to a different ATM.
The till points at some major retail stores (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money. Transaction costs will be less than at ATMs.
Visa and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely.
Most retail stores accept credit cards and PIN-based debit cards as payment. South Africa has moved towards a chip-and-PIN credit card system like Europe. Thus, credit card users from countries also on that system (like the United States) will have no problem using their credit cards in South Africa, provided that they have notified their bank in advance of their travel plans.
VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 15% on almost all products in South Africa. Government legislated bread (rectangular loaf) and basic food stuff like uncooked meats, fresh milk, raw and unprocessed fruit and vegetables, are all tax exempt. By law, advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT only on material products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250, but not for things like accommodation and food costs or car rental. Full details of the procedure to follow are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and their new TAX Refund for tourists site. VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and Cape Town International Airports. Refunds will be credited to a Travelex Visa card that you will be given, denominated in U.S. dollars or euros, the fees in conversion associated with this card can leave you with up to 10% less than you thought you were getting. The cards can only be used outside of South Africa.
Petrol and diesel
Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and are fixed by region monthly. In general, petrol is cheaper near the ports (Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth). A litre of petrol will cost around R17 (2018).
- Tyre punctures and small vehicle repairs can be done in garages almost anywhere. Private or chain/franchise tyre shops are easily found and charge around R90/120, including puncture repair kit, new air valve and wheel rebalancing. Although prices for things like new radiator hoses or air and oil filters, new batteries, aircon gas refills and so on, may be wise shopping around for better prices, these services are also carried out while you wait.
- Windscreen chipping can often occur both on South African asphalt or dirt roads. Major urban centers have specialists in windscreen repairs able to invisibly and permanently fix small chips and cracks while you wait for about R500. If not found online, any proper garage or windscreen agent will be able to recommend someone near you. If a crack results from someone else's vehicle and you are insured, record the date, time and location, plus the other vehicle's registration plate number, colour and make to give your insurer.
The most expensive toll gate in South Africa is the Swartruggens toll plaza on the N4 between Swartruggens and Zeerust, cost is R71 for a normal car. In total, road tolls between Pretoria and Mbombela or between Johannesburg and Cape Town will cost you just under R100. If travelling from Beitbridge to Cape Town, down the N1, expect to pay as much as R270.
- You can buy a McDonald's Big Mac for around R39,90 (2020)
- A sit-in lunch at an average restaurant will cost you about R120 per person (2018).
- A dinner at a restaurant in a fancy or posh area may cost R200 R500 p/person (without drinks).
- A basic 30-cm pizza will cost about R85 (2018), however, known chains offer bulk buy specials.
- Beverages of all kinds in most restaurants tend to be too overpriced. Unlicensed establishments may charge a "corking" fee, ranging from cheap to questionably high.
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices in open markets or from street vendors are open to barter.
South Africa may not the best place to find bargains for most goods, for example, most ordinary consumer goods, electronics, and appliances are by and large manufactured in China nowadays, while most luxury goods are manufactured in Europe. In any case, by law, everything has to specify place of origin/manufacture in addition to, in the case of garments, accessories and shoes, the various types of materials used and the respective percentages. Nevertheless, the South Africa garment and shoe industry has begun a new chapter by reviving some dormant factories and in partnership with new brilliant local fashion designers, combining to produce very attractive high quality affordable shoes and clothing items made from nationally sourced top grade raw materials, like leather, wool and mohair, the Young Designers Forum label is an example of this development and Cape Town leads the way, while others can be found on the web. On the electronic goods market, prices needs double checking, a simple GPS navigator for your car will cost about R2000 - more than double the cost in the US or Europe! Nevertheless, in major urban centers like Johannesburg and Cape Town, retail parks with direct to public factory outlets, offer very discounted prices on well known global brands in clothing, sports shoes and equipment, accessories, home entertainment and electronics.
However, South Africa is a superior destination for buying African art, curios, and souvenirs which are far more difficult to obtain outside of Africa. In Johannesburg particularly, the Jewellery Council of SA and Diamond Board of SA certified diamond and coloured gemstone dealers and jewellers make jewellery in gold or platinum, available from reputable manufacturers at much better prices than on high street. Much of these business are concentrated in Jewel City, Main St., Jhb. or The Hamlet, Ridge Rd., Parktown, Jhb. All of these business provide the necessary documentation for a full VAT refund when leaving the country.
Tipping is the norm in restaurants. Indeed, most of these businesses pay their staff the legal minimum-wage, relying on customer tips to bring staff incomes up to live-able levels. Tips of around 10% of the bill are considered the norm but you may refuse to tip if the food and/or service were below par. Please note some restaurants management shares all "official" tips, you may want to rather give an actual cash tip to the waiter involved, instead of adding it to the bill being paid by cr/card.
A small amount, usually around R5 or more, is given to petrol station attendants for additional services, such as cleaning one's windscreen. Toilet cleaners at service stations along major road routes are sometimes tipped when they provide good service and keep the facilities clean. "Car guards", who claim to "look after" one's parked car are often given a small tip if they are in uniform and authorized; however those without uniforms are usually regarded as a nuisance, and tipping them is not compulsory, despite the fact that they often harass motorists looking for payment.
