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SOUTH AFRICA - Exercise a high degree of caution
Exercise a high degree of caution in South Africa due to the significant level of serious crime.
Safety and security
Safety and security
Drought in the Western Cape
The Western Cape, including Cape Town, is experiencing a serious drought. The city of Cape Town is most severely affected and has implemented water restrictions of 50 litres per person per day since February 1, 2018. The City has warned residents that more severe restrictions may be necessary. Comply with these restrictions and take all necessary precautions as potable water supplies may be severely limited or may become unavailable on short notice.
South Africa has a very high level of crime. Crime is the primary security threat to travellers.
Violent crimes, including rape and murder, occur frequently and have involved foreigners.
Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular among tourists. Carjackings, robbery and assault also occur.
Armed robberies at shopping malls occur. To minimize the risk of personal assault if confronted by an armed individual:
- immediately comply
- avoid making sudden movements
- avoid resisting or antagonizing the assailants
- avoid eye contact with your assailant
Crime significantly increases after dark in major city centres and townships. After dark, avoid the areas of:
- Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg
- Sunnyside in Pretoria
- the beachfront and Victoria wharf in Durban
In Cape Town, avoid walking from downtown hotels to the waterfront.
Crimes of opportunity
There is a high risk of pickpocketing. You should not carry your wallet in your back pocket.
Do not show signs of affluence, display money or carry valuables such as laptop computers or cameras.
When at restaurants or bars, do not leave your bag under your chair or table or hung over the back of a chair; keep it on your lap.
Ensure that all your bags’ zippers, straps and fasteners are closed and secure, and be aware of people behind and around you.
Criminals are known to target people who appear distracted and are not paying attention to their immediate surroundings.
If you believe that you are being followed, go directly to a police station.
On the road
Be vigilant at vulnerable points such as:
- traffic lights
- stop signs
- yield signs
- highway off-ramps
Smash and grab incidents are frequent. This is when car windows are broken and valuables such as handbags are taken while cars are waiting at junctions.
- Park in well-lit areas
- Do not pick up strangers
- Ensure that vehicle doors are locked and windows are closed at all times
Theft from hotel rooms and guest houses is common. Never leave your windows or doors open or unlocked, even when you are present.
- Check the level of security at guest houses, hotels, lodges, backpacker lodges or any accommodation before making bookings
- Don’t leave luggage and valuables unattended; place them in safekeeping facilities
- Don’t open the door to anyone without taking necessary precautions. If someone claims to be a member of staff, verify with the reception prior to opening the door
Cases of attempted fraud are frequently reported in South Africa. Do not give personal or financial account information to anyone.
Don’t attempt to use ATMs that appear damaged or defective, or are in isolated or poorly lit areas. Don’t accept any offer of assistance with your transaction. If suspicious at any time, cancel your transaction and use another ATM.
- Pay careful attention when your cards are being handled by others
- Use ATMs located in well-lit public areas or inside a bank or business
- Avoid using card readers with an irregular or unusual feature
- Cover the keypad with one hand when entering your PIN
- Check for any unauthorized transactions on your account statements
Spiked food and drink
There have been incidents of food or drink being drugged and tourists robbed when unconscious.
Never leave food or drinks unattended or in the care of strangers. Be wary of accepting snacks, beverages, gum or cigarettes from new acquaintances. These items may contain drugs that could put you at risk of sexual assault and robbery.
Demonstrations occur. Student demonstrations, particularly at the beginning of the school year (January and February) and near the end (from October to December), are common at universities throughout the country.
Even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent at any time. They can also lead to disruptions to traffic and public transportation.
- Avoid areas where demonstrations and large gatherings are taking place
- Follow the instructions of local authorities
- Monitor local media for information on ongoing demonstrations
There is a threat of terrorism. Terrorist attacks could occur at any time. Individuals who may be inspired by terrorist groups may carry out “lone actor” attacks targeting public places, including where foreigners gather.
Targets could include:
- government buildings, including schools
- places of worship
- airports and other transportation hubs and networks
- public areas such as tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, shopping centres, markets, hotels and other sites frequented by foreigners
South African authorities have successfully disrupted planned attacks and made arrests related to terrorism offences. Always be aware of your surroundings when in public places.
Xenophobic attacks, primarily targeting refugees or immigrants from other African nations, related demonstrations, looting and outbreaks of violence occur. This type of unrest could occur in any region of the country and with little warning.
Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, monitor local media and follow the instructions of local authorities at all times.
Road conditions are generally good, but some roads in the more remote areas are less well maintained and potholes may be encountered.
Drive cautiously and adhere to speed limits.
Traffic lights are frequently out of order. Treat all intersections with malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop.
