Citizens from 52 countries do not need a visa to enter South Africa for purposes of tourism or business that are less than 90 days. That makes it easy to visit to photograph the country’s wildlife, eat biltong and bunny chow, see where two oceans meet, and commemorate Nelson Mandela at the 27 Madiba’s Journey sites, one for every year he was imprisoned for fighting apartheid. 

What you need to know about visas for South Africa

Visitors with passports from countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and many European countries are exempt from needing a visa for South Africa if they meet specific conditions. But keep in mind that requirements can change quickly. South Africa is in the midst of updating its visa system and moving to an electronic visa application process. It’s wise to double check the Republic of South Africa’s website, the South African embassy or consulate site in your country (such as South Africa’s US embassy) as well as the international travel advisory site from your government (like the US State Department) before you purchase your flight as well as shortly before you depart. 

Don’t forget that regardless of whether you hold a valid visa or are exempt from needing one, it is the decision of the immigration officer at your port of entry whether you’re allowed to enter the country, how long you’re eligible to stay, and what conditions you must follow. 

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.
Men observing and photographing colony of penguins at Cape Peninsula.
The opportunity to take photos of South African wildlife awaits © Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Countries exempt from needing a South African visa

If you’re traveling with a passport from the US, UK or Canada, you do not need a visa to visit South Africa as long as your trip is for tourism or business and isn’t more than 90 days. You’ll need to have a ticket showing your return travel exiting South Africa, meet a few passport requirements and, depending on where you’re traveling from, provide other documentation. 

If you want to be employed while visiting, you will need to apply for a work visa. The government of South Africa's Western Cape province is lobbying for a one-year remote working visa – ideal for digital nomads wanting an extended stay. So far, there is no news on whether this working holiday visa will be created for the entire country. 

Passport requirements for all visitors to South Africa

South Africa’s immigration regulations state that your passport needs to be valid at least 30 days beyond your planned date of departure from the country. However, both airline and immigration officials are known to insist on that validity period being six months. To ensure that you’re not refused boarding on your flight or sent back home as soon as you arrive in South Africa, play it safe and make sure your passport’s expiration date is at least six months after the date you plan to leave South Africa. 

You’ll also need to double check that you have enough empty passport pages. Each entry into South Africa requires you to have two empty pages and they need to be consecutive. These empty pages need to be the ones marked with “visa” (rather than “endorsements,” “amendments” or “observations.”)

Couple sightseeing on hired bicycles in Cape Town
To enjoy the sights in South Africa, make sure your passport is valid at least 30 days beyond your planned departure date from the country © Alistair Berg / Getty Images

Other required documents

Even if you’re exempt from needing a visa, you’ll need to have proof of onward travel showing you won’t be in South Africa more than 90 days. There are also health requirements, both the latest for COVID-19 and for other diseases. South Africa requires proof of yellow fever vaccination, for example, if you’ve been in one of the countries designated by the World Health Organization to be at risk for yellow fever during the 10 days before arriving in South Africa. That includes several African countries such as Kenya, but also countries like Argentina and Panama.

The visa process for South Africa

For those who need a visa, a few countries are eligible to apply for South Africa’s new e-visa. (More countries are expected to be added in 2022.) Other passport holders will need to apply for visas at the South African embassy or consulate in their home country. You’ll likely need to go in person and bring South Africa’s visa application form (completed in black ink), two passport-size photos plus additional documentation. The fee depends on your passport, the type of visa you’re requesting and how long you plan to stay. 

South Africa has several types of visas, including for visiting family, studying, attending conferences, other kinds of work, medical treatment, a three-day transit visa, visas for those who want to retire in South Africa, and those for people under the age of 25 participating in an exchange program. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs’ visa website and their VFS.Global site have details for all passport holders.

Visas to South Africa can be extended. Applications and fees can be brought to one of the dozen visa facilitation centers in the country. Fines are enforced for staying beyond your allowable date, including if you’re exempt from needing a visa.

You might also like:
The top 8 hikes in South Africa for stunning views
The 11 most incredible national parks in South Africa
The top 14 beaches in South Africa

Buy Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2022

Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2022 ranks the world’s must-visit countries, cities and regions to provide a year's worth of travel inspiration.

Buy Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2022

Explore related stories