Plan Your Trip

Planning your trip to South Africa?

Here are a few useful tips I've compiled for you ...

South Africa from A-Z

ALCOHOL

Supermarkets in South Africa are not permitted to sell alcohol to the public on Sundays and on religious holidays. Bottle stores are open from Monday- Friday from 8am to 6pm.

In restaurants that are not licensed for liquor, you can bring your own alcoholic beverages. There may be a corkage fee.

BANKS

The large commercial banks in South Africa are: ABSA, Bidvest Bank, Capitec, First National Bank (FNB), Nedbank and Standard Bank.

These banks will exchange currency. If you are exchanging foreign currency at any one of the banks in South Africa, you will need to show them your passport. You can find branches of these banks in every major city. All the cities, major shopping centers and most smaller towns have ATM's. In the larger cities there are some international bank branches as well. Most commercial banks are open on weekdays from 9am to 3:30pm, Saturdays from 8:30am to 11am.

Banks and Foreign Exchange Tellers usually charge a commission fee for exchanging currency, therefore you will not always get the best exchange rate. Therefore, it is recommended to rather draw cash from an ATM or make your purchases using your credit cards in South Africa. It is also wise not to carry large sums of cash on your person anyway. (See also Credit Cards)

CLIMATE

Situated completely in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are opposite of that in the Northern Hemisphere. South Africa's climatic conditions generally range from Mediterranean in the southwestern corner of South Africa to temperate in the interior plateau, and subtropical in the northeast. A small area in the northwest has a desert climate. Most of the country has warm, sunny days and cool nights. Winter temperatures may reach the freezing point at high altitude, but are at their most mild in coastal regions, particularly the Eastern Cape. Cold and warm coastal currents running north-west and north-east respectively account for the difference in climates between west and east coasts. 

Cape Town:

Summer (October - March): min 16°C/ max 31°C (min 60°F/ max 88°F) - sunny, hot and windy days. Very little rainfall, dry season.

Winter (April - September): min 9°C/ max 21°C (min 48°F/ max 70°F)  - partly cloudy cool days with moderate rainfall, wet season.

Durban:

Summer (October - March): min 21°C/ max 29°C (min 70°F/ max 84°F) - sunny, humid with rainfall, wet season

Winter (April - September): min 11°C/max 24°C (min 52°F/ max 75°F) - pleasantly warm and frost-free days, moderate rainfall.

Johannesburg:

Summer (October - March): min 14°C /max 26°C (min 57°F/ max 79°F) - hot, rainy days and cool evenings, wet season.

Winter (April - September): min 2°C/ max 20°C (min 36°F/ max 68°F) - dry sunny days and cold nights, dry season.

Kruger National Park (Skukuza):

Summer (October - March): min 21°C/ max 33°C (min 70°F/ max 91°F) - hot and sunny days with rainfall, wet season.

Winter (April - September): min 6°C/ max 26°C (min 43°F/ max 79°F) - warm dry days with cold nights, dry season.

Port Elizabeth:

Summer (October - March): min 16°C/ max 26°C (min 60°F/ max 79°F) - sunny, hot and windy days with moderate rainfall.

Winter (April - September): min 8°C/ max 22°C (min 46°F/ max 72°F) - sunny, mild days with moderate rainfall.

CLOTHING

The clothing you pack should be for a warm temperate climate. The clothing should be light and breathable. There can be significant temperature differences between day and night in some areas in summer and winter. Therefore a warm sweater and rain coat is advisable. Pack sturdy, comfortable walking shoes and sandals for the beach. A hat and sunglasses should be worn to protect your eyes from the hot African sun. For safari's, khaki shirts, shorts and trousers are recommended. And don't forget your binoculars. In general causal wear is acceptable in South Africa. Jacket and ties are worn for more formal events and more exclusive hotels and restaurants.

CREDIT CARDS

Most international credit cards such as Master Card and Visa are widely accepted in South Africa. Diners Club and American Express are less frequently accepted in stores and establishments, so it is best to also bring an alternative credit card with you. It is best to carry at least two major credit cards with you should one become unusable for any reason. Some smaller stores and restaurants in far rural areas may not have credit card facilities, so keep some cash handy. Most major shopping centers, petrol (gas) stations and rural towns have ATM's where you can draw cash. However, unless you are touring in far rural areas in South Africa, it is not necessary to carry large amounts of cash with you. (see also Safety)

CURRENCY

The South African Rand (ZAR), also marked "R" on price tags, is the only legal tender in South Africa. R1 = 100 cents. Dollars and Euros are not accepted as legal tender in South Africa. 

