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South African Travel Guide

  South African Travel Guide 
South Africa is located at the southern tip of Africa. It is bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho ,which is completely surrounded by South Africa. It is a vast country with widely varying landscapes and has 11 official languages, as well as an equally diverse population. South Africa is renowned for its wines and is one of the world's largest producers of gold. South Africa has the strongest economy in Africa, and is an influential player in African politics. In 2010, South Africa hosted the first Football World Cup to be held on the African continent.

Flying to South Africa

Flights to South Africa are rarely a bargain, but shop around because prices fall substantially if you are willing to make a connection in the Middle East. The national airline is South African Airways (SAA) ( There are frequent direct and indirect flights by numerous major airlines from destinations throughout Europe and North America, including British Airways with daily flights to Johannesburg and Cape Town, and Delta which flies to Johannesburg from Atlanta. Flights are most expensive around Christmas when flights tend to fill up quickly.

SAA has two daily services between Johannesburg and London and up to 44 daily flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic still run non-stop flights from London to Cape Town. Several other carriers connect to Cape Town with one stop, including Dubai-based Emirates and Qatar Airways via Doha, as well as several European lines such as KLM via Amsterdam. Most routes fly overnight and South Africa is at most two hours ahead of the UK, so there’s no problem with jet lag.

Air notes:

SAA ended direct flights between London and Cape Town in August 2012 and now routes passengers via Johannesburg. The move was inconvenient for most leisure travellers, who see Cape Town as the destination and tend to skip Jo’burg altogether.

Flight times:

Flights to Cape Town from London are at least 11 hours 30 minutes and to Johannesburg 11 hours. From New York to Cape Town is at least 22 hours, to Johannesburg at least 15 hours.

Departure tax:


Travel by rail

South Africa’s railway network is sadly under-developed and there is little cohesion between neighbouring countries. That makes arriving by train unfeasible, unless you can afford the luxurious Rovos Rail  which runs occasionally to and from Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Swakopmund in Namibia, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the long haul up to Cairo.

Driving to South Africa

There are several borders you can cross to get into South Africa if you are entering the country by car and border posts are open daily. The main border posts are:
• Namibia Vioolsdrif / South Africa, open 24 hours
• Mozambique Komatiepoort / South Africa, 0700-2200
• Botswana Tlokweng / South Africa, 0700-2200
• Zimbabwe Beitbridge / South Africa, 0600-2200
• Swaziland Oshoek / South Africa, 0700-2200

Coach operator Intercape  runs regularly to and from points in Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

By road note:

Distances are very long and roads are not always well maintained, sometimes making arriving by road an adventure, not a doddle.

Getting to South Africa by boat

Cape Town, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth all have major ports and it is possible to travel by ferry from these destinations. For more information regarding the ports, contact Transnet National Ports Authority Cruise ships:

Several international cruise liners call at Cape Town or Durban.


Cape Town International Airport

Airport Code: CPT. Location: Cape Town International Airport is located 22km (15.5 miles) east of Cape Town. Money: Bureaux de change and ATMs are available in all terminals. There is a bank in International...

Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport

Airport Code: JNB. Location: Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport is located 22km (14 miles) east of Johannesburg. Money: There are ATMs, banks and bureaux de change within the terminals.

Port Elizabeth Airport

Airport Code: PLZ. Location: Port Elizabeth Airport is situated within the boundaries of the city of Port Elizabeth, 5km (3... Money: There is an ATM situated between the arrivals and departures halls. The information desk operates a...

Durban King Shaka International Airport

Airport Code: DUR. Location: The airport is located 35km (22 miles) north of central Durban. Money: Standard Bank offers exchange services and ATMs. A VAT refund facility is available in Departures....


To enter South Africa, a passport valid for at least 30 days after the intended date of departure is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above.

Passports must have at least two blank pages for entry stamps - visitors have been refused entry by airport immigration officials for flouting this regulation.

Passport note: 

Yellow fever certificates are required if the journey starts from or passes through a country with yellow fever.


Visas for South Africa are not required by nationals referred to in the chart above for stays of up to 90 days on holiday. Citizens of most other countries do not require a visa for holidays of up to 30 days.

Visa note: 

The Home Affairs website ( has comprehensive details on visa requirements and exemptions and the relevant forms for downloading. If you are one of the very few travellers subject to visa requirements, you should apply for your visa at least a month before you intend to travel, and wait for it to be issued before you travel. No visas are issues at South African points of entry. If you arrive without the necessary paperwork, immigration officials are obliged to refuse you entry.

Types and cost: 

Visa fees will be charged in the local currency in any of the few countries that actually require one. Temporary residence permits include Business Permits at R1,520 and Study Permits at R425.


