10 Things To Know Before Travelling To South Africa

Before you pack your luggage and book your ticket to South Africa, there are a few things you should be aware of in order to make your vacation more pleasurable and trouble-free
Giraffe in the bush of Kruger national
Giraffe in the bush of Kruger national Shutterstock

South Africa has seen a significant increase in tourism from India in 2023, with a year-on-year growth of 65 per cent, surpassing the target set by South African Tourism, according to a report by PTI. Patricia de Lille, South Africa's minister of tourism, attributed the increase to relaxed travel norms and direct flights between the two countries. She expressed optimism that the tourism sector would continue to see resilience and sustainability in the coming months.

South Africa is a beautiful and diverse country that offers a lot of attractions and experiences for travellers. However, before you pack your bags and book your flight, there are some things you should know to make your trip more enjoyable and hassle-free. Here are 10 things to know before travelling to South Africa.

Carry Relevant Paperwork If You’re Traveling With Kids

Family standing near a large plane
Family standing near a large planeShutterstock

If you’re travelling with children under the age of 18, you’ll need to have some extra documents with you when entering or leaving South Africa. This is because the country has strict regulations to prevent child trafficking and abduction. You’ll need to have an unabridged birth certificate for each child, which shows the names of both parents. If only one parent is travelling with the child, you’ll also need a signed affidavit from the other parent giving consent for the child to travel. If the child is travelling with someone who is not their parent, such as a relative or a friend, you’ll need a copy of the parents’ passports and contact details, as well as a letter of authorisation from them. 

South Africa Is A Huge Country

South Africa is a vast country, about twice the size of France, which means it's impossible to explore all of it in just a week. To make the most of your trip, you should plan your itinerary by selecting the cities, towns, and regions you want to visit. While popular destinations like Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban are often at the top of the list, there are many more hidden gems to discover beyond the main tourist spots.

Buy A South African SIM Card

One of the best ways to stay connected and save money on your phone bill is to buy a local SIM card when you arrive in South Africa. You can get one at the airport or at any mobile phone shop for a few rands. You’ll need to register your SIM card with your passport and proof of address, such as a hotel booking confirmation. You can then top up your airtime and data as you go. Mobile internet and SIM cards are quite cheap in South Africa, and you can use them to make calls, send messages, and access online services. You can also find public Wi-Fi hotspots in many places, such as cafes, restaurants, malls, and hotels. However, be careful when using public Wi-Fi, as it may not be secure or reliable.

Carry Enough Cash, But Don't Get Mugged

woman taking money from customer
woman taking money from customerShutterstock

While credit and debit cards are widely accepted in South Africa, especially in urban areas and tourist spots, there are still some places that only take cash. These include small shops, markets, street vendor and taxis. It’s a good idea to have some cash on hand for these situations, but not too much, as it may attract unwanted attention or theft. You can withdraw cash from ATMs using your card, but be aware of the fees and exchange rates that may apply. You can also exchange your foreign currency at banks or bureaux de change, but avoid doing so at the airport or hotels, as they may charge higher rates.

Rent A Car If You Really Want To See SA

Car trip in south Africa
Car trip in south AfricaShutterstock

South Africa is a huge country with diverse landscapes and attractions. To truly experience its beauty and diversity, you need to rent a car and hit the road. Driving in South Africa is relatively easy and safe, as long as you follow the rules and use common sense. The roads are generally well-maintained and signposted, and most people drive on the left side of the road. You’ll need a valid driver’s license from your home country or an international driving permit to rent a car in South Africa. You’ll also need to have insurance and pay toll fees on some highways. Renting a car gives you the freedom and flexibility to explore South Africa at your own pace and discover hidden gems along the way.

Listen To The Locals

One of the best ways to learn about South Africa and its culture is to talk to the locals. South Africans are friendly, hospitable, and proud of their country. They love to share their stories, opinions, and advice with visitors. However, be prepared for some exaggeration and embellishment when they talk about their experiences or give directions. For example, they may say that something is “just around the corner” when it’s actually several kilometers away, or that something is “very dangerous” when it’s actually quite safe. Don’t take everything they say literally, but rather appreciate their enthusiasm and humour.

Be More Cautious When Driving In Cities

People getting out of a taxi in Johannesburg
People getting out of a taxi in JohannesburgShutterstock

While driving in rural areas and national parks is usually safe and enjoyable, driving in cities can be more challenging and risky. Cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, and Pretoria are busy and congested with traffic, especially during peak hours. You’ll need to be more alert and cautious when driving in cities, as you may encounter aggressive drivers, pedestrians crossing the road randomly, bicycles and motorcycles weaving through traffic, and minibus taxis stopping abruptly or changing lanes without warning.

You’ll also need to be aware of the potential for crime and theft when driving in cities. Don’t leave any valuables in your car, especially in plain sight. Park your car in a secure and well-lit area, preferably with a guard or a parking attendant. Don’t pick up hitchhikers or strangers, and don’t stop for anyone who tries to flag you down on the road. If you feel unsafe or unsure, drive to the nearest police station or petrol station and ask for help.

Respect Wildlife And The Environment

Lioness and cub in the Kruger National Park, South Africa
Lioness and cub in the Kruger National Park, South AfricaShutterstock

One of the main reasons to visit South Africa is to see its amazing wildlife and natural wonders. The country is home to the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo), as well as many other animals, birds, plants, and marine life. You can see them in their natural habitats in national parks, game reserves, sanctuaries, and conservation areas. However, you need to be respectful of the wildlife and the environment when you visit these places.

Don’t feed, touch, or disturb the animals, as they may react unpredictably or aggressively. Keep a safe distance from them, and follow the instructions of your guide or ranger. Don’t litter or damage the environment, as it may harm the wildlife and the ecosystem. Don’t buy or trade any products made from endangered or protected species, such as ivory, rhino horn, or turtle shell.

Be Aware Of The Health Risks And Take Precautions

South Africa is generally a healthy and safe destination, but there are some health risks and challenges that you should be aware of and take precautions against. Some of the common health issues that travellers may face in South Africa like malaria, which is prevalent in some parts of South Africa, especially in the lowveld areas of Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Learn Some Local Lingo

South Africa has 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele, Sotho, Northern Sotho, Swati, Tswana, Venda, and Tsonga. However, most people speak English as a second or third language, so you won’t have much trouble communicating with them. However, it can be fun and useful to learn some local lingo and slang to impress them and understand them better.

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