Departure to Johannesburg

Passport, Visa & Permits to Johannesburg

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Entry permits are issued free on arrival (at the airport and land crossings) to visitors on holiday from many Commonwealth and most western European countries, as well as Japan and the Unites States. If you aren't entitled to an entry permit, you'll need to get a visa (also free) before you arrive. It's much less hassle when arriving by air if you arrive with a return air-ticket .Depending on your nationality, you will likely need to contact one of the offices below concerning a passport or visa to enter into or obtain legal residence for South Africa.

South African Department of Home Affairs

Department of Foreign Affairs -- Republic of South Africa

Passport / Travel Document Holders Who Are Exempt From Visas For South Africa

The citizen who is a holder of a national passport (diplomatic, official and ordinary) /travel document of the foreign countries / territories / international organisations listed below are not required to hold a visa when reporting to an immigration officer for an examination at a South African port of entry subject to specific terms and conditions.

1. The holder of a national South African passport, travel document and document for travel purposes.

2. The citizen who is a holder of a national passport (diplomatic, official or ordinary)/travel document of the following countries / territories / international organisations is not required to hold a visa in respect of purposes for which a visitor's permit may be issued or by virtue of being a person contemplated in section 31(3)(b) [diplomatic & official visit] for an intended stay of 90 days or less and when in transit:

African Union Laissez-Passer
Czech Republic
Great Britain* (see below)
New Zealand
San Marino
St Vincent & the Grenadines
United States of America

For Great Britain:

  • Residents of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, British Islands Bailiwick of Guernsey and Jersey, Isle of Man and Virgin Islands, Republic of Ireland, and British Overseas Territories also do not require a visa.
  • Nationals of the following countries do require a visa: British Dependent Territories, including Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Henderson, St Helena, Ducie and Oeno Islands, the Sovereign Base Area of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and the Turks and Caicos Island.

3. The citizen who is a holder of a national passport (diplomatic, official and ordinary) / travel document of the following countries / territories / international organisations is not required to hold a visa in respect of purposes for which a visitor's permit may be issued or by virtue of being a person contemplated in section 31(3)(b) [diplomatic & official visit] for an intended stay of 30 days or less and when in transit:

Antigua and Barbuda
Cape Verde
Costa Rica
Hong Kong [only with regard to holders of Hong Kong British National Overseas passports and Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports]
Macau [only with regard to holders of Macau Special Administrative Region passports (MSAR)]
Slovak Republic
South Korea
Zimbabwe [only in respect of government officials, including police on cross border investigations]

4. Agreements have also been concluded with the following countries for holders of diplomatic and official passport holders.

Citizens who are holders of diplomatic, official and service passports of the following countries do not require visas in respect of purposes for which a visitor's permit may be issued or by virtue of being a person contemplated in section 31(3)(b) [diplomatic & official visit] for the period indicated and transit:
Albania (120 days)
Madagascar (30 days)
Algeria (30 days)
Morocco (30 days)
Angola (90 days)
Mozambique (90 days)
Belarus (90 days)
Paraguay (120 days)
Bulgaria (90 days)
Poland (90 days)
Cyprus (90 days)
Romania (90 days)
Comoros (90 days)
Rwanda (30 days)
Croatia (90 days)
Slovak (90 days)
Egypt (30 days)
Slovenia  (120 days)
Guinea (90 days)
Tanzania (90 days)
Hungary (120 days)
Thailand  (90 days)
Ivory Coast (30 days)
Tunisia (90 days)
Kenya (30 days)
Vietnam (90 days)
Mexico (90 days)

6. Notwithstanding this Schedule, a foreigner whose visa exemption has been withdrawn shall comply with the visa requirements until notified that his or her visa exemption has been reinstated.

7. Visas are not required by passport holders of Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Malawi who are entering the Republic as commercial heavy-duty vehicle drivers provide their visits do not exceed 15 days and on condition that they can produce a letter confirming their employment with a transport company on entry.

8. Staff members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) who travel on SADC laissez-passers are exempt from visa requirements for bona fide official business visits up to 90 days and transit.