The 10% tipping rule also applies when taking a taxi. As most cabs work with cash only, it's better to ask how much you'll be expected to pay for your journey before getting in. This will ensure that you always have enough to give the driver as a tip.
Lastly, when checking into your hotel, it is customary to tip your porter as well. The generally accepted rule is to give them R5 per bag they handle.
- Braaivleis, meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, is very popular and generally done at weekend social events. The act of roasting the meat as well as the social event is referred to as a braai.
- Pap, a porridge made with corn meal. Slappap (runny porridge), is smooth and often eaten as a breakfast porridge, Stywepap (stiff porridge) has a doughy and more lumpy consistency and is often used as a replacement for rice or other starches. "Krummel" pap also called umphokoqo (crumby porridge) is drier, resembles couscous and is often served at a braai covered in a saucy tomato and onion relish called sous.
- Potjiekos, a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire. A favorite at braais.
- Boerewors, a spicy sausage. Boerewors Rolls are hotdog buns with boerewors rather than hotdogs, traditionally garnished with an onion and tomato relish.
- Biltong and Droëwors, seasoned meat or sausage that has been dried. Beef, game and ostrich meat is often used. A favourite at sports events and while travelling.
- Bunny chows, half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry, a speciality of the Indian community in Durban.
- Bobotie, meatloaf with a Cape Malay influence, seasoned with curry and spices, topped with a savoury custard.
- Morogo, a wild spinach on its own or with potato. Sometimes served with pap.
- Waterblommetjiebredie, mutton and indigenous water lily stew.
- Masonja, for the culinary adventurer, fried Mopanie worms.
- Melktert, "milk tart", a milk-based dessert.
- Koeksisters, a deep-fried sticky dessert.
- Vetkoek, deep fried dough ball made from flour, served with curry mince or apricot jam.
- Umvubo, sour milk mixed with umphokoqo, commonly eaten by the Xhosa people.
You will find the usual array of international fast food outlets. McDonald's, KFC, Domino's Pizza and Wimpy are found throughout the country.
Local franchises worth mentioning are Black Steer, Spur and Steers for the best burgers and Nando's peri-peri chicken. Chicken Licken is also a very popular choice for the locals, especially for their hot wings.
Pizza delivery is available in most urban areas whereby food can be ordered online with places such as Domino's Pizza [dead link] and Debonairs.
If you want to keep to a budget and not bother with cooking, everywhere all supermarkets chains have a deli, bakery and kitchen sections providing a wide range of ready to eat meals and sandwiches or you can choose yourself from the hot buffet or salad bar. These items are sold by weight at reasonable prices.
- Seafood franchises like Ocean Basket and Fishaways specialise in seafood, either to eat in or take away. Inland, due to the distances from the coast, fresh fish dishes are not easily found. However near rivers, some establishments offer what's regionally available. In coastal cities and towns, the situation is reversed with Cape Town and Durban being particularly good in having a choice of excellent seafood establishments at their respective waterfronts.
- Vegetarian and Vegan fast food and sit in outlets or restaurants are quite popular in urban South Africa, the Kauai franchise usually present in shopping malls and CBDs amongst other places, lead the way in variety, quality and keen pricing. Another source of affordable ready made such meals, can be found at supermarket chains like Fruit&Veg, Woolworths, Pick & Pay, Spar or Checkers, while a growing number of regular restaurants will also cater for such diets.
- Kosher and Halal dietary requirements are well known in SA. In areas with reasonable to high concentration of Jewish and Muslim populations, is quite easy to find restaurants, butcheries and supermarkets catering for these needs. In other areas, it may require searching to ascertain their existence or a Jewish or Muslim person can always contact their nearest respective religious place of worship or organization for enquires.
Most restaurants and even pubs have been declared "smoke-free" areas. However, this is often ignored. In some restaurants you will find a dedicated smokers area where children are not allowed. Rule of thumb is to check for an ashtray on your table. You will, however, in all probability be greeted at the door of the establishment with a "smoking-or-nonsmoking". Check as smoking in non-designated areas is not permitted and you'll be met with some rude gestures.
Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink. In some area such as Hartebeespoort Dam, it is advisable to boil your water before drinking.
Milk is widely available at most supermarkets, but bottled orange juice not-from-concentrate is much, much harder to find than in North America. Most South African retailers carry only orange juice reconstituted from concentrate or orange juice blended with other juices or milk. Soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi are widely available, though.
The legal age to purchase and drink alcohol in South Africa is 18. Almost all restaurants are licensed to serve liquor.
Witblits or Mampoer are locally distilled under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture, and allocated a manufacturers' licence. They are safe and enjoyable to consume and does not resemble the names for moonshine or firewater. The alcohol content is controlled by the Department, so is the quality.
Local beer production is dominated by SABMiller with Castle, Hansa, Black Label and Castle Milk Stout being most popular brands. There are also Micro Breweries all over South Africa. Imported beers such as Stella Artois and Grolsch or Laurentina, are also widely available. The Namibian Windhoek brand beers are also popular and generally available.
Prices can vary widely depending on the establishment. Expect to pay R25 for a 0.5 L beer (July 2017).