Dependent on length of stay requested. Permits may be extended if done so 30 days prior to expiry of original permit.

Application to: 

No visa is needed for transit passengers. You can leave the airport if there is time between connecting flights, but it’s a long way into the city in both Johannesburg and Cape Town, so it’s probably not worth it. There are hotels within strolling distance if you need to stay at the airport overnight.

Temporary residence: 

If you intend to work in South Africa, including any voluntary or paid employment or studies, you must apply for a work, work-seeker’s or study permit before you arrive.

Working days: 

The processing period for visas and transit visas is 10 calendar days.

Sufficient funds: 

Are required, but Home Affairs does not specify what it considers to be sufficient.

Extension of stay: 

You can apply to extend your stay before your existing permit expires, at your nearest Home Affairs customer service centre in South Africa.

Entry with pets: 

An import permit costing R110 is required for all pets, applied for through the Directorate of Animal Health in South Africa. A 14-day quarantine period applies to dogs from many countries. Cats are exempt from quarantine. Animals must be vaccinated against rabies except from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. It’s worth checking first whether you will be allowed to take pets back into your home country again after they have been in South Africa.


Last updated: 01 October 2012

• There has been a marked increase in strike action in South Africa in recent weeks, with some demonstrations becoming violent. You should avoid demonstrations, rallies and large public gatherings as a precaution and exercise caution when travelling on highways, where some violence has been directed at truck drivers. Check local media sites for up to date information on strike action or demonstrations that may be taking place in your area. Visitors to South Africa should avoid areas where strikes are underway, particularly in the mining sector, as violence can erupt quickly and may extend beyond the immediate area.

• There is a very high level of crime, but the most violent crimes occur in townships and isolated areas away from the normal tourist destinations.

• The standard of driving is variable and there are many fatal accidents.

• Most visits to South Africa are trouble-free.

• There is an underlying threat from terrorism. Attacks, although unlikely, could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by expatriates and foreign travellers. 

• You should get comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling. 

• You should have two blank pages in your passport on arrival.

Currency information: 

Rand (ZAR; symbol R) = 100 cents. Notes are in denominations of R200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. Coins are in denominations of R5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10 and 5 cents.

Credit cards: 

MasterCard and Visa are preferred. American Express and Diners Club are also widely accepted. ATMs are available in all towns, cities and shopping malls and most petrol stations, and accept international cards. Almost all hotels, shops, restaurants, national parks and game reserves accept credit cards. They are now acceptable at most petrol stations too, but since that is a relatively new measure, it’s worth checking before you fill up.


ATMs are available in all towns, cities and shopping malls and most petrol stations, and accept international cards. Be alert when using ATMs, and do not accept help from anybody as conmen are adept at switching cards. Check your statements afterwards for a few weeks too, as cloning machines are occasionally planted in ATMs. More obviously, be aware of who is hanging around and don’t withdraw money if your instinct tells you not to.

Travellers cheques: 

Valid at banks, hotels, restaurants and some tourist-orientated shops. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.

Banking hours: 

Mon-Fri 0900-1530, Sat 0830-1100.

Currency restriction: 

The import and export of local currency is limited to R5000 in cash. The import and export of foreign currency is unlimited provided it is declared upon arrival.

Currency exchange: 

Money can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and some hotels. Proof of identity may be requested so take your passport. Visitors are restricted to bringing in and taking out a maximum of R5,000 in cash.

South Africa duty free

The following goods may be imported into South Africa by passengers over 18 years of age without incurring customs duty:

• 200 cigarettes and 20 cigars and 250g of tobacco.
• 1L of spirits or liquor and 2L of wine.
• 50mL of perfume and 250mL of eau de toilette.
• Other goods up to a value of R3,000. Additional goods up to R12,000 are charged duty of 20%.

Note: Most retail purchases include VAT of 14%, which foreign tourists can claim back at the airport by presenting the original tax invoices and completing the necessary forms.

 Restricted items
South African bank notes in excess of R5,000, gold coins, coin and stamp collections and unprocessed gold; endangered species of plants or wildlife, including articles made from them, plants and plant products, such as seeds, flowers, fruit, honey, margarine and vegetable oil; animals, birds, poultry and related products. Medicines (excluding sufficient for one month for own personal treatment accompanied by a letter or certified prescription from a registered physician).

Banned imports: 

Narcotics; automatic, military and unnumbered weapons, explosives or fireworks; poisons, meat, cigarettes with a mass of more than 2kg per 1 000, counterfeit goods, unlawful reproductions of any works subject to copyright and prison-made goods, processed cheese and other dairy products.

Banned exports: 

Goods that require an export licence include acacia trees, mineral ores, Tigers Eye gemstones, and a variety of industrial chemicals and metals.



