Getting to South Africa
Oliver Tambo International Airport in Johannesberg is the
major airport in South Africa and is the hub for 45 airlines from all 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.
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.
Passports & visas
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.
The passport must contain at least ONE unused page when presenting the
passport for endorsements.
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.
To determine whether you require a visa to enter South
Africa, visit the South African Home Affairs Department.
Find South African missions abroad
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.
Banks and money
The currency unit is the Rand, denoted by the symbol R, with
100 cents(c) making up R1 (one Rand). Coins come in 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1,
R2 and R 5 denominations. Notes come in R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200
denominations. Foreign currency can be exchanged at local banks and
Bureaux de Changes. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, American
Express and Diner’s Card less so. You can also use Visa Electron and
Maestro cards to access money at cash machines(ATM’s).
South Africa has only one landline telephone provider called
Telkom. Making international calls can be quite costly. You can save on
calls home by calling during the off-peak period which is between 7p.m and
7a.m the next morning. Telkom also sells World Call cards which offer
cheaper international rates.
Some backpacker lodges and internet shops
have skype facilities which you can use for a free.
You can also call
home or send text messages using your mobile phone.
Mobile phone operators use the GSM system. Bring along your
mobile phone and arrange international roaming before you leave.
Alternatively, use ‘pay-as-you-go’ with one of the three mobile
Cities have broadband internet access and some WI-FI spots.
Many travellers carry their laptops. Dial-up access is available
throughout the country.
Safety & crime
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.
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
South African men may be sexist, but the country is safe for
women travellers, even those travelling alone.
Generally speaking, our facilities for disabled visitors can
be improved. Few backpacker hostels have wheelchair ramps and bathroom
facilities for the disabled. Almost every national park has at least one
accessible chalet and many accommodation establishments other than
backpacker hostels 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 Africans have a good laugh at the expense of lobster
red tourists. The sun is dangerously hot and we don’t want you to get
sunburn, or even worse, skin cancer. Please pack sunblock, sunglasses and
a hat and remember to use them religiously. Try to stay out of the sun
between 10a.m and three p.m. If you have to be out, even in windy and
cloudy weather, be generous with the sunblock and don’t forget the back of
your neck and the tops of your ears. Re-apply frequently.
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.
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
Without going into the stats, we can tell you that AIDS is a
big problem in South Africa. AIDS does not discriminate between races, but
the sad truth is that most victims are black. Many tourists come to our
country curious about the sexuality of Africans. Holiday flings between
travellers are also common. If you’re going to have sex in Southern Africa
with anyone, a local or a fellow traveller, always use condoms. Using
condoms is not the African way, that’s why AIDS and HIV statistics in
Southern Africa are so sad. It’s also why you alone are responsible for
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
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
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
you 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.
Water and food
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 nightspots, the standards of hygiene and food preparation 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
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 they don't drive long distances as fatigue is a major
cause of road accidents. 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. (Cows don't have
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. Click here for more info
South Africa's electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 Hz.
The exceptions are Pretoria (230 V) and Port Elizabeth (200/250 V)
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.
South Africa is steadily gaining a reputation for it’s
excellent restaurants. Tourists are particularly impressed with the
quality of beef, lamb and seafood. Adventurous eaters can sample Venison,
crocodile and ostrich. Even our home-grown franchise burger joints beat
McDonalds anyday. All restaurants cater for vegetarians. Ask your
backpacker hostel for their pick of restaurants in the area or visit www.stufftodo.co.za for great ideas
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.
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. General opening hours are 9a.m to 5p.m on weekdays and
9a.m to 2.pm on a Sunday. Don’t be surprised to find supermarkets open for
your convenience until 8 at night.
Markets, shops and galleries sell a
wide variety of African arts and crafts. You can find exquisite
sculptures, beading, jewellery, fabric, grasswork and many other beautiful
things. Designs are both traditional and contemporary.
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. VAT is refunded at the point of
departure provided receipts are produced.
Text sourced from South African Tourism