General Money Entry Requirements Health & safety Weather Embassies Etiquette Public Holidays Attractions Map
The Cape Peninsula, South Africa ©Abu Shawka
South Africa exists as a world within a country. Visitors instantly fall in love with its myriad of cultures, peoples and landscapes. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, South Africa functioned as a global pariah state where the ruling white minority passed a range of draconian laws to subdue and enslave the black majority. All this changed in 1994 with the release from prison of world-renowned freedom fighter and icon of the oppressed, Nelson Mandela. With the advent of democracy, South Africa revealed itself to the world sporting its true colours, a beautiful kaleidoscope of charm, love and character.
More than two decades later, tourists flock to sunny South Africa in droves, particularly to the Western Cape and its magnificent scenery, pristine beaches, glorious mountains and verdant winelands. South Africa comprises the southern tip of Africa and the Atlantic and Indian Oceans surround it on three sides. The country offers a taste of the African experience, giving tourists the chance to visit traditional villages, game reserves, and vast townships.
At the same time, it also offers all the pleasures of a world-class holiday experience, with luxury hotels, sophisticated shopping opportunities, theme parks and clean shorelines. You can breakfast in a New York-style deli, lunch in an African , sip cocktails on a sunset cruise, or finish the day off with a dinner in a fine-dining establishment. However, it is not only cultural diversity that makes South Africa so magical.
The country has a wealth of animal and plant life scattered across its varied climactic zones, including deserts, snow-covered mountains, forests, grasslands, and mangrove swamps. With regards to history, there is plenty to discover, from the fossils of ancient hominids, to the pioneering spirit of the Dutch , and the settlement of the Eastern Cape frontier by British colonial forces who enslaved those living on the lands. Although the country will be healing the deep wounds of apartheid for many decades to come, South Africa continues to welcome travellers with open arms.
The international access code for South Africa is +27. GSM mobile phone networks providing 900 and 1800 frequencies serve the country, and there are roaming agreements with most international mobile operators. Mobile service providers offer very cheap 'pay-as-you-go' SIM cards, which are a good option for visitors staying for some time. Internet cafes are available. Card and coin operated pay phones are also widespread.
Emergencies: 10111 (Police); 10177 (Ambulance)
South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.
Travellers to South Africa do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes, 50 cigars and 250g of tobacco; 2 litres wine and 1 litre spirits; perfume up to 50ml and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods to the value of R3,000. All other goods brought in from abroad by South African residents must be declared on arrival. These will be subject to import duties. For goods to be re-imported, travellers must complete a DA65 or NEP-form that is issued on departure. Prohibited items include meat and dairy products, all medication except for personal consumption, flick knives, ammunition, explosives and pornography containing minors and bestiality.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round, three-pin plugs are standard.
South Africa is a large country and has diverse climactic regions so it is necessary to check the climate for the region to which you are travelling. In general the weather is sunny and hot in the summer months (November to February), and fairly mild during winter (June to August). The weather in autumn (March to May) and spring (September to October) is less predictable and more changeable. The Cape has a Mediterranean climate with mild, wet winters, and hot, dry, sunny summers. The average temperatures in Cape Town in the summer range between 61°F (16°C) and 79°F (26°C), and in winter average between 47°F (8°C) and 64°F (18°C). Some snow does fall on the mountain ranges during the winter. Gauteng and the northern regions have a subtropical highland climate with plenty of sunshine, hot summers when thunderstorms regularly occur in the late afternoon and evening, and dry, sunny winters with cold nights. Temperatures occasionally drop below freezing at night in the north. The average temperatures in Johannesburg (Gauteng) in the summer range between 58°F (15°C) and 78°F (25°C), and in winter range between 39°F (4°C) and 80°F (16°C).
The best time to visit South Africa differs hugely depending on region and desired activities but summer is the peak tourist season for coastal regions. Spring and autumn tend to be mild and pleasant seasons for travel.
Passports should be valid for at least 30 days beyond the period of intended stay. An onward or return ticket is required and evidence of sufficient funds. Note that visitors to South Africa must have at least one blank (unstamped) visa page in their passport, each time entry is sought; this page is in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages at the back of the passport. However, nationals of countries that require a visa before travelling to South Africa, must have two blank pages in their passport - one for issuing a visa prior to departure and one for stamping at the port of entry when entering South Africa.
