Important Travel Advice For South Africa

Passport, Visa, and Medical Advice

Passport & Visa

Holders of the following passports do not require a visa to enter South Africa when travelling as a tourist for stays up to 90 days: United Kingdom; United States of America; Canada; Australia; New Zealand; Ireland; Belgium; Netherlands; Italy; France; Germany; Spain, Switzerland. If you are a passport holder from another country, please contact your local South Africa High Commission or Embassy for up-to-date visa requirements, as citizens of certain countries (including New Zealand) are required to obtain visas before travelling. Please note that if you are applying to the Embassy for your visa, some visas can take a long time to be processed so please do take this into consideration, as it is your responsibility to ensure you have the correct visa in place before you travel.

Please note that anyone travelling to South Africa should have a valid return ticket and a valid passport. Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 30 days from the date of exit from South Africa. The passport must also have sufficient pages for entry/exit stamps - AT LEAST 2 BLANK PAGES. Only Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTDs) will be accepted to enter South Africa. Please note that extended passports are no longer accepted.

TRAVELLING TO/FROM SOUTH AFRICA WITH CHILDREN YOUNGER THAN 18 YEARS OF AGE AT DATE OF TRAVEL: The following requirements apply regardless of nationality. Parents travelling with children must produce an unabridged birth certificate for the child, showing full details of the child's parents. If the birth certificate is in a language other than English, it must be accompanied by a sworn translation issued by a competent authority in the country concerned. If the child is adopted, the adoption certificate must be produced. If only one parent is travelling, said parent must also show consent in the form of an affidavit from the other parent named on the birth certificate authorising the child to travel (the affidavit must be no more than 3 months old from the date of travel - a blank Parental Consent Affidavit can be downloaded from http://southafricahouseuk.com/documents/parentconaff.pdf), or a court order granting full parental responsibilities to the travelling parent, or (where applicable) a death certificate for the deceased parent. Legally separated parents should also provide a court order when the other parent does not give consent. Where a person is travelling with a child who is not their biological child, he/she must produce an unabridged birth certificate for the child supplemented by affidavits from the child's parents/legal guardian giving consent for the child to travel and copies of the identity documents or passport of the parents/legal guardian PLUS their contact details. There are also additional rules for unaccompanied minors - available on request. PLEASE NOTE: All documents must be original - PHOTOCOPIES ARE NOT ACCEPTED. In the case of foreign countries that do not issue unabridged birth certificates, a letter to this effect issued by the competent authority of the foreign country should be produced. For more information, contact the South African High Commission via http://southafricahouseuk.com/ or the South African Department of Home Affairs via http://www.dha.gov.za/.

PLEASE NOTE: Countries can change their entry requirements at any time. Travel Butlers try to ensure that the information displayed here is correct, but the onus remains with the traveller to verify the information with the relevant High Commission or Embassy and ensure that they can comply with current passport and visa requirements.

 
 

Medical

You are advised to contact your doctor or clinic around 4-8 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations and to get their professional medical advice regarding travel to South Africa.

To help avoid heatstroke, drink plenty of bottled water/fluids, and keep out of the midday sun.

There is a risk of malaria in and around the Kruger National Park/Mpumalanga Province, the Limpopo (Northern) Province, and the north-eastern part of KwaZulu-Natal - check with your doctor about suitable antimalarial tablets. Try to avoid mosquito bites wherever possible - wear loose long-sleeved clothing and trousers, and use a repellent on clothing and exposed skin.

There is no risk of yellow fever in South Africa, so a yellow fever vaccination is NOT required for travellers whose sole destination is South Africa. However, in accordance with International Health Reguations, South Africa requires all travellers over one year of age arriving from a yellow fever risk country, or having been in transit longer than 12 hours at the airport of such a country, to have a yellow fever certificate. These countries include Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.

 

Time Zone

South Africa Standard Time is 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2) and they do not operate Daylight-Saving Time.