9. Holders of United Nations (UN) laissez-passers are exempt from visa requirements when visiting the Republic for periods not exceeding 90 days for purposes for which a visitor's permit may be issued, and for official business purposes and transits and when accredited for placement at a UN mission in the Republic for the duration of their accreditation. Volunteers attached to UN agencies and travelling on ordinary passports are exempt from visa requirements, provided they are in possession of the relevant letters or identification documents to identify themselves at ports of entry as personnel of an UN agency.

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Permanent Residence

For those who wish to relocate to South Africa, the appropriate resident permit is a must. Although the technical term for the visa types listed below is generally "permit", e.g. "work permit" or "permanent residence permit", for simplification purposes the term "visa" is often used. As of 1 July 2005 extended visitor's permits (valid for up to 3 years) are granted only in narrowly defined cases, e.g. voluntary or charitable activities or academic research or sabbatical. A mere long-term stay without any specific purpose other than leisure or holiday outside of the above categories is no longer provided through the visitor's permit. Persons can be considered for permanent residence permits in the following categories

  • Work Visa: Persons wishing to seek or take up employment in South Africa...
  • Business Visa (Start-up or Investment in existing Business): The so-called business permit is issued to foreigners who wish to establish a new business in South Africa...
  • Retirement and Financial Independence Visa: Retirement visas are issued to foreigners of all ages with proof of sufficient financial means for their retirement in South Africa...
  • Studies, Education & Research: Persons wishing to attend school, university or other institutions of learning in South Africa.
  • Relatives Visa: Blood (or adopted child) relation to South African citizen or permanent resident

In some categories or instances the permits are issued under certain terms and conditions. The status of permanent resident does not affect the holder's citizenship. The permanent resident can obtain a South African identity book endorsed as "non-citizen", but not a South African passport. Persons who have previously been granted permanent residence in South Africa, subsequently left the country and wish to take up residence again should check the validity of their original permits. A consultation with an immigration expert is particularly advisable. The best sources of up-to-date information about South African immigration are your nearest South African Consulate, Embassy or High Commission if you are abroad or your nearest Department of Home Affairs office if you are in South Africa (Department of Home Affairs, Sub-directorate: Permanent Residence, Private Bag X114, Pretoria 0001, South Africa Tel. 012-314 8536).

South African has a vast supply of unskilled and semi-skilled workers, which means that unskilled and semi-skilled workers are rarely accepted as immigrant workers. As a general rule, a prospective South African immigrant shouldn't apply for a job for which there are already sufficient potential applicants in South Africa to meet the country's needs. On the other hand, immigrants who will contribute to South Africa's economy are welcomed, particularly skilled workers of a type for which there's a shortage in South Africa. Entrepreneurs and industrialists who wish to establish businesses in the country are likely to be welcomed with open arms.

Applications for residence are considered individually on merit by an autonomous statutory body, the Immigrants Selection Board, and its basic criteria are that you should be of good character, be a desirable inhabitant, not be likely to be harmful to the welfare of the country and not engage in an occupation which is already sufficiently practised in the country.
If you comply with these criteria, you can proceed to apply for residence, which is generally done in your country of origin, at your nearest South Africa office (Consulate, Embassy or High Commission). You must usually wait for the outcome of the application before entering South Africa.  However, it is possible to apply for some types of residence while in South Africa, at your nearest Home Affairs office, provided you fulfil at least one of the following criteria:

  • You are in the country on a valid work permit;
  • You are married to, or the child of, a South African citizen or permanent resident and have a valid temporary residence permit;
  • You are being sponsored for immigration purposes by a blood family member who is permanently and lawfully resident in South Africa, and are in South Africa on a valid temporary residence permit;
  • You have been exempted from the requirement to hold a temporary residence permit.
Certain persons are issued a temporary residence permit, valid for a year, during which time they must apply for a permanent residence permit. (The temporary permit may be extended if the application process is not completed in time.) There are currently around a dozen categories, some of which are ill-defined. Applications are treated individually in many cases, although the system is under review. The three main categories are:
  • Spouses of South African residents who want to join their spouses in the country.
  • Fiancé(e)s of South African residents who want to join their fiancé(e)s in the country.
  • Sponsored people.

