South Africa is possibly one of the most diverse and enchanting countries in the world. Exotic combinations of landscapes, biodiversity, people, history, and culture provide visitors with a truly unique and exciting experience.

South Africa is located on the southern tip of the African continent, bordered by northern neighbours Botswana, Namibia, Mozambique and Zimbabwe and it encompasses the independent mountain kingdoms of Lesotho and Swaziland. South Africa is 1 233 404km² in size and is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the warm Indian Ocean on the east, nearly 3 000km of coastline – giving the country its spectacular range of ecosystems.


South Africa has three capitals: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (administrative) and Bloemfontein (judicial).

Political system

Since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994, South Africa has had a democratic government. The Constitution is regarded as an example to the world and enshrines a wide range of human rights protected by an independent judiciary. The head of the country is the president. The current incumbent is Jacob Zuma, who is the head of the ruling party, the African National Congress.


Regarded as an emerging market, South Africa has a well-developed financial sector and active stock exchange. Financial policies have focused on building solid macroeconomic structures. The country’s central bank is the South African Reserve Bank.


The tourism industry is well established with an exciting sector of emerging entrepreneurs. The country is strong on adventure, sport, nature and wildlife, and is a pioneer and global leader in responsible tourism.


The last census in 2011 showed a population of about 52 million people, of varying origins, cultures, languages and religions, of which 79,2% are African, 8,9% ‘coloured’ (a term used in South Africa to describe people of mixed race), 8,9% white, and 2,5% Indian. Just over half the population is female.


South Africa’s currency is the rand, which offers visitors great value for money. The rand comes in a range of coins (R1 = 100 cents) and note denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.


The climate in South Africa is almost perfect, with warm sunny days most of the year, hence the title ‘Sunny South Africa’. The seasons of the southern hemisphere are opposite to those in the northern hemisphere so the summer runs from November to February, when most of the country is characterised by hot weather with afternoon thunderstorms. Most of the nine provinces have summer rainfall, except for the Western Cape, which experiences winter rainfall. Winters are generally mild and dry, though the high-lying areas of the interior can be chilly in winter; temperatures have been known to plummet to below zero in Johannesburg. South Africa enjoys one of the world’s highest average daily hours of sunshine – 8.5 compared with 3.8 in London, 6.4 in Rome and 6.9 in New York. In the summer, lightweight cotton clothing is advised because daytime temperatures generally hover around 77-86 degrees Fahrenheit. In the winter months (May to October) the sun shines almost every day. Daytime temperatures hover around 63 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The South African Weather Service uses the following dates for seasons:

  • Spring: September, October, November
  • Summer: December, January, February
  • Autumn: March, April, May
  • Winter: June, July, August


South Africa has a well-developed communications infrastructure. A number of cellphone providers offer national coverage and there are well-established landline phone networks. Internet and Wi-Fi are easily accessible in most urban areas with most hotels offering internet connection. A Subscriber Identity Module Card (SIM Card) is now available for South Africans and foreign customers who are travelling around. The SIM Card must be used in conjunction with a Digital GSM mobile phone within the 900-MHz range or a Digital PCN mobile phone within the 1800-MHz range. 

Phoning overseas from South Africa
If you wish to make a call overseas, you must first dial 00, which is South Africa’s international access code. You then dial the country code, area code of the city or region and the number of the person you wish to call. e.g. if you make a call to Sydney, Australia, telephone number 456 1234 you must dial 00 612 456-1234.


There are nine provinces in South Africa, namely: Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West and Western Cape.


In South Africa there are 11 officially recognised languages, most of them indigenous. English is one of these, and everywhere you go, you can expect to find people who speak and understand it. English is the language of the cities, of commerce and banking, of government and official documents. Road signs and official forms are in English. At any hotel, bed and breakfast or guest house, the service staff will speak to you in English.


About 80% of South Africa’s population is Christian. Other major religious groups include Hindus, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists. A minority does not belong to any of the major religions. The Constitution guarantees freedom of worship.


