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South Africa

If you’re travelling to South Africa, our travel advice and updates give you practical tips and useful information. 

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Overview

Security status

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa.

Latest Travel Alert

Update 13 April 2017: An ongoing campaign of demonstrations in regard to the current political and economic situation in South Africa is currently under way. The demonstrations are generally confined to the larger cities and are likely to continue for some time. While the demonstrations have been generally peaceful to date, Irish citizens are nonetheless advised to avoid any areas where these demonstrations are being held and to follow developments via the local and international media.

Update 12 October 2016: There are ongoing violent protests by students, mainly in Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town, as part of their campaign for the abolition of third level fees (the “Fees Must Fall” campaign). Most violence to date has been confined to University campuses but is becoming more widespread. Irish citizens travelling to South Africa are advised therefore to be vigilant during their visit, to regularly check news reports for incidents and avoid any areas / institutions where protests are reported to be taking place.

Update 21 June 2016: Widespread violence has occurred in Pretoria (Tshwane) and surrounding townships today. Police officers‚ including those on leave‚ have been drafted in from other areas to quell the violence that has seen vehicles being torched‚ businesses ransacked and roads blocked. The Embassy recommends that Irish citizens avoid all unnecessary travel in the area for the present and to follow developments via the local media.

Over the weekend of 4-6 June 2016 the United States Embassy in South Africa issued a warning, stating that they had received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out attacks where their citizens congregate in South Africa, such as shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and Cape Town. The British and Australian High Commissions have also issued similar warnings to their citizens.

No other information has been made available regarding the threat. The South African Government has indicated that South African security services are liaising with the Americans on the concerns raised and the engagement will continue. Irish citizens are advised to exercise caution when visiting major shopping malls and other areas where large crowds congregate.

The xenophobic violence that occurred in 2015, which was directed against nationals of other African countries who are resident in South Africa, mainly in townships in and around Durban and Johannesburg, has subsided. Irish citizens travelling to South Africa are advised nonetheless to be vigilant during their isit, to regularly check news reports for further incidents and to avoid any areas that are mentioned as trouble spots in reports.

Regulations on travelling with children to/from and through South Africa changed in June 2015 – for more information on these important changes, please view the Additional Information tab.

Emergency Assistance

We suggest you learn as much as you can about South Africa before your trip from travel agents, tour operators and guide books. The best help is often close at hand so if you have problems, start by talking to your local contacts, tour operator representative or hotel management.

You can contact the emergency services in South Africa on the following numbers:

South African Police Service 10111
General Ambulance Number 10177
Fire Brigade 10111
Emergency Call from mobile phone 112
Cape Town Emergency 107
Cape Town Emergency (from mobile) +27 (0)21 480 7700

Our tips for safe travels

  • Purchase comprehensive travel insurance which covers all your intended activities
  • Add an alert for your destination within the Travelwise App.
  • Register your details with us so that we can contact you quickly in an emergency, such as a natural disaster or a family emergency
  • Follow us on twitter @dfatravelwise for the latest travel updates
  • Read our Topical ‘Know Before You Go’ guide

Safety and security

Political unrest

The political situation in South Africa is reasonably stable but dangerous incidents can happen. Always keep yourself informed of what’s going on around you by monitoring local media and staying in contact with your hotel or tour organiser. And avoid demonstrations and public gatherings, which can sometimes turn confrontational.

Terrorism

Although the threat from terrorism in South Africa has generally been classified as low, the United States Embassy issued a warning over the weekend of 4-6 June 2016 that they had received information that terrorist groups are planning to carry out attacks where there citizens congregate in South Africa, such as shopping areas and malls in Johannesburg and CApe Town. The British and Australian High COmmissions have also issued similar warnings to their citizens.

No other information has been made available regarding the threat. The South African Government has indicated that South African security services are liaising with the Americans on the concerns raised and the engagement will continue.

Crime

South Africa has a high level of crime, including violent crime, rape and murder. While most cases occur in townships or in areas away from normal tourist destinations, nowhere is completely safe and you should exercise caution when travelling in both urban and rural environments, including city centre areas at night (city centres are usually referred to as Central Business Districts or CBDs in South Africa). Take basic safety precautions:

  • Don’t carry your credit card, travel tickets and money together - leave spare cash and valuables in a safe place 
  • Don’t carry your passport unless absolutely necessary and leave a copy of your passport (and travel and insurance documents) with family or friends at home
  • Avoid showing large sums of money in public and don’t use ATMs after dark, especially if you are alone. Check no one has followed you after conducting your business
  • Don’t change large sums of money in busy public areas and don’t give personal or financial account information details to people you don’t know
  • Keep a close eye on your personal belongings and hold on to them in public places such as internet cafes, train and bus stations. Be vigilant when passing through South Africa’s airports; pickpockets and thieves patrol them
  • Avoid dark and unlit streets and stairways, arrange to be picked up or dropped off as close to your hotel or apartment entrance as possible. Walking at night is not advisable and many tourists consider public transport to be unsafe; private car rental is the safest option for independent travel
  • Use only recognised hire car companies or official taxis. If you book a taxi or car to meet you at the airport, ask in advance for the driver’s name for confirmation

Car crime

Armed car-jacking is a serious concern throughout South Africa. Thefts and smash-and-grab robberies from vehicles are common. You should keep the doors locked and windows closed, and exercise caution when travelling, particularly at night and at filling stations.

