One page guide to Visiting South Africa

The Rainbow Nation

South Africa is fondly known as the Rainbow Nation because of its diversity of people, cultures and natural scenery. The South African nation comprises people of San (or Bushman), Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Indian, Afrikaner and mixed origin, as well as immigrant communities from all corners of the world. Officially the population consists of more than 40 million people. Although the Government does not recruit immigrants yet, it acknowledges the fact that the immigration of highly skilled manpower and entrepreneurs is a necessity for the country’s financial growth.

South Africa has the people, expertise and resources to make it a more successful country. People who intend to settle permanently in South Africa have to understand the country’s unique problems, but also to appreciate the unique opportunities which it offers. It is a country where a bright future awaits anyone who is skilled and committed to hard work. For older people it is also an ideal place to retire. The favourable exchange rate, good weather and excellent medical facilities will ensure their care-free future.

Physical features of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa forms the southernmost part of the African continent, stretching latitudinally from 22o to 35o S and longitudinally from 17o to 33o E. Its surface area is 1 223 201 km2. It has common boundaries with Namibia, the Republics of Botswana and Zimbabwe, while the Republic of Mozambique and the Kingdom of Swaziland lie to its north-east. The Kingdom of Lesotho is completely enclosed by South African territory. To the west, south and east, South Africa borders on the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans respectively. Prince Edward Island and Marion Island lie approximately 1 920 km to the south-east of Cape Town in the South Atlantic Ocean. They were taken into possession by South Africa in 1947.

Basic statistics of the nine provinces of South Africa


According to the national census of October 1996, the five most commonly-spoken home languages are IsiZulu (22,9%), IsiXhosa (17,9%), Afrikaans (14,4%), Sepedi (9,2%) and English (8,6%). The Constitution recognises 11 languages as official languages at national level, namely the 5 above, as well as IsiNdebele, Sesotho, SiSwati, Xitsonga, Tshivenda en Setswana.

English and Afrikaans are the most commonly used languages in official circles and the business world. Immigrants should have a good knowledge of at least one of the two in order to cope with life in South Africa. All relevant documentation should be translated into English/Afrikaans by an officially registered translator before submitting it to authorities (for example when applying for residence permits or business registration). Once in South Africa, AfriForum will help immigrants to find professional self-study, individual or group language courses to improve their language proficiency. Please note that South Africa does not offer compulsory/sponsored/intensive language courses for immigrants. It is up to individuals to study the languages of their choice and they have to pay for tuition themselves.


Photo credit: JOE M500

Owing to the disparate cultural backgrounds of the various peoples of the country, there is no uniform or coherent South African culture as such. South African artists of all population groups are active locally as well as overseas in all fields: painting, sculpture, architecture, theatre, music, opera, ballet and literature (poetry, drama and prose). The differences in cultural background between black and white are most marked in the artistic expressions of the various groups. The styles and traditions of whites are generally European in origin and those of the blacks, African. In music, literature, architecture, drama, fine and graphic arts many South Africans achieve success with the symbioses of European and African elements. Interesting web sites to visit are those of the Department of Arts and Culture the Department of Science and Technology and the South African National Gallery which has amalgamated with other museums in Cape Town under the umbrella of Iziko Museums of Cape Town. There are numerous clubs for different nationalities and interest groups in most of South Africa’s cities and larger towns. Immigrants are advised to contact the nearest office of AfriForum for particulars about such cultural associations.

South Africa has 12 public holidays:

  • New Year’s Day [1 January],
  • Human Rights Day [21 March],
  • Good Friday [date fluctuates],
  • Family Day [date fluctuates],
  • Freedom Day [27 April],
  • Worker’s Day [1 May],
  • Youth Day [16 June],
  • National Women’s Day [9 August],
  • Heritage Day [24 September],
  • Day of Reconciliation [16 December],
  • Christmas [25 December] and
  • Day of Goodwill [26 December].