The relevant category is decided by officials of the Department of Home Affairs, with a stated goal of processing within 12 months, although complex applications sometimes take up to 18 months. An essential element of the application process is attending an interview with a member of the Department of Home Affairs (if you are applying within South Africa) or the Department of Foreign Affairs (if you are applying outside South Africa). If your application is rejected, the reasons will be supplied in writing, as well as details of your right to appeal against the decision and the time-frame and procedures of an appeal. Once your residence (or immigration) permit has been granted, you have six months in which to take up permanent residence. Otherwise, your permit will lapse and may be withdrawn. Residence permits can be withdrawn for various reasons, including the following:

  • Any information supplied in your application is found to be incorrect.
  • You change your occupation within three years of being granted permanent residence without being granted permission to do so by the Department of Home Affairs.
  • You obtained your permit on the basis of a marriage undertaken less than two years before the date of issue of the permit, and the marriage is terminated less than two years after this date, unless you can persuade the Department that the marriage wasn't entered into for the purpose of securing permanent residence.


To qualify for residence as a worker, you must normally meet the following criteria:

  • Be aged between 18 and 51
  • Have a permanent offer of employment made by a South African registered company
  • Have been offered a position commensurate with your qualifications and experience
  • Have a statement from your prospective employer stating why a South African citizen or permanent resident cannot fill or be trained to fill the position
  • Your prospective employer must submit proof (e.g. press clippings of advertisements placed over a period of at least a month in national newspapers) that the job has been advertised and that no suitable South African has applied, unless it's obvious that no South African would be suited to the post
  • Have registered with the appropriate South African bodies if you are professionally qualified
  • Have paid a non-refundable application fee (R1,520 or US$225 or €190) and have applied for residence abroad

Since the legislative amendments of July 2005, "work" is defined to include "any activity consistent with being employed or consistent with the profession of the person, with or without reward". The wider definition of "work" includes many activities that could previously be conducted while being in possession of an ordinary visitor's permit. This applies to short-term project work on behalf of a non-South African employer, unpaid internships or seasonal work in the hospitality or film industries for example. In these cases a so-called "authorisation to work" may be obtained, which is linked to a visitor's permit and far less difficult to obtain than the formal work permit. Persons wishing to take up charitable or voluntary activities in South Africa (typically with a non-profit, religious or other charitable organisation) can obtain an extended visitor's permit for a period of up to 3 years, which authorises them to conduct this type of work. In the case of voluntary or charitable activities a permanent residence permit may not be granted.

The most commonly known work visa type is the so-called "general work visa". The prospective employer must provide evidence for the need for the foreign applicant's specific qualifications, skills or experience and to submit proof of efforts to recruit a local candidate (for example, by advertising the position). Further, the applicant's qualifications must be evaluated by the South African Qualifications Authority Evaluation (SAQA), and a salary benchmarking must be obtained from the Department of Labour to prove that the foreigner will not be paid below the local standards for a particular position.

With the Updated Quotas and List issued in 2007, Call Centre Managers were included and IT professionals excluded, and the categories and quotas are much more strict in general than they were before 2006.  However, those who fall with the specialised categories of the quota list, and can prove at least five years' work experience in their field, may obtain a work permit with substantially less strenuous requirements than those of the general work permit. Here, the employer need not prove that the position cannot be filled by a South African citizen or permanent resident. A "quota work permit" can be issued even if no job offer has been made to the applicant, although a binding contract is to be submitted to the Department of Labour within 90 days. The applicant's qualifications must also be evaluated by SAQA.  Persons with exceptional skills or qualifications can be granted an "exceptional skills work visa" purely on the grounds of those skills or qualifications and independently of a particular job offer or position to be taken. The term "exceptional" is not defined in the legislation. However, the skills need to be proven by a prescribed set of documents, which are not easily available to most applicants.

In the case of secondments or transfers of employees between branches, related or affiliated companies, a so-called "intra-company transfer visa" may be obtained. The requirements for this type of permit are less strict than for other work permit categories, but the permit is restricted to a period of 2 years and is difficult to extend. In he latest draft legislation, the time of promulgation of which is uncertain, the period will be extended to 4 years. Persons wishing to take up employment with an organisation which has a corporate visa may apply for a "corporate worker visa."  As might be expected, the requirements are very basic in comparison to most other work visa categories.

