Travel Insurance for South Africa
Last updated on 07/03/2019
Do I Need Travel Insurance for South Africa?
South Africa has recently become a popular tourist destination among travelers. Many visitors consider the country the "gateway to southern Africa" due to its modern culture, reasonably-priced flights, and proximity to other popular countries in the region.
With the increase in popularity, more and more travelers are asking "is travel insurance mandatory for South Africa?" Although travel insurance is not required for trips to South Africa, purchasing a plan is highly recommended.
One of the most common reasons for buying coverage is to supplement or replace domestic health insurance while abroad. Many domestic health insurance providers do not extend coverage while you are out of the country or overseas. As a result, people traveling to South Africa often buy travel medical plans to stay protected against large out-of-pocket costs due to unforeseen illness or injury.
While healthcare concerns account for one of the top reasons travelers buy trip insurance for South Africa, there are additional reasons also worth considering. For example, the majority of people take an international flight to reach the country. In this case, flight insurance can be a smart option. Traveling great distances via air sometimes results in unexpected issues, including delays and interruptions.
If you are worried about missed connections or delays, comprehensive travel insurance may be the ideal choice. Comprehensive plans offer additional protection and include coverages like baggage insurance, emergency evacuation, or dental care while overseas. Consider which coverages are most important to you when comparing plans for your South Africa trip.
How Much is Travel Insurance to South Africa?
Oftentimes the first thing people planning trips to South Africa want to know is how much travel insurance will cost. Plan cost varies based on several factors, including the number of travelers and their ages. Generally speaking, older travelers carry more risk as a result of health concerns. Higher risk can translate to increased cost. This is especially true in cases where travelers have one or more pre-existing conditions. Risk is also assessed for the length of the trip. If your business trip or vacation lasts one week, the risk is considerably lower than it would be for an extended six-month trip. Another important factor in determining the cost of a plan is the type of coverage it includes. As a general rule, plan cost increases with each coverage a plan includes.
Is South Africa a Schengen Country?
No, South Africa is not a Schengen country. For this reason, travel insurance purchased for a trip to South Africa does not need to be Schengen-compliant. However, citizens of South Africa are required to get Schengen-compliant insurance when traveling to any country within the Schengen zone.
Additionally, citizens of some countries may be required to get Schengen-compliant plans if they will be traveling to any Schengen country during the same trip. Make sure to do your research in advance if you will be traveling to any additional destinations on your South Africa trip.
Do I Need a Passport for South Africa?
Yes. Your passport must be valid for 30 days after your intended departure date to enter South Africa. Passports must also have two consecutive empty visa pages for entry. A return ticket is also required upon entry. If you are traveling from or through a country where Yellow Fever is present, you will be required to present a Yellow Fever certificate proving you've had the necessary vaccinations prior to entering the country.
Do I Need a Visa for South Africa?
Visa requirements for South Africa depend on citizenship and country of origin. South Africa does not require visas for stays up to 90 days for citizens of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and the United States. Citizens of Hungary, Poland, and Cyprus can stay visa-free for up to 30 days.
Citizens from other EU countries, including Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Slovakia, do require a visa for entry. If you are a citizen of a country not mentioned above, you should contact the South African embassy directly to determine the requirements. Visas are not issued at the border, so it's best to plan ahead to avoid being denied entry.
South Africa Travel Tips & Safety
Money & Currency Exchange
The official currency of South Africa is the rand, which is commonly denoted as "R" or "ZAR." Banknotes are issued in denominations of R 10, R 20, R 50, R 100, and R 200. Like the U.S. dollar, the rand subdivides into 100 cents, which is written as "100c." Coins come in 10c, 20c, and 50c values as well as R 1, R 2 and R 5.
There is one additional coin, called the Krugerrand, which is minted from a gold and copper alloy. With a composition of over 90% gold, these coins are usually worth over $1200 USD each and are often collected. They are less likely to be circulated among other coins, but most importantly, the South African government does not allow Krugerrand to be brought into the country and limits each traveler to 15 Krugerrand when exiting the country. Proof of purchase with a foreign currency is required upon exit.
The best practice for traveling to South Africa is to bring several forms of payment, including credit cards, debit cards, and cash. If you plan to bring cash with you, U.S. dollars and European euros are the best foreign currencies as they are more likely to be accepted at major hotels and restaurant chains. However, travelers should not count on foreign currency being accepted. Most travelers will typically exchange some of their foreign currency for rand, which makes paying local and independent businesses much easier. Tipping is a common practice in the country, so having some rand in cash will come in handy for services as well as paying establishments that do not accept credit cards, USD, or euros.
