Advice for South African citizens travelling abroad
When travelling abroad South Africans should take time to learn about the financial, political, cultural and economic environment of their intended destination. Learn at least a few key phrases in the host country’s language. Even a modest command of the local language will go a long way. When travelling abroad the laws of the foreign country apply to everybody. South Africans are not exempt from the law of the host country and cannot expect special treatment.
Find out about the destination, paying particular attention to issues of personal security, safety, health, immigration, customs and import regulations.
South Africans are encouraged to have the contact details of the nearest South African Representative office and to carry contact details of their next of kin at all times.
A combination of your South African passport and RSA identity document are the best proof of your South African citizenship. Anyone who intends travelling abroad should have a valid passport. If you do not have a passport, apply for it well in advance at all regional offices of the Department of Home Affairs.
Passport application forms are available at all regional offices of the Department of Home Affairs countrywide and at South African Representative abroad. If your passport is due to expire within the next six months or has less than two blank pages, check with the foreign embassy or consulate of the country of your intended destination in South Africa for its rules and restrictions regarding passport validity and expiry.
If you have any questions about passports, you can either contact the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria at telephone +27 12 395 4307 (from abroad) or 0800 60 11 90 within South Africa or the Home Affairs Contact Centre via e-mail on email@example.com, or any regional office of the Department of Home Affairs.
Keep certified copies of your passport (including the visa pages) with you for identification purposes. Do not keep the passport and the copies in the same place. An additional precaution is to leave a copy with a relative or friend at home.
If your passport is lost or stolen while you are travelling abroad, report the loss/theft immediately to the local law enforcement agency (e.g. police station). Take a copy of the police report to the nearest South African High Commission, Embassy or Consulate-General where you will apply for an emergency travel document. There is a fee attached to the application for an emergency travel document.
Please note that all passport applications are forwarded to the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa for processing and issuance of new passports. The waiting period to receive a new passport abroad can be several months. In emergency situations the South African Diplomatic or Consular Mission is in a position to issue you with an Emergency Travel Certificate, which will allow you only to travel directly back to South Africa.
In order to apply for a new Passport, or an Emergency Travel Certificate, you must:
- Complete an application form.
- Be finger-printed.
- Produce written evidence of your South African citizenship (e.g. a birth certificate, identity document, certified copy of passport, driver’s license). Where available.
- Provide a copy of the police report. (in the event of loss or theft)
- Present two photographs.
- Pay the prescribed fee (as determined by the Department of Home Affairs).
A South African passport remains the property of the Government of South Africa and may only be used by the person to whom it is issued. Selling your passport or permitting any other individual or agency to use it may lead to criminal prosecution and is considered sufficient cause to revoke the passport and refuse future passport services. In cases where employers insist to “safe keep” passports, please report it immediately to the nearest South African Diplomatic/Consular office.
Please note: It is the responsibility of travellers to ensure that they are in possession of the required valid passports and other required documents, issued by the Department of Home Affairs, before departure. As a foreigner in a foreign country, you should always have your South African Passport (with the required visa/study/work/residence permit) with you.
The DIRCO will not intervene on behalf of travellers before their departure from South Africa, on matters relating to the issuance of new RSA passports, the renewal of it or the issuance of ID, Birth-, Unabridged birth-, marriage certificates, or any other matter that falls within the mandate of the functions of the Department of Home Affairs.
A visa or permit is your permission to travel to, transit or remain in a foreign country. A visa or permit does not, however, guarantee entry into the foreign country, as the decision to grant entry remains the decision of the immigration officials of the foreign country.
South African passport holders enjoy visa exemptions for certain countries. This means that South Africans can travel, usually for holiday or business purposes, to such countries without a visa for a pre-determined time. South Africans are strongly advised against using such visa exemption to travel to a foreign country with the real intention to work/study/reside there.
A work/study/residence permit must be applied for prior to travelling to that country.
South Africans must always check with the travel agent and/or the Foreign Representative in South Africa of the country you intend to travel to, whether a visa is required or not. Since requirements can change from time to time it is best to double check the requirements before each trip.
If you do not correctly comply with visa or permit requirements or overstay on your visa or permit you will be subject to any or all of the following: criminal prosecution, imprisonment, deportation and/or being blacklisted.
Please note: DIRCO will not obtain visas- work- study- residence permits on behalf of prospective travellers.
It is strongly recommended that you take out travel insurance before travelling abroad. Travel insurance should cover hospitalisation and related medical costs as well as a possible emergency evacuation. Depending on your age, physical condition and destination you should consider provision in the event of death. Your travel agent or bank will be able to advise you.
