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Three giraffes walking along the horizon at sunset in South Africa

South Africa Travel Advice | Know Before You Go

Have you ever imagined yourself standing at the edge of a dramatic coastline, watching whales breach in the distance? Or pictured yourself on a safari, surrounded by majestic lions and mischievous elephants? All this and more can be discovered in the great land of South Africa.

Before you set off on your journey to South Africa, read this comprehensive guide that will give you the knowledge you need to navigate the country with confidence. We'll give you a breakdown of visa requirements, travel regulations, safety tips, the best ways to get around the country and how to communicate with the locals.

Travel Tips and Advice for South Africa

Required Documents

Depending on your nationality and your reason for visiting South Africa, the required documents will vary. Generally, if you're flying from the US, UK or Europe, you'll need:

  • A valid passport that has an expiry date of at least 30 days after your return date, with at least 2 blank pages. Learn more about passport expiry rules here.
  • Proof of your onward or return ticket
  • A Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate (if applicable). This is only needed if you're travelling from a country with a risk of yellow fever transmission or if you've transited through one of these countries. Check out this list of affected countries on the World Health Organisation website for more information.
  • You may need to provide proof that you have sufficient funds for your stay in South Africa. Immigration officials may ask for proof in the form of bank statements, credit card statements or traveller's checks.
  • Don't forget to have travel insurance documents with you at all times. It's not mandatory but it will protect you in case of medical emergencies, trip cancellations or lost baggage while you're in South Africa.
  • A visa application will be necessary if you're planning to stay in South Africa for more than 90 days.

South Africa's Visa Application

If you’re thinking about visiting South Africa and staying for more than 90 days, one of the first things you should get out of the way is your travel visa application. South Africa takes border control seriously. With the correct visa, you’re sure to have a smooth entry process and avoid any complications or delays when you arrive in the country.

Residents of the UK, US and most EU countries won't need a visa for tourist or business visits lasting up to 3 months - this makes South Africa an easy destination for short trips. But if you'd like to stay longer than 90 days, or you plan to work/study in South Africa, a visa application is necessary. Citizens of the UK can apply for extended visas through VFS Global, the official partner of the Embassy of South Africa in the UK. Similarly, US citizens can apply for extended stays through the South African Department of Home Affairs website. We have a detailed guide on South Africa's travel visas - check it out!

A passport sticking out of a bag pocket

Travel Regulations

While visas and travel documents are a key aspect of entry into South Africa, you also need to consider other travel regulations that may affect your trip including what you can take into the country and the traffic laws you should follow during your stay.

What can I take into South Africa?

When visiting South Africa, you're allowed to bring a reasonable amount of duty-free goods including cigarettes, alcohol, perfume and gifts:

  • Up to 200 cigarettes, 25 cigars or 250g of tobacco
  • Up to 1 litre of spirits or 4 litres of wine
  • Up to 50ml of perfume or 250ml of Eau de Toilette
  • Gifts not exceeding ZAR 2,500 in value

You're also allowed to import and export up to ZAR 25,000 (around $1,700) in cash without having to declare it.

Biosecurity laws are very strict in South Africa to protect its unique ecosystems. You should avoid bringing in any plants, animals or animal products without the proper permits. Fruits, vegetables and meats are generally allowed, but you'll need to declare any agricultural items upon arrival.

Can I drive in South Africa?

If you're hiring a car in South Africa, it's good to know that you need to drive on the left-hand side of the road (not a problem if you're a UK traveller!). An international driver's licence is a must before you hire your car.

There are many more regulations you may need to consider when visiting South Africa - we recommend checking out the South African Department of Home Affairs website for this information to ensure an enjoyable experience in South Africa.

Currency and Travel Budget

The official currency of South Africa is the South African Rand (ZAR). You can easily exchange your home currency for Rand at a currency exchange bureau or bank. The exchange rate will vary depending on the provider so we recommend shopping around to get the best deal. You can also exchange currency at some airports however you might get caught out by pricy commission fees.

To avoid any issues with using your cards abroad, you should let your bank know that you're travelling internationally, especially if your destination is South Africa. ATMs are readily available in densely populated cities and towns, making it easy to withdraw Rand using your debit or credit card. Watch out for ATM fees - withdrawal fees will be charged by the ATM operator and you may also have to pay a foreign transaction fee from your home bank.

While credit and debit cards are quick and easy to use, it's wise to carry cash too while staying in South Africa. If you're visiting smaller towns or remote villages in the country, cash may be the only accepted payment method. Cash is especially recommended for smaller purchases. You should take a look at our handy tips on flying with cash for more information.

Your budget for your South Africa trip will depend on your travel style:

  • Accommodation - Are you considering budget hostels, guesthouses or self-catering options? Or would you like to splash out on luxury hotels?
  • Dining - Local eats and street food are very affordable, whereas fancy restaurants will cost more.
  • Transportation - Budget-friendly options include buses and trains. Taxi and car rentals will get you around easier but will cost more.
  • Things to do - You'll need to spend more on safaris and national parks, but a free option includes hiking trails.
  • Buying souvenirs - Make sure you haggle at local markets. You can spend less compared to larger shops designed for tourists.

