Do I need a visa to visit South Africa?

Not all visitors need a visa to enter South Africa for purposes of tourism or business.

Citizens of many countries are on a visa exemption list issued by South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs, meaning they are free to visit the country for a period of time, in many cases up to 90 days.

That makes it easy to see some of the country’s best places to visit, photograph the country’s wildlife, eat biltong and other local dishes, see where two oceans meet, and commemorate Nelson Mandela at the 27 Madiba’s Journey sites.

Here’s what you need to know about visas for South Africa.

Make the most out of every adventure with help from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. A nighttime city scape with a tall communication tower dominating the urban areaEntry to South Africa is at the discretion of the immigration official © Zach Louw / Getty Images

Travelers with passports from the US, Canada, the UK and most EU countries don’t need a visa 

If you’re traveling with a passport from the US, Canada, the UK and many EU countries, you do not need a visa to visit South Africa as long as your trip is for tourism or business and isn’t more than 90 days. You’ll need to have a ticket showing your return travel exiting South Africa, meet a few passport requirements and, depending on where you’re traveling from, provide other documentation. But keep in mind that requirements can change quickly.

Check the visa exemption list for the latest information that fits your passport. It’s also wise to double-check the Republic of South Africa’s website, the South African embassy or consulate site in your country (such as South Africa’s US embassy) as well as the international travel advisory site from your government (like the US State Department) before you purchase your flight as well as shortly before you depart.

Don’t forget that regardless of whether you hold a valid visa or are exempt from needing one, it is the decision of the immigration officer at your port of entry whether you’re allowed to enter the country, how long you’re eligible to stay, and what conditions you must follow.

A sandy beach with a sunshade and several people relaxing or splashing in the surfYou’ll need to show proof of onward travel © Angela Bax / Getty Images

There is an eVisa system, but it’s not working for everyone

Travelers that need a visa can apply online through eVisa South Africa, a system that is currently live for users from some nations, including citizens of Albania, Croatia, Slovakia, India, China and Mexico.

Some visitors will need to apply for a visa at an embassy

Other passport holders will need to apply for visas at the South African embassy or consulate in their home country. You’ll likely need to go in person and bring a BI-84 form (completed in black ink), two passport-size photos plus additional documentation. The fee depends on your passport, the type of visa you’re requesting and how long you plan to stay. 

There are passport requirements that all visitors to South Africa must fulfill

South Africa’s immigration regulations state that your passport needs to be valid at least 30 days beyond your planned date of departure from the country. However, both airline and immigration officials are known to insist on that validity period being six months. To ensure that you’re not refused boarding on your flight or sent back home as soon as you arrive in South Africa, play it safe and make sure your passport’s expiration date is at least six months after the date you plan to leave South Africa. 

You’ll also need to double-check that you have enough empty passport pages. Each entry into South Africa requires you to have two empty pages, and they need to be consecutive. These empty pages need to be the ones marked with “visa” (rather than “endorsements,” “amendments” or “observations”).

Zebras gather close togetherVisa situations are subject to change, so check in frequently with official sources © Robert Beringer / 500px

Have proof of onward travel, and you might need a yellow fever certificate

Even if you’re exempt from needing a visa, you’ll need to have proof of onward travel showing you won’t be in South Africa more than 90 days. There are also health requirements. South Africa requires proof of yellow fever vaccination, for example, if you’ve been in one of the countries designated by the World Health Organization to be at risk for yellow fever during the 10 days before arriving in South Africa. That includes several African countries such as Kenya, but also countries like Argentina and Panama.

There are several visa types

South Africa has several types of visas, including for visiting family, studying, attending conferences, other kinds of work, medical treatment, a three-day transit visa, visas for those who want to retire in South Africa, and those for people under the age of 25 participating in an exchange program. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs’ visa website and their VFS.Global site have details for all passport holders.

Fines are issued for those that overstay their visas

Visas to South Africa can be extended. Applications and fees can be brought to one of the dozen visa facilitation centers in the country. Fines are enforced for staying beyond your allowable date, including if you’re exempt from needing a visa.


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