Languages

The 11 official languages are Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi, English, Tswana, Sotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda and Ndebele. Whilst many visitors will hear at least a couple of the tribal languages during the course of their stay, it is possible to travel extensively and comfortably with just English as a language.

Currency

South Africa's currency is the Rand (R). South African bank notes come in R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200 denominations. There are 100 cents to R1, and coin values are 1c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5.

Visa and MasterCard are generally more widely accepted than any other credit card. Some establishments will only accept card payments using a chip and pin machine, so if your credit card does not support this we advise taking additional cash. 

Electricity in South Africa

The South African power is 220 - 240 volts, 50Hz, which is delivered through a 3 pin round socket.

Although the socket is 3 pin, it is not the same as a UK socket, so an adaptor will be needed. Most airport shops sell adapters for foreign plugs, or they can be bought in selected hardware shops in larger towns.

Electricity supply is reliable in cities and towns, but you may experience problems in more remote areas, especially during heavy thunderstorms, and you should be prepared for a sudden power failure!

Water in South Africa

Tap water is purified and safe to drink in major cities and towns, however, we do advise that you do not drink the water in more remote places such as the camps in the National Parks - the water may be safe to drink, but it simply is not worth the risk, as bottled water is widely available.

Whatever you do, do not drink water from any river lake without firstly purifying the water. Always take water with you when you go on a hike, and have a bottle in the car on a long journey to avoid dehydration.

Using The Phone in South Africa

The international dialling code for South Africa is +27, followed by the regional code and then the number.

Mobile phone coverage is generally extremely good throughout South Africa. Overseas visitors can use their own mobile phone with 'international roaming' enabled (remember to activate this before leaving home), but this can be extremely expensive - a much cheaper option is to switch to using a local provider during your stay in the country - the 2 main mobile phone providers are MTN and Vodacom.

South African emergency telephone numbers are as follows: 10111 - Police; 10177 - Ambulance; 10178 - Fire Department. You can also call 1022 which is a general main number for the Police, Ambulance and Fire emergency services.

Driving In South Africa

Driving in South Africa is easy and enjoyable, as the main roads and highways are generally maintained in a good condition, and are straight, long and fast. There are very few roads in South Africa where you would need a 4WD - even in safari areas, the roads are good and a 2WD can adequately cope with the odd bit of unevenness.

South Africans drive on the left hand side of the road, and all signposts are written in English.

The speed limit varies from 40 km per hour in towns and built up areas to a maximum speed limit of 120 km per hour (75 mph) on the motorways and open national roads.

It is law to wear a seat belt at all times, and using a mobile phone when driving is prohibited.

The majority of roads are tarred, and although you may come across the occasional pot-hole, overall they are maintained in good condition. Many of the major main road are toll roads, in order to help maintain them in their present good condition. Tolls range from a few Rand to nearly R50, and depending on where you are, you have the option to pay either by cash, or some toll booths will take Visa or MasterCard credit cards. Many hire car companies also now fit their vehicles with an automatic toll reader, so the car captures the toll fees instead and these are billed back to you at the end of the rental period.

The majority of petrol stations in South Africa accept overseas credit cards, and there are no self-service stations. Many larger petrol stations will also have an ATM that will accept VISA/Mastercard or Cirrus if the credit card facility is down for whatever reason. It is a good idea to keep some change handy to be able to tip the attendants (R5-R10 tip is customary).

All drivers must be in possession of a VALID driving licence from their country of residence. If the driving licence is not in English, then an International Drivers Licence is required. The licence must also contain a photograph of the holder and be valid beyond the point of returning the vehicle. UK citizens do NOT need to request a unique code from Gov.UK or the DVLA as you do not need confirmation of any penalty points to hire a car in SA. Please note that the various car hire companies have different regulations regarding the length of time you need to have held a driving licence, so it is advisable to check with your hire car company about their requirements. Most hire car companies also insist that you leave a credit card number as a security deposit when you pick up your car. The credit card HAS TO belong to the named driver - a person who is not the named driver cannot supply the credit card.

