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Travel Security Advice for South Africa

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south_africaSouth_Africa_Overview


COUNTRY DESCRIPTION:  

South Africa is a parliamentary democracy and is in many respects a developed country, although much of its population lives in poverty.  All major urban areas have modern, world-class hotels and tourist facilities.  Game parks and areas most often visited by tourists have a wide range of facilities.  Food and water are generally safe, and a wide variety of consumer goods and pharmaceuticals are readily available.  The capital is Pretoria, while the seat of parliament is located in Cape Town.  Johannesburg is the financial capital and largest city in South Africa.  Durban is home to Africa’s busiest port and is the number one tourist destination for South Africans. Read the Department of State Background Notes on South Africa for additional information.



ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: 

PLEASE NOTE:   We recommend that the passports of all travelers to South Africa contain at least two completely blank (unstamped) visa pages each time entry is sought. These pages are in addition to the endorsement/amendment pages (as many as four) at the back of the passport.  While South African statutes require only one completely blank visa page, this rule has been applied inconsistently by South African immigration officials.  In addition, any trip to a neighboring country would necessitate another blank page upon return.  Travelers lacking adequate blank pages in the passport may be refused entry into South Africa, fined, and returned to their point of origin at the traveler’s expense.  South African authorities have denied diplomatic missions access to assist in these cases.  As a general precaution, all travelers are advised to carry a photocopy of the photo/bio information page of their passport and keep it in a location separate from the passport.

Visitors to South Africa for tourism, short business meetings, or those in transit do not require visas for stays of up to 90 days.  In the event a traveler overstays that period without a permit issued by the South African Department of Home Affairs, he or she may be subject to a fine of up to 3,000 rand (approximately 300 US dollars).  All others, including academics, students on educational trips, and volunteers, may need visas.  Americans who intend to work in South Africa must apply for work permits before arrival; otherwise they risk being refused admission and returned to their point of origin.  It is strongly suggested that all travelers check the latest requirements with the nearest South African Embassy or Consulate before traveling.

Travelers entering South Africa from countries where yellow fever is endemic are often required to present their yellow World Health Organization (WHO) vaccination record or other proof of inoculation.  If they are unable to do so, they must be inoculated at the airport in order to be permitted entry.

Visit the Embassy of South Africa website for the most current visa information.

Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site.  For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information sheet.



SAFETY AND SECURITY:  

Travelers are encouraged to be vigilant and avoid any large gathering, particularly protests and demonstrations.  The possibility of violence, including threats against American interests, should not be discounted, particularly in times of heightened world tension.

South Africa has seen a number of attacks directed at foreigners – particularly refugees or immigrants from other African nations.  Many of the attacks were centered in Johannesburg and the province of Gauteng in low income neighborhoods and informal settlements, but incidents of mob violence have taken place throughout the country.  Many individuals have been killed in these incidents and many more, both targeted victims and bystanders, have been injured.  While there have been no reports of Americans or other non-African visitors being targeted, these incidents of mob violence have sprung up quickly and proven difficult for local authorities to control.  American residents and visitors are advised to listen to local media for reports of such incidents and to avoid areas (including but not limited to townships) where they may be likely to occur.

For the latest security information, Americans traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website,

Up-to-date information on safety and security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, or for callers outside the U.S. and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.  These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

The Department of State urges American citizens to take responsibility for their own personal security while traveling overseas.  For general information about appropriate measures travelers can take to protect themselves in an overseas environment, see the Department of State’s information on A Safe Trip Abroad.



CRIME: 

Although the vast majority of visitors complete their travels in South Africa without incident, visitors should be aware that criminal activity, often violent, occurs routinely.  Notwithstanding government anti-crime efforts, violent crimes such as armed robbery, carjacking, mugging, "smash and grab" attacks on vehicles, and other incidents are regularly reported by visitors and resident Americans.

Visitors and residents are advised of ongoing criminal activity involving organized crime gangs targeting individuals at shopping centers and other public places.  Once a victim has been identified, he/she is followed back to his/her residence and robbed, usually at gunpoint, although the use of force is generally reserved for those offering some form of resistance.  These gangs tend to target people appearing to be affluent, including those driving expensive cars, wearing eye-catching jewelry, flashing large amounts of cash, and/or making high-value purchases.  Criminals also gravitate towards “soft” targets – people who appear preoccupied and do not pay attention to their immediate surroundings.  Visitors who believe they are being followed should travel directly to a police station or other public location.

Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have increasingly been targeted by criminals.  The use of commercial explosives to blow up ATMs is a relatively new phenomenon in South Africa.  In 2006, 54 such attacks were recorded.  In 2007, the number of ATM bombings jumped to 387.  While statistically affecting only a small percentage of machines, in 2008, the number of attacks rose to nearly 500.  ATM bombings have usually taken place in the early hours of the morning in remote or isolated areas although recent attacks have taken place at gas stations and shopping complexes.  Criminals also loiter near ATM machines and target persons withdrawing cash.  Based on these threats, the following security precautions are recommended:  Avoid using ATMs in dark, remote, or isolated areas.  ATMs located inside shopping malls, hotels, and banks are preferred since they are normally high-traffic areas, and monitored by security guards and cameras.  Avoid using an ATM with a cord or other foreign object attached to it.  Should you notice a suspicious device on an ATM, immediately leave the area; take cover, and notify the police.  Shrapnel and debris from an explosion can travel long distances and cause serious injury or death.  Before withdrawing money, scan the area for any suspicious persons or activity.  Should anyone approach you while you are withdrawing money, immediately cancel the transaction and leave the area.  Should you be confronted by an armed individual - immediately comply, avoid making sudden movements, and do not offer any form of resistance.  Any hesitation on your part could be perceived as a threat and may result in unnecessary violence.  Criminals do not discriminate.  Members of the international diplomatic community have recently been included as targets of crime.   

Motorists are urged to be extremely cautious when approaching intersections and to hide bags, cell phones, and other valuables from view.  Criminals are on the lookout for valuable items they can see through car windows (see mention of “smash and grab” under traffic safety).  Doors should be kept locked and windows rolled up at all times.

Crimes against property, such as carjacking, have often been accompanied by violent acts, including murder, when victims resist or are slow to respond to attackers’ demands.  South Africa also has the highest incidence of reported rape in the world.  Foreigners are not specifically targeted, but several have been the victims of rape.  Victims of violent crime, especially rape, are strongly encouraged to seek immediate medical attention, including antiretroviral therapy against HIV/AIDS.  Questions about how to receive such treatment should be directed to the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Criminal activity, such as assault, armed robbery, and theft is particularly high in areas surrounding certain hotels and public transportation centers, especially in major cities.  Theft of passports and other valuables is most likely to occur at airports, bus terminals, and train stations.  A number of Americans have been mugged or violently attacked on commuter and metro trains, especially between Johannesburg and Pretoria.  Several American travelers also reported theft of personal belongings after strangers whom they invited into their hotel drugged them.  In at least one instance, an American died after being drugged and robbed in this manner.

There is a serious baggage pilferage problem at OR Tambo (Johannesburg) and Cape Town International airports, particularly affecting travelers changing airlines and those flying on smaller airlines—passengers flying on major international carriers may not be affected to the same degree.  Travelers are encouraged to secure their luggage with Transportation Security Administration (TSA) approved locks, use an airport plastic wrapping service, and avoid placing electronics, jewelry, cameras or other valuables in checked luggage.  Make an inventory of items in checked baggage to aid in claims processing if theft does occur.

In the Western Cape, police resources have been strained by continuing gang conflicts and vigilante violence in the low income areas and informal settlements in Cape Town.  The Cape Flats area, surrounding townships, and squatter camps adjacent to the city center, should be avoided by people unfamiliar with the area.  Additionally, travelers should be aware that muggings have become common along many popular routes on Table Mountain, a prime tourist destination in Cape Town.  Visitors to Table Mountain should be vigilant, hike in groups, and not carry valuables.  

Armed robbery of cash-in-transit vehicles and personnel occurs throughout South Africa and peaks during December and January due to the increase in cash flow from commercial stores to banks.  These attacks have also included incidents at major malls and in large grocery stores.  Individuals should raise their level of situational awareness while in the vicinity of cash-in-transit vehicles and personnel and should avoid areas where they are located to the maximum extent possible.

Credit card fraud, counterfeit U.S. currency, and various check-cashing scams are frequently reported.  Do not accept "assistance" from anyone, or agree to assist others with ATM transactions.  Travelers should try to avoid using ATMs after bank business hours or in remote locations.  When giving your credit card to a store or restaurant employee for processing, do not let the card out of your sight. 

Visitors should also beware of telephone or email schemes, which attempt to win the confidence of an unsuspecting American who is persuaded either to provide privileged financial information or travel to South Africa to assist in a supposedly lucrative business venture.  In 2008, there were several cases of Americans losing thousands of dollars and putting themselves in danger by responding to email financial scams (also known as “419 scams”).  Some have traveled to South Africa only to lose more money and sometimes be physically attacked.  See the State Department’s financial scam web page If you have lost money in a financial scam, please file a report with your local police and with the Internet Crime Complaint CenterVictims can also report Internet fraud to the FTC online or by phone, toll-free, at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357).