If you are mugged or your car is hijacked you should remain calm, offer no resistance and hand over possessions without question. Avoid eye contact. 

Visiting townships

Visitors are advised to exercise extreme caution if travelling to townships. It is recommended that you only visit townships as part of a recognised tour.

Keep large amounts of money, expensive jewellery, cameras and mobile phones out of sight. 

Reporting a crime

If you’re a victim of a crime while in South Africa, report it to the local police immediately on 10111 (112 from mobile phones). And you can contact us at the Irish Embassy in Pretoria if you need help.

Driving

The rules of the road in South Africa are broadly similar to those in Ireland. Roads are generally good, but some roads in the more remote areas are poor. The standard of driving in South Africa can vary greatly and there are many fatal accidents every year. 

If you want to drive:

  • Bring your full Irish driving licence and make sure you have adequate and appropriate insurance. An Irish licence will be valid for up to 12 months after entry, provided it carries the photograph and signature of the holder 
  • Drive cautiously at all times and adhere to South Africa’s traffic laws, such as speed limits
  • Avoid ‘road rage’ situations as they can quickly escalate and turn violent
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is against the law and you risk being detained, fined or banned from driving if caught
  • Wear your seatbelts at all times
  • Keep your vehicle doors locked and your bags kept out of sight to prevent opportunistic bag-snatching if you’re stopped at traffic lights
  • Four-way-stops are common at quieter intersections – the first vehicle to arrive has priority. Roundabouts (circles in SA) should be treated with caution. Traffic lights are known as robots in South Africa
  • Park in well-lit areas. Don’t pick up strangers. Don’t stop to help (apparently) distressed motorists, as this is a technique sometimes used by hijackers. It is better to report the incident to the police
  • Avoid using ATMs in garages and in poorly lit areas. Be vigilant of anyone trying to help at an ATM
  • Never leave bags, suitcases, or items of value on display in your car – these should be locked away in the boot
  • Avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots across South Africa and stay in company. Walking alone anywhere, especially in remote areas, is not advised and hikers should stick to popular trails. Call the police on 10111 (112 from mobile phones) at the first sign of a threat.

Hiring a vehicle

If you’re hiring a vehicle, we advise you not to hand over your passport as a form of security. If you’re allowing your passport to be photocopied, keep it in your sight at all times.

Check that you have adequate insurance and read the small print of the vehicle hire contract (particularly any waiver that will come into effect if the vehicle is damaged).

Local laws and customs

Remember, the local laws apply to you as a visitor and it is your responsibility to follow them. Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal.

Illegal drugs

The penalties for both the supply and possession of drugs are severe in South Africa and can include life imprisonment.

Prostitution

Prostitution is illegal in South Africa. The risk of HIV and AIDS infection in South Africa is very high. If you suspect that you have been exposed to possible infection, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Health

Medical Facilities

Hospital treatment in large cities in South Africa is good but can be expensive. Medical facilities in rural areas can be basic. In remote areas, air evacuation is sometimes the only option for medical emergencies.

Get travel and medical insurance

Before travelling, the Department strongly recommends that you obtain comprehensive travel insurance which will cover all overseas medical costs, including medical repatriation/evacuation, repatriation of remains and legal costs. You should check any exclusions and, in particular, that your policy covers you for the activities you want to undertake.

Vaccinations

Check what vaccinations you may need for your trip at least eight weeks before you travel. We can’t advise you on vaccinations, but you can get information about vaccinations from your local GP or an International Health and Travel Centre.

Evidence of vaccination (in the form of a certificate) can be a requirement for entry to some countries.

Medication

Make sure you bring enough medication for your entire trip and for any unexpected delays. You may wish to also bring copies of your prescription in case you lose your medication.

HIV and Aids

The level of HIV and AIDS infection in South Africa is very high. You should exercise necessary caution if engaging in activities that expose you to possible infection. If you suspect that you have been exposed to possible infection, you should seek immediate medical attention.

Malaria

Malaria is prevalent in parts of Mpumalanga, Limpopo province and KwaZulu-Natal (particularly the Wetlands area around St Lucia). Before travelling to these areas, including Kruger Park, you should seek medical advice on suitable anti-malarial medication and take precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.