DIALING CODES

To call internationally from South Africa; dial 00 plus the country code, followed by the city code minus the "0", and then the telephone number.

Australia: 00 + 61

Canada: 00 + 1

Ireland: 00 + 353

New Zealand: 00 + 64

UK: 00 + 44

USA: 00 + 1

DRIVING & TRAFFIC RULES

In South Africa traffic drives on the left.

Most vehicles in South Africa have manual transmission. A few luxury models have automatic transmission. When booking a car rental, you will need to specifically request automatic transmission if you want it, otherwise a manual transmission will be provided. When renting a car in South Africa, be sure to pay the complete insurance package including windscreen and tyre damage as this is often not included in the original quote, so confirm this with your rental company when collecting your vehicle. 

An excellent road network connects the largest cities with the smallest villages. The permitted speed in urban areas is 60 km/ h (37 mph), on rural roads 100 km/h (62 mph), and on motorways 120 km/h (74 mph), unless otherwise stated. The wearing of seat belts is mandatory, the alcohol limit is 0.05%. Driving under the influence of alcohol is just as strictly enforced as disregarding the traffic rules. An international driver's license or a valid driver's license with photo and certified English translation must be carried at all times when driving.

DRUGSTORES

In South Africa they are called "Pharmacies" or "Chemists" or in Afrikaans; "Apteek". Most drugstores in the larger towns and cities have a dispensary and also an emergency service. Here you can get prescription-free anti-malaria medication (when and if required). The largest and most popular drugstore chains are Alphapharm, Clicks, Dischem & Link Pharmacies.

ELECTRICITY

Power sockets are type F and L, fitting two- and three-pronged plugs. Standard voltage is 220-230 volts. Not all hotels and guest houses may have fitted adapters in the walls so it is recommended to acquire one prior to departure or on arrival in South Africa. Adapters for shavers and hair dyers (three-pin) can be purchased on arrival at the international airports of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

South Africa is currently experiencing an energy crisis. You may experience a few hours of load shedding during the day or night when the electricity is switched off. In December 2019, Eskom, the South African electricity public utility company, stated that of its total nominal capacity of around 44,000 MW, it was unable to provide around 13,000 MW of total capacity thereby resulting in the nationwide blackouts. Nevertheless should this happen most hospitals, hotels and major shopping malls have generators to keep them running. The duration of the blackout is normally 2 and a half hours, depending on the load shedding schedule.

Since March 2020, the load shedding schedule has been discontinued and electricity is supplied 24/7 as normal. However it may be re-implemented at short notice in the future. 

ETIQUETTE

While some aspects of South African etiquette is similar to that of Western cultures, there are notable differences especially among the diverse cultural and religious peoples of South Africa. 

Generally "please" is considered a polite form of respect when asking for something and a "thank you" goes a long way to show your gratitude. Open displays of affection in public regardless of sexual orientation is frowned upon. Discriminatory slurs or comments are also unacceptable and if audible can lead to criminal prosecution. 

Young South Africans are generally brought up to respect their elders and even strangers. Hence you may be greeted by a young stranger on the street, to show acknowledgement of your presence (a factor why many visitors rate South Africa one of the friendliest destinations). It is appreciated if you greet or wave back, even if you have never met that person before.

A young Afrikaans-speaking South African may refer to you as "tannie" (aunt) or "oom" (uncle) when addressing you. It is not an insult but just a form of respect when addressing someone they do not know personally. The title just acts as a replacement for your name that makes it just that more personal.

In African cultures, such as the Sotho, Xhosa and Zulu, the men are often served before the women, the same when entering or exiting through a doorway. While many young South Africans follow more global trends nowadays than their tribal ones, the elderly still follow their traditions.

South Africa has a respectable muslim community, so when visiting mosques please remove shoes and respect signage which denotes areas allocated to visitors. It is also considered rude to use your index finger to point at someone. Rather extend your open hand in the direction. 

LANGUAGE

South Africa is one of the most multi-linguistic countries in the world. A whopping 12 native languages are officially recognised in parliament. However the language of business remains English and most signage and communication is in English. Almost all South Africans are conversant in English, if not fluently then somewhat. 

For English speakers, some colloquial terms used in South African English may be confusing or unknown, as many of the terms used are rooted from some of the native languages. I have listed some of the most commonly used South African colloquialisms: 

 

1. Ag man! [pronounced: Ach-man]

This is the Afrikaans equivalent to “Oh man!” and is often used at the beginning of a sentence to express pity, resignation or irritation. Example: “Ag, man!” / “Ag, no man!” / “Ag, shame man!”