To check on a business’s legitimacy while in the U.S., contact the International Trade Administration, Room 3317, Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230, telephone: 1-800-USA-TRADE or 202-482-5149, fax: 202-482-5198.  If you are abroad, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.



INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS OF CRIME: 

The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  If you are the victim of a crime while overseas, in addition to reporting to local police, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate for assistance.  The Embassy/Consulate staff can, for example, assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family members or friends and explain how funds could be transferred.  Although the investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities, consular officers can help you to understand the local criminal justice process and to find an attorney if needed.
 
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in South Africa is 10111.

See our information on Victims of Crime.



CRIMINAL PENALTIES: 

While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law.  Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses.  Persons violating South Africa’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.  Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in South Africa are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.  Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime, prosecutable in the United States.  Please see our information on Criminal Penalties



SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:  

Approximately one-quarter of the population of South Africa is infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.  Public awareness in the country as to how to protect against infection is increasing.  However, travelers are advised to exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in sexual activity, or if they become exposed to a blood source other than that supplied by a hospital for transfusion purposes.

While visiting game parks and reserves, it is dangerous to leave one's vehicle or otherwise be on foot, even in the presence of a guide.  Several incidents of wild animal attacks on tourists in the region have resulted in death or serious injury.  If visiting South Africa’s expansive coastline, be mindful of the possible presence of sharks when swimming or engaging in water sports.  In 2005 and 2006, in the False Bay area of the Western Cape, several people were attacked by sharks; some of the attacks were fatal.  When a shark is spotted close to the shore, local authorities will sound a warning siren to notify swimmers.

Tragic accidents can occur when swimming in the ocean or walking/climbing on shore areas that are not designated beaches.  Tourists have drowned when swimming in coastal waters, where tides and wave patterns can change unexpectedly and overwhelm even excellent swimmers.  Do not swim alone in isolated beach areas.  Do not dive into unknown bodies of water, because hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.

Eskom, the major supplier of electricity in South Africa, has reported that the demand for electricity may exceed the available supply from time to time.  In order to manage the situation Eskom periodically interrupts the supply to certain areas in rolling blackouts termed “load shedding.”  Although information about possible outages is available on Eskom’s website, Eskom does not always adhere to the published schedule.

Unexpected power outages may strand individuals in extremely difficult or vulnerable circumstances such as in elevators or, in recent instances, on board the Table Mountain aerial cable car in Cape Town.  Power failures may result in considerable inconvenience as most tourist sites are not equipped with generators and may be closed without prior notification.  Blackouts may also contribute to traffic congestion, traffic signal failures and hazardous intersections.  Please be mindful of any situation in which a sudden break in power could result in potential harm.

Please see our Customs Information



MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: 

Private medical facilities are good in urban areas and in the vicinity of game parks, but they may be limited elsewhere.  Pharmacies are well stocked and equivalents to most American medicines are available.

While most of South Africa is malaria-free, malaria risk exists throughout the year in rural low-altitude areas of Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces, including Kruger National Park and neighboring game reserves.  Risk also exists in the coastal lowlands of KwaZulu-Natal north of the Tugela River (including in Zululand, but excluding urban areas of Richards Bay).  In all risk areas, risk is much lower from June to September.  Visitors should prepare accordingly and use malaria prophylaxis.  For information on malaria, its prevention, protection from insect bites, and anti-malarial drugs, please visit the CDC malaria web page.  

Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in South Africa.  For further information, please consult the CDC's Travel Notice on TB.

Since November 2008, cholera outbreaks have been reported across Zimbabwe and have affected South Africa’s Limpopo Province near the Zimbabwe border.  Cholera is a potentially fatal bacterial infection of the intestine which causes severe diarrhea and dehydration.  The disease is spread through untreated sewage and contaminated drinking water.  Travelers to Limpopo Province are advised to drink boiled or bottled water and also use boiled or bottled water in food preparation.  American citizens may consult local media and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for updates on cholera cases in South Africa.  The Consulate General recommends that any American citizen experiencing symptoms of severe diarrhea should seek immediate medical attention.

The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of South Africa.  For more information about HIV/AIDS in South Africa, please see the “Special Circumstances” section below.

Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC’s website For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization's (WHO) web siteFurther general health information for travelers is available from the WHO.



MEDICAL INSURANCE: 

The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and whether it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation.  Please see our information on medical insurance overseas.



TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: 

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.  The information below concerning South Africa is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

Visitors intending to drive in South Africa are strongly encouraged to obtain an international driver’s license prior to their departure from the U.S.  You may wish to contact the nearest South African Embassy or Consulate for up-to-date information about driver’s license requirements.  While South African law does not normally require international driver’s licenses for stays of less than six months, insurance companies for both long-term residents and rental car customers often require proof of a South African or international drivers’ license in order to honor an insurance claim, even when such proof was not requested at the time the policy was secured.

Unlike the United States, where traffic moves on the right hand side of the road, traffic in South Africa moves on the left.  Care must also be taken when crossing streets as a pedestrian.  Travelers should use caution at all times when driving, and especially avoid nighttime travel outside major cities.  Road conditions are generally good in South Africa.  However, excessive speed, poor lighting on rural roads, and insufficient regulatory control of vehicle maintenance and operator licensing have resulted in a high and rapidly increasing number of traffic fatalities.  Drivers should also take care to avoid pedestrians crossing roads, which occur frequently on major highways.

‘Smash and grab’ robberies are common throughout South Africa, particularly in urban areas, at traffic lights, and on highway off-ramps.  In these cases an individual, often appearing to be a vendor or beggar, will walk down between lines of vehicles waiting at an intersection, surveying the contents of vehicles, especially on the passenger seat, for targets of opportunity.  Once a promising candidate is located, the perpetrator will quickly smash the window and grab the item off the seat, departing at a run, often before the driver can even decipher what has happened.  In another scenario an individual (or two working in tandem) may indicate to a driver an apparent flat tire or other problem and wait for the driver to pull over or exit the car before grabbing exposed valuables.  Drivers should be particularly careful of this problem and avoid carrying anything of value (e.g., briefcases, purses, cell phones, etc.) inside the car that could attract potential assailants.

Travelers are advised to carry mobile phones.  U.S. mobile phones may not work in South Africa, but rental mobile phones are widely available and may be rented from kiosks at major airports.  The nationwide emergency number for the police is 10111, and the nationwide number for ambulance service is 10177.  It is not necessary to dial an area code for these numbers.  Callers from mobile phones may not necessarily be connected immediately to the nearest emergency service.  The rate of response varies from to area to area, but is generally slower than response to 911 calls in the United States.

Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.  Visit the web site of the South Africa’s national tourist office and national authority responsible for road safetyYou may also contact South Africa’s national tourist office at 1-800-593-1318.



AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: 

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has assessed the government of South Africa's Civil Aviation Authority as being in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of South Africa's air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA's website.



CHILDREN'S ISSUES: 

For information see our Office of Children’s Issues web pages on intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction.



REGISTRATION / EMBASSY LOCATION:  

Americans living or traveling in South Africa are encouraged to register with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the State Department’s travel registration web site so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within South Africa.  Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency. 

The U.S. Embassy is located at 877 Pretorius Street, Arcadia in Pretoria, telephone (27-12) 431-4000 (from South Africa 012-431-4000), fax (27-12) 431-5504 (from South Africa 012-431-5504).  Visit the U.S. Embassy web site

The U.S. Consulate General in Johannesburg is located at 1 Sandton Drive (opposite Sandton City Mall just west of the intersection of Sandton Drive and Rivonia Road), Johannesburg. Telephone: (27-11) 290-3000 (from South Africa 011-290-3000), fax: (27-11) 884-0396 (from South Africa (011-884-0396).  Its consular jurisdiction includes the Pretoria area and the Gauteng, Mpumalanga, Limpopo, North West, and Free State provinces.

The Consulate General in Cape Town  is located at 2 Reddam Avenue, West Lake 7945, telephone (27-21) 702-7300 (from South Africa 021-702-7300), fax (27-21) 702-7493 (from South Africa 021-702-7493).  Its consular jurisdiction includes Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape provinces.
 
The Consulate General in Durban is located at the Old Mutual Building, 31st floor, 303 West Street, telephone (27-31) 305-7600 (from South Africa 031-305-7600), fax (27-31) 305-7691 (from South Africa 031-305-7691).  Its consular jurisdiction is KwaZulu-Natal Province.

This replaces the Country Specific Information for South Africa dated January 9, 2009, to update the section on Registration/Embassy Location.


The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office also has information regarding travel to South Africa HERE......

Looking for an Embassy ?, You can also check out our World Wide Embassies Listings Section HERE (For US Citizens) or HERE (For UK Citizens).......

There is also a Malaria Warning for South Africa HERE.......

Regards

The SW Team........

 

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