Cholera

There are periodic outbreaks of cholera in rural South Africa, especially in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, and Limpopo provinces. You’re advised to maintain a high level of personal hygiene and drink only bottled water if travelling in these areas.

Yellow Fever

Anyone arriving in South Africa from a country where yellow fewer is present must have a yellow fever vaccination certificate valid at least six days before entry into South Africa. If you don’t have this certificate on arrival in South Africa you could be refused entry or vaccinated at the airport and quarantined for up to six days.

Hospitals and clinics

Cape Town

Christian Barnard Hospital 

+27 (0)21 423 4835

Constantia Berg Mediclinic

+27 (0)21 799 2196

Johannesburg

Bedford Gardens Hospital    

+27 (0) 11 677 8500

Sandton Medi-Clinic      

+27 (0) 11 709 2000

Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital   

+27 (0) 11 933 8000

24Hours Emergency     

+27 (0)11 706 7710

Pretoria

Little Company of Mary Hospital   

+27 (0)12 424 3600

Pretoria Academic (Steve Biko) Hospital  

+27 (0)12 354 1000

Zuid-Africanns Hospital    

+27 (0)12 343 5482

Die Wilgers Hospital     

+27 (0)12 807 8100

Unitas Hospital Centurion    

+27 (0)12 677 8000

Durban

Addington Hospital     

+27 (0)31 327 2000

Netcare Parklands Hospital    

+27 (0)31 242 4000

King Edward VIII Hospital    

+27 (0)31 360 3111

Crompton Hospital     

+27 (0)31 702 0777

 

Additional information

Entry requirements (visa/passport)

If your visit to South Africa is for less than 90 days, you won't need a visa. If you wish to visit for longer than 90 days please consult your nearest Embassy or Consulate of South Africa before travelling. You are strongly advised not to overstay the 90 day limit as the South African Department of Home Affairs has recently introduced much stricter rules and penalties in respect of visitors who overstay without permission.

On 21 August 2014 the South African Minister for Health, Aaron Motsoaledi, announced a ban on entry for non-South African nationals travelling from countries designated as high-risk for Ebola. Irish nationals seeking to travel to South Africa from Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone will not be permitted to enter the country. This is an emergency measure which can be expected to continue until the Ebola crisis in West Africa is resolved.

Passports

Your passport must have at least two blank pages and must not be damaged in any way. If your passport fails on either count, it will be returned immediately by the South African authorities. The Embassy of Ireland cannot help you at all if you are refused entry for either of these reasons.

Your passport must also be valid for at least six months from your intended date of departure from South Africa.

It’s advisable to take a number of photocopies of your passport with you when travelling to South Africa and you should carry a photocopy of your passport at all times during your stay.

If your passport is lost or stolen while you’re abroad, we can help.

What we can do:

  • Issue you a replacement passport that will let you finish your trip, or;
  • Issue you with an emergency travel document to get you home.

We’ll do our best to help you as quickly as possible but this can take some time. Your location and circumstances may limit the help we can give you.

You should contact the Irish Embassy in Pretoria to find out what you need to do to apply for a passport. They will also be able to advise you on the fees which apply.

Travelling with Children

Regulations are changing for travellers with children travelling to/from South Africa from 1 June 2015. There will be a significant change to requirements so travellers are encouraged to take careful note.

All travellers entering or leaving South Africa from 1 June must present the child’s full unabridged birth certificate to the immigration officer at the port of entry/departure. In the case of adopted children, an adoption certificate must be presented. The requirement is for either the original document or a copy certified by a suitable authority within the three months preceding the date of travel. Where the certificate is not in English or another of the official languages of South Africa, a translation must be presented, certified within the three months preceding the date of travel.

Where the child is not accompanied by one or both parents named on the birth/adoption certificate, an affidavit is required confirming the parent/s consent to the child travelling on the specific journey being undertaken. This affidavit must provide contact details for the parent/s not accompanying the child so that the immigration officer can verify consent, if s/he so wishes. Where one of the parents is deceased or an order of sole custody exists, official documentation of these circumstances must be presented to the immigration officer at the port of entry/departure.

If you have queries or concerns regarding these requirements we recommend that you consult with the Embassy or Consulate of South Africa in your country of residence, or with the South African authorities if you are resident in South Africa.

Money

The currency in South Africa is the rand. Exchange control regulations mean that it’s difficult to buy foreign currency without going through lengthy and elaborate procedures.

There is a high incidence of credit card fraud and fraud involving ATMs. As at home in Ireland, when you’re using an ATM, be careful to ensure your PIN number can’t be observed by others when you’re withdrawing money. Offers of help from bystanders should be refused. Don’t change large sums of money in busy public areas.

Climate

South Africa has a subtropical climate and warm temperatures for much of the year. The Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, but the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region. 

South Africa’s seasons are opposite to those in Europe.