Zebra in Mokala National Park, South Africa
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Zebra in Mokala National Park, South Africa

© 123rf.com / Nico Smit

South Africa Travel Guide

Key Facts

1,219,912 sq km (471,011 sq miles).


56,717,156 (2017).

Population density

46 per sq km.


Cape Town (legislative); Pretoria (executive); Bloemfontein (judicial).



Head of state

President Cyril Ramaphosa since 2018.

Head of government

President Cyril Ramaphosa since 2018.


220/230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs have three fat round pins (type M from world standards).

With golden beaches, jagged mountains and national parks overflowing with wildlife, South Africa is the Africa you’ve always imagined. While memories of a troubled past remain, the republic is well on the way to regaining its throne as the holiday capital of Africa, visited by nearly 10 million people every year.

Topping a long list of attractions is the republic’s spectacular wildlife and natural scenery. National parks and nature reserves preserve an incredible variety of landscapes – rolling plains, towering mountains, arid deserts, coastal fynbos (shrubland) and pure blue oceans – home to an incredible variety of wildlife, from lions and elephants to great white sharks and playful penguins.

South Africa's cities are no less varied. In the far south, lorded over by iconic Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s most accessible gateway, with gorgeous beaches, vibrant, multicultural neighbourhoods, famous vineyards, a lively nightlife and fine dining to rival any European capital. You’ll find a similarly cosmopolitan vibe in Johannesburg, the energetic capital, and in beachside Durban, where the hot sunshine is matched by the scorching curries cooked up by the South Asian community.

In between you can lose yourself for days on safari. The undisputed top spot for wildlife spotters is world-famous Kruger National Park, where the Big Five – lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and rhinos – are joined by hundreds of other African species.

If the landscape sounds diverse, wait until you meet the people. South Africa boasts 11 official languages and more than a dozen tribes, living alongside communities from Africa, Europe and the Indian subcontinent – little wonder this is known as the Rainbow Nation. This diversity is tangible everywhere, from the architecture and language to the nation’s spectacular cuisine.

Nevertheless, huge inequality remains, still sharply marked out along racial lines. To understand modern South Africa, everyone should visit Johannesburg’s moving Apartheid Museum, and Robben Island prison, where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. Or you could join a township tour in Soweto, which, like the rest of your trip, you’ll never forget.

Travel Advice

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) provides advice about risks of travel to help British nationals make informed decisions. Find out more about FCDO travel advice.

Before you travel

No travel can be guaranteed safe. Read all the advice in this guide as well as support for British nationals abroad which includes:

  • advice on preparing for travel abroad and reducing risks
  • information for women, LGBT and disabled travellers

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this advice is updated.

Travel insurance

If you choose to travel, research your destinations and get appropriate travel insurance. Insurance should cover your itinerary, planned activities and expenses in an emergency.

This advice reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.

The authorities in South Africa set and enforce entry rules. If you’re not sure how these requirements apply to you, contact South Africa’s High Commission in the UK.

COVID-19 rules

Countries may restrict travel or bring in rules at short notice. Check with your travel company or airline for changes.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.

Visit TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre) for general COVID-19 advice for travellers.

Passport validity requirements

To avoid problems at immigration, your passport should:

  • be valid for at least 30 days beyond your intended date of exit from South Africa
  • have 2 blank pages

You can read more about South Africa’s  Immigration Regulations on the Department of Home Affairs’ website.

Dual nationals

If you hold South African citizenship, you must use your South African passport to enter and exit the country. It is illegal for a South African citizen aged 18 or over to enter or leave the country on a foreign passport. For more information about South African passports, see the South Africa Department of Home Affairs.

Visa requirements

You do not need a visa to visit South Africa for tourism or business for up to 90 days.

Check the expiry date of your visa or entry stamp and ensure you do not overstay.

For more information on visas, contact the South African High Commission.

Travelling with children

There are special requirements for travelling to South Africa with children under 18, and for unaccompanied children entering South Africa. The South African Department of Home Affairs has more information.

