Fast Facts before you go to South Africa
Best time to visit
South Africa is a fabulous, year-round destination; so when you visit depends on what you would like to do. The best time for game watching, for instance, is early spring (August to October). The southern right whales can be seen off the coasts from about mid-June to the end of October, and the humpback whales from August to December.
The diving is generally best from April to September, and so is the surfing, but such activities are not limited to these time periods. Flowers are at their best in August and September. River rafting is better at the end of winter in the Cape, and in summer (late November to February) in KwaZulu-Natal.
In Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, activities are not quite as time-dependent but spring and autumn are best for hiking because summer can be very hot. If you want to lounge on the beaches, midsummer is the best time to do so, though bear in mind that everyone else will be there too. The beaches of KwaZulu-Natal are warm and sunny, even in midwinter.
- Game Viewing: June to October when the vegetation isn’t as thick and game viewing is easier but good all year round at private reserves.
- Whale Watching: Mid-June to October (Southern Right Whales) and August to December (Humpback Whales).
- Diving (Scuba & Shark Cage diving): April to September
- Flowers: August to September
- Birding: The paleo-arctic migrants arrive in November and the intra-Africa migrants usually by mid-October
Passports & Visas
As for all international travel, the visitor to South Africa is required to be in possession of a valid passport. U.S. citizens (US passport holders) traveling to the Republic of South Africa for 90 days or less for tourism or business purposes do not need visas. U.S. green card holders (non-US passport holders) require visas to visit South Africa. Nationals of other countries must check the list of visa exempt countries to see if they need to apply for visas.
Please note that all foreigners who wish to visit South Africa must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after his/her intended return date. The passport must have a minimum of four blank (unstamped) visa pages in the passport to enter the country. It is preferred these are facing pages. Your international carrier can deny boarding if you do not have the blank (unstamped) visa pages. Travellers should make sure there are sufficient pages for visas and immigration stamps to enter into South Africa and other countries to be visited. These blank pages cannot be endorsement or amendment pages.
As a general precaution, all travellers are advised to carry a photocopy of the photo/bio information page of their passport and keep it in a location separate from their passport.
Traveling with Minors
Notice from the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to South Africa about South African Immigration Act of 2014: As of June 1, 2015 it is required to bring an unabridged birth certificate of any child under the age of 18 to travel into South Africa. This law affects every child travelling into South Africa, regardless of nationality.
“When parents are travelling with a child, parents must produce an unabridged birth certificate of the child reflecting the particulars of the parents of the child.” –South African Department of Home Affairs
An unabridged birth certificate is the full-length birth certificate with the child’s parent’s names present.
- If both parents are travelling, only a birth certificate is required with their passport.
- When travelling with one parent they must have an birth certificate and ONE of the following:
- An affidavit from the other parent, authorizing the child to enter South Africa
- A court order granting the parent full legal guardianship
- A death certificate of the other parent
- If the child is an unaccompanied minor, travelling without their parents, or their parents are deceased, please contact your consultant for more information or visit http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/country/south-africa.html
Many of the main tourist areas are malaria-free, so you need not worry at all. However, the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal do pose a malaria risk in the summer months.
Many local people and some travelers do not take anti-malaria prophylaxis, but most health professionals recommend that you do. All guests must consult their own medical doctor or health authorities regarding the use of anti-malarial tablets prior to departure.
Whether you take oral prophylaxis or not, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes, light long-sleeved shirts at night, and sleep under a mosquito net in endemic areas (the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, operates almost exclusively after dark). Mosquito repellent containing “deet” is best. It is advisable to avoid malarial areas if you are pregnant.
Medical services in South Africa are readily available. Visitors are advised to secure medical cover on their medical insurance before arriving in the country. Major hotels have contracts with physicians and dentists. Visitors are however advised to bring along supplies of specialised medication they may require. Otherwise, medicine may be purchased at pharmacies and emergency pharmacies.
As always, don’t forget to use sunscreen and drink plenty of water while out in the African sun.
Travel insurance is highly recommended and can be purchased through South African Airways Vacations or your travel agent. It can be used to cover baggage & personal item loss as well as trip cancellations. Tour operators will not be held responsible for any loss or damage to passenger’s belongings. Travel Guard is the (travel) insurance carrier that is offered through South African Airways
Clothing & Necessities
Here is a guideline list of important items to bring:
- Casual, comfortable wash and wear clothing is most useful.