You must carry your driving licence with you at all times when driving in South Africa. It is also a good idea to keep a photocopy of your drivers licence separate in your luggage, and also leave a copy at home with family or friends.

Speed cameras operate in cities and towns.  If you are caught on camera, the fine will go straight to the hire car company, who will simply debit your credit card with the amount. A more common speeding trap is on the outskirts of towns, where traffic police wait for the unsuspecting driver to come racing out of the built up area.

If you are caught speeding by traffic police, the correct procedure is to give the traffic officer your details (name, car rental agency details and car registration number) and ask him to issue you with a speeding fine ticket. You can hand the ticket into the hire car company when you return the car but if you forget, don't worry - the fine is automatically be sent to the car rental company in any case, who will then redirect the cost of the fine to you together with an admin fee.You also have the option of taking the speeding ticket to a local police station and paying it directly - however, this may not be a feasible option as it may involve a long detour and eat into valuable holiday time.

In a few areas, it is worth mentioning that some traffic officers are asking for an on-the-spot cash fine instead of writing you a speeding ticket - if you feel comfortable refusing to pay this, please do, as on-the-spot fines actually do not exist under SA traffic law. 

If you are planning on taking your hire car across from South Africa into a neighbouring country (such as Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana or Eswatini), do remember to clear this with your hire car company beforehand - many companies will need to issue you with a Letter of Authority to show at the border post.

General Information About Safaris

A Typical Day, What To Take, Tipping On Safari And More

Going on a safari, whether it is your first time or you are a seasoned safari goer, is still an exhilarating experience and will undoubtedly be one of the main highlights of your trip to Africa. You spend your days waking up to the sounds of the African bush, taking exciting game drives over the plains and through the bush to spot Big 5 animals in their natural environment, and ending with a relaxed dinner under the starry night skies – there cannot be a better way to pass the time!

Are Safaris Demanding?

Generally, safaris are not demanding in terms of heavy physical activity, however there are elements which can be tiring that you need to be aware of.

Game drives tend to be in 4x4 safari vehicles (or in Kenya, you can be in a safari minibus). Due to the nature of the terrain the roads are often bumpy and can be a little tiring. Open 4x4 vehicles also expose travellers to the elements more than closed vehicles, meaning greater exposure to the sun in summer and cold winds in winter. Some open safari vehicles will have a canopy overhead to minimise exposure to the elements, however there are some lodges who do not use canopies in order to enhance photographic opportunities for their guests.

Many lodges offer walking activities ranging from one to 3 hours and this is generally the most strenuous activity you will encounter, and individuals of average fitness should experience no problems. Walking in single file, you will be introduced to how to spot tracks in the sand or mud, the uses of many different types of trees, and much more. If you are extremely lucky, will come across wildlife such as impala, giraffe or even something larger!

If your itinerary includes a light aircraft flight, these are often very compact and there is a certain amount of stepping and bending to get into the aircraft and manoevering yourself into your (rather small) seat. Travellers are also more likely to experience travel sickness in smaller planes than the larger commercial aircraft and this should be kept in mind.

A Typical Day on Safari

Even though every day will bring a different experience in terms of your wildlife viewing, safaris tend to follow a general pattern, which is consistent wherever you go.

The day starts with a wakeup call before sunrise at around 05:00 to 05:30, with tea/coffee at the lodge before you depart. The mornings are the best opportunity to follow fresh tracks and see wildlife, as some of the nocturnal animals are still active. Depending on what there is to see, the game drive is normally 3 to 4 hours long. When you return to the lodge, a delicious breakfast will be waiting for you - normally buffet style, followed by a cooked offering if you are still hungry!

The next few hours are spent resting and relaxing in camp as this is the hottest part of the day and animal activity is minimal.