South Africa has a well established wine industry with most of the wine produced concentrated in the Cape Winelands in the Western Cape and along the Orange River in the Northern Cape. Wine is plentiful and affordable throughout the country, a 750ml bottle of a really good red starts at R100, a Chardonnay at R90. Good quality wines are also available in 5L and 3L cartons. A 3L of good red will cost about R110 and a 3L Chardonnay, about R95. Since prices are not fixed, it pays to shop around.
Amarula Cream[dead link] is made from the marula fruit. The marula fruit is a favourite treat for African elephants, baboons and monkeys and in the liqueur form definitely not something to be passed over by humans. Pour over crushed ice and enjoy. The taste, colour and texture is very similar to Baileys Irish Cream. Cape Velvet is a favourite in and around Cape Town.
Tea and coffee
The local Rooibos tea, made from a herb from the Cederberg Mountains is a favorite for many South Africans. You will find coffee shops in most shopping malls, such as Mugg&Bean and House of Coffees. Coffee shops similar in concept to Starbucks, like Seattle Coffee Company and Vida e Caffe[dead link] (Portuguese themed), are becoming commonplace.
Establishments in South Africa can have themselves graded by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa[dead link] on a 5-star basis. Many establishments make use of this service and you will see the star grading displayed on most advertising material. An inconsistent pricing system that sees many establishments offering a "per person" price instead of a "per room" rate, should be made aware of. Also, not everyone makes very it clear if breakfast is included or not and if not, how much extra will be. If you are budget sensitive, in the last few years, accommodation costs at many greedy establishments, in big or small towns alike, have been going up far out of sync with actual inflation, making it unwise to pre-book without doing a thorough search. In certain instances, a global brand or comparable hotel will cost much less in Europe or America than in SA. One of the excuses for this is the exchange rate, so, shop around. Another anomalie, is the inconsistency within the star rating. A three or four star guest house, B&B or hotel, maybe better kitted out, more spacious, better maintained and run than a five star establishment in the same area, therefore, rendering the system a rough guide-line indicator and not a systematic reliable set of standards. Similarly, in game reserve areas for example, is not uncommon to spot a slightly above average establishment charging just a slightly cheaper rate than the nearby ultra luxurious game lodge, but offering nothing comparable in quality or variety to its seven star counterpart, so, beware. For the price conscious and average tourist, the game reserve experience is better done within game camps under the control of the Provincial Parks Authorities or National Parks Board. There, prices for accommodation, food and guided safaris are very reasonable.
- 1 star - Clean, comfortable and functional.
- 2 star - Good: Quality furnishings, service and guest care.
- 3 star - Very good: Better furnishings, service and guest care.
- 4 star - Superior: Excellent comfort and very high standard furnishings, service and guest care.
- 5 star - Exceptional: Top of the line quality and luxurious accommodation to match the best international standards. Flawless service and guest care.
Backpacking lodges or hostels are widespread all over the country. Most establishments offer great value tours and activities in the areas. There is a great network of transport around the country making it suitable for single and younger travellers. Some lodges provide meals especially in the more remote areas. Most have self-catering facilities and shared bathrooms although en-suite bathrooms are also common.
Bed and Breakfast establishments are becoming very popular. The accommodation is usually provided in a family (private) home and the owner/manager lives in the house or on the property. Breakfast is usually served. Bathroom facilities may be en-suite. In general, the guest shares the public areas with the host family.
A house, cottage, chalet, bungalow, flat, studio, apartment, villa, houseboat, tents or similar accommodation where facilities and equipment are provided for guests to cater for themselves. (This can include a fridge, oven, stove, and microwave.) The facilities should be adequate to cater for the maximum advertised number of residents the facility can accommodate.
A guest house is a converted house or manor adapted to accommodate overnight guests or it may be a purpose built facility. A guest house is run as a commercial operation and is often owner-managed. A guest house has areas which are for the exclusive use of the guest. The owner/manager either lives off-site, or in a separate area within the property.
Camping and caravaning
Caravan parks can be found in most towns that are holiday destinations. Most caravan parks also offer camping sites where you can pitch a tent (double check because sometime tents are excluded).
The parks generally have central ablution facilities.
There are many timeshare resorts in South Africa, most participate in international exchange agreements. Many timeshare owners also rent their time when they can not make use of it.
Many real estate agents in South Africa also offer rental services. The rental properties are mostly available on unfurnished long term lease, but you will also find furnished properties on offer with 1 to 12-month lease agreements
Your local branch of an international estate agent with a presence in South Africa might also be able to assist you.
Non-South African citizens need to be in possession of a study permit to study inside the country. You should apply for one at a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form BI-1738[dead link] needs to be completed for the application.
You will need to do some preparation to gain a study permit. At a minimum you will need acceptance by a South African University, repatriation guarantees, return air ticket and proof that you can cover living expenses while in South Africa, including cover or insurance for the eventuality of medical need, before a permit will be issued. Having a SA family relation or friend with good social standing, does make such matters easier to deal with. The cost for obtaining a study permit is R425 and applications take about 6 weeks to process.
Expect to spend at least R6,000 per month on general living expenses (accommodation, food, travel, etc) in addition to tuition fees.
