Visas for South Africa

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South African visa stampWhether a visitor to South Africa needs a visa depends on their nationality and the purpose of their visit. Citizens of the EU, UK, Canada, USA, Israel, India, Japan and several South American and African countries, among others, don’t require an entry visa provided their stay is less than either 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the country. New arrivals not from a visa-exempt country, as well as those wanting to stay longer, work, volunteer or study in South Africa will need to apply for a visa.

A full list of visa types and the documents required for an application are available on the Department of Home Affairs website (

Entry requirements for South Africa

Foreign nationals need the following to visit South Africa:

  • A valid passport or travel document for their intended stay

  • At least one blank page in their passport for endorsements

  • A valid visa, if required

  • Sufficient funds to pay for their expenses during their stay

  • A return or onward ticket

  • Yellow fever certificates if their journey starts or has a layover in Africa or South America’s yellow fever belt.


Temporary residency permits for South Africa

Expats planning to stay for between three months and three years will need to apply for a temporary residence visa. This is sorted into different categories depending on what one intends to do in South Africa - whether moving to retire, to study, to find a job, to start a business, or for medical reasons. Most expats moving to South Africa apply for one of three work permits.

Permanent residency permits for South Africa

Getting a permanent residency visa for South Africa is a natural step for many expats that already have a temporary residence visa, as well as those who wish to have more access to national infrastructure. The application process varies according to what the expat wants to do upon arrival. The first thing to consider when seeking permanent residency in South Africa, therefore, is to determine which category the application falls under.

Categories for permanent residency include:

  • Work – applicants must first hold a temporary work permit for five years unless applying for an exceptional skills work permit
  • Retired – applications can be made for permanent residency on a stand-alone basis
  • Business – applications can be made for permanent residency on a stand-alone basis
  • Relatives – applications can be made for permanent residency on a stand-alone basis providing they are next of kin or have been married or in a life partner relationship with the original applicant for a provable five year period

Though some applications for permanent residency visas can be made as stand-alone applications in theory, the majority of immigrants first get temporary residency. The reason for this is often a practical one, since permanent residency applications can take anywhere between 12 and 36 months.

Benefits of permanent residency in South Africa

One of the most obvious benefits of applying for a permanent residency visa is the fact that the permit is valid for life. The holder merely has to enter and stay in South Africa once every three years to maintain it. All other permits require renewal or re-application after a limited amount of time.

Additionally, permanent residency holders are able to:

  • Fully access South African credit and banking

  • Obtain a South African driving licence

  • Sponsor qualifying relatives

Work, set up a business or study (within permit restrictions)

Permanent residency applications

Applications for permanent residency can both be made abroad and in South Africa, and neither method is specifically preferable. Levels of efficiency and the speed of the application process depend on the service level offered by the specific embassy or consulate abroad.

The following basic documentation is required of applicants of all categories:

  • A completed application form

  • Payment of the full fee

  • A full set of fingerprints

  • A marriage certificate/proof of spousal relationship, if applicable

  • A divorce decree/proof of legal separation, if applicable

  • Proof of custody of a minor, if applicable

  • A death certificate for a late spouse, if applicable

  • The consent of parents in the case of minors

  • Proof of judicial adoption of a minor, if applicable

  • Police clearance certificates for all countries in which the applicant resided in for a year or longer since their 18th birthday.

  • A valid temporary residency permit (if already in South Africa)

Additional requirements will be needed according to the category the application is made under.


Using a registered immigration practitioner

Applicants can apply directly to the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa, but may find certain offices are not organised for easy public access. The process is often confusing, time consuming and frustrating. South African Home Affairs is notorious for poor customer service, disorganisation and shifting standards.

South Africa's immigration regulations are not points-based, but assessed on a case-by-case basis. This policy creates a large grey area that is often best navigated with the help of an external service. The experience and knowledge an immigration practitioner provides can be invaluable in preparing a correct application and monitoring its process.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Our South Africa Expert

ClausLauter's picture
Hamburg, Germany
Claus joined Intergate Immigration Service in 2008 and now operates as marketing director. He has 25 years experience in...

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