At around 15:00 high tea is normally served before you head off again for an afternoon game drive (usually around 15:30 to 16:00). If you are in a National Park, the Park regulations require your guide to have you back at the lodge by sunset, however if you are in a private concession or community area, you will often enjoy a sundowner drink stop out in the bush before experiencing a night drive en-route back to the lodge, aided with a spotlight to search out the nocturnal animals.

On arrival back at the lodge you will normally sit around the camp fire and enjoy drinks while waiting for dinner. Sometimes dinner is served outside under the stars in a 'boma' around an open fire, with candles or lanterns as the only form of lighting. Chatting about your experiences and adventures with your fellow guests is a perfect way to round off the day, and a great feeling of camaraderie soon begins to exist between everyone. Many lodges will seat everyone on the same table for all meals, which gives you the opportunity to really get to know other people. After dinner, drinks may be enjoyed again around the fire however most people find they are tired from the fresh air and early start and are in bed by 22:00.

In some areas, such as East Africa, and especially if you are with a private driver-guide for your safari, there is also the opportunity to elect to go out after breakfast on a full day game drive with a picnic lunch, which means you do not have to return to the lodge until sunset.

What to Take on Safari

The dress code on safari is very relaxed, so there is no need to even consider packing dinner jackets, ties, formal shirts or cocktail dresses for your time on safari! Shorts/t-shirts are ideal for walks and the warm midday periods, but long trousers and long sleeved shirts are a good idea to wear in the evenings to protect yourself from mosquito bites.

Try to take neutral coloured clothes – so greens, beiges, etc – and avoid taking anything too brightly coloured. Also, try to avoid taking anything white – firstly the dust will soon turn your pristine white t-shirt into a not-so-attractive dirty colour, and secondly white does attract bugs at night. Camouflage printed clothing is OK for the bush but please do not wear in towns or when crossing borders (particularly in Zimbabwe).

In addition, a warm sweater is useful for the cooler morning and evening temperatures when out on game drives – you also have the ‘wind chill’ factor of being on a moving vehicle.

If you are going on safari during a known rainy season, a waterproof jacket is obviously a good idea, and during the Winter months you will certainly need several warm layers for your game drives, including a hat, scarf and gloves, as it can be extremely cold when the sun goes down in the evenings, and when you first set off on the morning game drive.

Comfortable walking shoes, trainers or hiking boots are advisable if you want to go on a bush walk – otherwise sandals are ideal to wear at meal times and around the lodge area. Covered shoes on the game drives in the Winter months may also be an idea, as there is nothing worse than cold toes/feet!

A sun hat or baseball cap, or anything really to keep the sun off your head, is a good idea to stop sunstroke when out on game drives, and also will help to shade your eyes from the sun. A good pair of sunglasses will also help you to scan the landscape for the wildlife without squinting into the sunlight and getting a headache! Sun block and lip balm are also recommended.

Swimwear is not something most people would associate with a safari, but as many lodges do have pools, it is worth just throwing into your case just in case you fancy a cooling dip inbetween game drives.

Taking photographs on a safari is almost a given, so don’t forget your camera (and if you are into photography in a big way, consider different size lenses and a bean bag too to rest the lens on so that you avoid camera shake), binoculars (the ranger/driver will tend to have a pair of these always to hand, but they are there for everyone to share, so if you are not the sharing kind of person, better to have your own pair to use all the time) and spare camera batteries and memory cards – there is nothing worse than seeing the perfect shot, only for your camera to die a death or the memory card to be full (bear in mind too that the opportunity to download photos will be limited). Most lodges will have curio shops that will sell most types of batteries so if you run out, it’s not serious, but prices may be high. If you have a video camera, it may be a good idea to take a spare battery for this as well.