There are many secondary and tertiary education centres in South Africa. The University of Cape Town is the top-ranked university in Africa, placing 198th in the world, according to the 2007 Times Higher Education ranking. The Universities of the Witwatersrand, Stellenbosch, Pretoria and KwaZulu-Natal also routinely appear in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Top 500 rankings.
PPL and Boat Skipper: South Africa is also an excellent venue to learn new skills such as flying, sailing and scuba diving since costs are generally far lower than in more developed countries while quality of training will be equal or better.
Commercial diving: South Africa is quite popular for commercial diver training as the qualification is internationally recognised by the International Diver Recognition Forum, and the Department of Labout is a member of the International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA). A South African Department of Labour certification as a Class I or Class II diver is acceptable for offshore work in many other parts of the world, including the North Sea and Nigerian offshore oilfields.
Due to the high levels of unemployment in South Africa, there are limited work opportunities for foreigners.
Non-citizens are only allowed to work in South Africa if they are in possession of a work permit. Students in Canada can apply for a work visa through SWAP, although costs are high the service is helpful and well organized.
The process of applying for a work permit is similar to applying for a study permit, contact a South African High Commission, Embassy, Consulate or Trade Mission in your country of origin, or in the nearest country, should there be no South African representation is available in your country. Government form B1-159 (A&C) needs to be completed for the application. Processing of the application will take 8 to 12 weeks.
Scarce skills and work permit quotas
There are some skills that are in short supply in the country and the Department of Home Affairs has a Quota Work Permit program aimed at sourcing these skills from abroad. A list of skills in demand and set quotas for each of those skills are published yearly. Applicants with formal qualification and work experience in the required fields may apply for a quota work permit. This permit costs around R1600 and applications will take between 6 and 8 weeks to process. If the application is approved one will have a 90-day period (from the time of entering the country) to find employment in the field that the permit was issued for. Once employed, the permit will stay valid as long as one is employed within the same field of work (changing employers is allowed). More information, as well as the skills and quotas list for the current year, can be found on the Department of Home Affairs homepage[dead link].
See also the warning about security at O.R. Tambo International Airport.
South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases (with the notable exception of HIV).
However, South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates in the world, though by being vigilant and using common sense, you should have a safe and pleasant trip as millions of other people have each year. The key is to know and stick to general safety precautions: never walk around in deserted areas at night or advertise possession of money or expensive accessories.
Crime levels are relatively high in South Africa, however, perceptions can be misleading because statistically, most of the criminal activity is concentrated around certain specific townships and perpetrated by specialised criminal organizations connected to copper theft, car theft, transportation of goods and cash in transit theft, home or business and warehouse break-ins, smuggling, drug dealing, prostitution and so on. Opportunistic attacks like robberies or muggings of individuals outside those areas are very uncommon unless one mixes with low life characters or ventures into seedy joints or gangster neighborhoods. As far as tourism goes, most embassies and tourist organizations will have lists of known areas to avoid. If you drive around, you'll notice some bad road behaviour, however inconsiderate it may be to you, just ignore it and make sure there isn't a road rage incident. Like anywhere else, as a general rule, it's advisable for visitors to keep valuables out of sight and to keep a low profile. All South Africans are in general a nice bunch of people but as in any society, there's always a couple of bad apples mixed in the barrel.
Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your valuables; consider a concealed money belt worn under your shirt instead. Leave passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure location. Although most banks and exchange bureaus require your passport in order to exchange foreign monies to Rands, in South Africa it's legal to carry authenticated photocopies of documents in lieu of originals. To get documents authenticated free of charge, take the original and copies to any South African Police station and ask the officer on duty to help you. The papers will be good for 90 days from police stamp date. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk at night through deserted places. Hide that you are a tourist: conceal your camera and binoculars. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when driving in your car, as "smash and grab" attacks sometimes occur at certain hot spot intersections, and keep your car doors locked and your windows open less than half way. Know where to go so that you avoid getting lost or needing a map: that will avoid signs.
If you are carrying bags, try to hook them under a table or chair leg when sitting down, as this will prevent them from being snatched.
Visiting the townships is possible, but don't go alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. Go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer perfectly safe guided visits to the townships.
Taking an evening stroll or walking to venues after dark can be very risky. It is not part of the culture there, as it is in Europe, North America or Australia. It is best to take a taxi (a metered cab, not a minibus taxi) or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes. It is best to ignore anyone who appears to be in distress at the side of the road as it could be part of a scam. Keep going until you see a police station and tell them about what you have seen.
If you are driving in South Africa, when police officers stop you to check your licence, and you show them an overseas driver's licence, they may come out with some variant of `Have you got written permission from [random government department] to drive in our country?' If your licence is written in English or you have an International Driving Permit then they can't do anything. Stand your ground and state this fact - be polite, courteous and don't pay any money (bribes). Furthermore, any foreign drivers license with English on it is valid in South Africa for ninety days from day of entry, and the corresponding passport may need to be presented together. After ninety days, a foreign drivers licence maybe deemed invalid and need to be converted to a SA driver licence, as the legal status of such foreigners may fall within the temporary resident requirements.