More than 75% of the South African population belong to Christian churches. Other major religious groups are the Hindus, Muslims and Jews. A sizeable minority of South Africa’s population has no religious affiliation. It can safely be said that most South Africans are religiously orientated and that religious beliefs play an important role in public affairs. Freedom of worship is guaranteed by the Constitution and the official policy is one of non-interference in religious practices. Church attendance in South Africa is favourable in both rural and urban areas.

Newcomers to South Africa have to take note of the religious diversity and bear in mind that religion is taken very seriously by the inhabitants. Disrespect on the side of a foreigner will not endear him/her to the community. Almost all church denominations have direct or indirect representation in South Africa. AfriForum will gladly put you in contact with the religious group of your choice.


April 1994 saw South Africa gaining a democratic government, elected by all the people under a Constitution which guarantees equality and non-discrimination, cultural freedom and diversity, the right to basic education for all and equal access to educational institutions. The majority of pupils in South Africa attend government assisted schools, under a single national system which is organized and managed on the basis of nine provincial sub-systems. However, private schools run by church denominations or private enterprises are an important feature of the educational system. Private school pupils generally follow the same syllabuses as their fellow pupils in government schools. The school year commences in January and ends in December.

During his school career, the minor will probably attend the following schools:

  • Pre-primary: To become compulsory between 6 and 7 in the near future
  • Primary: It is compulsory for children to start in the year they turn seven. Primary education usually takes seven years to complete
  • Secondary: This usually takes five years and most subjects can be taken on the higher or standard level (grade). Education authorities will gladly assist parents and pupils seeking sound advice on entrance requirements laid down by universities, technical colleges and teachers’ colleges in this regard.

Post-school and tertiary training are provided countrywide by numerous universities, technical colleges, numerous teacher training colleges and a number of other institutions. The University of South Africa offers correspondence courses world-wide.

Immigrants who experience trouble finding suitable educational facilities for their children, are welcome to contact AfriForum for free guidance and advice. Parents are advised to bring detailed reports of their children’s school careers with them to South Africa, including lists of the subjects the children studied. If these reports are not in English, they have to be translated into English by a certified translator for evaluation in South Africa.

Sport and recreation

The fact that South Africa was one of the main contenders to host the 2004-Olympic Games, proves that excellent facilities for most kinds of sport are to be found in the country. The climate makes year-round outdoor sport and recreation possible throughout South Africa. The country’s unique and abundant fauna and flora offers many recreational activities for lovers of outdoor life. Apart from game parks and nature reserves, the main tourist attractions are the country’s healthy climate, the variety of scenic attractions (ranging from desert plains carpeted with blooms in spring, to towering mountains soaring above valleys and vineyards); the hustle and bustle of modern cities and a coastline 3 000 km in length which includes some of the world’s best bathing and surfing beaches. Tourist facilities match world standards. Accommodation ranges from luxury hotels to modest inns and bed and breakfast housing. Hikers and campers will find many affordable destinations all over South Africa. All cities and towns have information centres where tourists and newcomers can obtain maps, as well as information about local places of interest.

Health care

South Africa officers excellent health care facilities. In 1999, 29 180 medical practitioners, 4 435 dentists, 10 205 pharmacists and 173 961 nurses were registered in South Africa. Please note that no special medical services exist for immigrants. Good medical care is very expensive and a patient generally has to prove that he will be able to pay for treatment before it is administered. A simple operation, such as an appendectomy, may cost approximately R15 000. It is recommended that immigrants take out medical/life insurance upon arrival in the country. Several excellent schemes are available. Contributions are calculated according to the ages, number and medical histories of applicants. AfriForum offers free advice in this regard.