One top tip for camera equipment in particular is to take a pillow case to keep everything in when out on game drives – some camera bags are big and unweldy so take up valuable seat space, plus you end up having to unzip compartments and while the bag is open dust gets in everywhere – having everything in a pillowcase that you can keep relatively ‘closed’ and just reach in to retrieve the necessary camera body/lens is just so much easier and cleaner all round.

Even in malaria-free areas, there are still nasty bugs about that can give you a nasty bite so do take some strong insect repellent with you. Some lodges will supply this in the rooms, but better to be safe than sorry and pack your own just in case.

It is always a good idea to pack your own first aid kit – so plasters, antiseptic cream/wipes, antihistamine tablets, painkillers, etc. If you wear daily disposable contact lenses it is advisable to bring more than you think you will need, as you may want to take the lenses out inbetween game drives if you get too much dust in your eyes. And of course, if you are taking malaria tablets – don’t forget to pack these!

Some lodges have a library but these are limited and so it is useful to bring your own books/novels for siesta hours. Having your own wildlife reference books too will mean you can also read up about more facts on the animals you have seen during your drive. Bird books in particular, if you are an avid birder, are especially good to have, as not every bird will be identified by your ranger along the way, so you can quietly look up anything you have seen and identify it yourself.

Tipping on Safari

It is customary to tip your guide (and tracker if you had one on your game vehicle, or your poler if you take a mokoro in Botswana) when you leave, and also to leave something for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have done a good job of looking after you.

Many lodges will leave guidelines in your room as to what they feel is an ‘appropriate’ tip, however some people feel that these suggestions can be a bit high. Obviously, tipping is optional and what you leave is totally at your own discretion - we would stress that you should never feel pressured into leaving a tip that you are not comfortable with.

If you wish to follow the lodge guidelines, of course that is your decision, but if you feel uncomfortable with their suggested tipping levels, we would like to put forward an alternative method for working out a suitable tip amount.

Your ranger/guide - what we normally suggest is think about your tip in terms of what he/she would appreciate most - so for example, this could be money to cover a really nice 3 course meal out with a good bottle of wine, so that they can treat themselves (and maybe their partner too) on their valuable time off. We would suggest basing this amount on what YOU personally would be happy to pay at home if you were to treat yourself and someone else to the equivalent night out.

Driver-guide (East Africa) – for people who take a longer safari with a private driver-guide, USD7 to USD10 per traveller per day is considered a good tip for a driver-guide (based on 4 to 6 travellers in a vehicle). If there are only 2 or 3 travellers in a vehicle, you might consider raising this amount to approximately USD10 to USD12 per traveller per day in recognition of the individual attention given to a smaller-size group.

Safari escort (East Africa) - some groups are accompanied by a professional safari escort. It is customary to tip your safari escort on the last day you are with them and the recommended tip is USD10 per traveller per day. As with the tip for a driver-guide, smaller groups (5 or less) might consider tipping slightly more.

Your tracker/poler - we would suggest tipping something equivalent to giving him a night out in a local bar, where he can buy himself and friends a few round of drinks. Again, maybe base this amount on what you would be happy to spend at home in your local pub.

Housekeeping/general staff - if they have kept your room spotless, then a tip is certainly a nice gesture - but maybe just the equivalent of a couple of drinks. Some lodges will have communal tip boxes, so all the tip money is pooled and shared between the relevant staff members.

We hope that this helps – but please note this is just a personal opinion, and it is a relatively easy way of estimating a tip amount that should not offend anyone. It is customary to tip on the last day you are with anyone.

Another thing to consider is taking some envelopes with you, so that you can address the envelopes accordingly and seal the individual tips inside - in this way, the tip is not revealed until after you have departed.

Personal Safety

Please listen to your guide/lodge manager attentively on safety precautions particular to each lodge and follow their instructions.

There is an inherent risk associated with going on safari. Most guests will be required to sign indemnities at the various camps and lodges and will also be required to abide by the operator’s code of conduct in order to ensure your safety.