South Africa Opening Borders To All Visitors

Filed Under: Travel

South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and it will soon reopen to visitors from all over the globe (and yes, that includes Americans).

South Africa’s updated coronavirus travel restrictions

South Africa had closed its borders back in March, as so many countries around the world did. While the government had initially announced that borders would stay closed until 2021, that hasn’t actually been the case, presumably given how reliant South Africa’s economy is on tourism.

South Africa initially reopened its borders as of October 1, 2020, but visitors from dozens of high-risk countries were excluded, and that included the United States.

Well, that will now be changing. During an address last night, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa is opening up international travel to all countries.

An exact date hasn’t yet been given for this change, but it sounds like it’s imminent. I’ll update this post as soon as we know more on that front.

Travelers to South Africa will need to be tested

While South Africa will open to visitors from around the world, the same precautions that were previously in place will continue to be in place. Most significantly, travelers will need to produce a negative coronavirus test result taken no more than 72 hours before travel.

Travelers will also be screened for any COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival, and those displaying any symptoms and those who have been in contact with an infected person may be expected to take a mandatory test (at their own cost).

If the test is positive, a traveler may be subjected to a 10-day quarantine at a designated site (also at their own cost).

South Africa is reopening to visitors from around the globe

Coronavirus in South Africa

South Africa is certainly doing much better with coronavirus than it was several months back, and hasn’t seen a second wave. The country has a population of around 58 million, and has seen around 742K cases, and around 20,000 deaths.

At this point the country is down to about 2,000 new cases per day, from a high of around 14,000 cases per day.

Unfortunately the ratio of deaths to cases isn’t great, as the country is seeing an average of 50-100 deaths per day, which could potentially have a couple of different implications.

International travel is still complicated

Actual risk of getting coronavirus aside, I should acknowledge the general risks and complications of traveling internationally nowadays:

  • Border restrictions are constantly changing
  • Airlines are frequently adjusting schedules due to the uncertain times
  • There’s the risk of having to quarantine at your own expense, in some cases even if you don’t have coronavirus (like if you were in close contact to someone who got it)
  • Your health insurance may not be valid abroad, and travel insurance may not cover coronavirus-related expenses

Anyway, these aren’t challenges that can’t be overcome, but it’s worth thinking carefully before planning international travel.

South Africa is a gorgeous country

Bottom line

South Africa will shortly be reopening its borders to all, with the only requirement being a coronavirus test taken no more than 72 hours before departure to South Africa. The country’s economy relies heavily on tourism, so it’s not surprising to see the country open its borders sooner rather than later.

On the plus side, South Africa has plenty of outdoor and socially distanced activities for tourists, so it’s not a bad place to consider for those looking to travel. Just keep in mind the general risks and complications of international travel nowadays.

Does anyone plan on visiting South Africa in the coming months?

  1. If it truly opens up – I will be going in February. The trip has already been rescheduled once. Cannot wait to be able to go back.

  2. @Hasse: where in SA will you visit? Where would you recommend a first-time visitor go? Do you believe it is a good place to take a family with small children? (we’ve traveled many other places in the world.) Thanks for any pointers you can offer.

  3. I had a last minute trip to Johannesburg last week. I have a pre-existing Business Visitor Visa (pre-COVID) so fortunately no issues with needing a new special DHA approval/exemption despite my passport being from a “high risk” red list country.

    Flew in on Ethiopian and the PCR test results were checked before issuing my initial boarding pass, as well as before boarding for the connecting flight in Addis.

    On arrival, the PCR test was checked at the door of the aircraft and then that was it. No further checks or questions. Health declaration form was collected just before immigration and the immigration officers were actually friendly and efficient. With no checked bags, it took me exactly 12 minutes from exiting the aircraft door at A3 to picking up my rental car from Avis.

    Airport was an absolute ghost town with 90% of shops closed. Things are surprisingly normal in town though with most restaurants and offices functioning as usual but with enhanced protocols such as mask usage, hand sanitising stations and temperature checks.

    On departure, all airlines have been relocated to check-in area “B” to conserve electricity. Most elevators and escalators are also shut down, so expect lengthy detours if traveling with luggage or needing wheelchair access. The only lounge open that I could find was the Mashonza Lounge via Priority Pass. Again, virtually nothing open other than the main Big Five Duty Free shop. Runway 3R was the only one in use for both arrivals and departures, so lengthy taxi times can be expected.

