Do’s and Possibly Do Not’s– Part 1: Visas, Travel, Security
By Marlijn van Berne
My Travel Tips
Travelling to and from South Africa, as well as within our borders, differs for many. For some the experience is taxing, exhausting and challenging, while for others the travel proved exciting, smooth-sailing and enjoyable. Either way, keep in mind that any travel you undertake is your responsibility. The best advice I can give you, is that you just take a little bit of time to research your destination, and acquaint yourself our beautiful country before you arrive. A good place to start could be to Google the blogs of people who recently visited; you always get a fun, insightful and personal take on a country.
Visas and other Red Tape
To find out if you need a visa to visit South Africa, visit the South African Department of Home Affairs website www.dha.gov.za which provides detailed information on South Africa’s visa requirements (also see further below).
The website gives particulars about which nationals require visas and which are exempt. Enquiries regarding South Africa visa information can also be obtained from South African missions in your home country, or the one nearest to you. For nationals of countries requiring visas, application of the visa must be made ahead of your departure as visas are not issued on arrival. The visas must be affixed in your passport and shown to immigration officials on landing. Applications must be made through South African diplomatic or consular representatives and to apply for a visa you’ll be required to furnish particular documentation to meet South Africa’s visa requirements. These include:
A) A passport valid for no less than 30 days after the expiry of the intended visit, and at least 1 unused page for entry/departure endorsements (sometimes referred to as the visa page).
B) Payment of the prescribed fee, if applicable.
C) A vaccination certificate, if required (travel through the yellow fever belts of Africa and South America requires inoculation)
D) Statement and/or documentation confirming the purpose and duration of your visit.
E) Two identity photographs (guidelines on website).
F) Proof of financial means in the form of bank statements; salary advices; undertakings by your hosts in South Africa; bursaries; medical cover; or cash available, including credit cards or travellers’ cheques.
G) If travelling by air, a return or onward ticket; or proof of sufficient funds; or a cash deposit of equivalent value to an air ticket must be lodged.
Countries exempt from South African Visas
Passport holders of the countries listed below do not require a visa to enter South Africa if the intended visit is for 90 days or less:
- African Union Laissez Passer
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- St Vincent & the Grenadines
- Trinidad & Tobago
- United Kingdom
- United States of America
Passport holders of the countries/territories listed below do not require a visa to enter South Africa if the intended visit is for 30 days or less:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Cape Verde
- Costa Rica
- Hong Kong
- Slovak Republic
- South Korea (Democratic Republic)
Passport holders of the countries listed below do not require a visa to enter South Africa if the intended visit is for the period indicated:
- Albania (120 days)
- Algeria (30 days)
- Angola (90 days)
- Belarus (90 days)
- Benelux states (90 days)
- Bulgaria (90 days)
- China (30 days) (diplomatic passport holders only)
- Cyprus (90 days)
- Comoros (90 days)
- Croatia (90 days)
- Cuba (90days) (diplomatic, official & service)
- Ghana (90 days)
- Guinea (90 days)
- Hungary (120 days)
- India (90 days)
- Cote d’Ivoire (30 days)
- Kenya (30 days)
- Mexico (90 days)
- Madagascar (30 days)
- Morocco(30 days)
- Mozambique (90 days)
- Namibia (30 days)
- Nigeria (90 days)
- Paraguay (120 days)
- Poland (90 days)
- Romania (90 days)
- Russian Federation (90 days)
- Rwanda (30 days)
- Senegal (90 days)
- Slovakia (90 days)
- Thailand (90 days)
- Tunisia (90 days)
- Vietnam (90 days)
Please note, visa regulations for those travelling on diplomatic, official or United Nations Laissez-passers passports may vary.
The following categories of the UN as well as their spouses, dependent relatives and other members of the households are exempt from visa requirements when visiting the Republic for periods not exceeding 90 days for purposes for which a port of entry visa may be issued, and for official business purposes and transits and when accredited for placement at a UN mission in the Republic for the duration of their accreditation, provided they are in possession of the relevant letters or identification documents to identify themselves at ports of entry as personnel of an UN agency.
- Holders of United Nations Laissez-passers
- Volunteers attached to the UN
- Persons involved in any United Nations agency
- Persons performing services on behalf of the UN
Travelling with Children under 18 years
As my sister and her husband discovered, all children under the age of 18 must travel with a valid passport and an unabridged (full) birth certificate stating both parents’ names. If the child is travelling alone or with only one parent, then they must also carry an affidavit filled out by the non-travelling parent or parents. The Department of Home Affairs has forms for foreign children available online:
- Parental consent affidavit
- Equivalent document in lieu of unabridged birth certificate
If a child applies for a visa inside South Africa or at a South African embassy abroad, all supporting documents must be submitted before the visa is issued. If a child is a national of a country exempt from South African visas, all the supporting documents must be presented at a port of entry, or the child will be refused entry.