Malaria and bilharzia are diseases endemic to certain parts of South Africa. Before visiting the country, foreigners are advised to take precautions in this regard. According to the United Nations AIDS Report, released in June 1998, South Africa is the country with the fastest growing number of people living with HIV/AIDS in the world. Approximately 8,6% of the total population is estimated to be HIV positive, with more than 1 500 new infections occurring daily. An aggressive media campaign educates society about the disease and all blood products are screened by health services to prevent accidental infection of patients. A toll-free HIV/AIDS help line exists at 0800-012-322. In general South Africa’s tap/faucet-water is of a high quality, but in some areas problems were recently experienced with purification. To be 100% sure, drink bottled water which can be bought all over South Africa.

Social welfare

Social welfare includes the right to basic needs such as shelter, food, health care, work opportunities, security of income and all those aspects that promote the physical, social and emotional well-being of a society. In general, no provision is made for non-citizens. Immigrants who lose their income, may find themselves destitute. Before coming to South Africa please ensure that you have sufficient funds and security to provide for yourself and dependants in case of an emergency. In dire circumstances, repatriations or deportations are organized, but these are very unpleasant procedures which should never be regarded as an option when people plan to immigrate.

There are a variety of registered fund-raising organizations with welfare objectives, some of which operate nationally. They provide social care, welfare and treatment for the aged, the disabled, children, families, drug dependants, alcoholics, offenders and others in need of care and treatment. Some of these organizations also cater for the needs of immigrants. AfriForum will put you in touch with such bodies where necessary.

It is imperative that people should provide for their old age. Some employers include membership to a reputable pension scheme with an offer of employment. If this does not pertain to you, it is your own responsibility to make provision for your future. South African citizens with an income below subsistence level, may apply for a State pension. This however amounts to very little money which barely makes survival possible.


The income tax percentages for 2009/2010 can be found at A tax known as “Value added tax” or VAT is levied on goods and services in South Africa. It currently amounts to 14%.

Price of some commodities

All prices are subject to change and may differ from store to store. It should give the reader a good idea of the cost of living in South Africa. The quoted prices include VAT (value added tax) of 14%, which is payable on all commodities and services, with the exception of basic foodstuffs.

The petrol/fuel/gasoline price is determined by the State on a monthly basis. On the first Wednesday of every month, a new price is implemented. It is influenced by the international oil price, the exchange rate of South African currency and the condition of the South African road fund. South Africans refer to fuel for passenger vehicles as “petrol”. Petrol prices are also cheaper in coastal regions than inland.


Our directory lists affordable temporary or holiday accommodation across a wide range of categories including back packing, bed & breakfasts, guest houses, hotels, lodges and self catering facilities. An easy way to search for more permanent accommodation, is to visit web sites. It will also help the prospective buyer or tenant to see what accommodation in South Africa looks like. It is possible to purchase property privately, but the use of a reliable, registered agent is recommended for your own protection. Visit the Property section in our directory for links and descriptions of many property agents.

Most immigrants prefer to make use of rental accommodation or to stay in hotels or bed-and-breakfast establishments until they can buy property. A night in the most basic hotel will cost approximately R500 per person. All daily newspapers advertise accommodation to let. A large number of agencies also manage such accommodation. Usually the tenant will have to rent the accommodation for a minimum of six months. A deposit equal to one month’s rent is normally required as security against damage to the property. Unfurnished bachelor apartments will cost a minimum of R1 500 per month. This excludes electricity fees, but includes water. Furnished rental accommodation is rare and expensive. If buying property, proof of the buyer’s previous credit record as well as proof of other fixed assets and life insurance will come in useful. AfriForum can give general advice about areas, agents and attorneys. Please note that houses are generally sold unfurnished in South Africa. The following are average house/apartment prices for different provinces in South Africa. Obviously the price for a home in an exclusive, up-market area will be much more than the average, while cheaper homes in less desirable suburbs will also be found. Houses exceeding R2 200 000 have been excluded from the calculations. Improvements such as fences and pools are included in the prices.