  4. If you have the anitbodies and got covid out of the way already why wouldnt you take advantage of the amazing travel deals as you are not a risk to anyone else and no one is a risk to you. Only reason not to go if is everything is closed but what a perfect time to go on safari right now with crowds and costs way way down.

  5. Hey everyone, I live in South Africa and work at one of the Game Lodges very close to where Lucky went last time! I’m happy to answer any questions anyone may have about travel and what’s it like here during these times!

  6. More countries will realize that makes no sense to commit economic suicide in order to protect those who are mostly too old to work.

    If you are afraid of COVID, stay in your homes until this is over. I also will (and have been) taking advantage of cheap travel this year and have not been in the States since July.

  7. Is South African Airways still operating long haul or did they go under? They are Star Alliance so good points redemption opportunities.

  8. Do you realize Mark and everyone else who is afraid of a virus that has no impact on people under 50 that South Africa is in the southern hemisphere and they are entering their summer months. Or that their economy is not in good shape like ours were people can just work remotely from home. Why shouldn’t they allow healthy people in? As a 35 year old my risk of dying in South Africa is much higher from a lot more things than covid haha.

  9. Actually, you are 6 times more likely to die of HIV aids in South Africa (126,000 deaths) than Covid-19 (20,000).

  10. @Kendor – I will be splitting my trip between Johannesburg(Sandton) and Cape Town. Depending on what has your interest the two cities offer each their charm and things to look for.
    If you are are planning a Safari, Johannesburg should be your starting point. In addition, Johannesburg is a very diverse city in terms of entertainment and history. I would spend time on the Apartheid museum, and if time permit, I would take a full day out of the calendar and jump on the red hop on/off busses and add the Soweto extension (they depart close to Rosebank station). Additionally I would not miss a visit to “Cradle of Humankind” but consider the underground visit carefully. It’s a great experience, but the lift down and up, may not be to your liking. If you are in Jo’burg but not planning a safari, I would spend half a day on the “Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve”
    If you are planning to go to Cape Town – Which is a bit more kid friendly than Jo’burg – I would not miss out Table mountain, And I also suggest that you make your way to Bloubergstrand and Robben Island. If in Cape town and thinking about a wine trip – you have endless of options. I would personally look to see if I could get a private or semi-private tour. They are more relaxed, and you can often get the driver/planner to design the choice of wine house to your personal taste. Private / Semi private is not much of a premium to mass tours.

    I definitely think you can bring small children to South Africa – though depending on the age and your activities, your might wanna make sure you pack a good practical bag. (Water, snacks, etc.).

    A few notes on visiting:
    *People are extremely friendly
    *Follow the locals’ advice on security and you will be fine.
    *Have cash – As much as South Africa is very much in the lead on mobile payments, touchless payment etc. A tip in cash is greatly appreciated, especially if going to more low income places like Soweto.
    *Driving in SA, albeit in left hand side, is easy.

    I hope you find this useful.

  11. I am traveling to South Africa next week Wednesday – 11/18. I’m flying with KLM from NYC via Amsterdam to Cape Town. I cannot wait to be back in South Africa and to support local businesses and restaurants there. It is definitely possible to travel safely and responsibly.

  12. @Kendor

    Hasse advice is good. I brought my 4 kids to South Africa twice (the youngest was about 6 and the oldest was 12). We had a great time. Around Cape Town we rode horses, ATV’s, went to wineries, table mountain etc. A great time. From JNB we went on safari. Some places don’t take kids so you need to look around. Driving is easy. People are friendly. Food is great. It’s a really nice place for family trips.

  13. Thank you so much @Hasse, this is super-helpful. Our kids have hiked and traveled all over China, Japan, Mexico, and the UK, so they are very used to the travel thing, but of course the crime-horror stories you occasionally hear coming out of South Africa have given me pause. Sounds like you don’t think it’s a huge thing with reasonable caution.

    Cape Town looks quite an astonishing place and I’d love to check it out, as well as the rest of the country. I’ve saved your great tips and will use them whenever we finally visit, cheers.

  14. @Kendor

    We’ve traveled a number of times to SA with the most recent trip with the kids (9 and 12). Most of our time was focused on safari and they couldn’t get enough. The safest route is flying directly to the bush from JNB…daily flights to Hoedspruit are somewhat reasonable. We rent a car and drive which is still safe (and very reasonable) assuming you are mindful of your stops. If you focus on self drive safari activities, you can keep the price down. Kruger has some (very) basic bungalows in rest camps and a brand new full service hotel in Skukuza rest camp. There are some much better rest camps but it just depends on what’s important to you. The Marriott Protea Kruger Gate is a great property just outside the gate and can be booked on points. Stays at private reserves/lodges are divine but a family of four could cost you $1,000 a night and that’s on the moderate side. Plus many don’t take kids and I’m not sure kids can truly appreciate that experience.