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Did you know? At Alternative Airlines, you can book your flights to South Africa and pay later using a flexible Buy Now Pay Later plan at Alternative Airlines, including PayJustNow, Afterpay, Tamara and more!

A woman sorting out South African Rand cash

Is South Africa safe?

After arriving in South Africa, you need to think about your safety, security, etiquette and health for the best experience possible. While South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world with a lot to offer visitors, it's important to be aware of your surroundings and avoid having your trip ruined.

Be aware of your surroundings

The most common crimes that travellers encounter while in South Africa are petty theft and bag snatching, especially around crowded areas like markets, bus stations and tourist attractions.

  • Keep your valuables out of sight and avoid carrying large sums of cash
  • Use a money belt or a crossbody bag that can be kept close to your body
  • Don't walk around with your phone out. Be aware of your surroundings.
  • If you have a backpack, carry it in front of you in crowded areas.

Try to avoid walking alone, especially at night. If you have to walk alone, stick to well-lit main roads and avoid deserted areas or shortcuts.

Beware of scams

Scams are also frequent in South Africa. Watch out for the 'friendly local', the 'fake official' and the 'ATM scam' while you're staying in the country.

  • Friendly local - This is someone who may approach you offering unsolicited help or advice, then try to distract you while an accomplice steals your belongings.
  • Fake official - This is a person who will pretend to be an authoritative figure to try and extort money or valuables from you.
  • ATM scam - This is someone who may try to help you use an ATM and then steal your card information.

Generally, if something feels too good to be true, it probably is.

Traffic safety

If you're a UK traveller visiting South Africa and you're hiring a car, you won't have trouble with the left-hand drive traffic system. However, if you're not accustomed to this, take some time to familiarise yourself with the rules of the road.

This may be an obvious tip but you should always keep your car doors locked while driving in South Africa, especially at traffic lights or stop signs, as this is also where many tourists are targeted with theft. You also won't want to leave your valuables inside the car - if you have to, lock them away in the boot.

Wherever possible, you should park in guarded parking lots that are well-lit and secure. Although uncommon in South Africa, carjackings do happen so be aware while getting in and out of your car.

Respect the environment

To help preserve South Africa's natural beauty and uniqueness, you should travel as sustainably as possible and respect the environment as well as South African locals.

Travel sustainably in South Africa

  • Leave no trace. Make sure you pack out all of your rubbish, including leftover food, plastic bottles and cigarette butts. Dispose of waste properly in designated bins.
  • Respect the wildlife. South Africa is home to an incredible variety of animals. You should observe them from a safe distance and never try to food or touch them. Respecting their natural habitats is also a must.
  • Watch your water usage. Water scarcity is a genuine concern in some areas of South Africa. Aim for shorter showers, turn off the tap while brushing your teeth and reuse your towels wherever possible.
  • Support sustainable travel. Look for places to stay that are committed to sustainable practices or initiatives. Eco-lodges are a good way to conserve energy and water, reduce waste and support local South African communities.
  • Don't disturb the plants. Avoid picking any flowers or disturbing vegetation in national parks and protected areas. These delicate ecosystems need to be preserved for future generations.

Why not start your sustainable journey before you've landed in South Africa? At Alternative Airlines, you can book flights with eco-friendly airlines, including United Airlines, British Airways and Qantas!

A safari tour in South Africa

Tipping culture

Generally, in a restaurant, you should aim to provide a tip of 10-15% of the bill. This is considered a good gesture of appreciation for good service in South Africa. A small tip for bartenders is also customary. If you're staying in a hotel in South Africa, you should leave a small tip of around ZAR 20-50 for porters that help you with your baggage. If you're going to get around with taxis, rounding up the fare to the nearest Rand is common practice.


A trip to South Africa won't be complete without a great bargain at the local market. Bargaining is normal at flea markets, street markets and souvenir shops, but shouldn't be done at larger shops or restaurants. When bargaining, make sure you have a smile on your face and a friendly demeanour. You should also be respectful of the seller's prices and avoid being aggressive for a smooth bargaining experience.

What should I wear in South Africa?

South Africa is a diverse country with a relaxed and casual atmosphere, however, you should have a sense of modesty, especially if you're visiting rural areas. There's no strict dress code, but you will want to avoid overly revealing clothing that may be considered disrespectful in some places (particularly religious sites and conservative villages).

If you're visiting places of worship, such as mosques or temples, you need to dress modestly by covering your shoulders and knees. You should also be prepared for the South African weather and pack clothes that are suitable for the month or season you're visiting. Don't forget to pack comfortable footwear as you'll be walking on a variety of terrains and uneven surfaces, especially if you're planning to visit one of South Africa's national parks.

