In general, English spelling follows British rules rather than American; litre rather than liter, centre rather than center, etc.
South Africa has 11 official languages, namely Afrikaans, Southern Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi, Northern Sotho, Southern Sotho, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda and English. Most people other than rural black Africans speak English as a second language. Only about 8% of the population speak English as a first language, almost exclusively in the white population which is ironically declining as a first language, while it is already a lingua franca among South Africans, and about 60% of the population can understand English. South African English is heavily influenced by Afrikaans. Afrikaans is also widely spoken, especially by the majority of the white and coloured population. Often Afrikaans is incorrectly called 'Afrikan' or 'African' by foreigners. Note this is very incorrect as 'African' for a South African corresponds with the native-African languages: Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi etc. (and, of course, there are thousands of languages in Africa so no single language can be called 'African') Afrikaans has roots in 17th century Dutch dialects, so it can be understood by Dutch speakers and sometimes deciphered by German speakers. Other widely spoken languages are Zulu (mainly in KwaZulu-Natal - South Africa's largest single linguistic group) and Xhosa (mainly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape), as well as Sotho and Venda. This changes, according to the region you are in.
The climate in South Africa ranges from desert and semi-desert in the north west of the country to sub-tropical on the eastern coastline. The rainy season for most of the country is in the summer, except in the Western Cape where the rains come in the winter. Rainfall in the Eastern Cape is distributed evenly throughout the year. Winter temperatures hover around zero, summers can be very hot, in excess of 35°Celsius (95°F) in some places.
South African cuisine is just as diverse as its cultures, with influences from British, Dutch, German, Indian, Malay, Portuguese and of course the native African influences.
Braaivleis - meat roasted over an open wood or charcoal fire, is very popular and generally done at weekend social events. The act of roasting the meat as well as the social event is referred to as a braai.
Pap - a porridge made with corn meal. Slappap (runny porridge), is smooth and often eaten as a breakfast porridge, Stywepap (stiff porridge) has a doughy and more lumpy consistency and is often used as a replacement for rice or other starches. "Krummel" pap also called umphokoqo (crumby porridge) is drier, resembles couscous and is often served at a braai covered in a saucy tomato relish.
Potjiekos - a meat and vegetable stew made in a cast iron pot over an open fire. A favorite at braais.
Boerewors - a spicy sausage. Boerewors Rolls are hotdog buns with boerewors rather than hotdogs, traditionally garnished with an onion and tomato relish.
Biltong and Droëwors - seasoned meat or sausage that has been dried. Beef, game and ostrich meat is often used. A favourite at sports events and while travelling.
Bunny chows - half a loaf of bread with the inside replaced by lamb or beef curry is a dish not to be missed when traveling to KwaZulu Natal.
Bobotie - meatloaf with a Cape Malay influence, seasoned with curry and spices, topped with a savoury custard.
Morogo - a wild spinach on its own or with potato. Sometimes served with pap.
Waterblommetjiebredie - mutton and indigenous water lily stew.
Masonja - for the culinary adventurer, fried Mopanie worms.
Melktert - "milk tart", a milk-based dessert.
Koeksisters - a deep-fried sticky dessert.
Local time is GMT +2
Electrical current is 220-240 volts, 50Hz with (South Africa plug). Outlets will fit the Europlug - round two-pin plugs.
Before visiting South Africa, you may need to get the following vaccinations and medications for vaccine-preventable diseases and other diseases you might be at risk for at your destination: (Note: Your doctor or health-care provider will determine what you will need, depending on factors such as your health and immunization history, areas of the country you will be visiting, and planned activities.)
To have the most benefit, see a health-care provider at least 4–6 weeks before your trip to allow time for your vaccines to take effect and to start taking medicine to prevent malaria, if you need it.
Even if you have less than 4 weeks before you leave, you should still see a health-care provider for needed vaccines, anti-malaria drugs and other medications and information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while traveling.
CDC recommends that you see a health-care provider who specializes in Travel Medicine. Find a travel medicine clinic near you. If you have a medical condition, you should also share your travel plans with any doctors you are currently seeing for other medical reasons.