  15. I live in Cape Town and all I can say is that we are delighted that we can once again welcome international visitors. We love our beautiful country and we can’t wait to share it with you. I think our government handled the pandemic extremely well given there is no rule book for this kind of thing. Social distancing is the norm and people most adhere to it, wearing of masks is compulsory and I haven’t seen anyone without one in months and sanitizing stations are everywhere. Our country is very diverse, there is something for everyone to enjoy. If you are gay you will find we are one of the most gay friendly countries in the world. So come on over and enjoy yourselves!

  16. Capetownian, here. Cape Town is pretty much a bipolar city. Tourist related hotspots are very well adjusted for tourists. Safe. Easy. Colourful. Friendly locals. The unsafe area is found in the Cape Flats, an area seldom entered by locals and never entered by tourists. Part slums, part downtown projects housing, these areas were built for black people during apartheid. Gangsterism, drugs (methamphetamine especially), guns violence and poverty sum up these areas well. Enter at your own peril. These areas are the reason why Cape Town is on the Top 20 murder capital’s lists, because of these murders.

    General safety should be taken into mind though. When in public, be aware of your surroundings. Don’t flash your goods. Don’t wear that Rolex outdoors. It can stay in the hotel’s safe. If an area feels unsafe, it is. Trust your gut. Cape Town, like New York, is the gay friendly, hippy inspiring, creative hub with its beautiful outdoors – mountains, beaches, vineyards. With its Mediterranean climate, this summer will be a joy. Johannesburg – not the capital of SA by the way – is like New York the financial and economical hub of the country with a stroke of capitalism alive and well.

    – There is a night curfew currently in place between midnight and 4 am. This means that most night clubs are either closed entirely or close at around 11 pm. giving its customers / employees a hour to get back.
    – WATER: South-Africa was plunged in a severe drought between 2015 – 2018 seeing its water levels for Cape Town drop to a mere 10%, initiating an official countdown to Day Zero where all taps will run dry. I am pleased to report that that drought has been eradicated. The dams have over-flowed earlier this year. Although wise water usage will be promoted by locals, there is no imminent threat surrounding our water supply.

    Wine, liquor, beer, fortified wines, brandy and whisky is very cheap here! Award winning wines (750 ml) will sell for between $4 – $7, with standard wines selling for $1.5 per bottle. Premium wines will sell for between $7 – $10.

    R1 = $0.064 (13 Nov. 2020)

  17. South Africa is one of the greatest countries in the world to visit. Cape Town tourism is amazing. Excited that people will be able to experience CPT again and also for the battered tourism sector which is huge for the city.

  18. @ Sean M, your detailed explanation of how you travelled has been very helpful. Thank You! Im planning to go to Cape Town this December and was worried about how the practicalities work on the ground with the PCR test certificate etc so your explanation helps.

    @ Kendor, Cape Town is a gorgeous city. Been there so many times its almost like I live there. Wine farms, pristine beaches, penguins, Table Mountain cable car to the top, red hop on/off buses that take you round the city, amazing resturants, breathtaking views, Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, bobsleding. Gosh I could go on! travel safely and go have some fun!

  19. @747_Brat – The requirement for insurance to cover COVID testing and quarantine charges is is not being enforced. As I noted, nobody is checking anything other than your PCR test results.

  20. I’m a Cape Town local and we welcome all foreign visitors back. The city’s night life is not currently very active, but our beaches and parks are open and as amazing as ever.

    Please come visit!

  21. Are masks a thing in South Africa? I would love to visit so I can escape cold Scandinavian winter for a week or two, but I can’t imagine wearing that thing for several days, especially in the heat.

  22. Dear Samuel Muransky, mask wearing is only mandatory in public places. Shops, restaurants, public transport, tours, churches, etc. You don’t have to wear it at home, in your hotel or among people of the same household. Masks are for sale in grocery stores, pharmacies and here and there in certain retailers. When outdoors and far from anyone, I myself don’t wear a mask. I have it on me for when I come within 30 feet of anyone else.

  23. I will be coming in May for the first time. I’m so excited. Starting in Cape Town and then to Kruger and Sabi Sands for a safari. I’m most nervous that my flights will be changed or canceled. South Africa is smart to open up, it’s time to start living again.

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