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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
South Africa has a very high level of crime. Crime is the primary security threat to travellers.
Violent crimes, including rape and murder, routinely occur and have involved foreigners. Muggings, armed assaults and theft are also frequent, often occurring in areas that are popular among tourists. Carjackings and cases of robbery and assault have been reported as well.
Armed robberies at shopping malls have increased. If confronted by an armed individual, you are advised to immediately comply, avoid making sudden movements, avoid resisting or antagonizing the assailants and avoid eye contact with your assailant.
Crime significantly increases after dark in major city centres and townships. After dark, avoid the areas of Berea, Hillbrow and Yeoville in Johannesburg, Sunnyside in Pretoria, and the beachfront and Victoria wharf in Durban. In Cape Town, avoid walking from downtown hotels to the waterfront.
Outbreaks of violence and looting have taken place in and around Johannesburg and Pretoria, and could reoccur with little warning. Monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities.
Common criminal strategies
Be on the alert for ploys to stop your vehicle. Criminals have been known to create bogus accidents or roadblocks (sometimes putting debris in the road) and to throw rocks, bricks and paint from freeway overpasses onto moving vehicles to damage cars and disorientate drivers. The criminal then waits for the driver to pull over or exit the car before grabbing exposed valuables and/or stealing the vehicle.
Criminals are known to pose as police officers to extort and rob tourists, including by stopping tourist buses or rented cars to check proof of identity and search luggage. Don't pull over on the side of the road. Put on your hazard lights and slowly drive to a gas station, police station or other safe and populated area.
Be especially vigilant at vulnerable points such as traffic lights, stop signs, yield signs and highway off-ramps. Smash and grab incidents are frequent, where 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 and ensure that vehicle doors are locked and windows are closed at all times.
Theft, including 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.
Automated banking machines
Attacks on automated banking machines (ABMs), in which criminals use explosives to gain access to the cash box, have increased throughout the country. Be particularly vigilant and don't let yourself get distracted at ABMs, as assaults on people using them occur. Although attacks usually take place in isolated areas and early in the morning, some have been perpetrated in high-traffic areas. Don't attempt to use ABMs that appear damaged or defective, or that are located in isolated or poorly lit areas. Also, don't accept any offer of assistance with your transaction. If suspicious at any time, cancel your transaction and use another ABM. Whenever possible, don't withdraw money from an ABM at a gas station, since these are often targeted by criminals. Avoid using ABMs at night and, if possible, have someone accompany you to watch the area during your transaction.
There has been an increase in political demonstrations and protests throughout South Africa. Demonstrations are expected to continue and have the potential to turn violent.
Student demonstrations, particularly at the beginning of the school year (January/February) and near the end (October-December), are common at universities throughout the country. In some cases, these demonstrations can spill over into surrounding neighbourhoods and even lead to violent confrontations between students and security forces.
Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, stay away from locations where they may be held, monitor local media and follow the advice of local authorities at all times.
There is a threat of terrorism. Terrorist attacks could occur at any time. Terrorist targets could include government buildings, places of worship, schools, airports and other transportation hubs, as well as public areas such as tourist attractions, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, shopping centres, markets, hotels and other sites frequented by foreigners. Be aware of your surroundings at all times 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 with little warning. Avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, and 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 at all times and adhere to speed limits.
Traffic lights are frequently out of order. Treat all intersections with malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop. At traffic circles (roundabouts) drivers should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored.
Avoid driving in close proximity to armored vehicles transporting cash as they are often the target of attacks on the road.
Avoid undertaking overland travel after dark. Insufficient lighting on rural roads makes it difficult to see pedestrians, wild animals and stray livestock. Pedestrians are known to cross major highways.
There are many road accidents causing death in South Africa. Alcohol and poor driving standards, such as ignoring traffic signs, speeding and indiscriminate overtaking, are often contributing factors, particularly at night. Accidents can happen if you drive in wet conditions, as roads get very slippery. Observe the recommended following distances.
Beware of relying solely on global positioning system (GPS) navigation devices, as they may direct you through unsafe areas. Verify your route prior to departure.
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.
Carry identification and your valid drivers’ licence in English at all times.
Public transport is not recommended. Tourists have been mugged and assaulted in and around bus stations. Avoid the central bus station in Johannesburg. Train travel is not recommended, especially second or third class. Services are slow and several serious accidents in recent years have raised concerns over safety standards. Violent attacks have also taken place on local commuter and metro trains between Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as on commuter trains in Cape Town. However, the Gautrain between O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg and Pretoria, as well as the Blue Train and Rovos Rail, are 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. It is advisable to 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.
Learn more about foreign domestic airlines.
Passport theft and baggage pilferage are prevalent at both international and regional airports. All valuables should be placed in your hand luggage. Where possible, suitcases should be locked and wrapped in secure plastic film. This service is available at most airports for a nominal fee.
Do not accept unsolicited offers of assistance with carrying your luggage or pushing your luggage trolley. Remain vigilant and do not leave any bag unattended, even for a moment. Be on the alert at X-ray machines while having your hand-held baggage scanned; where possible, accompany your luggage through these stations. There has been a string of thefts inside the secure area of the international terminal at the O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg (after the security checkpoint and past immigration).
Arrange to be met at the airport upon arrival and dropped off for departure by reliable contacts. Clearly identify who is picking you up before getting into their vehicle. Criminals have been known to replicate passengers’ names on signs in the arrivals area in order to rob them. Confirm the identity of the person meeting you. There have been incidents of passengers being followed from airports to their accommodation and robbed. Should you be concerned that you are being followed, proceed to the first available gas station or police station for assistance.