Customs and excise

Immigrants are allowed to bring household goods and used equipment necessary for the practising of their professions into South Africa duty-free. The required application forms can be obtained from When asking transport firms for a quote for these goods, please ensure that all costs (also wharfage in South Africa) are included. The importation of a vehicle is subject to more conditions, taxes and provisions. Here it is strongly recommended that you make use of a customs clearing agent’s services. To import a foreign vehicle into South Africa, you will also need permission from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). Contact the SABS for information about such clearance.


In South Africa the telephone dialling code is a monotonous purr-sound. A beep-tone of a half second repeated every half second signals number engaged. A very long beep-tone of 2,5 seconds repeated at half second intervals signals that the number you have dialled no longer exists. Only one company provides land-line telephone services in South Africa, namely Telkom SA (Ltd). They have offices all over the country. Public telephones use either coins or phone-cards, which may be purchased from post-offices, stationery shops or cafés. Three cellular telephone companies (Vodacom, MTN and Cell C) are also represented in South Africa and offer various contracts to suit individuals.

Air mail postage rates to countries outside Southern Africa are:

Aerograms R 3-45
Postcards R 4-60
Small letters (50g or less) R 5-40
Medium letters (250g or less) R18-00
Large letters (300g or less) R30-65
Small parcels (2kg or less) R23-30 per 100 grams.

Prices will increase on 1 April 2010. Stamps can be bought from post offices or most stationers. An independent postage service is offered by a group of stores known as Postnet. For general postal information, call the Post Office Customer Care Line toll-free at 0860-111-502 or use their website.


Major South African centres are linked by reliable air, rail and road transport services. Public transport services within towns and cities are irregular though. Taxis are extremely expensive and most South Africans therefore have to depend on their own means of transport. When making use of taxi transport, we recommend that you use your hotel to book a taxi for you in order to be sure that it is officially registered.

South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road. Be careful if driving here yourself – many tourists from right-hand driving countries get confused and are involved in serious accidents in South Africa. In rural areas, game or livestock often cross the road, so keep alert.

Drivers’ licenses fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transport, but local governments (municipalities) do the evaluation and exchange of foreign licenses for South African equivalents. Please note that your license must be translated into one of the official languages of South Africa and that you must have a permanent residence permit to qualify for a South African driver’s license. This license has to be carried on the person of drivers at all times. Local authorities cannot re-instate your original license, should you decide to return to the country you emigrated from. This will have to be finalized abroad. Generally the speed limits range from 60km/h in residential areas to a maximum of 120km/h on national highways. Pay attention to the signs in this regard.

Rental vehicles are available in all major South African centres. This includes well-known international companies such as Hertz (tel: 0861600136) and Avis (tel: 0861021111).

The media

The South African Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of expression and press freedom is actively promoted by both the Government and the private sector. More than 80 community radio stations broadcast in South Africa and the programmes of 3 national and 1 independent television channel, plus some pay and satellite channels can be enjoyed.

The country has 17 daily and 8 major weekly newspapers, as well as more than 200 regional papers. Some English South African papers are The Star, Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times and The Sunday Independent. They all provide web-site facilities. Approximately 300 consumer magazines and more than 500 trade, technical and professional magazines are registered in South Africa. The latest South African news is available from or


Immigrants may become citizens after living in South Africa as permanent residents for a minimum of five years. Ask AfriForum for advice and assistance. South African citizens are allowed to have dual citizenship and may make use of passports of more than one country, providing that they apply for the Department of Home Affairs’ written permission to do so. Children born in South Africa do not automatically become citizens of this country. Parents-to-be have to take note of this fact, please.