Medical costs abroad can be expensive compared to South Africa. In some instances medical treatment can be withheld by the foreign country if a person has no proof of funds or travel insurance.
Travel insurance that cover expenses in the event of death abroad will ensure that family and friends are not burdened with the costs for the preparation and transportation of mortal remains to South Africa. Remember to confirm the details of your coverage with your insurer as pre-existing medical conditions may require additional cover.
It is important to cover all the members of the travelling party adequately.
Airlines may overbook flights during peak season. Therefore, travellers are advised to arrive early for check in.
Prospective Prospective travellers who intend driving abroad must apply for an international driving permit (IDP). These are issued by the Automobile Association of South Africa. Always ensure that you have both your original driver’s licence as well as your IDP with you and keep copies (preferably certified copies) separate from the originals.
South African drivers’ licences are recognised in SADC countries (Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). It is recommended that a letter of verification be obtained from the South African Department of Transport.
When travelling by road to a neighbouring country always take the original vehicle registration documents with plus a certified copy. Establish before the journey where the temporary import permit for the vehicle/trailer is obtained. The temporary import permit must be valid for the full duration of your stay in the country.
Check with your vehicle insurer that the vehicle will be covered in the country you travel to (have this confirmed in writing) and that the 3rd party insurance is in order. Some countries have specific regulations and required stickers for taking your vehicle across the border. For more information on cross border and sticker requirements, you may contact the Automobile Association of South Africa. (Fax: +27 (086) 524 2251 / E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
It is illegal to take any firearms, ammunition and, in some instances, hunting knives into a country without the required permits. In the event that you wish to carry such items it is recommended that you contact the resident mission prior to travelling.
Make timeous enquiries regarding the health risks in the country/countries you intend travelling to.
The prescribed immunisations and/or medication can prevent serious long-term and fatal diseases.
It is suggested that the traveller consult with his/her Doctor prior to travelling if the traveller has a history of health challenges.
Travellers are further advised to consult with the Department of Health to obtain updates on specific health situations e,g refer to the DOH website on travelling health risks and vaccination requirements.
For more information on international health requirements contact the Department of Health, Environmental Health Directorate, Private Bag X828, PRETORIA. 0001; Tel: 012 395 8522 / 8518 or go to www.doh.gov.za / www.who.int
Suggestion: When travelling ensure that all your personal belongings are safeguarded by yourself.
Inform yourself thoroughly, prior to your trip, of the safety risks in the country/countries you intend to visit.
As we are well aware, we are exposed to crime everywhere. Basic precautionary measures will contribute to ensuring your safety, for example:
- Do not attract attention to yourself with expensive jewellery and clothing.
- Take care when you pay for something – avoid flashing all your cash.
- Get to know the foreign currency and use a note that requires the smallest amount of change to be returned to you.
- When travelling by public transport have the correct amount of cash at hand, take care when you hand over the money and keep your eye on it.
- If secure, keep your passport, travellers’ cheques and extra cash in the hotel safe. Alternatively wear it in a money belt under your clothing and keep only the money you intend using in your pocket/handbag/wallet.
- Know where you are going. Keep a map with you and consult it regularly. Make sure that you have the contact details of where you are staying on your person at all times.
- Obtain information from the hotel in which you are staying on security related precautions in the area.
- Remember that when you are travelling to another country you, unknowingly, stand out making you an easy target for criminals.
- Keep certified copy of your passport, visa as well as the South African Representatives contact details with you.
You should ideally avoid countries experiencing war and/or civil/political unrest. If the trip is unavoidable, ensure that you prepare yourself by having all the necessary information and contact details of your hosts and South African Representatives in the country of your destination.
Do not become involved in activities that may be, or are, illegal. Please remember, once you leave South Africa, the rights enjoyed under the South African Constitution and laws cannot be guaranteed or enforced in the countries you intend to visit. If arrested abroad, the South African Government cannot intervene to secure your release from prison.
Although Government cannot secure your release, Government is in a position to intercede with local authorities to seek to ensure that your rights, under the laws of the arresting country, are fully observed and that the minimum standards for treatments of prisoners are applied.
- Possession or smuggling of drugs is a criminal offence in almost all countries. Penalties are harsh and can lead to a lifetime imprisonment or even the death penalty. Do not accept or carry parcels, baggage or any items that you have not packed personally. Do not offer to collect parcels, letters, documents, etc. on behalf of other persons. Attempting to smuggle drugs is not worth the payment that you may be offered.
- South Africans who intend to work abroad, especially in war stricken countries like Iraq, should remember that they may find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. It is advisable to register yourself at the nearest South African Representative office.
