Travel Facts about South Africa
Here's all the practical information you need to know to enjoy a smooth visit to South Africa!
South Africa operates two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year, making it an hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and seven hours behind Australian Central Time.
Johanneburg International Airport is the major airport in South Africa and is the hub for 45 airlines from five continents. Flights from Europe are generally overnight and just a sleep away - an aperitif, dinner, sound sleep, and a good breakfast - and voila, you're in South Africa! The direct flights between the USA and Johannesburg or Cape Town are about 15 hours, and flights between London and Johannesburg take about 12 hours.
Passports and Visas
For the majority of foreign nationals who travel to South Africa for vacation, entry is straightforward and hassle-free. All visitors to South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport in order to enter the country, and in some cases, a visa. All passports must hold at least 4 blank pages upon arrival in South Africa, if not, there is a strong possibility that you will not be granted entry into South Africa, and sent home.
Travellers from certain regions of the world (Scandinavia, Japan, the USA, and most Western European and Commonwealth countries) do not need to formally apply for a visa. Upon arrival in South Africa, countries falling into this category will automatically be given a free entry permit sticker that outlines how long they may remain in the country. This automatic entry permit is usually for a maximum of 90 days, though the immigration officer may tailor the time period according to the airline tickets held. Foreign nationals from some other countries are offered this service, but for a maximum of 30 days. If visitors want to stay for a longer period, they will have to apply formally for a visa, as opposed to relying on the automatic entry permit.
For the majority of foreign nationals who travel to South Africa for vacation, entry is straightforward and hassle-free. All visitors to South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport in order to enter the country, and in some cases, a visa. However, it is important to note that under South Africa's Immigration Act of 2002 (Act. 13 of 2002) in force since 7 April 2003, (a) Immigration Act, 2002 the passport shall contain at least FOUR unused pages when presenting the passport for endorsements'. This requirement, reflects the requirements of many of the world's top travel destinations, in line with the majority of global destinations' requirements and failure to have clear pages can result in entry being refused.
To determine whether you require a visa to enter South Africa, visit the comprehensive South African Home Affairs Department website at:
http://home-affairs.pwv.gov.za. For South African missions abroad, visit http://www.dfa.gov.za/foreign/sa_abroad/index.htm.
Banks and Money
The currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R, with 100 cents making up R1 (one Rand). Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and Bureaux de Changes. Most major international credit cards such as American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, Visa and their affiliates are widely accepted.
Most restaurants do not add a service charge to bills - thus it is customary to leave a 10-15% tip. Parking and petrol station attendants should be given whatever small change you have available. This is always appreciated, even though it may seem a small amount.
Value-added-tax (VAT) is charged on most items. Foreign tourists to South Africa can have their 14% VAT refunded provided that the value of the items purchased exceeds R250.00. VAT is refunded at the point of departure provided receipts are produced.
Generally speaking, our facilities for disabled visitors can be improved, and this is an area our government is working on. An increasing number of accommodation establishments have wheelchair ramps and bathroom facilities for the disabled. Almost every national park has at least one accessible chalet and many accommodation establishments have one or two wheelchair-friendly rooms. Most of our sports stadiums have accessible suites, stands or areas for wheelchairs near accessible parking as well as special toilet facilities. Most public buildings also cater for wheelchair access.
The seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are directly opposite to those of the Northern Hemisphere. For summer months, lightweight (cottons and linens), short-sleeved clothes are best, although a light jersey/jumper might be needed for the cooler evenings. Umbrellas and raincoats are essential for the summers and the Western Cape winters. Warmer clothes are needed for the winter months.
South Africa's electricity supply: 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz
Exceptions: Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
Most plugs have three round pins but some plugs with two smaller pins are also found on appliances. Adaptors can be purchased but may be in short supply. US-made appliances may need a transformer.
Health and Safety
Many foreigners are unaware that South Africa has a well-developed infrastructure, high standards of water treatment and medical facilities equal to the best in the world. Here we address any health and safety questions you may have.