Spouses & Children

Marriage to a South African citizen or permanent resident doesn't automatically guarantee permanent resident status. You will first be considered as a prospective immigrant in your own right, particularly if you have professional qualifications. Only if you fail to qualify under another category will you be considered as a spouse, in which case you must submit proof of marriage and your spouse's ability to support you and any dependent children. You can apply from abroad or within South Africa and there's no fee. If you apply within South Africa, you must enter the country on a visitor's visa, with an affidavit 'to join spouse' completed and signed by your husband or wife. When you arrive in South Africa, the visa will be replaced by a temporary residence permit valid for one year. You must apply for permanent residence before this expires or for an extension to your temporary residence permit if your permanent residence isn't finalised in time. Spouses or life partners (heterosexual or homosexual) of South African citizens or residents, who are supported by their partners, may obtain a work authorisation without having to meet the requirements of a formal work visa..


If you are engaged to a South African citizen or permanent resident and wish to apply for immigration to South Africa, you are first considered as a prospective immigrant in your own right, especially if you have professional qualifications. Only if you fail to qualify for immigration under another category will you be considered under the category of fiancé(e). You must apply for this category abroad. If you choose not to join your South African fiancé(e) and await the outcome of the application abroad, you must deposit a refundable immigration fee. If you choose to join your fiancé(e) and to await the outcome of the application in South Africa, you must deposit a refundable repatriation fee. In both cases, the fee will be refunded on presentation (at a South African Consulate, Embassy or High Commission abroad or a Home Affairs office in South Africa) of a marriage certificate and the original receipt.

If you choose to join your fiancé(e) in South Africa to await the outcome of your application, you must enter South Africa on a visitor's visa. To apply, you will need an affidavit completed and signed by you fiancé(e) that you are to be married within three months. On arrival in South Africa, your visa will be replaced by a temporary residence permit valid for one year. You must apply for permanent residence before the permit expires or extend your temporary residence permit if your permanent residence isn't finalised in time.

Retired or Financially Self-Supporting People

If you are retired and financially self-supporting and want to apply for residence in South Africa, you must submit documentary proof of financial assets which are readily transferable to South Africa. When considering your application, the extent of the transferable amount and/or the confirmation of a sufficient ongoing income from abroad (e.g. a pension) will be taken into account when considering your application. You must apply abroad and a non-refundable fee (R1,520 or US$225 or €190) is required. If you wish to apply for residence under this category, you must transfer an amount of at least R1,500,000 (£130,435) to South Africa, of which R700,000 (£60,870) must be invested in the South African economy for a period of three years. After three years, you must prove that this requirement has been met, otherwise the immigration permit may be withdrawn. You must also refrain from engaging in employment or starting your own business without the approval of the Department of Home Affairs, and notify the Department of any change of address during the three-year period. You must apply abroad and a non-refundable fee (R1,520 or US$225 or €190) applies.

Own Business

If you wish to establish a business in South Africa, you must provide evidence that you have sufficient funds to support yourself and your family during the set-up period (which can be three years or more) and must transfer a minimum amount of money (determined by the Immigrants Selection Board) in order to set up the business. A year after establishing the business, you must submit the following to the Department of Home Affairs:

  • Audited financial statements in order for the viability of the business to be determined;
  • Evidence that at least two South African citizens or permanent residents, excluding members of your family, have been and still are employed;
  • Evidence that the amount determined by the Immigrants Selection Board has been used for the intended purpose;

If you go into business with others, you must submit evidence to the Department of Home Affairs, a year after entering the venture, that your involvement has resulted in a substantial contribution to the South African economy or the full-time employment of at least two South African citizens or permanent residents, excluding members of your family.


There are three general grounds for the granting of South African citizenship: Birth, descent and naturalization. The "determination of citizenship" process may lead to the confirmation of an existing right to South African citizenship. Naturalisation may generally be applied for if the foreigner has lived in South Africa for 5 years on the basis of a valid permanent residence. For spouses of South Africans this time frame is reduced to 2 years.  Unless prior permission is obtained to retain dual citizenship, there is a risk of losing one's original citizenship upon obtaining a South African passport. There is currently no single valid regulation or legislation in this regard. In specific cases, former South African citizens have an automatic right to permanent residence. Where a citizenship by birth has been lost, the former citizen usually has an automatic right to permanent residence. One example would apply to certain former Namibian (i.e. South West African) AND South African citizens, whose South African citizenship was automatically withdrawn when Namibia gained political independence from South Africa. Since citizenship legislation is complex and involved, it is advisable to seek professional advice.

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Update 27/11/2008


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