- Shorts, capris & Cotton T-shirts
- Comfortable walking shoes
- Long pants & shirts with collars for evenings
- Fleece jacket for early morning and evening game drives
- Rain ponchos on safari are usually provided by game lodge
- Casual light-weight cotton, khaki or neutral coloured clothes for safari
- Wide brimmed hat, Personal toiletries, sun screen and lip balm
- Anti-malaria prophylactics and prescribed medication
- Binoculars, camera, batteries and accessories
- Sun hat & Sunglasses
Laundry service is available at most hotels, camps and game lodges. Luggage should be kept at a minimum in order to be compliant with weight restrictions on aircraft within South Africa.
Mobile phones, Land lines & Internet access
South Africa’s mobile phone operators utilize the GSM system; if your phone is GSM compatible, set up international roaming with your service provider before you leave home. Alternatively, you can rent a phone at the airport on arrival, and use a “pay-as-you-go" (which means exactly what it says) card during your stay.
Fixed line telephones are reliable and dial abroad. The country’s telecommunications operator Telkom, is the 28th largest in the world, and accounts for 39% of the phone lines on the African continent. Both local and long distance calls are metered on a time basis and every second counts in terms of cost. Major hotels offer fax and internet service, but lodges that are located in remote areas do not necessarily offer these amenities.
Internet and wireless capability is available in most areas within South Africa. However, the more remote location the less accessible it becomes.
Most game lodges have Wi-Fi capability and computer access in the main areas of the lodges. Download data speeds are not always to North American standards.
Visa, American Express, and Master Card are honored by most restaurants, stores, hotels, car rental firms, and other points of sale and service. Proof of identity may be requested in some instances and it is therefore advisable to carry a passport or some form of photo identification at all times. Credit cards are not accepted at petrol stations (gas stations), however, ATM’s are available everywhere.
It is advisable to notify your credit card company that you are traveling out of the country.
Banking hours at most commercial banks are:
Mon – Fri 09h00 – 15h30
Sat 08h00 – 11h00
Major hotels and shopping malls have foreign exchange facilities and most shops, lodges and travel agencies take travellers cheques. Automated teller machines (ATM’s) are readily available in cities and towns.
All tips are paid in Rand within South Africa which is why we recommend you converting some US dollars upon arrival at the airport. Currency exchange kiosks are readily available at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg and Cape Town International Airport.
The following service providers expect a tip: luggage porters, taxi drivers, tour guides, guides, coach drivers, restaurant waiters and waitresses. It is customary to tip 10 to 15% of the bill at hotels and restaurants and 10% of the fare to taxi drivers. These tips are given at the time the service is provided. On safari, a tip is expected for lodge staff (10% of room stay), your safari ranger and tracker. Tips for game lodge stay are paid upon check out. The lodge will provide envelopes for your use.
How much to tip is a matter of personal discretion and below is just a suggestion. Tip Guidelines are provided in Rand, the local currency. Of course, if exceptional service is provided, please tip accordingly.
|Meet & Greet||R15 per person|
|Transfers||R20 per person|
|Porterage||R15 per person|
|Wait Staff at Restaurants||R15 per person (buffet breakfast) or 10-20% of bill|
|Guides (seat in coach)||½ day – coach driver (R15), guide (R20), full day – coach driver, R30, guide (R50), per person|
|Guides (private)||½ day – driver/guide (R150), full day – driver/guide (R300), per vehicle|
|Delivery by Housekeeping||Discretionary|
|The Ranging Team (Safari)||R350 per room, per day|
|Lodge Staff (Safari)||R100 per room, per day|
The water in South Africa is safe to drink. However, bottled water is available for sale. Ensure that you take bottled water with you when traveling to remote rural areas and the bush.
There are 11 official languages in South Africa: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga, Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, and Zulu. The English-speaking visitor will have no problem communicating while traveling through the country.
There is a variety of wildlife that can be seen in South Africa.
- THE BIG FIVE – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo
- THE BIG CATS
- LESSER KNOWN WILDLIFE
- OVER 200 MAMMAL SPECIES
- MARINE MAMMALS AND FISH
- THE CROCODILE…AND OTHER REPTILES
The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas) electricity is available almost everywhere. However, you will need to purchase or bring adapters for the outlets. You can purchase the adapters in many US stores, online, or from a store while in South Africa. Adapters are usually available on loan at major hotels in South Africa. Three to five star hotels usually have 110 volt outlets for electric shavers in bathrooms and often provide hair dryers and irons. An NW 4 plug with two prongs, 0.19 inches in diameter is required for compatibility. The following table shows the proper adapters for South Africa and neighboring countries, as well as the voltage and other necessary information.
