South Africa Visa

All about Visa and Permits

When entering South Africa, either a South Africa visa or any other type of permit such as a valid work visa, study visa or residency permit is required by the Immigrations officer at the border posts such as Cape Town international airport.

South Africa Visa Types

The Department of Home Affairs (DHA) distinguishes between the following categories regarding permits:

  • Visitor visas which are granted for short stays up to 90 days/three months, also might allow work when conducting certain activities (see below) in South Africa.
  • Permits for foreigners who apply for temporary residency. These permits are usually granted for up to three years
  • Permanent residency visas are granted to independent individuals who are in the country on a work permit for over five years, who are married with a South African for over five years 

Travellers and visitors to South Africa either need to apply for a South Africa visa in their home country or get a visitor visa which is granted by the officer upon arrival in South Africa. However, this applies only if you are a citizen of a visa-exempt countryThe officer at the Immigration counter at the port of entry will only review your application for a visitor’s visa if you are coming from a visa exempt country. 

The officer at the Immigration counter at the port of entry will only review your application for entry if you are coming from a visa exempt country. Visitors from other countries, which are not exempt from visas, have to apply at an embassy or mission for a South Africa visa as such visas are not granted at the port of entry.

The application process for all who need to apply for a visa outside the country in general takes between 4 days and six weeks according to the DHA. Costs for these visas vary. Additional fees at visa centres might apply.

Visitor Visa Categories

The visitor visa is granted for all temporary stays in South Africa. Visitor visas for visits to family or friends or tourism purposes are usually granted for a maximum period of 90 days to foreign citizens or travellers whose permanent residence is outside South Africa.

Visitor visas are also granted among others:

  • to business travellers or foreign nationals attending conferences
  • to spouses and life partners to join a spouse/lifepartner who is in South Africa on a work or study permit
  • to children to join parents who are in South Africa on work or study permits
  • to fiancées/fiancés to join her or his partner with the intention of marrying within 90 days
  • for study and research purposes and cultural, economic and social exchange programmes (with a stay of maximum of 90 days)
  • for work in the production of a movie or show (i.e. in the entertainment industry)
  • for persons coming to South Africa for medical treatment up to 90 days
  • for persons attending sports events
  • for maritime crews

On entry to South Africa, the visa is granted on the conditions of the stay (or reasons of stay, i.e. travels, study purposes or medical treatment) in which it was applied for. These conditions need to be observed and cannot be changed.

Be aware, that extension of visitor visas will only be effected in exceptional circumstances, such as for medical reasons, or when the visitor leaves the country for a stay in a non-bordering country. Then re-applications for visitor visas for another up to 90days stay might be accepted. Border-hopping to Namibia or Mozambique to gain extension of a visitor visa is not possible anymore since the new regulations came into effect in May 2014.

Working with a Visitor Visa?

Visitor visas allow work for a FOREIGN employer which partially requires the conducting of the following activities in South Africa and are granted at the discretion of the Department of Home Affairs to persons who plan to stay in South Africa for a limited period of time, to live and work in South Africa, such as:

  • spouses and dependants of work permit holders 
  • as entertainment  industry professionals such as film and advertisement producers, including actors, light and sound engineers among others 
  •  as part of a maritime crew
  • as teachers of international schools
  • artists who wish to write, paint and sculpt
  •  lecturers
  • foreign journalists

Documents needed for South African Visitor Visas

Documents needed when traveling to South Africa you need for any visit or South Africa visa

  •   A valid passport or travel document for your intended stay
  •  At least one blank page in your passport for endorsements
  • A valid visa, if required
  • Sufficient funds to pay for your day-to-day expenses during your stay
  • A return or onward ticket
  •  A ‘yellow fever certificate’ if your journey starts or entails passing through the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America.

Lists of documents needed for application for the whole range of visas and permits, can be found here.

South Africa Visa - Exempt Countries

Among the countries which are exempt from South African visas are:

African Union Laissez Passer, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile (only ordinary passport holders), Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany (except in diplomatic staff due to assume duty), Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Malta, Monaco, Namibia (ordinary passport holders), Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama (only ordinary passport holders), Paraguay, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, British Islands Bailiwick of Guernsey and Jersey, Isle of Man and various British Oversees Territories, United States of America (except in diplomatic staff due to assume duty), Uruguay, Venezuela, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Beware that visitors’ permits are issued for different length of visit. Nationals of some countries are allowed a maximal stay of 90 days, whereas others such as Turkey are granted a maximal stay of 30 days. Citizens who are holders of diplomatic, official and service passports might be granted different length of stays as well.

For a more comprehensive listing go to this DHA page

If you need help when you want to renew a permit or want to change your status (for example when applying for a study permit), contact an immigration practitioner for advice.

Retired Person's Visas

Retired person's permits are granted to persons who wish to retire in South Africa. Certain financial requirements have to be met. Applications for Retired Person's Visas have to be handed in - in person- at a Visa and Application Centre in the home country or country of residence of the applicant.

Work Permits, Study Permits and so much more...

There are various other visa and permits available to applicants moving to South Africa. Should you overstay your visa, harsh penalties apply. If you overstay your visa and are illegally in the country, no matter if you applied in time, the border control officers can stamp your passport and 'ban' you from re-entering the country in the near future. You can lodge appeals with the DHA here.

More information on the new Immigration Regulations South Africa

Information Source: Department of Home Affairs

Disclaimer: This summary is for information purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an immigration lawyer to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem regarding your immigration permit.

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