What You Need to Know Before Travelling to South Africa
How long can I stay without a visa?
Many countries do not require a visa for South Africa so long as you’re visiting for less than 90 days. If you’re not sure if you need a visa, check here. Please note that your passport expiration date MUST be at least 30 days after the date of your intended return if you are a US Citizen. Always check the latest regulations before you travel just to be sure. Ensure your passport is up to date. You’ll need at least one blank page in your passport for the entry stamp which they will add at customs, and they recommend that you have two blank pages, just in case you get a squirrelled customs official.
What languages do they speak?.
South Africa has 11 official languages and the country is often termed the ‘rainbow nation’ because of its cultural diversity. Although English is spoken throughout the country and is most used in a business environment, it is actually only the 5th most common home language spoken. The most widely spoken home language is isiZulu, then isiXhosa (Nelson Mandela’s ‘home’ language) and then Afrikaans. Most South Africans are multilingual, which means they will be able to converse with you!
What customs are appropriate for me to follow?
Tipping is different in South Africa than in the States, for example — tip 10 percent at a restaurant and tip $1 to a porter for a bag. If you got good service somewhere, be sure to tip. Review your restaurant bills, as certain restaurants automatically add the 10 percent tip onto the bill before they give it to you to pay — don’t pay double unless the service was fantastic!
When Self-driving on your safari
If you are self-driving, you will come across many ‘car guards’ in most public areas. Car guards ‘man’ a certain section of parking space and ‘guard’ these cars whilst you are in the mall or on the beach; on your return it is not compulsory to tip the car guards, but it is pretty much the norm to tip up to R10 (approx USD $1). You can tip as much as you would like, but between R5 and R10 is considered a ‘good’ tip. These car guards can be quite insistent and at times you may feel a little harassed; keep smiling!
Note that one custom in South Africa is restrictive carry-on and luggage requirements, including specific dimensions for bags, so check with your airline before you travel. This is particularly relevant if you are on a fly-in safari into a game lodge on a light aircraft, which strictly control luggage, as weight directly impacts safety in-flight. The standard for light aircraft travel is 20kgs (just over 40 lbs) including carry-on hand luggage per person. For light air crafts, you also need to pack in soft bags.They accept no suitcases or bags with frames/trolleys. These are difficult to fit into the cargo hold and take up unnecessary space. On light air crafts there is also a personal weight limit for flyers. So check with your tour operator if you are more than a couple sizes overweight.
What kind of power converter do I need?
South Africa uses a currency of 220/230 volts. 15 amps for a 3-prong, round pin plug and 5 amps for a 2-prong round pin plug. If you are coming from almost anywhere, you will need a power converter.