South Africa occupies the southern tip of Africa, its long coastline stretching more than 2 500km from the desert border with Namibia on the Atlantic coast, southwards around the tip of Africa and then north to the border with subtropical Mozambique on the Indian Ocean. South Africa is a multilingual country. Besides the 11 officially recognised languages, scores of others – African, European, Asian and more – are spoken here.
The country’s Constitution guarantees equal status to the 11 official languages, which are:
Other languages spoken in South Africa and mentioned in the Constitution are the Khoi, Nama and San languages, sign language, Arabic, German, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Portuguese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telegu and Urdu. There are also a few indigenous creoles and pidgins.
English is generally understood across the country, being the language of business, politics and the media, and the country’s lingua franca. But it only ranks joint fifth out of 11 as a home language.
Depending on your nationality, and the purpose and duration of your visit, you may not need a visa to visit South Africa.
All countries not listed on the above link do require a visa when visiting South Africa.
Please note, the information herewith must be used as a guideline only. Contact an embassy near you for further details.
A subtropical location, moderated by ocean on three sides of the country and the altitude of the interior plateau, account for the warm temperate conditions so typical of South Africa – and so popular with its foreign visitors.
South Africa is famous for its sunshine. It is a relatively dry country, with an average annual rainfall of about 464mm (compared to a world average of about 860mm). While the Western Cape gets most of its rainfall in winter, the rest of the country is generally a summer-rainfall region.
At the same time, temperatures in South Africa tend to be lower than in other countries at similar latitutes – such as Australia – due mainly to greater elevation above sea level.
On the interior plateau the altitude – Johannesburg lies at 1 694 metres – keeps the average summer temperatures below 30°C. In winter, for the same reason, nighttime temperatures can drop to freezing point; in some places lower.
South Africa’s coastal regions are therefore warmest in winter. There is, however, a striking contrast between temperatures on the country’s east and west coasts, due respectively to the warm Agulhas and cold Benguela Currents that sweep the coastlines.
Being in the southern hemisphere, our seasons are the opposite of those of Europe and North America, so, yes – we spend Christmas on the beach.
Over much of South Africa, summer (mid-October to mid-February) is characterised by hot, sunny weather – often with afternoon thunderstorms that clear quickly, leaving a warm, earthy, uniquely African smell in the air.
The Western Cape, with its Mediterranean climate, is the exception, getting its rain in winter.
Autumn (fall) in South Africa (mid-February to April) offers in some ways the best weather. Very little rain falls over the whole country, and it is warm but not too hot, getting colder as the season progresses.
In Cape Town, autumn is fantastic, with hot sunny days and warm, balmy nights which many people spend at outdoor cafés.
Winter in South Africa (May to July) is characterised in the higher-lying areas of the interior plateau by dry, sunny, crisp days and cold nights. So it’s a good idea to bring warm clothes.
The hot, humid KwaZulu-Natal coast, as well as the Lowveld (lower-lying areas) of Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, offer fantastic winter weather with sunny, warmish days and virtually no wind or rain.
The Western Cape gets most of its rain in winter, with quite a few days of cloudy, rainy weather. However, these are always interspersed with wonderful days to rival the best of a British summer.
The high mountains of the Cape and the Drakensberg in KwaZulu-Natal usually get snow in winter.
Nowhere in South Africa is spring (August to mid-October) more spectacular than in the Cape provinces. Here the grey winter is forgotten as thousands of small, otherwise insignificant, plants cover the plains in an iridescent carpet of flowers.
The journey to see the flowers of the Namaqualand in the Western and Northern Cape is an annual pilgrimage for many South Africans.
With a favourable exchange rate for many international currencies, you’ll find South Africa a very inexpensive destination. Our financial institutions are world-class, with no shortage of banks, bureaux de change and automatic tellers.
South Africa’s unit of currency is the rand, which is divided into 100 cents. Coins come in denominations of 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.
You’ll also find South Africa an easy destination. From the moment you step off the plane you’ll start seeing banks, bureaux de change and automatic tellers all over.
The banks are generally open from 9am to 3.30pm Mondays through Fridays, and 8.30am to 11am on Saturdays, but those at the airports adjust their hours to accommodate international flights.