Vaccination requirements (other than COVID-19)

At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the vaccinations and vaccination certificates you may need on TravelHealthPro.

Customs rules

Check UK customs requirements before buying products to take back to the UK.

Taking money into South Africa

There are limits on how much currency you can bring into South Africa:

  • cash in South African rand – up to 25,000 rand per person
  • combinations of cash in other currencies – up to 10,000 US dollars (or equivalent)

If you’re taking more than this, you need to declare it when you enter South Africa.

You should also read the FCDO’s overall travel advice.


There is a high threat of terrorist attack globally affecting UK interests and British nationals, including from groups and individuals who view the UK and British nationals as targets. You should remain vigilant at all times.

UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out how to reduce your risk from terrorism while abroad.

Terrorism in South Africa

Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in South Africa.

The main threat is from individuals who may have been inspired by terrorist groups, including Daesh, and who may carry out ‘lone actor’ attacks.

Attacks could be indiscriminate and could target public spaces and places visited by foreigners, such as:

  • tourist sites
  • shopping centres
  • high profile events
  • crowded places

Stay aware of your surroundings, keep up to date with local media reports and follow the advice of local authorities.

Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories conflict

The current conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories has led to heightened tensions around the world. Terrorist groups, such as Al-Qaida and Daesh, have called on their supporters to carry out terrorist attacks in response to the conflict.  The conflict could also motivate individuals to carry out attacks. Terrorist attacks could target Jewish or Muslim communities, or the interests of Israel and its allies. Attacks could also be indiscriminate and occur without warning.


Terrorist kidnap is a risk in South Africa.

British government policy is not to make substantive concessions to hostage takers. Paying ransoms and releasing prisoners builds the capability of terrorist groups and finances their activities. This can increase the risk of hostage-taking. The Terrorism Act (2000) makes payments to terrorists illegal.

Political situation

There are regular protests and demonstrations that can turn violent. Violence could affect participants and bystanders. This can happen anywhere in South Africa at short notice.

Avoid areas where protests, demonstrations, or marches are taking place, especially in city centres and townships. Do not cross protester roadblocks. This could provoke a violent reaction. Monitor local and social media for updates, including local radio. Where possible stick to major routes and be aware that GPS services could divert you into less secure areas.


There have been recent incidents of attacks and violent crime on secondary roads travelling to and from Cape Town airport.

Violent crime

There is a high crime rate, including carjacking, ‘smash and grab’ attacks on vehicles house robbery, rape, sexual assault and murder. Violent crime can take place anywhere, including in tourist destinations and transport hubs.  Most violent crimes occur in townships on the outskirts of major cities or in isolated areas. The threat is higher in central business districts of major cities and increases after dark.

There have been violent incidents involving tourists in some popular tourist locations. There are usually additional security personnel in the main tourist areas who can assist tourists. However, policing and security can be limited, so always remain vigilant.

Some criminals use dating apps to engage with potential victims including for financial gain or crimes of a sexual nature. If using a dating app, exercise caution and consider meeting in well-lit, public areas as well as informing friends/family or your plans.

To protect your personal safety:

  • do not have valuables on show
  • do not leave valuables in your car
  • take safe and reliable transport see public transport
  • stay alert and be wary of people who approach you
  • do not walk around after dark
  • travel with friends and make sure someone knows your plans
  • if you visit a township, only go with a responsible and reliable tour guide.

For more information on crime statistics, see the Statistics South Africa website.

Fraud and scams

Be alert to the risk of scams, including through business or employment opportunities, visa facilitation or offers of romance and friendships, including on dating apps.

Card skimming and confidence scams are widespread. There has been an increase in cybercrime and internet scamming. Do not meet up with or send money to someone you do not know.

Crime around ATMs is common. You should:

  • hide your PIN when withdrawing money or paying by card
  • be aware of fraudsters, such as strangers offering to “help” when your card doesn’t work, or who try to lure you to an ATM
  • change large sums of money in banks or secure shopping malls, not in busy public areas

If you use a visa agent, be wary of fraud. Always follow the correct visa application process through the Department of Home Affairs.