Keeping large amounts of cash on your person is not advisable since heavily populated areas, especially tourist attractions, are often targets for pickpockets. The best way to carry your cash, as well as important travel documents, is a money belt underneath your clothes. It's a good idea to keep the cash you plan to spend in your pocket or handbag. This way, it's easier than reaching under your clothes but also serves as a decoy if you happen to get robbed. Additionally, don't be afraid to use the safe in your hotel room if it has one to store documents, foreign currency, and even your tickets home.
Credit cards provide a great payment option for major cities and high-end hotels, but smaller businesses may not accept them. When using a credit card, be sure to ask about the exchange rate and any fees charged. In general, stick with Visa and MasterCard since they are most widely accepted. Make sure to bring more than one card and that each card is issued from a different bank. This way, you'll still have another option if one of your banks has an issue or freezes your funds. As always, make sure to call your bank before departing on your trip so they are aware your account will be accessed abroad. Otherwise, the bank may refuse charges.
Credit cards and debit cards can also be used to access local currency using ATMs. Do your research to make sure you get the most out your transactions. Use only ATMs in well-lit areas, check for altered ATM hardware (skimming), and be aware of your surroundings as you access your money. Do not use street exchanges because these expose you to unnecessary risk and rarely offer a better exchange rate than traditional means.
South Africa offers several options for transportation, including buses, airlines, taxis, and rental cars. In general, larger cities feature the most modern and accessible modes of transport.
For many urban South Africans, the most economical and reliable option is a minibus taxi. Traditional taxi companies don't always do a great job maintaining their vehicles so they can keep their costs low, but most minibus taxi owners have just a few vehicles in their fleets and are much better maintained as a result.
Bus Rapid Transit
Another mode of transport found in urban areas is the bus rapid transit system. This system is a more recent development for larger cities and has been slower to gain popularity due to low ridership and high operating costs. Despite these obstacles, South Africa continues to improve bus rapid transit and integrate the system with additional modes of transport including the popular minibus taxis, bicycles, and rail systems.
Travel by Car
Traveling by car is still the most common transportation option throughout the country, especially in areas where public transportation is underdeveloped. Vehicles drive on the right-hand side of the road but if you plan to rent a car and drive yourself, it's best to consider rental car insurance and familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road. For example, "freeways" are a little different than in other parts of the world. South African freeways limit speeds to a minimum of 60km/h (37mph) and a maximum of 120km/h (74.5mph). Additionally, animal-drawn vehicles, bicycles, motorcycles (including powered quads & trikes), and pedestrians are forbidden from freeways.
When renting a car, choose a model that is not flashy to avoid attracting unwanted attention. Also, when you park the car you'll likely be met with locals offering to watch your car. These people are often called "car minders," and for a small tip, they'll help you get in and out of parking space as well as keep an eye on the vehicle while you're out and about.
Travel by Air
Airports aren't used as frequently by foreigners as a way to get around South Africa, but you'll likely be passing through at least one upon arriving and departing the country. International airports are found in four of the largest cities, including Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Nelspruit. There are lots of different airline options, including British Airways, Qantas Airways, South African Airways, Swiss International Airways, Virgin Atlantic Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Delta Airlines, and more. The airline that services your flight will depend on where you are traveling from.
If you interested in touring the South African coast or any surrounding islands, consider booking a cruise from one of the major port cities. Cruises offer a great way to take in the sights along the coast while enjoying luxurious accommodations. Be sure to consider buying cruise insurance if you plan to include a cruise in your itinerary.
South Africa has a unique and diverse culture due in large part to the history and evolution of the country. The region remained untouched by outside influence up until the 1600s when Portuguese and Dutch migrants began inhabiting and colonizing the area. British settlers also colonized the area during the 1800s and early 1900s. In the time since, there have been many wars and struggles between controlling parties. Perhaps most notably is the Apartheid era in which racist legislation led to a deep divide between indigenous populations and colonial outsiders as well as their descendants. In 1994, Apartheid leadership and legislation were abolished, and Nelson Mandela became the president of the newly democratic nation.
There's no doubt that South Africa's politics have been tumultuous over the years, but the result is a country with a rich culture unlike any other. With so many different backgrounds, heritages, and religions, South Africans have come to be known for their understanding, passion, and acceptance of each other, especially after universal suffrage was granted to all citizens. Since then, the country has often been called the "rainbow nation" and ranks in the top ten most culturally diverse countries in the world. So what does this mean for your trip to South Africa? It means you should keep an open mind and be courteous to the locals. Despite recent political progress, socio-economic divides are still quite common in the country, so foreigners should avoid overt displays of wealth or high economic status. It's also a good idea to avoid looking like a tourist in general. The bottom line, though, is that travelers to South Africa should understand that culture there is not homogenous and has much to teach visitors.