This information was retrieved from www.europlugs.com. Feel free to visit the website to get further information, or to see pictures of the listed items.
|Country||Voltage||Frequency||Plug and Socket Type||Universal
|South Africa||220/230 V||50 Hz||M, D||WA-10L, WA-10||WE-110L, WE-110|
|Mozambique||220 V||50HZ||C, F, M||WA-9, WA-10L, WA-9C||WE-109, WE-110L, WE-109C|
|Botswana||231 V||50 HZ||M, D, G||WA-10L, WA-10, WA-7||WE-110L, WE-110, WE-107|
|Zambia||230 V||50HZ||C, G, D||WA-9C, WA-7, WA-10||WE-109C, WE-107, WE-110|
|Zimbabwe||220V||50HZ||G, D||WA-7, WA-10||WE-107, WE-110|
To convert Celsius into Fahrenheit = double then add 32
.62 miles = 1 kilometer
3.3 feet = 1 meter
1 acre = .405 hectare
1.05 quarts = 1 liter
2.2 pounds = 1 kilogram
South Africans drive on the left hand side and give way to the right. Drivers must have a valid driver’s license, with photo, or international drivers permit. Seatbelts are mandatory. Speed limits are set at 120 kilometers on highways; 100 kilometers on secondary roads and 60 kilometers in urban areas.
Driving in South Africa is easy to adapt to, with sign postings written in English. Americans feel comfortable in driving in Cape Town area, the Winelands and along the Garden Route. Car rentals with GPS rentals are recommended. Credit cards are not accepted at petrol stations (gas stations).
Souvenirs & VAT
A range of South African souvenirs are available. As you would expect from a country rich in gold and diamonds, there is an excellent selection of jewellery and the rare opportunity to watch goldsmiths in action. Golfing equipment and clothing is reasonably priced. Overseas visitors taking goods out of South Africa are able to reclaim the VAT (value added tax) which they paid on these goods.
You can reclaim the VAT at the airport as long as you have the receipts and the merchandise you purchased with you. You will have to go through customs again. Reclaiming VAT is only applicable for goods that you are able to produce at the airport and not for any services whatsoever. When purchasing your products you must inform the shop attendant that you are a visitor to South Africa and request a tax invoice from him/her. The shop’s VAT number must appear on this invoice. As you are checking in at the airport ready to depart from South Africa, you need to approach the customs official who will compare your invoices with the goods purchased. When the customs official has approved and stamped your invoices, the VAT Reclaim Office will refund you the appropriate amount. VAT Reclaim Offices are found at Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town Airports.
01 January – New Year’s Day
21 March – Human Rights Day
March/April – Good Friday
March/April – Family Day
27 April – Freedom Day
01 May – Workers Day
16 June – Youth Day
09 August – National Woman’s Day
24 September – Heritage Day
16 December – Day of Reconciliation
25 December – Christmas Day
26 December – Day of Goodwill
South Africa has a good network of railway and roads, but public transport can sometimes be a problem especially away from major centers. Transnet and Spoornet train and bus services are good but finding taxi services in smaller places can be difficult. Local bus service in smaller towns is also unreliable and it is advisable for a visitor to make arrangements for car hire. Embrace South Africa Tours can assist you with car hire, also with driver/guides. Taxis are available at airports/hotels and restaurants and on call. Trains and buses run between towns and cities. The major cities have regular bus services. Tourists can make use of one of the many luxury coach tours to see the country. Please contact Embrace South Africa Tours for advice.
Safety and Security
Valuables, including traveller’s cheques, should be locked up when away from your hotel or lodge. All hotel/lodges have safe deposits. Use traveller’s cheques or credit cards rather than carrying large amounts of cash on your person. The streets in the cities are not dangerous but it is unwise to walk alone after dark or away from well-lit streets, especially carrying bags and cameras. Use taxis at night and only use those, which are booked through a reputable taxi company. Keep your car doors locked at all times. It is not advisable to resist if confronted. When in the cities, take the same precautions that you would anywhere in the world.
If you have lost your passport or wallet, please contact the local police department and file a report. Once you have done this, contact one of South Africa’s U.S. Embassies or Consulates (located in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban).
Cape Town Consulate General
Telephone : (021) 702 – 7300
Durban Consulate General
Telephone: (031) 305 – 7600
Johannesburg Consulate General
Telephone: (011) 290 – 3000
Alternately, you can obtain information online at http://southafrica.usembassy.gov