Avoid undertaking overland travel after dark. Insufficient lighting on rural roads makes it difficult to see pedestrians, wild animals and stray livestock. Pedestrians sometimes cross major highways.
There are many road accidents causing death in South Africa. Alcohol and poor driving habits, such as ignoring traffic signs, speeding and indiscriminate overtaking, are often contributing factors, particularly at night. Accidents tend to happen in wet conditions, as roads get very slippery. Observe the recommended following distances.
When renting a vehicle, choose one with a robust central locking system, lockable fuel tank cap and vehicle alarm. Use a reliable company offering 24-hour emergency service and ensure that you have the contact details for the service.
As a pedestrian, take extreme care when crossing streets. Drivers are often aggressive toward pedestrians and fail to yield the right of way even on marked crosswalks.
Travel on foot is inadvisable in most areas. If walking is unavoidable, use only brightly lit, busy streets in popular tourist areas and maintain awareness of your surroundings. Avoid walking after dark.
Avoid using public transportation.
Tourists have been mugged and assaulted in and around bus stations. Avoid the central bus station in Johannesburg.
Train services are slow and several serious accidents in recent years have raised concerns over safety standards.
Violent attacks have occurred on commuter and metro trains between Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as on commuter trains in Cape Town. Don’t travel by train, especially second or third class.
The Gautrain between O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the Blue Train and Rovos Rail, are, however, safe for tourists.
Taxis cannot be hailed in the street. Ask your hotel to arrange a taxi and ensure that you prearrange transport for your return journey.
Sit in the rear of the vehicle and keep windows up and doors locked at all times. Keep valuables out of sight and place bags by your feet. Negotiate the fare with the driver in advance. Avoid using minibuses and unlicensed taxis.
We do not make assessments on the compliance of foreign domestic airlines with international safety standards.
Wildlife viewing poses risks, particularly on foot or at close range. Be aware of the threat of monkeys and baboons overwhelming sightseers in their search for food. They are known to get very aggressive.
- Always maintain a safe distance when observing wildlife
- Only exit a vehicle when a professional guide or warden says it’s safe to do so
- Only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators
- Closely follow park regulations and wardens’ advice
Hiking and visiting popular tourist areas
There have been attacks on hikers and tourists at reserves, hiking trails, including Table Mountain, and other tourist attractions and their parking lots.
- Hike in groups and take all appropriate precautions
- Avoid isolated picnic areas and beaches
- Don’t stop at deserted roadside resting places on national roads
Coastal waters have unpredictable wave and currents patterns, which can be dangerous. Shark attacks have been reported in several areas, including in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
- Follow the advice and warnings of local authorities.
- Be cautious when swimming in lakes and rivers because of the risk posed by wildlife
Townships and rural areas
Avoid townships and informal settlements if you are unfamiliar with them, except when travelling with organized tours provided by a reputable company or in association with an experienced local organization.
General safety information
Interruptions of basic utilities
Rolling blackouts, referred to as load shedding programs, occur. Blackouts could take place on short notice during periods of power shortage.
Interruptions to the supply of water occur occasionally and can be lengthy in some areas, resulting in considerable inconvenience.
- List of planned blackouts - Eskom, South African electricity public utility
- Get Prepared - basic emergency kit
Always carry a cellular phone in the event of an emergency. If using your own phone, ensure that it has international/roaming capability for use while in South Africa. Rental mobile phones are available at all major airports.
Cellular phone reception is generally good in major towns and cities but can be intermittent in rural areas.
Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Government of Canada cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements.
We have obtained the information on this page from South African authorities. It can, however, change at any time.
Verify this information with foreign diplomatic missions and consulates in Canada.
Entry requirements vary depending on the type of passport you use for travel.
Before you travel, check with your transportation company about passport requirements. Its rules on passport validity may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Regular Canadian passport
Your passport must be valid for at least 30 days beyond the date you expect to leave South Africa. Your passport must contain at least 2 empty visa pages for the necessary South African Temporary Residence Permit. Without it, you will be denied entry into the country. You may also be denied boarding at the point of departure if you don’t have enough blank pages for the visa. If you plan to visit neighbouring countries and return to South Africa, ensure that there are sufficient visa pages in your passport for those countries’ visas and those of South Africa.
You may also be denied boarding at the point of departure if you don’t have enough blank pages for the visa. If you plan to visit neighbouring countries and return to South Africa, ensure that there are sufficient visa pages in your passport for those countries’ visas and those of South Africa.
Passport for official travel
Different entry rules may apply.
Other travel documents
Different entry rules may apply when travelling with a temporary passport or an emergency travel document. Before you leave, check with the closest diplomatic mission for your destination.