Take extra care when driving at night. Unlike in Europe and North America, vast stretches of South African roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit or often completely unlit. This includes highways. Be extra careful as wildlife and people often walk in the middle of the road in smaller towns (not cities like Pretoria, Johannesburg, or Cape Town). You must also take extra care when driving in South Africa due to the risk of carjackings.
Important telephone numbers
- The National Tourism Information and Safety Line, ☏ (mobile). Operated by South African Tourism
- The National Sea Rescue Institute, ☏ , (Mobile after hours). A volunteer organization with rescue stations around the coast and mayor inland bodies of water
From a fixed line
- 107 - Emergency (in Cape Town, only from fixed lines)
- 10111 - Police[dead link]
- 10177 - Ambulance
From a mobile phone
- 112- All emergencies
International calls at local rates
- Step 1: Dial: 087 150 0823 from any mobile or landline
- Step 2: Dial destination number and press #
- e.g. 00 44 11 123 4567 #
- Countries: USA, UK (landline), India, Bangladesh, China, Hong Kong and many more.
- Supported on: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Telkom and Neotel
One of the main reasons travellers visit South Africa is to experience the outdoors and see the wide range of wildlife.
When driving in a wildlife reserve, always keep to the speed limits and stay inside your car at all times. On game drives or walks, always follow the instructions of your guide.
Do not drive too close to elephants. Be prepared to back up very quickly if they charge at you. Elephants are strong enough to roll many small cars. They can destroy small cars by sitting on them (which means they blow out all tires and windows and bend the frame beyond repair) while you scream for your life inside.
Ensure that you wear socks and boots whenever you are walking in the bush; do not wear open sandals. A good pair of boots can stop snake and insect bites and avoid any possible cuts that may lead to infections.
In many areas you may encounter wildlife while driving on public roads, monkeys and baboons are especially common. Do not get out of the vehicle to take photos or otherwise try to interact with the animals. These are wild animals and their actions can be unpredictable.
Sometimes you might find yourself in the open with wild animals (often happens with baboons at Cape Point). Keep your distance and always ensure that the animals are only to one side of you, do not walk between two groups or individuals. A female baboon may become upset if you come between her and her child.
Always check with locals before swimming in a river or lake as there may be crocodiles or hippos. Most major beaches in KwaZulu-Natal have shark nets installed. If you intend to swim anywhere other that the main beaches, check with a local first.
Shark nets may be removed for a couple of days during the annual sardine run (normally along the KwaZulu-Natal coast between early May and late July). This is done to avoid excessive shark and other marine life fatalities. Notices are posted on beaches during these times.
Emergency and medical assistance
There are a number of independent emergency assist companies in South Africa
- Netcare 911, 49 New Rd, Midrand, ☏ . Some travel agents offer Netcare911 cover as an option, but you can also deal with them via Travel Insurance providers. It's worth checking if your existing cover has an association with them.
- Travel Insurance, ☏ . Contracted to Netcare and offers comprehensive EMS cover for the inbound traveller to South Africa.
- ER24, Manor 1, Cambridge Manor Office Park, corner Witkoppen and Stonehaven, Paulshof, Sandton, ☏ 084 124 (domestic). A large and well represented emergency assist company incorporating the Medi-Clinic chain of hospitals.
It is best to avoid public hospitals where possible. Private hospitals are of world class standard.
The major pharmacy chains found at shopping centres catering to tourists (e.g., Sandton City, V&A Waterfront) is Clicks and Dischem. Some supermarket chains like Checkers have in-store pharmacies.
South African pharmacies are generally comparable to their counterparts in Europe and North America. However, the retail shelves of South African pharmacies tend to have a smaller selection of drugs than their North American counterparts, and a more dietary supplements. South African pharmacies do carry many OTC drugs, but if you don't see them on the shelf, you'll have to ask for them at the counter when the pharmacist is in.
Municipal tap water is usually safe to drink throughout the country. In the Western Cape mountain water is safe, even if it has been stained brown due to vegetation. A strong risk of bilharzia exists for still-standing water.
Many activities in South Africa are outdoors, see the sunburn and sun protection travel topic for tips on how to protect yourself.
HIV and AIDS
South Africa has one of the highest HIV infection rates world-wide. 5.4 million people out of a population of 48 million are HIV-positive.
The HIV infection rate in the total population older than 2 years varies from around 2% in the Western Cape to over 17% in KwaZulu-Natal (Avert and all together 18.8% of South Africans over 15 years of age are HIV-Positive. One in four females and one in five males aged 20 to 40 is estimated to be infected.
The north-eastern areas of the country (including the Kruger National Park and St. Lucia and surrounds) are seasonal malaria zones, from about November to May. The peak danger time is just after the wet season from March to May. Consult a physician regarding appropriate precautions, depending on the time of year you will be travelling. The most important defences against malaria are:
- using a DEET-based mosquito repellent
- covering your skin with long-sleeved clothing, especially around dusk; and
- using mosquito nets while sleeping.
Tabbard and Peaceful Sleep are commonly used mosquito repellents and can be bought almost anywhere.
Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces, these include airports, pubs, shopping malls and theaters. However, this is largely ignored.
Most restaurants do have smoking sections, either ventilated indoor areas or outdoor open areas.