If your travel plans will take you to more than one country during a single trip, be sure to let your health-care provider know so that you can receive the appropriate vaccinations and information for all of your destinations. Long-term travelers, such as those who plan to work or study abroad, may also need additional vaccinations as required by their employer or school.
Although yellow fever is not a disease risk in South Africa, the government requires some travelers arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever virus transmission to present proof of yellow fever vaccination. If you will be traveling to South Africa from any country other than the United States, this requirement may affect you. For specific requirement details, see Yellow Fever & Malaria Information, by Country.
South Africa has some of the highest violent crime rates in the world, but, by being vigilant and using common sense, you should have a safe and pleasant trip as hundreds of thousands of other people have each year. The key is to know and stick to general safety precautions: never walk around in deserted areas at night or advertise possession of money and expensive accessories.
Do not accept offers from friendly strangers. Do not wear jewelry or expensive watches. Do not wear a tummy bag with all your belongings; consider a concealed money belt worn under your shirt instead. Distribute your valuables in inside pockets and other pockets. A decoy wallet may also be worth considering. Leave Passports and other valuables in a safe or other secure location. Do not carry large sums of money. Do not walk by night in deserted places. Hide that you are a tourist: conceal your camera and binoculars. Do not leave your valuables in plain sight when driving in your car, as "smash and grab" attacks do sometimes occur at intersections, and keep your car doors locked, and windows closed. Know where to go so that you avoid getting lost or needing a map: that will avoid signs.
If you are carrying bags, try and hook them under a table or chair leg when sitting down, this will prevent them from being snatched.
Visiting the townships is possible, but do not do it alone unless you really know where you're going. Some townships are safe while others can be extremely dangerous. Go with an experienced guide. Some tour companies offer perfectly safe guided visits to the townships.
South Africa has very few earthquakes, cyclones, tornadoes, floods, terrorist incidents or contagious diseases (with the notable exception of HIV).
Note that taking an evening stroll or walking to venues after dark can be very risky. It simply is not part of the culture there, as it is in Europe, North America or Australia. It is best to take a taxi (a metered cab, not a minibus taxi) or private vehicle for an "evening out". The same applies to picking up hitchhikers or offering assistance at broken-down car scenes. It is best to ignore anyone who appears to be in distress at the side of the road as it could be part of a scam. Keep going until you see a Police station and tell them about what you have seen.
Beware that if you are driving in South Africa, when police officers stop you to check your licence, and you show them an overseas driver's licence, they may come out with some variant of "have you got written permission from [random government department] to drive in our country?' - if your license is written in English or you have a International Driving Permit then they can't do anything - stand your ground and state this fact - be polite, courteous and don't pay any money.
Take extra care when driving at night. Unlike in Europe and North America, vast stretches of South African roads, especially in rural areas, are poorly lit up or often not lit up at all. This includes Highways. Be extra careful as wildlife and people often walk in the middle of the road. You must also take extra care when driving as South African due to the small risk of vehicle hijackings, which sometimes prove to be very violent in nature.
There are limits on the amount of currency you can bring into South Africa. For cash in the form of South African Rand, the limit is 10,000ZAR. For combinations of cash in other currencies, the limit is US$10,000 (or equivalent). Any amount higher than this should be declared on entry to South Africa.
There is a high incidence of credit card fraud and fraud involving ATMs. You should be vigilant to ensure your PIN is not observed by others when withdrawing money from an ATM. Refuse offers of assistance from bystanders. Do not change large sums of money in busy public areas.
Closely protect any documents containing details of credit cards, PINs or bank accounts.
Entry requirements - Visas
When arriving in South Africa you are required to have a passport valid for no less than 30 days after the expiry of your intended stay, and at least two completely blank pages on which your entry permit can be endorsed. If your passport does not comply with this requirement you can either be stopped from boarding the aircraft at your point of departure, or risk deportation on arrival in South Africa.