Criminals often use the details of embassies to carry out their fraud. These scams come in many forms and can result in great financial loss for the victims. Be cautious and check the authenticity of details before responding.

Criminals may pose as officials for financial or personal gain. If in doubt, ask to see their ID and move into a safe, public and open space. All police officers must carry their Appointment Certificate on them. If you have any concerns, call:

  • police on 10111
  • emergency services on 112

Criminal kidnaps

The threat of kidnap throughout South Africa is increasing. Kidnaps are generally for financial gain or motivated by criminality. In recent years, several foreign nationals, including British nationals, have been kidnapped. There have been reports of young children being kidnapped from shops, shopping malls and beaches.

British nationals can be seen as wealthier than locals and may be at particular risk of kidnap for financial gain.

Airport safety

Crime can happen in and around the airport, including robbery and theft of baggage and valuables. People have been followed from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to their destinations and then robbed, often at gunpoint.

You should:

  • be careful in and around the airport
  • use main roads and highways when driving to and from airports
  • go through public areas quickly
  • avoid isolated areas
  • consider being met on arrival by your hotel or tour operator
  • go to your connecting flight quickly if in transit
  • consider vacuum-wrapping luggage if local regulations allow
  • keep valuables in your carry-on luggage

Travelling to and from Airports

You should be careful when following GPS navigation. You should avoid taking alternative routes away from main roads as this can often take you into less secure areas. Where you can, you should plan your trip in advance and verify your travel itinerary with a trusted local source.

In Cape Town people have been affected by attacks and violent crime on secondary roads near the airport. When travelling to and from Cape Town International Airport, you should:

  • stick to the M3 and N2 where possible
  • avoid taking routes that use the R300
  • stay on ‘airport approach road’ (exit 16 on the N2) when travelling to and from Cape Town International Airport, and avoid Borcherd’s Quarry Road leading to Nyanga.

Vehicle hijacking and robbery

Vehicle hijacking and robbery are common, particularly after dark and around traffic lights, junctions, petrol stations and driveways. It is common for thieves to break car windows and take valuable while cars are waiting at a junction.

Criminals sometimes force vehicles to stop so that they can carry out robberies. Tourist busses en-route to popular tourist sites have also been targeted. 

Common tactics include throwing spikes (sometimes hidden in plastic bags), stones or glass in front of the vehicle. If a vehicle you are driving is targeted and it is safe to do so, drive as far as possible, or to a place of safety, before you stop.

Criminals may pose as police and use ‘blue lights’ on plain (often white) vehicles to stop motorists and steal the vehicle. If you are suspicious, do not stop and continue to a police station, petrol station or other place of safety to call the police.

Don’t pick up strangers or stop to help apparently distressed motorists. Continue driving and report the incident to the police. If you are involved in a hijacking, stay calm and surrender your valuables and your vehicle if asked. Do not resist.

There have been reports of long queues leading to armed robberies and express kidnappings close to the Lebombo border crossing with Mozambique at Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. These often take place after dark. Consider whether you can use a different crossing or only approach the border during daylight hours.

To reduce your risk:

  • check your route for any hazards or disruptions before you set off
  • use a GPS, but take care it does not divert you into less secure areas (generally smaller roads)
  • keep to main roads and park in well-lit areas
  • always take care and consider your surroundings
  • avoid being stationary inside your vehicle for long periods
  • check your car is locked when you leave it
  • keep your windows closed, especially when stopped at junctions
  • keep valuables out of sight, ideally kept in the boot of the vehicle
  • ask your hire car company for a vehicle with ‘smash and grab’ film installed on the windows
  • ensure you can see the tarmac and the tyres of the car in front of you when you stop your vehicle, giving you space to escape if you need to

Power cuts

There are ongoing nationwide power shortages with rolling power cuts. Scheduled regular power outages (‘loadshedding’) have become longer and can occur daily. Power cuts affect:

  • private accommodation
  • shops
  • banks and ATMs
  • public lighting
  • traffic lights
  • security systems
  • petrol stations
  • water and communication services

There may be higher risk of crime where security systems or public lighting do not work.

