COVID-19: Special South Africa visa extension
A series of extraordinary visa extensions have been granted throughout 2020 to allow foreign nationals stuck in South Africa and unable to return home due to the pandemic to remain legally in the country.
On the 11th of January, 2021, the South African government has announced that a new extension will permit holders of expired visas to stay in South Africa until March 31st, 2021.
The extension applies to all visas that have expired since March 2020. It affects expired visa holders who have travelled before March 2020 as well as those who have reached South Africa during the pandemic.
The extension allows stranded foreigners to overstay their visa without breaking the law and without being flagged as ‘undesirable’ visitors, which could see future chances of obtaining permission to enter the country jeopardised.
The special measure, however, does not change the terms and conditions of the visa: those without a work permit, for example, cannot undertake paid work while in South Africa.
Visit the article on South Africa travel restrictions for more information.
Visa regulations for South Africa (including the option of extending a South African visa) depend on the traveller’s specific circumstances and the visa conditions applying to them. It is not possible for foreign citizens to enter or remain in South Africa without a visa unless one holds a passport issued by a visa-exempt country and respects the visa exemption conditions.
Depending on the type of visa, then, it may or may not be possible to extend the permit and remain in South Africa longer on the same visa. Foreign visitors are, therefore, advised to check the specific visa requirements and conditions applying to their case and plan their trip well in advance.
This way, they will be able to obtain a visa that accommodates their needs and will not have to apply for a South African visa extension.
However, last-minute changes may occur. This page is intended to help travellers find useful information regarding the visa extension options available to them and the process to renew a South African visa.
Can I extend my visa in South Africa?
For some visas, it is possible to renew the permit and extend one’s stay in South Africa.
Tourist paper visas are often issued to eligible tourists and foreigners visiting friends and family for up to 90 days. The applicant does not only have to hold a valid eligible passport but also meet all relevant visa requirements.
It is possible to extend visitor visas issued to tourists. However, please note that it is not guaranteed that the extension will be approved. A South African visa extension is an application (just like the original visa request) and not an automatic renewal.
The request for an extension may be approved or rejected by the South African authorities. Should the application be rejected, the visa holder will have to leave the country before their permit expires. Foreign visitors are advised to plan their travel plans accordingly.
An alternative option is to apply for an entirely new visa. Applicants must make sure that the visa they decide to apply for can be requested from within South Africa.
Other visas may also be extended depending on the specific type of visa and the foreigner’s circumstances.
Some visas cannot be extended by law. That is the case, for example, of intra-company transfer work visas and exchange visas for young individuals taking part in cultural, economic, or social exchange programs.
Where to extend visas in South Africa
Foreign nationals who wish to extend their visa while in South Africa should visit the nearest office of the South African Department of Home Affairs in order to file an application. The request must be submitted in-person.
Alternatively, visitors can decide to use the services of a registered immigration practitioner. These agencies normally charge a fee for their help.
Extensions cannot be applied for outside of South Africa. If the visa expires before the visitor has the chance to return to South Africa, they will need to submit a visa application for a new visa from abroad.
South Africa visa extension: how long can I stay in the country for?
The amount of extra time that a foreigner will be allowed to spend in the country as a result of the visa extension may vary depending on several factors:
- The type of visa that is being extended
- The immigration authorities
Visa holders should not assume that the extension will match the original length of stay allowed by the visa. This means that, if the original visa was issued for 90 days, there is no guarantee that the extension will allow 90 further days in South Africa.
Online South African visa extension
The South African government is currently testing a new electronic visa system (South Africa eVisa) to make it easier for international travellers to obtain a visa for the country. The new application process will be entirely online and take only minutes to complete.
The eVisa is also expected to streamline document checks at the South African border, noticeably reducing lines and waiting times upon arrival.
Currently, the eVisa program is being piloted for citizens of India and Kenya but it is likely to be extended to other nationalities as early as 2021.
Once fully launched, the eVisa may or may not be renewable. This will become clear once the pilot phase is completed.
Since the whole application and review process is electronic and carried out online, it is likely that, in case the eVisa will be renewable, it will be possible to apply for a South Africa eVisa extension online.
What happens if you overstay your visa in South Africa?
Overstaying a visa is never a good idea. Staying longer than the visa allows means breaking the South African law.
Overstayers may face serious consequences such as fines. Moreover, by breaking the conditions of their visa they may jeopardize their chances of obtaining a new South African visa in the future.
Foreign visitors who see the expiration date of their visa approach and need or wish to remain longer in the country are strongly advised to get in touch with the Department of Home Affairs or the Immigration services in South Africa. Should one’s visa have already expired, it is also highly recommended to communicate with the South African authorities to avoid fines and other penalties.