South African border authorities do not accept provisional travel documents (one page travel document) as a valid document to enter South Africa. Authorities will, however, accept an emergency passport issued by a Commonwealth country. If you need to travel into South Africa using a travel document other than your passport, please contact the Embassy or Consulate of South Africa for more information. Please contact your nearest Embassy for assistance with an emergency passport.
It is illegal for an adult who holds South African citizenship to enter or depart South Africa using a non-South African passport (see Information for Dual Nationals above).
Foreign nationals are permitted to enter South Africa carrying a maximum of R5,000 (local currency). Foreigners may be required to declare their currency holdings on arrival/departure.
A valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is required for all passengers over one year of age who arrive or are transiting through South Africa, from a country or region listed by the World Health Organization as infected by yellow fever. South African authorities will require all travellers arriving from countries with high infected or low infected areas to show proof of yellow fever vaccination, including travellers transiting through South Africa. Travellers unable to present a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate issued at least 10 days before arrival in South Africa may be refused entry or placed in quarantine. There is no discretion for travellers without a vaccination certificate to be vaccinated on arrival.
You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.
The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 90 days or less: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania (90 days per 1 year), United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and citizens of British Overseas Territories.
The following nationalities do not need a visa for a stay of 30 days or less: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Gabon, Guyana, Hong Kong (BNO passports or SAR passports), Hungary, Jordan, Lesotho, Macau, Malaysia, Malawi, Maldives, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Peru, Poland, Seychelles, Slovakia, South Korea, Swaziland, Thailand, Turkey, and Zambia.
Do not show up without a visa if you are required to have one, as visas will not be issued at points of entry. If needed, you can extend your visa in South Africa. With an extension the total amount of time you are allowed to stay is 6 months. Additional information as well as Visa application forms can be found at the Department of Home Affairs  , ph +27 012 810 8911.
The Department of Home Affairs is notoriously inefficient, so make sure to apply for visas and visa extensions as early as possible.
* Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of South Africa for the most up to date information.
Travelling with children
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.
How to get there
South Africa has 10 international airports, the two major ones being Cape Town International and OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg. Durban International Airport is the third biggest airport. Regular Flights from and to: Blantyre, Cairo, Gaborone, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Lilongwe, Livingstone, Luanda, Lusaka, Kinshasa, Maputo, Manzini, Maun, Mauritius, Nairobi, Victoria Falls and Windhoek.
Direct flights also arrive from major European centres, including: Amsterdam, Athens, Madrid, London, Paris, Istanbul, Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Lisbon. There are also direct flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Doha, New York, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paulo, Singapore, Sydney and Perth. You may also want to have a look at Discount airlines in Africa.
See Air travel in South Africa for detailed information. Note: Baggage theft at airports is common especially at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg so avoid putting valuables such as jewelry and expensive devices in your main luggage if you can and place them in your hand luggage.
Should you be entering from one of the other countries in Southern Africa you might want to do so by car. South Africa operates a number of land border posts between itself and immediately neighboring countries.
Most of the larger cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises offer Cape Town as one of their destinations, but you can also try something different
- South Africa's country code is 27.
- Phone numbers within South Africa are of the format 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
- Large cities have area codes 0XX (Johannesburg is 011, Pretoria 012, Cape Town 021, Durban 031, Port Elizabeth 041, East London 043, Kimberley 053, Bloemfontein 051) while smaller towns may have longer area codes (0XX Y for example) with shorter local numbers.
- When dialing a South African number from outside the country, one should dial +27 XX YYY ZZZZ.
- Dialing within the country one should use all 10 digits, 0XX YYY ZZZZ.
- To dial out of South Africa, dial 00 followed by the country code and the rest of the number you are trying to reach.
- Pay phones are available at airports, shopping malls and some petrol stations. The number of pay phones in open public areas have been reduced over recent years, but you should still be able to find one when you need one. Pay phones use either coins or prepaid cards that are available at most shops and petrol stations; coin phones are generally blue while card phones are usually green.
- Country Police: 10111
- Emergency Service: 112
- Ambulance: 10177
- Travel Insurance: +27 011 780-3300
- Tourist Information: +27 (0) 83 123-2345