Planning for power cuts

To check how it might affect you, you can:

  • ask your accommodation provider how they mitigate loadshedding
  • check planned power outages on the Eskom website or ‘loadshedding’ apps
  • follow the advice of local authorities if water restrictions, including a ban on drinking tap water, are in place

Preparing for power cuts

Prepare for long power cuts by:

  • writing down emergency contact numbers and carry a notepad and pen
  • having an emergency plan so you can let relatives and friends know where you are
  • carrying a power bank with extra charging cables for electronic devices you need
  • carrying portable lighting, for example a torch
  • taking enough medicine and first aid supplies
  • finding safe areas close by in case you need help, such as hotels, hospitals and police stations that may have power
  • reading our advice for if you are affected by a crisis

Laws and cultural differences

Personal ID

Always carry a copy of your passport photo page and the page with your visitors permit or residence permit for South Africa. South African officials may request identification and proof of residence at any time. Keep your passport itself in a hotel safe or another secure location and do not carry it with you, unless needed for official identification.

It is illegal to buy or sell cannabis or to use it in public. Using cannabis for consumption in private is legal. Public and private use of cannabidiol oils (CBD oils) is also legal. The use, sale and purchase of all other drugs is illegal.

LGBT travellers

Homosexuality is legal, and it is illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. See our advice for LGBT travellers.

Wildlife, animal products and souvenirs

It is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade any of its parts without a permit. Trading ivory or rhino horn is banned. Anyone caught buying or trafficking banned goods will be prosecuted.

Outdoor activities and adventure tourism

There have been a number of recent violent attacks and muggings on hikers and foreign tourists in Table Mountain National Park, including on Lion’s Head and Signal Hill.

Do not take unnecessary risks when participating in outdoor activities and adventure tourism. Be mindful that health and safety standards vary globally and may not be the same as you can expect in the UK.

Where possible, insist on a receiving a safety briefing.

Table Mountain National Park, including Lion’s Head and Signal Hill 

There have been a number of recent violent attacks and muggings on hikers and foreign tourists in Table Mountain National Park, including on Lion’s Head and Signal Hill. Take care in quieter areas of the park, especially during early mornings and evenings. Stick to busy marked trails on popular days such as weekends, and do not hike alone.  

Some Cape Town residents use social media platforms e.g. The Hikers NetworkMeet upFacebook to coordinate hikes in larger groups. The Hikers Network offer a free safety tracking service to all mountain users. See the South African Nationals Parks website for more on hiking on Table Mountain.

Hiking and walking

To stay safe whilst hiking, South African National Parks advise that you:

  • save emergency numbers before you hike
  • don’t hike alone
  • hike in groups of 4 or more
  • stick to busy marked trails on popular days (such as weekends)
  • plan your route and allow enough time
  • carry water, food and bring a fully charged phone
  • dress appropriately and be prepared for changes in weather
  • tell someone your route and when you expect to return

Avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots. Do not walk alone in remote areas or on beaches when deserted, especially after dark.

Kruger National Park

After a violent attack that killed a tourist, South Africa National Parks (SANParks) advise against using the Numbi gate entrance to Kruger National Park. There have been protests and violent incidents on the R538 road leading to the gate.

Follow SANParks advice on using alternative entrances. If you stay outside the park, contact your lodge in advance to find out if any disruptions will affect your trip. Get up-to-date SANParks news on the park website.

Beach safety

Beach conditions and local safety measures vary. Every year, many people drown due to strong sea currents. You should ask for a life-jacket if you decide to participate in water sports.

On beaches where there is no equipment or warning signs, speak to local people who know the conditions. If in doubt, do not enter the water.

