Driving is a convenient way to see all of South Africa’s main attractions and appreciate the nation’s stunning landscapes and scenery.
Tourists wishing to get behind the wheel should ensure they have a valid license to drive in South Africa and familiarize themselves with the local motoring regulations.
This article provides essential information for driving in South Africa safely and legally, as well as offering advice for renting vehicles and self-drive tours.
Can You Drive in South Africa with a Foreign License?
To drive in South Africa, foreigners must have a full license from their country of residence. Licenses printed in English are valid, an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) must be obtained if the license is in any other language.
The license should be signed by the permit holder and have a photograph.
Motorists should carry their driving license with them at all times when on the road. Travelers are also recommended to make a copy of the permit as a backup.
When it comes to hiring a car, rental companies have different policies regarding how long the license must be valid. Customers should check with the hire car company in advance.
Road Safety in South Africa
South Africa is a safe country for motorists, provided they take into consideration some essential road security tips and drive responsibly.
Dealing with wildlife on the roads in South Africa
One of the main reasons why tourists visit South Africa is to see animals such as elephants and rhinos in their natural habitats. Motorists need to be prepared for encounters with wildlife on the roads.
While seeing the animals is a fantastic experience, it is best to do so with a tour guide as the creatures can become aggressive if they feel threatened.
For this reason, visitors should avoid driving at dawn or dusk, which are the main feeding times for many animals the and times of day encounters are most likely.
Drivers who do come across animals in their path should turn off their engines, make as little noise as possible and wait for the animals to pass.
Avoiding roadside crime in South Africa
Driver’s and passengers should follow the tips below to stay safe in South Africa and avoid scams as they are navigating the highways:
- Keep the doors and windows locked at all times
- Store valuable items out of sight when driving and parked
- Don’t pick up hitchhikers
- Stay in the car is you are bumped from behind in suspicious circumstances
- Park in well-lit areas and always lock the vehicle
South Africa Road Rules and Regulations
Motoring laws differ from country to country. Travelers heading to South Africa need to be aware of some regulations which may be different from rules back home.
Some of the most important rules to consider are:
- They drive on the left-hand side of the road in South Africa
- Everyone in the vehicle must wear a seat belt
- Using a mobile phone when driving a vehicle is banned
- A valid driving license must always be carried
- The legal blood-alcohol limit for driving is under 0.05g per 100 ml
Speeding is taken seriously in South Africa. There are speed cameras in most towns and cities as well as on the outskirts of urban areas. Speed limits in the city are 60 kph (37 mph), and on the highways 120 kph (74 mph), road signs alert drivers if the limit in a particular area is different from this.
Hiring a Vehicle in South Africa
Several car hire companies are based at O.R. Tambor International airport.
Many tourists choose to pick up a car at the airport and drive directly to their destination.
There are also numerous car and motorbike rental shops in South Africa’s major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg. Vehicles can usually be booked online in advance.
Car rental companies will ask to see a valid driving license. A photo ID will also be required.
South African self-drive tour packages
Self-drive tours are popular amongst tourists in South Africa. An itinerary and some amenities and accommodation may be provided, but it’s the responsibility of the individual to get from one place to another.
Top attractions such a Kruger National Park usually feature on self-drive tour itineraries.
Tour operators arrange the rental vehicle for the travelers as well as providing directions and recommendations for must-visit places.
Driving across the South African border
Foreigners driving from a neighboring country to South Africa must have their valid passport and South Africa visa ready for inspection.
Motorists must seek permission from the car hire company to drive across a South Africa land border crossing to another nation. If permission is granted the driver is issued with a permit which they will need to show to officials.
Road Conditions in South Africa
Generally, road conditions in South Africa are good. Highways between major towns and cities are paved; bad sections of road may be signposted with the word slaggate, which means pothole in Afrikaans.
Gravel or dirt paths are common in rural areas, extra care should be taken when navigating these surfaces and in self-drive National Parks.
Many of the highways are toll roads, although some accept card payment it is a good idea to have a few South African Rand available to pay the fees. Toll roads can usually be avoided by taking a longer alternative route.