Travel Restrictions for South Africa: Coronavirus and Limitations

coronavirus south africa travel restrictions

South Africa welcomes millions of international visitors every year and encourages new arrivals.

That is why the government is currently testing a new electronic visa to help foreigners obtain a permit to travel to South Africa online in minutes, making holiday planning fast and hassle-free.

Of course, the South African authorities have certain travel restrictions and limitations in place to ensure the safety of South African citizens and everyone in the country. Moreover, temporary urgent measures can also be taken if the situation requires it. That is why both locals and foreigners alike should always check for official announcements from the government.

Travelers will find useful information on this page regarding South African travel restrictions — both permanent and temporary. That includes the extraordinary measures taken to fight the coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus and South Africa: Restrictions Now Being Eased

The spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak across the globe led the World Health Organization to define COVID-19 as a pandemic. For this reasons, governments worldwide have been taking steps to minimize the risk of further contagion.

A nationwide lockdown began on March 26th, 2020, during this time non-essential services were not able to open, schools were closed and public gatherings banned. Residents could only leave their homes during the lockdown to access health services, shop for essential goods, and attend small funerals of no more than 50 people.

All of South Africa’s borders were closed during the lockdown and international and national flights prohibited. The easing of lockdown restrictions began on May 1st as the government implemented a phased de-escalation plan.

On June 1st the nation moved into phase 3 of a 5-phase process which means that some business and public spaces are reopening.

Re-opening of South African borders

Starting from October 1st, 2020, international borders are also being gradually re-opened.

The closure is being first lifted for travelers from the African continent to facilitate the movement of people, goods, and services from South Africa and across the rest of the continent. The doors to international travel will also open for business and some leisure trips.

However, this does not mean that anti-COVID measures are no longer in place. The Minister for International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor stated:

“Travelers from all African countries are allowed and must possess relevant travel documents, and will also be screened for COVID-19 symptoms. To allow ease of travel from the African countries, 18 borders will be opened. Thirty-five border posts will continue to offer restricted services due to insufficient capacity for screening, testing, and quarantine.”

Commuters are now authorized to cross the border daily for work purposes but will be screened for coronavirus symptoms and quarantined when necessary.

Cargo ships can dock and off-load goods, and crew changes are allowed. However, cruise and luxury travel ships are not permitted to dock and off-load passengers.

Visa-free travel to South Africa allowed for certain countries

In normal circumstances, several countries around the world have bilateral agreements in place with South Africa that allow their citizens to enter South Africa without a visa. However, visa-free travel was temporarily suspended during the lockdown.

On October 4, 2020, Home Affairs Minister Dr. Aaron Motsoaledi announced the reinstatement of visa-free travel for 11 countries:

“In line with the commitment of the Government to take urgent steps to address the economic and tourism stagnation brought about by the outbreak of Covid-19, the visa-free status of citizens from a number of countries and territories has been reinstated.”

Here is a list of nations whose citizens are allowed to enter South Africa visa-free:

  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Italy
  • Germany
  • Hong Kong
  • Singapore
  • The United States
  • UK
  • France
  • Portugal
  • Iran

As explained by Minister Naledi Pandor: “Travellers intending to visit the country will be expected to produce a PCR [polymerase chain reaction] test that is not older than 72 hours from the time of departure from the country of origin to South Africa. This test must be conducted by a certified medical practitioner and should have the name and signature of the practitioner who conducted such test.”

Staying in South Africa during Coronavirus

Foreigners in South Africa during the COVID-19 outbreak should follow the advice of medical experts:

  • Wash their hands frequently with warm water and soap
  • Use hand sanitizer when water and soap are not available
  • Wear a face mask on public transport
  • Avoid contact with infected people
  • Cover their face with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing

Since restrictions on international travel were introduced, foreigners in South Africa who overstay their visitor visas will not be penalized when they depart.

Other Travel Restrictions for South Africa

Of course, other permanent travel restrictions apply. Normally, all foreigners that complete visa applications for South Africa accurately and submit all relevant documents are granted their permit swiftly.

All those entering South Africa must have an eligible passport with at least 30-day validity after their intended date of departure. Should the passport expire before then, travelers may be prevented from entering the country.

Other requirements that must be met by foreign nationals include:

  • Health. Some passengers are obliged to provide documentation such as a yellow fever vaccination certificate
  • Travel plans. Foreign citizens may be required to provide proof of their intention to leave South Africa after their trip (typically, this may be a return or onward ticket).
  • Sufficient funds. Travelers’s financial means must be sufficient to support them for the entirety of their time in South Africa. Some may be asked to provide proof in the form of a bank statement, credit card, or cash.
  • Good character. Those with criminal convictions or a history of deportation from other countries may be prevented from entering.

Not meeting the above requirements and not showing the relevant documentation if asked may result in being denied entry.