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General travel information

Every person wishing to enter South Africa must be in possession of a valid passport for travel to South Africa and, where necessary, a visa. Please see the information on Visas or contact the Consular Section for more information.

Visas are issued free of charge. Visitors who intend travelling to South Africa's neighbouring countries and back into South Africa are advised to apply for multiple-entry visas. Tourists must satisfy immigration officers that they have the means to support themselves during their stay and that they are in possession of return or onward tickets. They must also have valid international health certificates.

Visitors from the yellow-fever belt in Africa and the Americas, as well as those, who travel through or disembark in these areas, have to be inoculated against the disease.

Do take note that Malaria is endemic to parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and the Limpopo. It is essential to take precautions when visiting these areas. Read more.

South Africa's transport infrastructure ­ airlines, railroads, luxury touring buses (coaches) and cars ­ is such that tourists can travel comfortably and quickly from their port of entry to any other part of the country. A number of international airlines, including South African Airways (SAA) and KLM (direct), operate regular scheduled flights to and from South Africa. Several domestic airlines operate in the country. There are also mainline trains to all parts of the country. (See Transport)

A brochure entitled Helpful Hints to Make Your Stay Enjoyable and Safe is distributed to tourists at international airports.

Accommodation

The tourist accommodation industry in South Africa provides a wide spectrum of accommodation, from formal hotels to informal holiday flats and cottages, game lodges and reserves, guesthouses, youth hostels and bed-and-breakfast establishments.

A variety of promotional material on South Africa is available. Comprehensive guides and maps cover all the regions and aspects of interest to tourists, including accommodation. Various useful tourism websites can be found on the Internet. (To visit the South African Tourism site click here)

Language

We speak English

We are a multi-lingual country. Besides the 11 officially recognised languages, there are scores of others, because South Africa is the crossroads of southern Africa.
South Africa's Constitution recognises and guarantees equal status to 11 official languages to cater for the country’s diverse peoples and their cultures – so preserving our much-cherished heterogeneity. The 11 languages, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Afrikaans
  • English
  • Ndebele (properly, isiNdebele)
  • North Sotho (properly, seSotho saLebowa; formerly sePedi)
  • South Sotho (properly, seSotho)
  • Swati (properly, isiSwati)
  • Tsonga (properly, XiTsonga)
  • Tswana (properly, SeTswana)
  • Venda (properly, TshiVenda)
  • Xhosa (properly, isiXhosa)
  • Zulu (properly, isiZulu)

However, most of us speak English, so you'll have little trouble communicating.
Although English is generally understood across the country, it ranks only fifth as a spoken language. According to the 1996 Census, Zulu is the mother tongue of 22.9% of South Africa's estimated 40 million people, followed by Xhosa at 17.9%, Afrikaans at 14.4%, North Sotho - properly called seSotho saLebowa - at 9.2%, and English at 8.6%.

When we do speak "proper" English, it's the British rather than the American variety of English – although this is slowly changing, with many younger people being influenced by television and cinema.

isiZulu, isiXhosa, isiSwati and isiNdebele are collectively referred to as the Nguni languages, and have a lot of similarities in syntax and grammar. The Sotho languages - SeTswana, seSotho saLebowa and seSotho - also have much in common.
According to historical data, many of South Africa's indigenous tribes share a common ancestry. But as groupings and clans broke up in search of autonomy and greener pastures for their livestock, variations of the common languages evolved.

Afrikaans - initially spoken by descendants of the Dutch settlers, and similar in character to Dutch and Flemish - is no longer the exclusive language of Afrikaners. According to Statistics South Africa, the majority of South Africans who speak Afrikaans as their first language are not white.

Communication

Phoning home and away

We have a well-developed communications infrastructure, with extensive landline phone networks and three mobile phone service providers with far-reaching coverage.
You can rent mobile phones – known here as cellphones – 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 securemail, 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 is expected to open up shop this year. Public telephones are either coin- or card-operated. Phone cards can be purchased at certain stores, post offices and airports.

Phoning into South Africa

If you’re dialling a number in South Africa, it must be preceded by:

  • +27, South Africa’s international country code (the + sign represents the international access code for the country you’re calling from); and either:
  • The area code of the city or town in South Africa you’re calling (leaving out the first zero), if you’re calling a landline; or
  • The cellular/mobile network code (leaving out the first zero), if you’re calling a cellular/mobile network.

So, for example, to phone South African Airways’ call centre from abroad, you’d dial +27 11 921 6262 (Johannesburg’s area code is 011 – phoning from abroad, you leave out the zero). If it were a mobile number, you might dial +27 82 921 6262 (082 is the code for one of the main mobile networks – phoning from abroad, you leave out the zero).
Area codes of some of South Africa’s major cities are:

  • Bloemfontein – 051
  • Cape Town – 021
  • Durban – 031
  • East London – 043
  • Johannesburg – 011
  • Pretoria – 012
  • Port Elizabeth – 041

The three main mobile networks’ codes are 082 and 072 (Vodacom), 083 and 073 (MTN) and 084 (Cell C).

Phoning around South Africa

If you’re in South Africa and phoning a landline anywhere in South Africa, the number must be preceded by the area code (including the first zero) for that city or town.
If, on the other hand, you’re phoning to a mobile number – regardless of where you are in South Africa – you never use an area code, only the appropriate mobile network code.