Speaking the Language
With so much cultural diversity, it's not surprising that South Africa has 11 official languages. Many of these official languages are indigenous to the country. Nearly 40% of the population either speaks Xhosa or Zulu. Many western travelers will be happy to know that English is widely spoken in major population centers at banks, hotels, and government offices. Another common language in South Africa is Afrikaans, which is a derivative of Dutch. As a result, northern Europeans may find Afrikaans easier to follow than expected. As a traveler, you should think ahead about the places you intend to visit and brush up on at least the essential phrases in Zulu, Xhosa, and/or Afrikaans—especially if you're planning on visiting more remote regions of the country.
Crime Risk & Traveler Safety
When researching the crime risk for South Africa, you may find many statistics that make the country sound unsafe. However, like any statistics, the data needs context. While South Africa's homicide rate is about 31 per 100,000 people, it's important to put that in context of where and how these crimes take place. Similar to many other parts of the world, most of South Africa's homicides occur in specific areas where the offenders and victims know each other. For perspective, this statistic isn't too different from other destinations that tourists don't think twice about visiting, like New Orleans, Louisiana or Tijuana, Mexico.
Although most violent crime occurs between locals in specific areas, that doesn't mean you shouldn't stay vigilant as a tourist. Travelers should research and avoid high crime areas, steer clear of walking to and from destinations after dark, and exercise caution when accessing money or valuables. By far, the largest threat to tourists is theft. One important point to keep in mind is that neighborhoods with vastly different economic statuses are often found relatively close to one another, sometimes just one or two blocks away. These differences are typically quite stark even to the untrained eye, but if you have any doubt about your travel plans, ask your travel guide, a hotel worker, or another trusted individual to make sure your plans are safe.
Precautions for Driving
If you choose to drive, do not leave valuables of any kind in your car. Locked doors won't deter the average thief, who will smash windows without hesitation if something valuable is visible. When driving through cities, keep your windows rolled up and doors locked. Ignore people who approach the vehicle at stop signs or red lights. No matter how uncomfortable it may be socially, your safety should be your priority. Many scammers realize the power of social norms and will use it to prey on unsuspecting tourists. It may seem a bit obvious, but do not stop for hitchhikers or people stopped along the highway. Instead, you should call the local authorities and report the activity to avoid being unwittingly pulled into a scam.
Weather can be unpredictable in South Africa, especially in Cape Town. If you're planning to do some hiking or even extensive walking, make sure to keep warm clothes, plenty of water, and rain gear with you. This way, you can stay protected from the elements no matter where you are. Sunscreen is a must for those with sensitive skin, but even individuals who tan may be surprised by the high UV index. It's a good idea to bring sunscreen with you as it's not always readily available in all areas of the country.
Drinking water safety is a top concern for travelers to South Africa and for good reason. While the country has historically had some of the best drinking water on the continent, the quality has dropped and become less consistent in recent years. Tourists should do research on specific locations to determine if tap water is safe. Another option is to ask the locals. Many travelers have reported no issues at all with drinking tap water, especially in major cities; however, South Africa has experienced increased issues with infrastructure maintenance and drought. Do not drink from rivers or streams. If you're a traveler with a sensitive stomach, consider a specialized water bottle with built-in filtration.
Popular Destinations & Tourist Attractions in South Africa
South Africa features a wide array of terrain that ranges from low-lying coastal areas to mountains to deserts. Plateaus are very common in South Africa's landscape, with the most notable formation, Table Mountain, overlooking Cape Town. With so many different regions, tourists can check out a safari, visit the beach, or do some hiking. Think about the types of activities that interest you most when planning your trip and choose a jumping off point that is close to the sites you intend to visit. The sprawling landscape can take some time to navigate, so be sure to research the best ways to get to your destinations. After all, the best trips start with well-planned itineraries. Below you'll find a list of some of the most popular tourist attractions and destinations throughout South Africa.
Top 10 Travel Destinations in South Africa
- Cape Town & Table Mountain
- Kruger National Park
- The Garden Route
- Cape Winelands
- Drakensberg (In Lesotho)
- Hermanus (The Whale Coast)
- Johannesburg (Including Soweto)
- Transkei (The Wild Coast)
- Robben Island
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article serves as a general overview of benefits and should only be used for informational purposes. Refer to your individual certificate of insurance for specific coverages, exclusions and benefits. When in doubt, please contact one of our licensed agents for additional assistance.