2. Babalas – hangover [pronounced: bub-ba-las]

This word is derived from the Zulu ‘ibhabhalazi’ and is used to describe a really bad hangover.

Example: “Eish, babalas my bru!”

3. Biltong – seasoned strips of dried meat. Similar to beef jerky (but much tastier!), this is the spicy, cured snack eaten at rugby matches. It is usually made from beef, game and even ostrich.

4. Boet – brother. This term is usually used in reference to a male friend or companion.

Example: “Hey my boet, see you at the game tonight!”

5. Boerewors — spicy South African sausage. [pronounced: boor-uh-vors]

Meaning ‘farmer’s sausage’, this term describes a savory sausage that was developed by the Afrikaners approximately 200 years ago. Boerewors is usually ‘braaied’ and eaten on a hot dog roll with tomato sauce and mustard. Make sure you roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing this word.

6. Bra /Bru – friend. This term is commonly used to call a friend, pal or buddy. 

7. Braai – a barbecue [pronounced: brr-rye]. 

Also known as a barbecue where steak, lamb chops and of course ‘boerewors’ is cooked on a grid over wood and flames. Add some salads, rolls and ‘melktert’ for dessert and you are set for a traditional South African braai. Again roll the 'r' when pronouncing this word.

8. Fundi – expert or teacher [pronounced: foon-di]

A term derived from the Nguni tribe, used to describe someone who is an expert at something.

Example: “He’s a fundi at that!”

9Gatvol – fed up / had enough [pronounced: ghut-foll]

Meaning ‘filled to the brim’ and is used to describe someone who is very angry or tired of the same thing happening over and over again.

Example: “I’m gatvol with that nonsense.” / “I’m gatvol that they keep losing all the time.”

10. Gogga – bug [pronounced: ch-o-cha]

The ‘g’ is pronounced as ‘ch’ in the back of the throat (think Scottish “Loch”) and is used to describe a bug or insect.

11. Hoezit /Howzit – How is it going? How are you?

A common greeting which is often used instead of “hello” and “how are you?” It combines the two phrases into a simple, “Howzit”, thereby saving time.

Example: “Howzit my bru!”

 12. Is it? / Izit? – Is that so? [pronounced: iz-zit]

A basic conversational word that can be inserted at various points in any conversation, meaning “oh, wow!” or “Is that so?” It can also be used when you don’t really feel like talking and don’t want to be rude but want to seem as if you’re listening.

Example: “Last week we went on a game drive! Sho my bru! We saw loads of antelope!” “Is it, hey!” 

13. Lekker – great / tasty [pronounced: lack-err]

Derived from Afrikaans that has multiple meanings and which can be used in various contexts to describe many things from people to food to inanimate objects. It is used to convey the meaning of great, delicious, nice or fun. Make sure to roll the ‘r’ when pronouncing the word.

Example: “That new movie is lekker!” / “That bunny chow was lekker!” / “I’m lekker, bru!”

14. Now Now – immediately / soon

A confusing phrase for non-locals meaning sometime soon – sooner than just now but longer than right now.

Example: “We’re going to the beach now now!” (But first we have to pack our swimming gear, stop at gas station and maybe get some snacks…).

15. Robot - a traffic light

16. Slap chips – French fries [pronounced: slup-chips]

Derived from Afrikaans meaning limp and describing soft, fat French fries. These are usually mixed with tomato sauce and vinegar.

MALARIA

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that affects humans and other animals. In South Africa, malaria is mainly transmitted along the border areas to Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Eswatini and Botswana. Only three South African provinces namely, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal are endemic for malaria. The rest of South Africa is not regarded as a malaria area. Medications for prophylaxis must be taken if visiting these border areas, especially in the wet summer season between October and April. They are available in all drugstores in South Africa without a prescription. Ask your pharmacist about the best combination for you. To avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes it is recommended not to wear too much after-shave or perfume on safari, and after sunset it is recommended to wear long sleeved shirts and trousers. Insect repellent is readily available in South African drugstores and supermarkets. 

 

MEDICAL EMERGENCIES

South Africa has no national healthcare system. It is therefore advisable to take out health insurance before your trip, which covers the corresponding expenses during your stay. As a tourist, you have to go to private hospitals and doctors. These are available in most major centers and include 24-hour service. If you are using chronic prescription medication, it is advisable to bring this with you as well as a copy of your doctors prescription in case of an emergency. It is wise to pack an additional supply of your prescription medication and remember NOT to pack this in your checked luggage. 