08 numbers

Many businesses and organisations have special landline numbers beginning with a 08 code – 0800, 0860, 0861, and so on. (But not 082, 083 or 084, which belong to the mobile networks.) These are, in effect, national numbers – area codes are dispensed with, and callers dial the same number regardless of where they are. Note that these lines can only be accessed from within South Africa.

  • 080 numbers (usually 0800) – no charge to the caller.
  • 0860 numbers – the caller does not pay for any long-distance portion of the call.
  • 0861 numbers – the caller is charged a flat rate for the call.

Phone directories

Consult Telkom’s print directories for the numbers of landline subscribers – The Phone Book for residential subscribers nation-wide, and The Yellow Pages for businesses, services and products nation-wide.
Alternatively, dial in to Telkom’s telephonic directories (useful especially for unlisted or changed numbers):

  • South Africa (The Phone Book) – 1023
  • Electronic Yellow Pages – 10118
  • International – 0903

You can also consult Telkom’s searchable online directories:

  • The Phone Book: listings for residential Telkom subscribers nation-wide.
  • The Electronic Yellow Pages: businesses, services and products nation-wide.

Phoning out of South Africa

To make an international call from South Africa, dial 09 followed by the country code of the country you wish to call, followed by the relevant area code (if there is one), followed by the relevant phone number. Telkom’s Phone Book lists all country codes in its International Dialling Code List.

International calls are cheaper after 8pm and before 8am from Monday to Friday, and between 8pm on Friday and 8am on Monday.

For an even cheaper option, try the Home Direct service. This allows you to call an operator in your home country free of charge, either to place a call on your “phone home” account, if you have one, or to arrange a reverse-charge call. Telkom’s Phone Book lists all Home Direct numbers in its International Dialling Code List.

What’s the time back home?

Use Telkom’s online time difference calculator to work it out – or phone 0903.

Holidays

What facilities are open on public holidays?

In the major cities most stores, cinemas and restaurants are open on most public holidays. The exceptions are Christmas Day, 25 December and New Year’s Day, 1 January. See the calendar of holidays for this year.

Other questions

Where can I smoke?

The law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas.

South African time

South Africa does not change its clocks during the year and there are no regional variations within the country. South African Standard Time is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean (or Universal Standard) Time.

Tipping

Tipping is common practice in South Africa for a range of services. In restaurants the accepted standard is around 10% of the bill, although sometimes a gratuity will be included (often in the case of a large party). Barmen are tipped a similar percentage.
Petrol stations are manned by attendants who will expect a tip of two or three rands for filling up with petrol, checking oil, water and tyre pressure and cleaning windscreens. Hotel porters should be tipped two to five rands. It is also appropriate to tip taxi drivers, tour guides and even hairdressers. If you park a car in a populated area such as near a shopping centre, street security guards will usually ask whether they can watch over your car and in return should be paid a small fee - anything from two rands upwards.

Sport and Recreation

South Africa’s favourable climate makes sport a year round attraction. Over 160 sporting activities are represented with the major sports including soccer, rugby, cricket, tennis and golf.

Golf

South Africa has over 400 registered golf courses at which tourists are welcome to play. It is however advisable to contact the golf course in advance to book starting times and establish dress codes. For more information contact the Pro Golfers Association of South Africa (Tel: 2711 485 2327/Fax: 2711 485 1799)

Water Sports

South Africa’s coastal waters offer safe swimming conditions and the coastline provides perfect conditions for a wide range of water sports.

Hiking Trails

Nature enthusiasts can take advantage of the many South African hiking trails with a brilliant array of flora, waterfalls and breathtaking views in all nine provinces.
For more information contact the Hiking Federation of Southern Africa: (Tel: 2711 968 1202).

Fishing

With some 250 species of freshwater fish and 1500 sea water fish species, South Africa offers the keen fisherman endless opportunities. Many game/nature reserves and holiday destinations have dams, rivers and coastlines where fish can be enjoyed.

Private Game Parks and National Reserves

South Africa’s vast array of wildlife can be seen in their natural habitat in various private and national game parks or nature reserves, of which the most famous is the Kruger National Park. With a surface area of 19 000 km2, the Kruger Park is one of the largest national parks in the world and home to 147 species of mammals, 507 species of birds, 114 species of reptiles and approximately 1950 species of plants. For more information contact the National Parks Board Tel: 2712 343 1991

Shopping

South Africa has a wide range of shops, malls as well as informal street vendors and fleamarkets.

Shopping hours is generally:

Weekdays 08:00 – 17:00
Saturdays 08:00 – 13:00

 
Larger shopping malls in the bigger cities remain open later.
Many shops in metropolitan areas are open on Sundays from 09:00 – 13:00

Inter-city Coach services

Tourists can make use of inter-city bus coaches. For more information contact your nearest travel agent or Computicket at www.computicket.co.za

Luxury trains

The Blue Train is a luxury five-star railway service operating on a regular basis between Johannesburg/Pretoria and Cape Town and Cape Town, Johannesburg/Pretoria and Victoria Falls. For more information contact (Tel: 2711 773 7631) or www.bluetrain.co.za

Rovos Rail offer various unique steam safaris and exclusive trips. For more information contact Tel: 2712323 6052 or www.rovos.com

Cruises

Various sea and river cruises are available. For more information contact your nearest travel agent or Computicket.

Electricity

The electricity supply in South Africa is 220/230 volts AC 50Hz. Appliances of lesser voltage require a transformer. Adapters are obtainable locally.