What to Pack for South Africa

what pack south africa

Although many travelers may only think of bright sunshine and extensive beaches when planning what to pack for South Africa, there are a number of essential items you may need for the country depending on the time of year you visit and the purpose of your stay.

For example, what to pack for a study abroad trip in South Africa will differ from a packing list for a safari, or for a cosmopolitan city break in Cape Town or Johannesburg.

As the best time to visit South Africa is subjective and depends on what the traveler wants to get out of their trip, international visitors travel to South Africa year-round, and so the recommended clothing to pack for their stay will also vary accordingly.

Read on for a range of tips about packing for South Africa depending on the season you plan to travel, as well as the prohibited items you should avoid bringing to the country.

What to Wear in South Africa

Those who visit South Africa in the summer (from November to March) are advised to pack lightweight and comfortable clothes that will help to keep them cool. In addition to the obligatory beachwear travelers will need if planning to swim and sunbathe, it is advisable to bring a selection of casual t-shirts and shorts, or light dresses and trousers.

Summer nights in South Africa can be much cooler than daytime temperatures, which can often reach up to 40° C (104° F) in some parts of the country. Therefore, visitors are advised to bring at least one or two jackets or light sweaters for the evenings.

Travelers to Johannesburg during the summer are also advised to pack a light raincoat and umbrella to combat the thunderstorms that can occur in the city.

These last two items are also essential for a South Africa winter packing list, especially for the coastal cities, which experience more intense rainfall in the winter than the drier inland regions.

Other recommended clothing for a winter stay in South Africa includes warm sweaters and socks, long-sleeved shirts, and a comfortable jacket.

Recommended formal wear for upmarket dining in the country includes tailored separates or a cocktail dress for women, and jeans or trousers, a blazer and a dress shirt (with optional tie) for men. Most upmarket nightclubs in South Africa have a strict policy against wearing sneakers or flip flops.

Female travelers who want to blend in with the fashion trends in cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg are advised to pack black skinny jeans for spring and autumn, and denim shorts and light floral dresses for the summer.

Packing List for a South Africa Safari

The packing list for the main cities in South Africa will be slightly different for a packing list for a South African safari or a trip to one of the country’s many national parks.

Those who plan to experience South Africa’s wildlife on a safari are advised to pack the following essentials:

  • Light clothing – Aim for loose clothing in neutral colors, including a light jacket.
  • Appropriate footwear – While flip flops and sandals are fine for a beach holiday, those going on a safari are advised to bring sturdy walking shoes to cover any trekking that may be involved.
  • Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat – As the South African sun can be quite hot and insense, these items are essential to avoid squinting your way through a safari
  • Lip balm –  Essential for avoiding chaffed lips in the dry South African climate.
  • Sunscreen – Travelers, especially those with very fair skin, are advised to bring sunscreen with minimum SPF of 30 with them to avoid sunburn in South Africa. A further preventative measure is to avoid going out in the hottest parts of the day, between 12 and 3 pm. A wide range of sunscreens can also be bought from most  South African pharmacies and supermarkets. 
  • Insect repellent – Essential for keeping mosquitos at bay, especially during the summer months when the risk of malaria infection in some parts of South Africa increases. Travelers should also check their government travel advisory for South Africa to see whether a prescription anti-malaria for medication is recommended for their trip.

Additionally, all travelers to South Africa should pack a converter or travel adapter, if necessary,  to ensure they are able to use their electronic devices while in the country.

While some hotels in South Africa do offer international power sockets to guests, it advisable to bring an adapter just in case this option is unavailable.

What Can You Not Take into South Africa?

The entry and customs regulations for South Africa state that several items are prohibited from being brought into South Africa, and so travelers to the country should be careful not to pack any of the forbidden items when preparing for their trip.

The prohibited items for South Africa include:

  • Counterfeit goods – Any items which contain unlawful copies of trademarks or trade descriptions
  • Copyright breaches – Unlawful reproductions of any copyrighted work
  • Drugs – Narcotics such as cannabis, cocaine, heroin or other banned substances
  • Prison-made goods –  Any item produced or manufactured in a prison
  • Toxic substances – Including prohibited, harmful substances such as poisons
  • Weapons -All illegal and unlicensed firearms and explosives, including fireworks

When preparing a packing list for the country, it is also important to make sure you bring along any documents needed to enter South Africa.

While a number of foreign citizens are able to enter the country visa-free for short stays, the majority of travelers are required to obtain a visa for South Africa from an embassy or consulate in advance.

However, this will change when the South African eVisa is introduced later this year. Once the electronic system is implemented, citizens of a number of countries will be able to get a tourist visa through a simple online application, without having to visit a diplomatic office in person.