Several airlines operate domestic routes with regular links between Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, George, Nelspruit and Port Elizabeth and relatively frequent flights to several smaller towns and cities too. Main operators are South Africa Airways (SAA)  air fares are not particularly cheap, and price wars have taken several airlines that attempted to introduce more affordable flights out of business. But since South Africa is a big country with long distances between its major tourist centres, it generally makes sense to fly.

Public transport at the airports is mostly inadequate, but the long-awaited sparkly new Gautrain ( from O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg is a quick and efficient way to reach the city centre, some useful points in the northern suburbs and Pretoria.

Cape Town airport has a cheap shuttle service called MyCiTi ( that runs into the city centre 0510-2200.


Flight times: 

Flights from Johannesburg to Cape Town take 2 hours 15 minutes and from Johannesburg to Durban take 1 hour 10 minutes.


Roads between the major centres are generally well maintained and well signposted, so getting around by road isn’t a problem, except for some of the daunting distances. The Fifa 2010 World Cup saw a major investment in improving the road system, particularly around Johannesburg and Cape Town. One blot on the horizon for Jo’burgers is the threat of an electronic tolling system on motorways surrounding the city, with legal challenges under way in a bid to have the whole thing scrapped. That will have only a minor effect on visitors, however, who may find themselves paying a small surcharge to car hire companies.

One welcome change was a belated move by the petrol stations to accept credit cards, ending the hassle of having to carry cash to pay for your fuel. Car theft and hijacking is a problem, so it is advisable to keep doors locked and avoid picking up hitchhikers.



Side of road: 


Road quality: 

Roads and national highways link all the major areas and the only untarred roads are in rural areas and in some game reserves. Heavy rains and sometimes dodgy workmanship have left many urban roads riddled with serious potholes, however. Road signs are in English.

Road classification: 

National highways are denoted with an 'N' and some are toll roads.


Car hire: 

Dozens of car hire firms are operating, including the major international players, and even the smaller airports have a rank of car hire desks. At peak periods it’s worth booking in advance. Drivers must be at least 18 years old, and most car hire companies will only accept an unendorsed license that has been valid for a minimum of 1 year.


Available in all towns, hotels and airports, generally with meters fitted, although some still operate without or prefer not to use them. They are not particularly cheap, and it’s often cheaper to haggle over the price in advance. Taxis do not cruise and must be ordered by phone or at a taxi rank.


Let’s be honest, South African motorists can be pretty careless, and many drive without a licence or insurance. That makes hiring a bike in the cities a dangerous idea. But it’s a great country for mountain biking, with plenty of guided tours available. A couple of companies including  Bike Rentals  rent out motorbikes in Cape Town and Cape Town Cycle  rents out bikes and mountain bikes.



Coaches criss-cross the country between all major towns and cities and a web of tiny off-the-beaten-track towns too. Operators include Intercape ,, and Translux operates as a hop-on hop-off, door-to-door bus service between 180 backpacking hostels, running along the coast between Cape Town and Durban, then up to Johannesburg. Coach tickets can also be bought through Computicket (, which has online booking and kiosks in some shopping malls.


The legal driving age is 18 and driving licences must be carried at all times. The speed limit on highways is 120kph (75mph), 80-100kph (50-62mph) on national roads and 60kph (37mph) in urban areas. Driving is on the left, seatbelts must be worn, and it is illegal to use a mobile phone without a hands-free kit.

Breakdown service: 

The AA ( Yellow SOS telephones are available on major routes, but very sporadically.


Foreign licences are valid if they are in English with a photograph of the holder, but the AA recommends an International Driving Permit to prevent potential complications.

Getting around towns and cities: 

Public transport is generally dreadful. Although there are bus networks in all main towns reliability is dubious. Routes for the minibus taxis used by local commuters are too confusing to even try to explain to a short-term visitor.



Intercity services with trains between Johannesburg, Durban, East London, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Trains are frustratingly slow and the facilities including the dining car and trolley service are very basic by European standards. Sleeper cars are available in tourist class, with shared showers. Economy class just buys you a reclining seat. Children under four travel free. Children aged four to 12 pay half fare.

Cape Town’s Metrorail (tel: 0800 656 463 runs a pleasant coastal route from Cape Town to Simon’s Town that passes through quaint Kalk Bay.

Luxury trains: Premier Classe The Blue Train ( and offer luxurious cabins and gourmet food in elaborate dining cars and run between Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.

The recently-constructed Gautrain ( runs overground and underground connecting Johannesburg, Pretoria and O.R. Tambo International Airport.

By water: 

The main ports of Cape Town, Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth are industrial or geared towards international cruise liners rather than domestic ferry routes.



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