In urban areas tap water is usually of high quality and safe to drink. It’s quite safe to have ice in drinks and to eat salads. However, when travelling to remote rural areas and the bush you should take your own drinking water along or buy bottled water.

Animals and plants

In 1998 Conservation International declared South Africa one of the 17 mega-diverse destinations in the world because of its rich biological diversity. Expect majestic and intimidating animals such as rhinos, elephants and great white sharks, and smaller ‘cute’ ones such as meerkats, bush babies and bat-eared foxes, as well as diverse plant life from succulent Karoo through to fynbos and indigenous forests.


The South African electricity supply is 220/230 volts AC 50 HZ. With a few exceptions (in deep rural areas), electricity is available almost everywhere.


South Africa’s three major international airports are OR Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg); Cape Town International Airport; and King Shaka International Airport (Durban). There are also many regional airports, including the Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport in Mbombela (Nelspruit).

Travel by road and rail

South Africa has an extensive road infrastructure including national highways and secondary roads. Speed limits are set at 120km/h on highways; 100km/h on secondary roads; and 60km/h in urban areas. Most roads are in good condition, but there are a few exceptions. There are rail connections between the main centres, such as Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Entry requirements

For visa requirements, please contact your nearest South African diplomatic mission. South Africa requires a valid yellow fever certificate from all foreign visitors and citizens over one year of age travelling from an infected area or having been in transit through infected areas. Infected areas include Zambia and Angola in southern Africa.


South Africa has been well known for its medical skill since Professor Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human heart transplant in the country in 1967. There are many world-class private hospitals and medical centres around the country, especially in the urban areas, while many state hospitals also offer excellent care.


Most of South Africa is malaria-free, but if you are visiting the Kruger National Park or low-lying parts of northern KwaZulu-Natal, be aware that you are entering malarial areas and should take precautions in the form of prophylactic medication.

Tips and tipping

As a rough guide: give 10% to 15% to a waitron in a restaurant; about US$10 (or equivalent) per day to your safari ranger.


As South Africa is a developing country, crime does exist, so we would advise you to take a few basic precautions. All valuables, passports, cameras, should be locked in the safe of your hotel. Valuables should be carried discreetly when walking in cities. Keep car doors and windows locked at all times. If in doubt, ask a guide or at your accommodation for safety guidelines.

VAT Refunds

Tax refunds for tourists made easy: As a visitor to South Africa, you can spend as little as R250.00 on goods intended for export, and claim a VAT refund. The user-friendly procedure allows you to claim your money before you even leave South African territory.

Who can claim? Non-residents on a temporary visit to South Africa are eligible to claim a VAT refund in respect of movable goods exported through a designated point of departure within 90 days from the date of purchase.

Important information: Maximum payment by cheque will be for an amount of R3000.00. Claims exceeding this limit or claims requiring further audit, will be posted.
Please note: Goods consumed in South Africa or services rendered in the country do not qualify for VAT refunds. Only original Tax Invoices will be considered for refunds. The goods must be presented for inspection on departure. Goods must be exported within 90 days of the date of purchase and the claim lodged within 3 months from the date of export. An administration fee of 1.5% of the inclusive value of the claim will be deducted, subject to a minimum of R 10.00 and a maximum of R 250.00.

How to claim your tax refund: Simply identify yourself as a tourist to shop assistants, and request a Tax Invoice for the goods you have purchased.

A valid tax invoice must contain all the following information:

  • The words “Tax Invoice”
  • A Tax Invoice number
  • The seller’s VAT Registration number
  • Date of Issue of the Tax Invoice
  • The seller’s name and address
  • The buyer’s name and address
  • A full description of the goods purchased
  • The cost of the goods in Rands
  • The amount of VAT charged or a statement that VAT is included in the total cost

For additional information contact : VAT Refund Administrator (Pty) Ltd, Postal Address: P.O. Box 107; OR Tambo International Airport, Postal code: 1627, Telephone: +27 (0)11 394 – 1117, Facsimile: +27 (0)11 394 – 1430, E-Mail:

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