Canadians do not need a tourist visa to enter South Africa. However, upon arrival, immigration officials will issue a temporary residents visa (TRV) for up to 90 days. Check the expiry date of your TRV to ensure you don’t overstay.
If you overstay without authority, you may be forced to pay a fine upon departure and/or can be refused entry for up to 5 years.
Serious offenders may be arrested before departure and detained until their court appearance. In such cases, visitors may face a very substantial fine and be deported at their own expense.
Tourist visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days
Business visa: Not required for stays up to 90 days
Student permit: Required
Employment permit: Required
More about South African visas - South African Department of Home Affairs
Changing or extending your visa
Some foreigners travelling to South Africa have not gone through the correct channels to obtain, change or extend their relevant visas. This has resulted in arrest and detention due to fraudulently issued visas.
While in South Africa, you must go through regional or district offices of the South African Department of Home Affairs for information on visa requirements and issuance.
If you leave and re-enter South Africa, even for a short time, you will not automatically be given an additional 90-day visitor’s visa. An immigration official can deny you re-entry into South Africa. The immigration officer can also allow you to enter for a limited time only.
If you wish to extend your stay, contact the South African Department of Home Affairs 60 days before your visitor’s visa expires.
Work or study
If you intend to work or study in South Africa, you must apply for the relevant visas prior to your arrival; otherwise, you risk being refused entry and may be returned to your point of origin. You cannot change the type of visa once in South Africa.
Other entry requirements
You must be in possession of a return or an onward ticket. Without one, you may be required to deposit the equivalent of a fare home with customs. The money will be refunded after departure from South Africa.
If you reside in South Africa, you must have valid residence permit in your passport each time you enter and leave the country.
Dual citizens must enter or depart South Africa using their South African passport only. For further information on dual citizenship, contact the High Commission for the Republic of South Africa in Ottawa.
Children and travel
Upon entry or exit, parents travelling with children under the age of 18 must produce the child’s unabridged (long form) birth certificate, in English or translated to English.
All documents must be originals or copies certified as a true copy of the original by a commissioner of oaths.
If only one parent is travelling with the child, he or she must also produce a sworn affidavit (issued no earlier than 3 months prior to travel dates) from the other parent registered on the birth certificate. The affidavit must authorize him or her to enter into or depart from the Republic of South Africa with the child. Other requirements apply to unaccompanied children.
These regulations will be strictly enforced by the South African Department of Home Affairs. Contact the nearest High Commission of South Africa before travelling to verify the latest requirements.
More about entry regulations when travelling with children - South African Department of Home Affairs
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
- There are no updates at this time.
Be sure that your routine vaccines, as per your province or territory, are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Some of these vaccines include: measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, varicella (chickenpox), influenza and others.
Vaccines to Consider
You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health professional about which ones are right for you.
Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread through contaminated food and water or contact with an infected person. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.
Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment, sharing needles, tattooing, acupuncture or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.
Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or by touching objects and surfaces that have been contaminated with the virus. Get the flu shot.
Measles is a highly contagious viral disease and is common in most parts of the world.
Be sure your measles vaccination is up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.
Rabies is a deadly illness spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from an infected animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).
Yellow Fever - Country Entry Requirements
Yellow fever is a disease caused by a flavivirus from the bite of an infected mosquito.
Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.
- There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
- Proof of vaccination is required if you are coming from or have transited through an airport of a country where yellow fever occurs.
- Vaccination is not recommended.
- Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care professional.
- There is currently a shortage of the yellow fever vaccine in Canada. It is important for travellers to contact a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre well in advance of their trip to ensure that the vaccine is available.
About Yellow Fever
Yellow Fever Vaccination Centres in Canada
* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Food and Water-borne Diseases
Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.
In some areas in Southern Africa, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southern Africa. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!
Schistosomiasis can be spread to humans through freshwater sources contaminated by blood flukes (tiny worms). The eggs of the worms can cause stomach illnesses like diarrhea and cramps or urinary problems. Risk is generally low for most travellers. Avoid swimming in freshwater sources (lakes, rivers, ponds). There is no vaccine available for schistosomiasis.
- Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
- Risk of developing travellers' diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor standards of hygiene and sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
- The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.
Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among pediatric travellers, travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives or travelling for a long period of time. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should speak to a health care professional about vaccination.
Insects and Illness
In some areas in Southern Africa, certain insects carry and spread diseases like African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, chikungunya, malaria, Rift Valley fever, and West Nile virus.
Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.
There is currently a risk of chikungunya in this country. Chikungunya is a virus spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. Chikungunya can cause a viral disease that typically causes fever and pain in the joints. In some cases, the joint pain can be severe and last for months or years.
Protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times. There is no vaccine available for chikungunya.