The major banks have branches as well as automated teller machines (ATMs) in most large towns – and all over the cities. International banks (see the “foreign exchange services” links below) have branches in the major cities. Thomas Cook (represented by Rennies Travel) and American Express foreign exchange offices are also available in the major cities.
All major credit cards can be used in South Africa, with American Express and Diners Club enjoying less universal acceptance than MasterCard and Visa. In some small towns, you may find you’ll need to use cash.
One anomaly – you can’t purchase fuel with a credit card. Many locals have special fuel credit cards, known as garage or petrol cards, for use only at filling stations. You can, however, pay road tolls with MasterCard or Visa.
We have a well-developed communications infrastructure, with extensive landline phone networks and five mobile phone service providers with far-reaching coverage.
You can rent mobile phones – known here as cell phones – from the airport on arrival. You should find an Internet café in even the smallest towns, and the postal service works, offering the usual letter and parcel services as well as secure mail, freight and courier services.
South Africa ranks 23rd in telecommunications development and 17th in Internet use in the world. The network is almost fully digital, allowing for caller line identification, electronic call answering and per second billing.
Landline services are operated by public utility Telkom, and a second national operator, Neotel. Public telephones are either coin- or card-operated. Phone cards can be purchased at certain stores, post offices and airports.
Nothing can spoil a holiday more than feeling off-colour, and nothing can dull the pleasure of your holiday memories more than getting ill far from home. There are a number of health issues that you should be aware of, particularly if you’re from the northern hemisphere.
However, while there are risks anywhere, South Africa has a relatively salubrious climate and our levels of water treatment, hygiene and such make it a pretty safe destination.
If you’re an adult, you won’t need any inoculations unless you’re travelling from a yellow-fever endemic area (the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America), in which case you will need certification to prove your inoculation status when you arrive in South Africa. It is recommended that you have the required inoculations four to six weeks before you travel to South Africa (a yellow fever inoculation certificate only becomes valid 10 days after inoculation – after which it remains valid for 10 years).
Hepatitis B inoculations are recommended for children up to the age of 12, who have not completed the series of injections as infants. Booster doses for tetanus and measles can also be administered.
Medical facilities in cities and larger towns are world-class, but you will find that in rural areas the clinics and hospitals deal with primary health needs, and therefore do not offer the range of medical care that the large metropolitan hospitals do. Trained medical caregivers are deployed round the country, so help is never far away.
We have a warm sunny climate and you should wear sunscreen and a hat whenever you are outdoors during the day, particularly between 10am and 4pm, regardless of whether there is cloud cover or not. Even if you have a dark complexion, you can still get sunburned if you are from a cooler climate and have not had much exposure to the sun. Sunglasses are also recommended wear, as the glare of the African sun can be strong.
High-quality tap (faucet) water is available almost everywhere in South Africa, treated so as to be free of harmful micro-organisms, and in any area other than informal or shack settlements, is both palatable and safe to drink straight from the tap. In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a bit of gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places.
Drinking water straight from rivers and streams could put you at risk of waterborne diseases – especially downstream of human settlements. The water in mountain streams, however, is usually pure and wonderful. In the Cape, particularly, the water contains humic acid, which stains it the colour of diluted Coca-Cola – this is absolutely harmless, and the water is wonderful. You may also find this colouring in tap water in some areas. It’s fine – it just looks a bit weird in the bath.
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 travellers do not take malaria prophylaxis, but most health professionals recommend you do. Consult your doctor or a specialist travel clinic for the latest advice concerning malaria prophylaxis, as it changes regularly.
Whether you take oral prophylaxis or not, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes and 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). It is advisable to avoid malarial areas if you are pregnant.
South African customs passenger allowances entitle you to bring new or used goods of up to R3 000 in value into the country without paying any duty. For additional goods, new or used, of up to R12 000 in value, you will be charged a flat rate 20% duty. Thereafter, normal customs duties apply.
You can also bring in, duty-free, the following:
The alcohol and tobacco allowances only apply to people over 18.
All currency must be declared on entering the country.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on most goods and services, but as a foreign national you may reclaim VAT on anything you bought for over R250 to take out of the country unused. You need to do this before you embark on your flight home, and will have to produce the original tax invoice for the item.
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