Hospitals and medical care
In a great many medical disciplines, South Africa is a global leader. In fact, South African trained doctors are sought after all over the world, so this should give an indication of the standard of medical care available. There is a large network of public and private hospitals countrywide, offering excellent service. However, clients must have adequate health insurance to cover the fees private hospitals charge.
Malaria is found only in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Malaria is not much of a risk in the winter months. Although the incidence of malaria is rare, it would be best to take adequate precautions if you choose to visit these areas.
Our government has embarked on an extensive anti-malaria programme (in co-operation with Swaziland and Mozambique) and the incidence of malaria is decreasing. One reassuring thing about malaria is that there is absolutely no way at all that you can contract it unless you are bitten by an infected mosquito. And with modern insect repellents and some common sense one can reduce the chances of being bitten to close to zero.
The cheapest, safest and most effective measures against malaria are physical barriers such as a mosquito net, and the use of a good insect repellent. If you decide to take malaria prophylaxis, it is essential that they take the drugs according to the directions on the package insert. You will need to start a week or two before entering a malaria-endemic area and should continue taking the drugs for four weeks after leaving the malaria risk area. It is advisable to consult a medical professional before embarking on a course of malaria prophylaxis. Note that expectant mothers should avoid malaria medications.
For tourists, South Africa is as safe as any other destination in the world. South Africa boasts a vast array of cultures, communities, sights and attractions. Most parts of the country can be safely visited by tourists provided they take basic common-sense precautions (for example not walking alone in deserted areas at night and being circumspect about how much photographic equipment or flashy jewellery you carry. Most of the crime that takes place in South Africa is between people who know each other and random acts of violence are the minority of cases. Most major cities run organized crime prevention programmes Basic Safety Tip guidelines will be available at hotels and tourism information offices
If you are in doubt as to the safety of a particular area or attraction, contact the National Tourism information and Safety Line on 083 123 2345. This number may also be used for practical assistance in replacing lost documents or reporting incidents.
Food and water
As a rule, tap water in South Africa is safe to drink as it is treated and is free of harmful microorganisms. In hotels, restaurants and nightpots, the standards of hygiene and food preparation is top-notch. It is safe to eat fresh fruit and salads and to put as much ice as you like in your drinks - a good thing, too, after a day on the beach or in the bush. It is always wise to carry water with you.
Our transport infrastructure is excellent and our roads are in good condition. However, the distances between towns are significant, so if you're planning to self-drive, it is a good idea to plan your itinerary to ensure you don't drive long distances as driver fatigue is a major cause of road accidents. Please read our page about driver fatigue. Avoid long car journeys that necessitate driving at night as it always carries more risk. Also, in some of the more remote rural areas, the roads are not fenced so there may be stray animals on the road - which could be very dangerous at night.
We have very strict drinking and driving laws - with a maximum allowable alcohol blood content of 0.05%. Translated that means about one glass of wine for the average woman and perhaps 1.5 or two for the average or large man. Our speed limits are 120kmph on the open road, 100kmph on smaller roads and between 60 and 80kmph in towns. Be aware that even major national roads cut through residential areas so there may be a speed limit of 80 or 60kmph on a road that looks like an autobahn. This is to protect pedestrians, especially children, so
we really do encourage people to comply.
All visitors intending to drive are required to obtain an international drivers permit, visitors found driving without a permit will be fined and not permitted to continue on their journey. Visitors will also not be able to rent a car without a valid driver's permit. The wearing of seatbelts is compulsory and strictly enforced by law.
Visitors who are entering South Africa from a yellow fever zone must have a valid international yellow fever inoculation certificate. Only infants under the age of one year are exempt. Immunisation against cholera and small pox are not required and no other vaccinations are required when visiting South Africa.
Most major shopping centres and malls operate 7 days a week, but you will find that in the smaller towns and rural areas that shops are closed on a Sunday. Most businesses are opent from Monday - Friday: 09:00 to 17:00, some are open on Sunday: 09:00 - 13:00.