Travelling to South Africa: visas, vaccines and essential tips

Aimee Spicer / 26 April 2015 ( 20 October 2016 )

Things you need to know before travelling to South Africa



Over 10 million tourists visit South Africa every year. The Rainbow Nation draws people to its national parks, wildlife, stunning coastlines and its cuisine. 

If you’re thinking of booking a holiday to South Africa, then it’s worth reading up on essential information about this destination before you leave. 

We’ve written a handy guide full of tips so that you can get travel passports and vaccines in place and you know how to pack your suitcase before you go. 

Read on to find out more about the local standards for tipping, the weather forecast and the food and drink you can expect to try during your stay.

Visas in South Africa

If you’re a UK citizen and visiting the country of South Africa for less than 90 days then a visa is not required

However, it is important to make sure that your passport is valid for a minimum of 30 days once you exit South Africa. Make sure it has at least two blank pages so that immigration can stamp you in and out of the country.

Health and vaccines

It is important to contact your GP eight weeks before you travel to South Africa to get the latest information on vaccines that you might need. 

Typically, it is recommended to organise Hepatitis A and Typhoid shots to prevent bad reactions to contaminated food or water.

Be aware, if you are travelling to other African countries where there is a risk of yellow fever, you may need to produce a vaccination certificate at the South African port of entry.

Related: Essential travel information for holidays to South Africa. 

Languages in South Africa

English is the language used for business communication, on the television and in the media more generally, but there are 11 official languages spoken in South Africa. 

It is typical for South Africans to be multilingual, so you will find Afrikaans and English mixed in with the native languages such as IsiXhosa or isiZulu.

Cuisine and restaurant etiquette on your holiday

South African cuisine has varied influences, but you can find food from around the world here in the cosmopolitan cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg. 

Local dishes include grilled game, biltong (air-dried meat), bobotie (curried minced meat with a custard-like topping), melktert (a sweet milk tart) and plenty of seafood options like lobster around the coastal towns. 

Unless you are eating out at a fine dining restaurant, where formal attire is required, restaurant wear can be casual and informal.

Related: 5 South African foods you need to try.

Money and currency in South Africa

Saga organise all-inclusive trips, so you won’t have to worry about your food or board while you’re away with us, but for tipping and souvenirs the local currency in South Africa is the Rand.

You can withdraw money from ATMs, but just make sure you know whether or not your UK bank will charge you for this.

Saga Travel Money offers 0% commission and competitive exchange rates on foreign currencies for over 60 countries.

Tipping on holiday

Tipping is the norm in South Africa and the standard for restaurants and bars is 10-15%. 

Service providers, such as luggage porters, car valets and newspaper vendors can be tipped at your discretion but somewhere between R2-R20 is recommended depending upon the helpfulness of the person and the length of time they spend on a task.

Electricity and internet access

As you tour some of South Africa’s game reserves and national parks on safari, you might feel a million miles from civilisation, so it might surprise you to learn the country has a comprehensive electrical grid, barring a few of the most rural areas. 

Similarly, the infrastructure for telecommunications is hailed as being cutting edge, so you can stay connected to friends and family back home while you’re away.

Temperatures in South Africa

South Africa is a large country and the topography dictates the temperature and the seasons; normally you will find the summer averages between 8°C-28°C and the winter months can reach lows of 1°C, rising to around 18°C during the daytime. 

Discover South Africa for yourself on a trip of a lifetime with Saga. 

Read about a thrilling trip to South Africa in the November 2016 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe to Saga Magazine today.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.