It should be noted that the child travel laws have recently been amended in South Africa and travellers should confirm requirements with an official government source prior to travel to South Africa with children, just to make sure they have all necessary documentation. A new law came into effect in recent years requiring unabridged birth certificates for each child seeking entry to South Africa, with additional documents required for children travelling as unaccompanied minors. These documents for unaccompanied minors include; proof of consent from one of or both parents in the form of a letter or affidavit; a letter from the person who is to receive the child in the Republic, containing his or her residential address and contact details; a copy of the identity document or valid passport and visa or permanent residence permit of the person who is to receive the child; and the contact details of the parents or legal guardian of the child.
Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources. The South African Immigration Authorities do not accept loose leaf temporary travel documents. Note that South Africa's immigration laws have changed dramatically over the last two years, and there may be some confusion as to the correct procedure.
United States nationals need a passport valid for at least 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days, with extensions possible.
British nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days if passport is endorsed British Citizen or British Overseas Territories Citizen. Those whose passports state British National (Overseas) may stay up to 30 days without a visa.
Canadian nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
Australian nationals need a passport valid for 30 days beyond the date of intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
South AFrican passports and travel documents must be vaild for at least six months beyond arrival date. A visa is required.
Irish nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel, but no visa is needed for stays of up to 90 days.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for 30 days beyond intended travel. As of 16 January 2017, all diplomatic, official and ordinary passport holders of New Zealand will now require a visa to enter South Africa.
Health regulations in South Africa require that travellers from areas infected by yellow fever must carry a vaccination certificate; otherwise no vaccinations are required. There is a malaria risk in the low-lying areas of the Northern Province and Mpumalanga (including the Kruger National Park), as well as northeastern KwaZulu-Natal, and precautions are advised when travelling to these areas, especially between October and May. Vaccinations are recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid. There is a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Tap water is generally safe in urban areas but sterilisation is advisable elsewhere, as there are periodic outbreaks of cholera in the poor communities of rural South Africa, particularly in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces.
Medical facilities in South Africa are good in urban areas, but medical insurance is strongly advised as private hospitals expect cash up front and public hospitals are best avoided. Medication is readily available in urban areas, but those travelling outside of major cities for an extended period should bring a basic supply kit for emergency self-treatment.
Safety is an issue and visitors to South Africa should be aware of the country's high crime rate. Violent crime tends to be concentrated in pockets throughout the country and travellers should do some research to find out which areas to avoid. For instance, Berea and Hillbrow in Johannesburg are high-risk areas, and township areas in general are dangerous for foreigners. There is a risk of petty, opportunistic crime in all urban areas and armed robberies are fairly common in Johannesburg. Travellers should always be aware of these risks and exercise the necessary precautions. Carjackings and smash-and-grab robberies are common in major cities, and doors should be locked when driving and bags and valuables should be kept out of sight. One should not walk alone at night in any area. There have been recent incidents of robbery involving hikers walking on Table Mountain and Lion's Head in Cape Town, so visitors should avoid hiking alone. Be vigilant when using ATMs and do not display signs of wealth (e.g. mobile phones, money, expensive jewellery, cameras) on the streets. Tourists are targeted because they are seen as easy targets - try to appear like a local and you are less likely to run into trouble. Credit card fraud is on the increase and travellers should be vigilant and never allow their card out of their sight. It is worthwhile noting that the South African authorities do give high priority to the protection of tourists. Although crime rates are high in South Africa popular tourist sites and the main hotel areas tend to be safe and most visits are trouble-free.
Emergency Phone Number
Emergencies: 10111 (Police); 10177 (Ambulance)
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. All commercial banks will exchange foreign currency.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of South Africa
South African Embassy, Washington, United States: +1 202 232 4400.
South African High Commission, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7451 7299.
South African High Commission, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 744 0330.
South African High Commission, Canberra, Australia (also responsible for New Zealand): +61 (0)2 6272 7300.
South African Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 661 5553.
Foreign Embassies in South Africa
United States Embassy, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 431 4000.
British High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 421 7500.
Canadian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 422 3000.
Australian High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 423 6000.
Irish Embassy, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 452 1000.
New Zealand High Commission, Pretoria: +27 (0)12 435 9000.