Contact Details/Additional Information
- Department of Home Affairs’ website: dha.gov.za
- South African offices abroadfor information on where to apply in your own country
- Home Affairs’ contact centre: +27 11 461 9252 (overseas callers), 0800 60 11 90 (within South Africa), or emailthe department
- Visa Facilitation Service (VFS) Global is Home Affairs’ partner and receives applications for permits and extensions of visas: +27 12 425 3000, emailinformation at VFS, email feedback at VFS, check the list of VFS offices in South Africa
Travelling in South Africa
Our roads are generally well-maintained, unless you venture into more remote areas. Traffic drives on the left. Like everywhere in the world, it is important to stick to speed limits, be aware of the road safety regulations and carry a valid drivers’ licence. Sadly, driving standards in our country are not the best, so be vigilant. My personal tip: cattle are frequently seen grazing along the roadside and not all of them are tethered; on occasion they may wander into the road.
Vaccinations, Medicines and Doctors
Make sure all your routine vaccinations are up-to-date when travelling to any destination – and you may require a few extra. While visiting South Africa, there are areas where one could get ill through ingesting contaminated food or water. Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccinations may be advisable – especially for the more adventurous eaters! As for Mosquitoes: try to avoid the pesky things. Have a quick chat to your doctor before you leave, as you may need to take prescription medicine before, during, and after your trip depending on your travel plans.
If you need additional information on health issues while at the at the Durban ICC for the Conference, make you’re your way down the escalator to the underground parking level, where you will find the Travel Doctor Durban. This specialised travel clinic has doctors who are qualified in travel medicine (local as well as international), and registered with SASTM (South African Society of Travel Medicine) as well as ISTM (International Society of Travel Medicine).
The Travel Doctor can assist with the following:
• They are a registered Yellow Fever vaccination clinic;
• They offer Malaria medication, Malaria repellent kits and mosquito nets;
• They offer up-to-date information and advice regarding medical issues and health risks with respect to your specific travel destination;
• Offer a wide variety of other vaccinations including both travel and childhood immunisations e.g. Hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningitis, cholera, tetanus, diphtheria & polio.
Using Public Transport
Using public transport is a bit of a conflicted topic for me. Personally, I would not have a problem using the Mini-bus Taxis in Durban or MyCiTi buses in Cape Town; but there are some who feel otherwise. Unlike conventional taxis, Mini-Bus Taxis can be hailed on the street and are a cheap option for travel from the beachfront to the centre of Durban, or further afield.
If you wish to use a conventional taxi, ask your hotel to book one for you. If you wish to use a reliable taxi service in Johannesburg, I can personally recommend Akhile Tours (www.akhiletours.co.za) and in Durban I regularly use Mozzie Cabs (031 303 5787), Eagle Taxis (031 337 2442), or Zippy Cabs (031-202 7067/7068) – while from King Shaka Airport into town, you will enjoy your ride with Rikki Cabs or King Shaka Airport Taxi Service (079 484 7565).
Trains as your main mode of transport is generally not recommended, unless you are travelling to or from Johannesburg. For a high-speed thrill, take the Gautrain (by the way, chewing gum is prohibited on this train), or for a long-haul adventure, opt for luxury travel (mighty fine!) between Pretoria or Johannesburg and Cape Town, aboard the Blue Train (www.bluetrain.co.za).The Blue Train and travel with Rovos Rail (www.rovos.com) are especially popular among international tourists, but note, this does not fall in the ‘travelling on a shoestring budget’ category.
Security and such..
Like many countries that are going through transformation, we do experience some crime – and although it can’t be excused, I think that it is worth remembering that many people in South Africa have nothing, live below the poverty line and find themselves in situations where carving out a daily living is anything but easy.
A few things to keep in mind (and it really is more about relying on your common sense!): At most international airports you will have some criminal element. Keep an eye on your hand luggage; it is probably better if you don’t use unknown and/or unregistered taxis to get to your final destination; don’t leave windows and doors unlocked if you leave your room or vehicle; and be aware of your surroundings when using an ATM (Automated Banking Machine).
Swimming in our beautiful waters requires a few words of caution; be it coastal waters, inland lakes, rivers and/or dams. Along some parts of our coast line, there are unfortunately strong currents, rip tides and unpredictable wave patterns. Ask a local to the area before diving in, and treat your surroundings with respect. I would also suggest keeping your birthday suit on. Unlike many European beaches, one generally can’t enter the waves ‘au naturel’ – with a few exceptions like Mpenjati Beach near the Blue Flag Trafalgar Beach on the South Coast, and at Sandy Bay Beach in Cape Town (there may be others, but you would have to discover those for yourself). At the end of a blistering day, there’s nothing quite like a refreshing sundowner on the beach, but be aware that drinking alcohol in public is illegal, and finding a beachside bar with a ‘lekka’ (nice) view is advisable. PS. please use the bins provided for your rubbish! Further inland, at fast flowing rivers and dams, use a wading staff or long branch to judge the water’s depth. Try to avoid stagnant water as much as possible, as you could expose yourself to a ‘Bilharzias’ infection, caused by a parasitic worm that sometimes lives here.
Pretty much the same lessons from all over the world! Travel responsibly, be respectful and breathe in and enjoy all the amazing adventures we have to offer! As Ernest Hemingway so aptly said: “I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy”. And for those of you returning: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find how you yourself have altered” – Nelson Mandela.