POSTAL SERVICES

The national Post Office is usually open Mondays to Fridays 08:30 - 16:30, Saturdays 08:00 - 12:00. The hours may be extended for postal branches located in larger shopping centres. Sadly, the postal service in South Africa, which is wholly state owned, has a reputation of inefficiency and delays are very common. The more efficient PostNet is South Africa's largest privately owned counter network in the document and parcel industry, trading across over 390 owner-managed retail stores and is recommended. 

PUBLIC HOLIDAYS IN SOUTH AFRICA

Banks, embassies, schools and public services are closed on the following public holidays. Should a public holiday fall on a Sunday, it will be observed the following Monday as well:

01 January - New Years Day

21 March - Human Rights Day

The Friday before Easter Sunday - Good Friday

The Monday following Easter Sunday - Family Day

27 April - Freedom Day

01 May - Workers' Day

16 June - Youth Day

09 August - National Women's Day

24 September - Heritage Day

16 December - Day of Reconciliation

25 December - Christmas Day

26 December - Day of Goodwill (formerly Boxing Day)

SAFETY

It makes sense to exercise the same caution in large cities as you would in other metropolitan areas around the world. Never leave your luggage unattended in front of the hotel or in the lobby. Deposit your valuables in the hotel safe; do not stroll through the streets or on beaches alone after dark; always lock your car and do not leave any valuables visible in the vehicle, rather lock it away in the boot (trunk). I have a saying: "What thieves cannot see, they won't try to steal".  If driving, try to reach your destination in daylight. Do not show yourself as the wealthy tourist in poorer areas as it may provoke unpleasant incidents. It is not wise to carry large sums of money on your person. Rather make purchases on your credit card and keep a spare card in your hotel safe should your wallet or purse get lost or stolen. Should you lose your passport, contact your nearest embassy immediately. 

SUN PROTECTION

The sun shines very intensely over South Africa, so sunscreens with a sun protection factor of 15 or higher are recommended. Wearing sunglasses and a hat is an added protection from the sun during the day. Remember to drink a lot of water on hot days to prevent dehydration and heat strokes. Don't be fooled on cloudy days, the suns rays through the clouds can still cause a sunburn. 

VAT (VALUE ADDED TAX)

The Value Added Tax of 15% is included in most of the goods and services purchased in South Africa. 

Consulates & Embassies in South Africa

 

AUSTRALIAN HIGH COMMISSION

292 Orient Street, Arcadia, Pretoria 0083, Gauteng, South Africa

Postal Address: Australian High Commission, Private Bag X15, PosNet Suite 493, Menlo Park 0102, Gauteng, South Africa

Tel: +27 -12 423 6000

Fax: +27 -12 342 8442

Website: www.southafrica.embassy.gov.au

BRITISH CONSULATE IN CAPE TOWN

Norton Rose House, 8 Riebeeck Street, Foreshore, Cape Town 8001, Western Cape, South Africa

Tel: +27 -21 405 2400

BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION IN PRETORIA

255 Hill Street, Arcadia, Pretoria 0028, Gauteng, South Africa

tel: +27 -12 421 7500

Website: www.gov.uk 

CANADIAN HIGH COMMISSION

1103 Arcadia Street, Hatfield, Pretoria 0083, Gauteng, South Africa

Postal Address: High Commission of Canada, Private Bag X13, Hatfield 0028, South Africa

Tel: +27 -12 422 3000

Fax: +27 -12 422 3052

Website: www.canadainternational.gc.ca

IRISH EMBASSY IN SOUTH AFRICA

570 Fehsen Street, Brooklyn, Pretoria 0181, Gauteng, South Africa

Tel: +27 -12 452 1000

Website: www.dfa.ie

NEW ZEALAND HIGH COMMISSION

125 Middel Street, Nieuw Muckleneuk, Pretoria 0181, Gauteng, South Africa

Tel: +27 -12 435 9000

Fax +27 -12 435 9002

Website: www.mfat.govt.nz 

UNITED STATES - CONSULATE GENERAL

2 Reddam Ave, Steenberg Estate, Cape Town 7945, Western Cape, South Africa

Postal Address: PostNet Suite 50, Private Bag X26, Tokai 7966, Wetsern Cape, South Africa

Tel: +27 -21 702 7300

Fax: +27 -21 702 7493

Website: www.usembassy.gov 

© 2017 by Stephan Wischnewski.

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