Staying healthy in South Africa


Before entering South Africa, it's recommended that you visit your doctor first to make sure you have all of the necessary vaccinations required. This includes vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and rabies. Other vaccinations you may want to consider include typhoid and meningitis.

Protection from the sun

South Africa proudly offers a sunny climate all year round, however, too much sunshine can ruin your trip. You can shield yourself by wearing sunscreen, a sun hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.

Malaria precautions

Malaria, a mosquito-borne parasitic disease, is present in some areas of South Africa. You'll need to be especially careful if you're visiting Kruger National Park, a wildlife reserve known to be a malaria zone, and KwaZulu-Natal, a province bordering the park that also carries a malaria risk. To reduce the chances of catching malaria, you should speak to your doctor about 'malaria prophylaxis' - this is a medication that can help prevent malaria infection.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration is a common risk in hot and sunny countries like South Africa. If you're visiting in the country's summer months (December to March), we recommend drinking plenty of water, avoiding sugary drinks and being cautious with tap water.

Getting Around South Africa

The best ways to get around South Africa include domestic flights, trains, buses and car rentals.

Domestic Flights

Domestic flights are by far the fastest way to travel between major cities in South Africa. It's the ideal mode of transportation if you're aiming to explore a mixture of cities across the country such as Johannesburg, Cape Town, Kruger National Park, Knysna, Stellenbosch and more.

There are several airlines that operate domestic flights in South Africa, including Airlink, Federal Air, FlySafair, Eswatini Air, South African Airways and South African Express. Domestic flights are the most expensive option though and flights may be limited if you plan to visit smaller towns or rural areas.


The next best method of transportation is by train. If you want the best scenic views while travelling around South Africa, consider travelling by the Shosholoza Meyl train - this is South Africa's national passenger rail service that operates routes between Cape Town, Kimberley, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban and Port Elizabeth, among others major cities. The trains in South Africa are relatively affordable and are a comfortable way to travel. On the other hand, it is slower than flying and only useful if you're sticking to major cities.


For budget-friendly travel, consider exploring South Africa by bus. The primary bus companies in the country are Intercape, Citiliner, Citybug, City to City, TransLux and Bazbus.

Intercape is the largest bus company in South Africa, with an extensive network connecting most major cities and towns. You'll get air conditioning, toilets and onboard entertainment on some Intercape routes. On the other end of the scale is Bazbus which specifically targets backpackers with its hop-on, hop-off passes between popular tourist destinations.

Car Rentals

If you don't want to be restricted to certain routes offered by domestic flights, buses and trains, why not hire a car instead? You'll get more flexibility and freedom to explore South Africa at your own pace, allowing you to reach the most remote destinations that aren't easily accessible by public transport. Some popular reputable car rental companies in South Africa include Bluu Car Rental, Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Budget.

Cape Town, South Africa

Language and Communication

Did you know that South Africa has 11 official languages? The two most important languages spoken in South Africa are Afrikaans and English.

Basic Afrikaans Phrases

Afrikaans is widely spoken across South Africa. You can easily get around the country without knowing the language, however, you'll be appreciated more by the locals just by knowing a few basic phrases.

  • Goeie dag” (pronounced HOY-ah dahk) which means 'Hello' or 'Goodbye'
  • Dankie” (pronounced DAHN-kee) which means 'Thank you'
  • Asseblief" (pronounced uh-SEHP-lief) which means 'Please'
  • Praat jy Engels?" (pronounced PRAHT yu ENG-els) which means 'Do you speak English?'

Learning these words can help you break the ice and create positive connections with the locals.

Staying Connected

To stay connected while abroad in South Africa, you can use either international roaming, a local SIM card or free Wi-Fi:

  • Activate international roaming. We suggest contacting your current mobile service provider to see if they offer any international roaming plans for South Africa. The roaming charges can be expensive so make sure you understand what costs are involved before enabling data roaming in South Africa.
  • Buy a local SIM card. You can buy a local SIM card once you arrive at the airport in South Africa. Several mobile network providers offer prepaid SIM cards with a variety of data and call packages that will suit your needs. Some major South African mobile network providers include MTN, Vodacom, Cell C and Telkom Mobile.
  • Use free Wi-Fi. Many restaurants, cafes and hotels will provide free Wi-Fi if you're using their services. It's a great way to stay connected without using your own data.

Ready to visit South Africa?

You should now be prepared to go on your adventure to South Africa after reading this comprehensive travel guide. With a little planning and this guide by your side, you're all set to experience a trip of a lifetime in South Africa.

Book flights to South Africa

If you haven't already booked your flights to South Africa, you can do so right here at Alternative Airlines. We ticket over 600 airlines, including South African Airways, FlySafair, Airlink and more, on our site and offer over 40 different ways to pay, including Buy Now Pay Later and cryptocurrencies! Simply use our search form at the top of the page to start searching for flights to South Africa.

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