South Africans are generally polite, friendly and accommodating to tourists. Talking slightly loud outdoors is quite normal, as South Africans tend to be a free thinking and exuberant bunch of people and such behaviour is ok amongst friends and acquaintances. Strangers should observe general protocols of politeness at first and if accepted, "when in Rome, do like Romans do". Smiling and acknowledging strangers is normal behaviour and a slight head nod or hand wave common practice. Striking an occasional chat with complete strangers in places like bus stops, supermarkets, bars, government buildings, public transportation, petrol stations, shops, etc., can also happen regularly.
Public behaviour is very similar to what you might find in Europe. Heterosexual displays of affection in public are not frowned upon unless you overdo it. Homosexual displays of affection may generate unwelcome attention although they will be tolerated and respected in the more gay-friendly and cosmopolitan areas of Johannesburg (Sandton, Rosebank and Parkhurst), Cape Town (Greenpoint, Clifton and De Waterkant) and Durban. South Africa is the first and only African nation where the government recognizes same-sex relationships and homosexual marriages are recognized by law.
Men generally greet with a firm handshake, while women will do the continental kiss on the cheek.
Except for designated beaches, nude sunbathing is illegal, although topless sunbathing for women is acceptable along Durban and Umhlanga beaches, and Cape Town's Clifton and Camps Bay beaches. Thong bikinis for ladies or swimming trunks for men (speedos if you really have to) and regular swimming costumes are the norm, otherwise, you may be openly stared at.
Eating is generally done the British way with the fork in their left hand and the tines pointed downward. Burgers, pizzas, bunny chows and any other fast foods are eaten by hand. It is generally also acceptable to steal a piece of boerewors (sausage) from the braai (barbecue grill) with your hands. Depending on which cultural group you find yourself with, these rules might change. Indians often eat breyani (rice-based) dishes with their hands, a white person of British descent might insist on eating his pizza with a knife and fork or a black person might eat pap-and-stew with a spoon. Be flexible, but don't be afraid to also do your own thing; if really unacceptable, people will generally tell you so rather than take offence.
South Africans are proud of their country and what they have achieved. Although they often complain about the problems and shortcomings that still exist, you should try not to criticise the country's current and past history; it can cause offence. South Africans know more about their country than you do.
Although mannerisms vary from ethnic group to ethnic group, South Africans, in general, are direct communicators. A South African is likely to tell you exactly what they think or disagree with you on the spot, and at times, they may come across as blunt or even assertive. However, keep in mind that South Africans generally don't intend to cause offence.
Those who are more accustomed to North American racial terminology should understand that words that are familiar to them have different meanings in South Africa, and the rules for what terms are polite or not are different. There are many South Africans that think classification according to skin colour or appearance in general, whether for political or social reasons, is inappropriate and would prefer to be referred to as simply South African irrespective of what you think they look like.
- If you wish to refer to South Africans of solely African ancestry, "black" (the term used under apartheid) is still considered appropriate by some. It might help to practice thinking of identifying particular language groups: Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, etc. Most urban blacks are also able to speak English in addition to their native language, though English proficiency can be limited in rural areas.
- The term "coloured" was formally defined during the Apartheid era and referred to a mixed-race cultural group with white and African ancestors from the early colonial period. These people typically speak Afrikaans and dwell chiefly in the Western Cape. It also referred to descendants of the Cape Malay slaves and also to the ethnic Chinese community. The term is still widely used, although some of these people oppose the term, and simply call themselves black (or Chinese). In general the term does not have as much of a negative connotation as it would in the US or Britain. 'Coloured' can be used incorrectly to describe people who would consider themselves as either black or white and thus should be used with caution. Not every person with ostensibly "mixed" heritage will necessarily consider themselves "coloured" in the cultural sense and may not identify as such; a well-known example is comedian Trevor Noah who is the son of a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman born during Apartheid.
- White South Africans can quite simply be called "white" or "white South African". The mother-tongue of white South Africans is either Afrikaans (derived from Dutch) or English, so there are Afrikaners and Anglo-South Africans. Almost all white South Africans can speak English, even if their mother tongue is Afrikaans since commerce and entertainment is predominantly English. Since the fall of Apartheid, it is also becoming increasingly common for white South Africans to be able to speak a native African language. Typical white South Africans consider themselves as "African" as those born in the United States consider themselves "American"; most have family who have lived in South Africa for centuries, and the only continent they can call home is Africa. Avoid calling Afrikaners "Dutchmen" or "Boers", both considered pejorative and offensive, or Afrikaans "Kitchen Dutch" as they are fiercely independent and proud of their language, and do not consider themselves Dutch. Although primarily used to refer to people of European descent, during Apartheid the term "white" included Japanese people as well.
- The fourth racial category left over from the apartheid system is "Indian" (from India), referring to people whose ancestors came from India during the British colonial period. The largest Indian populations are in KwaZulu-Natal, in particular around Durban.
- There is also a small community of Cape Malays, based mainly in the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town, who are descendants of the slaves who were brought over from what is today Malaysia and Indonesia during the colonial period. Though the majority of them are still Muslim, they no longer speak the Malay language and primarily speak either Afrikaans or English. During the Apartheid era, they were legally classified as "coloured".