On busier tourist beaches, only swim between the red and yellow flags, read the warning signs and follow instructions from lifeguards. Learn more about rip currents on the National Sea Rescue Institute’s (NSRI) website.

In an emergency, call:

  • 112 - emergency services
  • +27 87 094 9774 - NSRI emergency line

Transport risks

Road travel

E-hailing services (like Uber) and taxis

E-hailing service scams do occur in major cities. Make sure you use a reliable service, book the service in the app and check the vehicle registration and identity before entering the vehicle. Do not wait in the street and keep your phone or valuables out of sight. When inside the vehicle, ask the driver to close rear windows and lock doors if you cannot do so yourself. At airports, be wary of unregulated drivers posing as Uber or other e-hailing service drivers. If you order an e-hailing service, go to the designated area to wait.

Tension between e-hailing service drivers and metered taxi drivers can lead to armed violence, particularly around Gautrain stations and airports. Strikes and protests by e-hailing service drivers are also known to take place with some attacks against drivers not seen to be participating. Passengers have been harassed or caught up in violence. High-risk areas are generally flagged in the relevant app, but exercise caution when using e-hailing services. During times of strike action find alternative reliable private transportation.

Driving standards and road conditions

Driving standards vary in South Africa. Fatal road accidents are common, particularly around weekends and major public holidays.

On highways, overtaking or undertaking can occur in any lane including the hard shoulder. On single-lane roads, the hard shoulder is also sometimes used by trucks and slower vehicles to allow faster vehicles to overtake. At most intersections, including 4-way stops and where traffic lights are out of service due to power outages, the first vehicle to arrive generally has priority. On larger roundabouts, you should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored. Small roundabouts (called circles) are treated the same as a 4-way stop.

Road conditions are mostly very good. Some roads in remote areas are less well maintained and may have potholes. If you are travelling to a lodge in a remote area, check road conditions with the lodge management as a car with good ground clearance may be required. Drive cautiously, obey speed limits and avoid unfamiliar areas at night. To avoid running out of fuel, keep fuel levels above half a tank. Learn more about road safety awareness on the Arrive Alive website.

If you rent a car, save the emergency roadside assistance numbers. Download an offline map if you do not have access to a GPS.

Advice for travelling to and from airports can be found in the Crime section under ‘Travelling to and from airports’.

Driving licences in South Africa

You can drive in South Africa with a valid UK photocard driving licence for up to 12 months. If you have a paper licence, you should also get an international driving permit (IDP) before you travel.

If you become a permanent resident, exchange your UK licence for a local licence within 12 months of getting your residency. See our Living in South Africa guide for more information.

Public transport

These transport options are generally safe and reliable:

  • ‘Gautrain’ train between Johannesburg, Pretoria and OR Tambo International Airport. Do not walk to or from Gautrain stations after dark
  • MyCiTi bus in Cape Town (central business district and Atlantic Seaboard). Do not travel into townships by MyCiTi bus. There have been violent attacks reported in Khayelitsha
  • airport shuttle buses through internationally recognised hotels.
  • internationally recognised e-hailing apps where bookings are confirmed through the app

Some transport services can be unreliable and passengers have been subject to theft and violence. These include:

  • minibus taxis
  • Metrorail train services
  • long-distance public train and coach services

Land border crossings

South Africa shares a border with Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia and Botswana. Be careful when crossing land borders and avoid crossing at night. Border queues can be a target for crime. Protests can happen at some border crossings, particularly with Mozambique .

There have been reports of long queues leading to armed robberies and express kidnappings close to the Lebombo border crossing with Mozambique at Nelspruit, Mpumalanga. These often take place after dark. Consider whether you can use a different crossing or only approach the border during daylight hours.

Extreme weather and natural disasters


Heavy rainfall often leads to widespread flooding. Flooding can take place anywhere and at any time of year. Always check local weather reports and local news for any hazards before you start your journey. The South African Weather Service provides up to date information on weather alerts and conditions.


