Visas for South Africa 

Most people entering South Africa will require a visa. Citizens of visa-exempt countries such as the UK, Canada and the US, among others, are allowed to remain in the country for up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.

Those not from a visa-exempt country, as well as those planning to stay in South Africa for a longer period with the intention of studying, volunteering or working, need to apply for a visa at their nearest South African embassy before travelling.

Immigration regulations in South Africa have been known to change rapidly, often without warning. Anyone planning a move is advised to keep an eye on the latest updates from the South African embassy or consulate in their home country.

Despite some improvements to the system, South African immigration processes are notoriously slow, and regulations are often open to interpretation. Because applications are not points-based, but rather assessed on a case-by-case basis, it is increasingly difficult to navigate the application process. Expats may wish to consult a registered immigration practitioner familiar with the latest local developments.

Before venturing to another country, make sure you have a health insurance plan you can rely on. Our international health insurance plans offer comprehensive health cover for when you are in your home country and abroad.

Expats planning on staying in South Africa for a period longer than 90 days will need a temporary residence visa. There are a variety of options available depending on a person’s reason for being in the country and what they intend to do while residing there.

Temporary residence visas include the following: relative’s visas, retirement visas, study visas, work visas, business visas and exchange visas, among others. These visas are granted for a period between two and five years. Applications for the extension of a temporary residence visa must be submitted 60 days prior to the expiry date of the visa.

Not every type of temporary residency visa will allow the holder to take up employment in South Africa.

Because South Africa has high rates of unemployment, securing a job as a foreigner isn’t a straightforward process. The main criteria to obtain any sort of work visa is that a South African citizen must not be qualified to perform the job at the same capacity as the applicant. The documentation needed to prove this is a grey area and the success of an application is often at the discretion of the Department of Home Affairs.

The main types of work visas are as follows:

In order to apply for a General Work Visa, expats must have a job offer from a South African employer. These visas are issued for the length of a work contract, up to a maximum of five years.

Employers need to prove that they were unable to find a South African or permanent resident to fill the position. Expat employees are also required to provide proof of their skills and qualifications. Expat employees should be paid no less than the average salary and benefits earned by locals employed in similar positions. 

This visa enables foreigners working within certain industries to enter South Africa without an offer of employment, as long as they have the necessary qualifications listed on the government’s critical skills list.

Like the General Work Visa, Critical Skills Work Visas can be issued for a maximum of five years. Expats in possession of this type of visa will need to obtain employment within 12 months of being issued the visa and will then need to send proof of this to the authorities. Sectors identified on the critical skills list include agriculture, architecture, business and economics, information and communications technology, science and medicine. 

Expats being relocated to the South African branch of a multinational business will need to obtain an Intra-Company Transfer Visa. This visa is granted for a period of up to four years. Required documentation includes an employment contract and letters from both the transferring office outside South Africa and the receiving office in the country.

This is a fairly straightforward visa to obtain as most companies applying on behalf of an expat employee will have had plenty of experience doing so in the past.

After having lived in South Africa for a set period of time (five years, in most cases), expats will become eligible to apply for permanent residency. The process varies depending on a person’s reason for remaining in South Africa. In general, a permanent residency application can take anywhere between one and three years, but there are reports of even longer processing times.

The major benefit of having permanent residency is that it is valid for life and doesn’t require any further renewal once it is obtained.