- Black - the majority of South Africans - of Bantu origin. The three most populous groups are Xhosa (Eastern & Western Cape), Zulu (KwaZulu-Natal) and Sotho (Free State).
- White - can be subdivided into Afrikaans speakers (the majority), and English speakers.
- Coloured - of mixed heritage - Afrikaans speaking, and concentrated in the Western Cape.
- Indian - concentrated around Durban.
- Malay - Muslims in the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town
It is wise to avoid racial or political remarks while in South Africa if you don't have a good understanding of South African history because the country's very diverse cultural disposition means that "putting your foot in it" is easy. However, you will encounter many South Africans who lived through the apartheid period, and who are willing to talk about their experiences of the time. It can be very interesting to speak with them about their experiences, and if you have an open mind and willingness to listen, you can avoid offence. New criminal laws have been enacted to punish people that insist on publicly using racist language.
South Africa is now in its fourth decade since the end of apartheid (a very sensitive issue for everyone) in 1990, but it is always easier to change laws than people. You will occasionally still hear overtly racist remarks, which can come from any race group in South Africa, not just white South Africans. This is more common from the older generation than the younger ones. The best thing to do is simply ignore it; leave the responsibility for enlightening lectures to other South Africans, who know the subject better than any foreign traveller as they have lived it. South Africans of different races generally treat each other politely at a personal level. Broadly speaking, non-white South Africans have shown a very high degree of mental toughness, endurance, intelligence, tolerance and forgiveness to their former oppressors, with younger generations of all races mingling and socializing with one another and finding more common ground and a sense of national identity, while some older generations of all races may long for "the good old days" when time seemed to stand still and strict law and order enforcement ruled the day. Political movements are another matter, and political parties have been aligned along the racial fault lines of the society although there is starting to be a move toward better integration. Although politically there's growing racial integration and overlapping, the majority of black South Africans vote for the African National Congress (ANC), and the majority of white and coloured South Africans vote for the liberal centrist Democratic Alliance (DA). The third major party, supported by a minority of black South Africans, is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a far-left nationalistic party that advocates for the expropriation of white people's property without compensation, and for material compensation to be given to black people for the losses and suffering endured under colonialism and apartheid. It also wants criminal prosecution reinstated against surviving perpetrators of the apartheid regime for crimes committed against humanity. Politics in South Africa can be a touchy issue, and it's best to talk about it with care and empathy.
Interracial marriages are becoming quite common, and, except for possibly some of the older generation, people no longer take offense if you and your partner are not the same colour.
Generally speaking, South Africans tend to be more religious than Westerners, and most South Africans attend church regularly. By far the dominant religion in South Africa is Christianity, though South African Christians belong to a wide range of different denominations, with no denomination forming a majority. It is common for South Africans to invite new acquaintances to their church, though no offence will be taken if you decline. Islam is practised by most of the Cape Malays and Hinduism by many of the Indians, while there is also a small community of Ashkenazi Jews, most of whom are descended from 19th and early 20th century immigrants from Lithuania. Generally speaking, freedom of religion is respected in South Africa, and you should not run into any problems regardless of what faith you profess.
South Africa's country code is 27.
Phone numbers within South Africa are of the format 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
Large cities have area codes 0XX (Johannesburg is 011, Pretoria 012, Cape Town 021, Durban 031, Port Elizabeth 041, East London 043, Kimberley 053, Bloemfontein 051) while smaller towns may have longer area codes (0XX Y for example) with shorter local numbers.
When dialling a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.
Dialling within the country one should use all 10 digits, 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
To dial out of South Africa, dial 00 followed by the country code and the rest of the number you are trying to reach.
Pay phones are available at airports, shopping malls and some petrol stations. The number of pay phones in open public areas have been reduced, but you should still be able to find one when you need one. Pay phones use either coins or prepaid cards that are available at most shops and petrol stations ; coin phones are generally blue while card phones are usually green.
Generally, mobile network and data costs are not very cheap. However, consumer lobby groups are trying to influence the government to act in this regard by firstly, removing expiry dates on paid for but unused data or air time and secondly, in view of the very high profit margins consistently shown by the mobile network operators, to substantially reduce consumer costs and enable wider use by everyone, as it can help reduce poverty, create new small business opportunities and improve learning on a much bigger scale.
South Africa has an extensive GSM network, working on the same frequency as the rest of Africa and Europe. There are five cell phone providers in South Africa: Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, Virgin Mobile[dead link] and Telkom.
The networks support GPRS countrywide and LTE, 3G, EDGE and HSDPA support is available in larger urban areas.
Do not assume you will not have network coverage just because you can not see a GSM tower. Many of the towers have been built to look like trees (Vodacom) or other structure (MTN) in order to better blend into the surroundings and not be an eyesore. In some rural areas, GSM towers still look like towers because of problems with animals damaging them when they look like trees.
SIM card prepaid starter kits are available for around R1. You will need a passport and a proof of residential address and it has to be registered before you can call or receive calls. If you call into a Vodacom or MTN store with a passport and drivers licence, you can be all connected on the spot. You can buy credit for prepaid phones just about everywhere, remembering you will usually need cash to do so from service stations.
There are plenty of Internet cafes and access rates are cheap.