Wildfires can occur in both rural and urban areas during periods of hot and dry weather. If you encounter a wildfire, move to a safe location away from vegetation and smoke. If you are inside a building or a car, close all vents and windows, if it is safe to remain in place.

There is no healthcare agreement between the United Kingdom and South Africa.

Before you travel check that:

  • you have appropriate travel insurance for local treatment or unexpected medical evacuation
  • your destination can provide the healthcare you may need

This is particularly important if you have a health condition or are pregnant.

Emergency medical number

Dial 112 (from a mobile) or 10177 and ask for an ambulance.

Contact your insurance or medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Vaccinations and health risks

At least 8 weeks before your trip check:

Altitude sickness is a risk in parts of South Africa, including Johannesburg. More information about altitude sickness is available from TravelHealthPro (from the UK’s National Travel Health Network and Centre).

HIV is a risk in South Africa. Take normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. There is more information on sexually transmitted infection risk and prevention for travellers on TravelHealthPro.

Cholera outbreak

Sporadic outbreaks of cholera can take place. See information on cholera from TravelHealthPro.


The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries.

If you take regular medication, make sure you can get repeat prescriptions if needed. Most prescription medicines in the UK need a prescription (‘script’) from a local doctor in South Africa. The doctor may ask you to get an electronic prescription from your medical practitioner in the UK. Pharmacies are readily accessible across the country. Some have medical practitioners on site who can write prescriptions.

TravelHealthPro explains best practice when travelling with medicines.

The NHS has information on whether you can take your medicine abroad.

Healthcare facilities in South Africa

Public medical care varies across South Africa. Standards of treatment and hygiene may not be the same as in the UK.

South Africa has a very high standard of private medical care. Private healthcare can be expensive, so make sure you have the right travel health insurance and funds to cover the cost of medical treatment abroad and repatriation if needed.

Most medical practitioners speak English, particularly in major cities and tourist areas. See our list of medical providers in South Africa.

Rehabilitation centres for drug or alcohol addiction

Private rehabilitation centres are widely accessible to foreigners. The British High Commission does not usually contact or visit people who have travelled specifically for medical treatment. If you do choose to attend a rehabilitation centre, you should:

More information on medical tourism is available from TravelHealthPro.

Organise a contingency plan in case:

  • you relapse abroad
  • treatment is unsuccessful
  • you need unplanned repatriation to the UK (this may need to include access to extra funds)

More information on the impact of travel and substance use is available from the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers.

FCDO has a list of medical providers in South Africa.

Travel and mental health

Read FCDO guidance on travel and mental health. There is also guidance on TravelHealthPro (from the National Travel Health Network and Centre).

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) cannot provide tailored advice for individual trips. Read this travel advice and carry out your own research before deciding whether to travel.

Emergency services in South Africa

All emergencies from mobiles: 112

Ambulance and fire: 10177

Police: 10111

National Sea and Rescue Institute: 112 or +27 87 094 9774

Search and Rescue: 10177 or 10111

Contact your travel provider and insurer

Contact your travel provider and your insurer if you are involved in a serious incident or emergency abroad. They will tell you if they can help and what you need to do.

Refunds and changes to travel

For refunds or changes to travel, contact your travel provider. You may also be able to make a claim through insurance. However, insurers usually require you to talk to your travel provider first.

Find out more about changing or cancelling travel plans, including:

  • where to get advice if you are in a dispute with a provider
  • how to access previous versions of travel advice to support a claim

Support from FCDO

FCDO provides guidance on how to help yourself stay safe and what to do if you need help or support abroad, including:

Find more support for British nationals abroad.

Contacting FCDO

Follow and contact FCDO travel on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. You can also sign up to get email notifications when this travel advice is updated.

Help abroad in an emergency

If you are abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.

You can also contact FCDO online.

FCDO in London

You can call FCDO in London if you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad.

Telephone: 020 7008 5000 (24 hours)

Find out about call charges

Risk information for British companies

The Overseas Business Risk service offers information and advice for British companies operating overseas on how to manage political, economic, and business security-related risks.

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.