South African culture and etiquette in urban areas is very Western. While standards of dress vary, beachwear should generally not to be worn off the beach, and nude sunbathing is only permissible in a few designated areas. Homosexuality is legal and accepted in urban areas without much fuss, but it is frowned on by some conservative South Africans and can be a problem in township areas. Although locals may complain loudly about the country and government, they will take offense if a foreigner is critical. Racism is a sensitive issue; however, interracial relationships are now common and widely accepted. South African racial terminology differs from what is acceptable in North America: the terms 'black' and 'white' are appropriate for those of African and Caucasian descent, respectively. 'Coloured' refers not to black Africans, but those of mixed African and European descent and is not considered an offensive term. South Africans are friendly and hospitable, and will often go out of their way to assist tourists who need help.
Business practices in South Africa are influenced by South Africa's range of ethnicities, languages and even geographical areas, but in general follow common patterns. When doing business in South Africa it is important to be culturally sensitive and as understanding of colleagues' historical context as possible. Most South Africans prefer to do business with contacts they've met before, but they are also warm and open to newcomers. Working to build and maintain business relationships is vitally important in the South African business environment. South Africans are renowned for their friendliness which generally supersedes business formality.
Most large corporations, as well as the banking and financial sector, still adopt relatively formal business practices, whereas other companies and work environments enjoy more relaxed and personable atmospheres. Clear management hierarchies and respect for senior executives and colleagues are of paramount importance. However, business exchanges and decision-making processes often take on an egalitarian aspect. As with most countries, punctuality is highly regarded. However, government officials are notorious for their tardiness when it comes to keeping time. Dress codes tend to be conservative, but not overly formal. Suits are the exception more than the rule, but dressing stylishly will always count in your favour. It is best to dress formally for initial meetings.
South Africans value hard work and respect those who succeed. However, they are mindful of other aspects of life such as healthy living, family and nurturing relationships - all of which add up to a well-balanced life. Generally South Africans are regarded as relaxed and informal with regards to introductions and the handling of business cards. Shaking hands is common for both men and women. The giving of gifts is uncommon and unnecessary. The official language of business in South Africa is English. Business hours tend to start at 8:30am or 9am and the day comes to a close at 5pm, or later in the major urban centres. Working over weekends tends to be quite rare in South Africa, unless you count watching a sports game with your colleagues as 'work'.
Waitering is a livelihood in South Africa and a tip of at least 10 percent is expected for good service, if a service charge is not included in the bill. Tipping for services rendered is widely anticipated by porters, taxi drivers and petrol attendants. Golf caddies should be tipped accordingly. 'Car guards' operate in the city centres and tourist spots and will offer to look after your parked car; they are usually immigrants from neighbouring countries looking for work and will expect anything from R2 upwards on your return, depending on how long you have been away.
Public Holidays in South Africa
South Africa is a sightseer's paradise, with plenty to see and do no matter what your interests, time frame, age, or inclination.
There is natural splendour in abundance, including the beautiful beaches and iconic Table Mountain of Cape Town, the magnificent Drakensberg Mountains, the Blyde River Canyon, the stunning scenery of the coastal Garden Route, the pristine coastline of the Transkei, and the sweeping vistas of the Highveld. Of course, the animals of South Africa, especially the Big Five, are a big draw for tourists and game safaris are a very popular diversion; The Kruger National Park is the country's most famous wildlife reserve and a must for many visitors.
South Africa has a complicated and dramatic history and the legacy of the pioneer wars, slavery, colonialism, the Boer War and Apartheid is still strongly felt. There is no shortage of interesting historical sightseeing, with sites like Robben Island - where Mandela was imprisoned - and the battlefields of the Boer War attracting many visitors. The country has many quaint historical towns, like Franschoek in the Cape Winelands, and Grahamstown in the 'frontier country' of the Eastern Cape. South Africa also has its share of museums and galleries, and the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg is particularly noteworthy.
The country is easy to get around with competitive low-cost carriers, long distance buses, good value car hire and the best roads in Africa (although some of the worst drivers!). Road tripping is a wonderful way to experience the hugely diverse landscapes and cultures of this vast country.
South Africa is one of the few global destinations that can offer the complete holiday experience, with a huge variety of world-class attractions and compelling experiences, and incredible value for money to boot.
Map of South Africa
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