Between the long flight times and the requisite visas, reaching South Africa can be a tricky proposition for intercontinental travellers, but it’s about to get a bit easier – for some people, at least. 

Traveller looking down on Cape Town.
Last year, Cape Town International Airport welcomed 5.3 million passengers for a 3% increase on 2017's numbers, with international flight arrivals growing by 13%, according to Cape Town Tourism's annual report. © Petri Oeschger/Getty Images

According to a briefing from the country’s Department of Home Affairs, testing has officially begun on its fledgling e-Visa system. The new electronic application system is now in a pilot phase that’s scheduled to run until March 2020, and it’s currently being trialled with visitors from Kenya, with China, India, and Nigeria to be added early next year. 

A Stellenbosch vineyard at the base of a mountain in the late afternoon sun.
South Africa's Department of Home Affairs is testing a pilot e-Visa program, with a wider rollout expected to follow later in 2020 © jamespenry/Getty Images

Per a government statement released over the summer, 75 countries on the African continent and abroad have been granted visa-free status, including the US, Canada, Cuba, and Qatar, but citizens of China, India, and Nigeria – three of the most populous countries in the world – still complete the visa process via mail, from the paper applications to the printed visa stickers. 

Two giraffes standing next to a tree near the city of Pietmaritzburg.
Visitors from 75 countries don't have to present a visa upon entry © Georg Schneider/EyeEm/Getty Images

And that documentation must be obtained ahead of time too. “These are not issued at South African ports of entry, and airline officials are obliged to insist on visas before allowing passengers to board,” the country’s official tourism site reads. “If you arrive without a visa, immigration officials are obliged to put you onto a flight back to your home country.” Other entry requirements include proof of funds to pay for your daily expenses, a valid yellow fever certificate if you’ve been travelling from or through an infected area, and at least two consecutive blank visa pages in your passport. 

Landscape of beautiful Cape of Good Hope in South Africa
As a whole, African tourism officials are looking to increase the country's tourism numbers © BlueOrangeStudio/Alamy Stock Photo

This past spring, at Africa’s Travel Indaba trade show, president Cyril Ramaphosa emphasised the importance of luring visitors – both domestic and international – to the continent. “We have to marshal all the means at our disposal to show that we have what it takes to be that destination and to offer that experience that tourists want,” he said. “We must reduce the onerous and often unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that tourists who want to visit our countries face.” South Africa, he continued, is “in the process of radically overhauling our visa dispensation for the rest of the world and introducing a world-class e-visa system. The challenges are going to be ironed out.”

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