Even cheaper and more mobile would be to buy a prepaid cell phone starter pack (less than R10) and access the Internet with GPRS or 3G. Generally R2 per MB for out of bundle data from most providers (50c for Virgin Mobile), but it becomes a lot cheaper if you buy a data bundle. Vodacom prices range from 38c per MB on a 500MB bundle to 19c per MB on a 1GB bundle. MTN prices range between R1 per MB on a 10MB to 39c per MB on a 1GB bundle. Mobile data connections are always charged per MB as opposed to per second (as is popular on many European networks). State run Telkom Mobile, offers very advantageous and competitive contracts and "pay as you need" packages, but the lack of sufficient customer service centers may be an hindrance, however, once the initial process in completed, top up data is available online or most major retail outlets and supermarkets.
Neotel offers CDMA coverage in the larger metro areas with prepaid packages starting at R800 for 24GB (usb device included and data valid for 12 months) or R400 for the device and R0.20 per MB with the purchase of recharge vouchers. Coverage is still limited, so make sure to check the coverage map first.
ADSL1 is popular for residential use and are available in speeds of 384kbit/s, 1Mbit/s and 10Mbit/s. Due to the Telkom monopoly on last-mile infrastructure, operators can get away with labeling 384kbit/s as "broadband internet" simply because there are almost no viable alternatives, and users are usually limited to 1GB to 3GB per month on an account. The average cost of ADSL data is R70/GB.
AlwaysOn seem to be leading the way in prepaid Wi-Fi access. Their hotspots can now be found at Cape Town, Durban and O.R. Tambo airports, City Lodge Hotels, Sun International Hotels, some Southern Sun Hotels, Mugg & Bean restaurants and various other places.
Simply connect to the access point and you will be given the opportunity to pay for access by credit card. Pricing starts at around R15 for 10 minutes or R60 for 100MB. Their support desk can be contacted on +27 011 759-7300.
As is the reality with many developing countries, beggars are rife in South Africa. There are also many children and mothers with babies begging on the streets. People are discouraged by social services from giving children and mother-with-baby beggars money, as there are a number of children's homes available and giving them money keeps them on the street and often feeds a drug or drinking habit. However, if you encounter a particularly friendly beggar, there's nothing stopping you from giving them a few rands or a burger or bag of apples. Just be aware that muggers and con-artists are also rife in South Africa, so be wary at all times.
Embassies and consulates
- Australia, 292 Orient St, Cnr Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ . High Commission
- Austria, 1109 Duncan St, Brooklyn, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Belgium, 625 Leyds St, Muckleneuk, 0002 Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. Embassy
- Brazil, Block C, Hatfield Office Park, 1267 Pretorius St, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Canada, 1103 Arcadia St, Hatfield, Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. High Commission
- France, 250 Melk Street, Cnr Middle Street, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Germany, 180 Blackwood St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ , GermanEmbassyPretoria@gonet.co.za. Embassy
- Greece, 1003 Church St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. Embassy
- India, 852 Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Ireland, Southern Life Plaza, 1059 Schoeman St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ . Embassy
- Japan, 259 Baines St, Groenkloof, Pretoria (Cnr Frans Oerder St), ☏ , email@example.com. Embassy
- Netherlands, 210 Queen Wilhelmina Ave, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Portugal, 599 Leyds St, Muckleneuk, Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. Embassy
- Romania, 877 Justice Mahomed Street, Brooklyn, 0181, Pretoria, ☏ , fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- Russia, 316 Brooks Street, Menlo Park, Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. Embassy
- Taiwan (Taipei Liaison Office), 1147 Francis Baard Street, Hatfield, Pretoria, ☏ . De facto embassy
- Ukraine, 398 Marais str., Brooklyn 0181, Pretoria, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Embassy
- United Kingdom, 255 Hill St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ , email@example.com. Her Britannic Majesty's High Commission
- United States of America, 877 Pretorius St, Arcadia, Pretoria, ☏ . Embassy
If your country is not listed here, have at look at the list provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs[dead link] .
Funerals are major community events that are attended by all family members, neighbors, and friends, as well as anyone with any connection to the family or community. Local businesses may close and lesser events may be postponed until after the funeral is over. If you are attending a funeral, dress respectfully in your best black clothes – never anything casual.
A number of international banks operate branches in South Africa.
There are some laws that the average tourist might not be aware of
- If you intend to do any angling (fishing), either freshwater or at the coast, you will require an angling licence for the province you are in. These can be obtained at any Post Office and the price depends on the province, but is generally under R50. Fishery and environments officials do from time to time check if anglers are in possession of a licence and you can expect to be fined if you are caught fishing without a licence. Also pick up a booklet from the nearest angling shop that will tell you what the size limits for each species of fish is.
- Except for specific areas, clearly indicated by notice boards, it is illegal to drive a vehicle onto any beach.
- Boat skippers need a licence to pilot a craft on all water courses, fresh or saltwater, within South Africa.
Automated machines to print (or copy to CD) from digital media (CF, SD, MMC, memory stick) are also becoming quite common and easy to find. Larger shopping malls have dedicated photography shops where you can buy cameras and lenses or have a camera repaired. Most major camera manufacturers are well represented.