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever
Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a viral disease that typically causes fever, bleeding under the skin, and pain. Risk is generally low for most travellers. It is spread to humans though contact with infected animal blood or bodily fluids, or from a tick bite. Protect yourself from tick bites and avoid animals. There is no vaccine available for Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever.
Zika virus infection
Zika virus infection is a risk in this country. The mosquito that spreads the virus is found here.
All travellers should protect themselves from mosquito bites and other diseases spread by insects.
- There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
- Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no vaccine against malaria.
- Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in enclosed air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider pre-treating clothing and travel gear with insecticides and sleeping under an insecticide-treated bednet.
- Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care professional or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.
Animals and Illness
Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Southern Africa, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).
High risk activities include anything which puts you in contact with blood or body fluids, such as unprotected sex and exposure to unsterilized needles for medications or other substances (for example, steroids and drugs), tattooing, body-piercing or acupuncture.
Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.
For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.
Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care professional.
High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.
Medical services and facilities
Medical facilities and supplies are widely available in large cities but can be expensive. Medical facilities are limited in remote areas.
Public and private health facilities require an up-front cash deposit for services, guarantee of payment or confirmation of medical insurance before commencing treatment.
Air evacuation may be the only option when faced with a medical emergency in remote areas.
Decompression chambers are available in many hospitals.
Make sure you get travel insurance that includes coverage for medical evacuation and hospital stays.
Keep in Mind...
The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.
Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.
Laws and culture
Laws & culture
You must abide by local laws.
Learn about what you should do and how we can help if you are arrested or detained abroad.
Illegal or restricted activities
Penalties for using, importing or exporting drugs are severe and may include lengthy imprisonment.
You may not import or take in-transit any firearm or ammunition without a temporary export and import or in-transit permit issued by the South African Police Service.
Dual citizenship is legally recognized in South Africa.
If you are a Canadian citizen, but also a citizen of South Africa, our ability to offer you consular services may be limited while you're there. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
Traffic drives on the left.
You may use your valid Canadian provincial driver’s licence in South Africa, however, an international driving permit (IDP) is strongly recommended.
It is extremely difficult to obtain car insurance for car rentals or to purchase a car without an IDP. Insurance companies and rental car agencies often require proof of a South African driver’s licence or an IDP to honour an insurance claim, even when such proof was not requested at the time the policy was secured. An IDP must be obtained in Canada before travelling to South Africa, as it cannot be obtained locally.
If your licence is in French, it is advisable to obtain a translation into English and carry it with you.
Foreigners driving a rental car across any border into neighbouring countries must obtain a permit from the Cross-border Road Transport Agency prior to arriving at the border crossing. Failure to do so may lead to arrest and/or a fine.
It is illegal to carry gasoline in portable containers.
More about the International Driving Permit
The currency is the South African rand (ZAR).
Canadian currency can be easily exchanged at major banks and foreign exchange counters. A passport and additional identification is required when undertaking foreign exchange transactions.
Foreigners are permitted to enter South Africa carrying a maximum of ZAR100,000, or US$10,000 or its equivalent in foreign currencies. Customs forms are not required to be completed, but random customs checks are conducted.
Natural disasters and climate
Natural disasters & climate
The climate varies from region to region. Storms and flooding can occur throughout the country and at various times of the year. Flash storms can occur in Gauteng and North West provinces from November to April. There are heavy rains along the south coast from June to September and the Western Cape receives heavy rainfall between May and September. Dirt roads can become hazardous during these periods. After heavy rains, do not attempt to cross low-lying river bridges by car or on foot, as there have been fatalities linked to people being washed down river. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts and plan accordingly.
Veld (bush) fires are common during dry seasons. They are very unpredictable and extremely dangerous. They can spread very quickly and travel at speeds of 60 km/h or more, due to high winds. Stay clear of active fires and always verify local conditions with relevant authorities before going on bush walks, particularly during the dry seasons.
In case of emergency, dial:
- police: 10111 or 10112 from a cellular telephone
- medical assistance: 10177
- firefighters: 10111 or 10112 from a cellular telephone
Pretoria - High Commission of Canada
Johannesburg - High Commission of Canada Trade Office
For emergency consular assistance, call the Canadian High Commission in Pretoria and follow the instructions. At any time, you may also contact the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa.
The decision to travel is your choice and you are responsible for your personal safety abroad. We take the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provide credible and timely information in our Travel Advice to enable you to make well-informed decisions regarding your travel abroad.
The content on this page is provided for information only. While we make every effort to give you correct information, it is provided on an "as is" basis without warranty of any kind, express or implied. The Government of Canada does not assume responsibility and will not be liable for any damages in connection to the information provided.
If you need consular assistance while abroad, we will make every effort to help you. However, there may be constraints that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide services.
Learn more about consular services.
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