Safety has become an important issue throughout the world. The Tourism Safety Task Group of South Africa has compiled the following tips for tourists and migrants who come to the country:

At a hotel

  • never leave your luggage unattended
  • store valuables in the hotel’s safety deposit box
  • keep your room locked, whether you’re in it or not
  • if someone knocks, check who it is before opening the door
  • leave your keys at the reception desk when leaving the hotel

In the street

  • avoid ostentatious displays of expensive jewellery, cameras and other valuables
  • it’s definitely not advisable to carry large sums of money around
  • at night, steer clear of dark, isolated areas
  • it’s better to explore in groups and to stick to well-lit, busy streets
  • plan your route beforehand
  • a policeman or traffic officer will be glad to direct you if you get lost
  • if you want to call a taxi, your hotel or the nearest tourism information office can recommend a reliable service

In a car

  • plan your route in advance
  • keep the car doors locked at all times and wind the windows up
  • lock valuable items in the boot (trunk)
  • at night, park in well-lit areas
  • never pick up strangers
  • if in doubt about the safety of an area, phone a police station for advice

In general we advise people to carry a reliable map with them at all times and to keep a certified copy of passports and other important documentation such as flight tickets in a safe place such as a bank or hotel’s safety deposit box.


South Africa has very strict labour legislation and most kinds of employment are subject to minimum wage requirements. This even applies to domestic workers. Useful information and samples of contracts can be found at

General advice

Illegal immigration increases South Africa’s levels of unemployment and crime. People are therefore wary of foreigners, including legal immigrants. An arrogant attitude on the immigrant’s side will not improve this situation. Immigrants have to respect South African traditions, customs and laws, even though some of it may seem strange to them. In general, the society is still conservative. Formal clothing is an unwritten requirement at job-interviews.

South Africa is a land of opportunity, not of milk and honey. Immigrants often fall prey to “get rich soon” schemes. Be careful of such projects and contact a reputable person such as a bank manager for advice before investing in any scheme. The same advice goes when purchasing property or a business.

All employees are protected by the South African labour law. Please ensure that you have a written contract with your employer if coming to South Africa to work here. The Department of Labour can be contacted for further information about legal protection.

Remember, South Africa is a drought-stricken country. Always close taps/faucets after use.


Should you have any emergency in South Africa, the numbers to call to reach ambulance, fire, electricity or similar services can be found on the second or third page of the local telephone directory. The police’s rapid response emergency number is 10111.

For internet surfers

There are literally thousands of South African web sites available. Reliable South African search engines are and Other interesting sites are:

Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund
Information on the South African Government
Information on the South African Parliament
Official Statistics
Human Rights Commission
South African churches
Some South African newspapers: News24; Business Day; Financial Mail; Sunday Times; Mail and Guardian; The Star;
South African tourism; South Africa National Parks;

Bringing pets to South Africa

For all application forms for animal importation permits and information about costs and quarantine requirements, visit the South African State Veterinary Services’ web site. Click on “Import” buttons. Alternatively contact AfriForum for such information and details of pet transport companies.


Are you planning on relocating to South Africa? Let a “Proudly South African” removal company which we recommend, arrange your entire removal for you from anywhere in the world. Elliott International is one of the largest Removal Companies in South Africa, with a worldwide reputation for service excellence. Through their extensive worldwide partner network they are able to undertake door-to-door removal services from any city in the world, and deliver consignments in South Africa as well as Botswana, Zambia, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique en Lesotho via their own branch network, truck and crew.

They provide a fully guaranteed residence to residence removal service including packing, transportation by either sea and air, insurance cover, customs clearance, storage and delivery to exacting ISO 9000 standards. Payment for services rendered by them can be arranged in South Africa in Rand, or in foreign currency if required. Should you wish to know more about this company and the services they offer, log onto their website.


Various notes, pamphlets, newspapers, brochures, magazines, empirical research, as well as the official publication South Africa Yearbook were consulted for the compilation of this booklet. Information about financial aspects was kindly provided to us by ABSA, the Institute for Racial Relations, Sake 24, Rapport and Beeld.

Reproduction of the information

As a result of various requests and the fact that we do not have the means to translate this brochure into other languages, permission is granted to staff-members of the Departments of Home and Foreign Affairs to translate it, or parts thereof, with due acknowledgement. Interested parties are welcome to reproduce the brochure or to contact AfriForum for further details.

Immigration Information is reviewed on a quarterly basis.