Reserves and safaris
There are inherent risks associated with viewing wildlife, both marine and on land, particularly on foot or at close range. You should always maintain a safe distance when observing wildlife and avoid exiting vehicles unless it is deemed safe to do so by professional guides and wardens. Use only reputable and professional guides or tour operators, and closely follow park regulations and wardens’ advice.
There have been attacks on hikers and tourists at reserves and hiking trails, including Table Mountain. Some attacks have been violent. Authorities are attempting to address the problem, and recommend that visitors walk in groups and take all appropriate precautions.
Avoid isolated picnic areas and beaches. Do not stop at deserted roadside resting places on national roads, and be aware that travellers have been attacked and robbed in parking areas at tourist attractions. Be aware of the threat of monkeys and baboons overwhelming sightseers in their search for food. They are known to get very aggressive.
Coastal waters have unpredictable wave and currents patterns, which can be dangerous. Follow the advice and warnings of local authorities. Shark attacks have been reported in several areas, including in KwaZulu-Natal and Western Cape.
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.
Cases of attempted fraud are frequently reported in South Africa. Do not give personal or financial account information to anyone. There are international fraud rings operating in South Africa that target visitors, foreign businesspeople and charities.
Flagrant soliciting of bribes occurs, especially by police officers who may stop drivers for no apparent reason.
Secure all automated banking machine (ABM) and credit card payment slips and keep your credit card in sight at all times when using it. Mobile phones and card skimmers have been used to copy credit card details. Request a mobile card machine at restaurants and make sure your card is visible at all times during the transaction.
If you wish to report an attempted fraud, call the South African Police Service at 08600 10111. See Overseas Fraud for more information.
Drought in Cape Town
The city of Cape Town in the Western Cape region is experiencing a severe drought. The city has implemented its highest level of water restrictions in order to reduce demand and conserve water. Comply with these restrictions.
General safety information
A load shedding program (rolling blackouts) is currently in effect in parts of South Africa, leaving different areas without electrical power for a predetermined period of time. Consult Eskom’s website to view its load shedding schedule. Blackouts could take place on short notice in the case of power shortages. Consider preparing a basic emergency kit.
Interruptions to the supply of water occur from time to time and can be lengthy in some areas, resulting in considerable inconvenience.
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. There is a high risk of pickpocketing. Men should not put their wallets in their back pocket. Ensure that all zippers, straps and fasteners are closed and secure, and be aware of people behind and around you.
Do not leave your food or drink unattended. There have been incidents of food or drink being drugged and tourists robbed when unconscious.
Criminals are known to target people who appear preoccupied and are not paying attention to their immediate surroundings.
If you believe that you are being followed, go directly to a police station.
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 at all times. Avoid walking after dark.
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.
Official (special and diplomatic) passport holders must consult the Official Travel page, as they may be subject to different entry requirements.
To visit South Africa, Canadians must present a passport, which must be valid for at least 30 days beyond the date of expected departure from that country. Before you leave, ask your transportation company about its requirements related to passport validity, which may be more stringent than the country’s entry rules.
Your passport must contain at least two empty visa pages for the necessary South African Temporary Residence Permit, or 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 or you will be denied re-entry into South Africa.
You must also 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.
Temporary passport holders may be subject to different entry requirements. Check with diplomatic representatives for up-to-date information.
New immigration regulations came into effect in May 2014. Check the latest requirements with the Department of Home Affairs before travelling to South Africa.
Canadians do not require a tourist visa to enter South Africa. 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.
Some foreigners travelling to South Africa have not been going through the correct channels to obtain, change or extend their relevant visas, resulting 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.
Previously, Canadian travellers could leave South Africa for a neighbouring country and re-enter and obtain up to a further 90-day visitor’s visa at the port of entry. This practice no longer applies: persons leaving and re-entering South Africa after a few days up to a month will not automatically be given an additional 90-day visitor’s visa. Re-entry into South Africa can be denied or a very limited stay allowed by immigration officials. Contact the South African Department of Home Affairs 60 days before your visitor’s visa expires if you wish to extend your stay.
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.
Canadians who have overstayed without authority may be required to pay a fine upon departure and/or can be refused entry for up to five 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
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
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 authorizing 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. Additional information is available on their Web site. Contact the nearest High Commission of South Africa before travelling and to verify the latest requirements.
Learn more about travel with children.
Learn about potential entry requirements related to yellow fever (vaccines section).
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 provider 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 provider.
- 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 for children, 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 provider 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.
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 provider 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 provider.
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.
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.
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.
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. Note that insurance companies and rental car agencies often require proof of a South African driver’s licence or an IDP in order 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.
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 in South Africa. You may also be subject to different entry/exit requirements.
Learn more about travelling as a dual citizen.
The currency is the South African rand (ZAR). Canadian currency and traveller’s cheques 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 region 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. Veld fires 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 / 112 from a cellular telephone
- medical assistance: 10177
- firefighters: 10111 / 112 from a cellular telephone
Pretoria - High Commission of Canada
Johannesburg - High Commission of Canada Trade Office
For emergency assistance after hours, call the Canadian High Commission to South Africa, in Pretoria. Listen to the full message and follow the instructions. You may also make a collect call to the Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa at +1 613 996 8885. To place a collect call to Canada from South Africa, dial 0800 990014 and follow the instructions.
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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