- Should your passport be damaged in any way, it is advisable to obtain a new passport before travelling.
- Always keep a certified copy of your passport and visa on your person while on holiday.
- To cater for unforeseen emergencies ensure that a friend or relative is in possession of your travel plan, contact details, a copy of your passport, visa pages as well as an identity document.
- Obtain as much information as possible about your destination.
- Take out sufficient travel insurance to cover hospital treatment, medical evacuation and even death. Pre-existing conditions and the risk associated with your destination or the activities you plan to partake in can influence the travel insurance cover you need.
- Register your trip prior to leaving South Africa or whilst abroad.
- Double-check whether you require a visa or permit for the country or countries you are visiting or transiting.
- Keep a copy of your passport information page, relevant visas, travel insurance, travellers’ cheques and credit card with you but not with the originals. Leave a copy in an envelope with a friend, relative or a work colleague.
- Make sure that you are familiar with the health risks of the country or countries you intend visiting. Get all the recommended vaccinations and/or medication before travelling. If you need to travel with medication ensure that it meets the requirements of your destination(s). Take your prescription along.
- Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months with enough blank pages. Additional passport photographs are very useful should you need a temporary passport or emergency travel certificate.
- Make sure that your family, friends or colleagues know what your movements will be while away. Leave a detailed itinerary with them. Contact them regularly by e-mail, a phone call or SMS.
- Remember if you are a dual national you must leave and enter South Africa on your South African passport.
- Always act within the prescripts of the law.
Working abroad should always be a beneficial experience for both the employee and employer.”
Working abroad can be an exciting and rewarding experience. It may be an opportunity to improve your economic situation, gain valuable work experience, and travel to new and interesting places. However, accepting a job offer without making adequate preparations and taking precautions can put a migrant worker in a vulnerable position, and optimistic migrant workers may find themselves in the hands of unscrupulous employers or human traffickers.
Human traffickers can be very good at identifying and recruiting potential victims. They can make a job offer appear very enticing and realistic.
Before you leave home:
- Ensure the job offer is genuine
Check to see that the recruitment agency is registered with the local Chamber of Commerce and, if possible, contact the company offering the job on a landline to confirm that they are recruiting, and that the conditions of employment are those promised by the recruitment agency. Offers from third parties, disreputable recruitment agencies, or people who approach you on the street should be treated with caution. You may also contact the local embassy of the country of destination to confirm that the company is reputable, and is permitted by law to employ foreign nationals in the manner promised. Beware of job offers that sound too good to be true and/or which offer to cover all of your expenses, including airfare and accommodation, up-front.
- Obtain the correct working permit for the country of destination
Ensure that you are travelling with the correct and legal documentation to work in the country of destination. Most countries will require you to apply for a working visa if you intend to work in the country. The application for the visa must be filled out and signed by you, the employee, and not by the agency. Be suspicious if the recruitment agency attempts to convince you that a visitor’s or tourist visa is sufficient for you to work legally in the country in which you wish to find employment. This is very rarely the case. If you are unsure, you can contact the Embassy of the country to which you hope to travel to and/or check the website of the foreign government, which may provide travel information to prospective migrant workers.
- Sign a contract before you leave home
The contract should be in a language you can read, and stipulate your wages and deductions, your duties, working hours and breaks, benefits, leave, and procedures for resignation or termination. Be careful of accepting offers where you are required to pay back money to the employer if you do not fulfil the full term of the contract. The contract should clearly stipulate any amount paid for up-front by the prospective employer (for example, the cost of your airfare) and the conditions under which you will be required to repay this sum. Have an independent attorney examine the contract before you sign. Both you and the employer must sign the contract, and you should each be in possession of a copy of the contract.
- Have contacts for people/organisations that can provide assistance
Before leaving home, make sure you have the contact details for your country’s Embassy or High Commission or Consulate-General in the country in which you wish to find employment. It is also advisable to notify your embassy that you are in the country and give them your address and contact details. Have a list of emergency contact details in the country you are going to: e.g. migrant worker organizations, churches and shelters, the police, friends and family in the destination country. It is also advisable to agree on a contact schedule with family and/or friends at home before leaving for a new destination. Should something go awry, and you fail to contact them at the agreed time, they will be able to contact the relevant authorities for help.
- Know your rights as an employee of the country you are going to
Migrant workers are entitled to the same rights as all workers, and should be treated with respect and dignity. Before you work abroad, know your rights, and how to protect them. Be sure to investigate the minimum wages and other conditions of employment in the country to which you’re travelling.
- Once you arrive in your country of destination
Do not give your passport away to anyone (see remarks on certain countries of the Arabian Peninsula below):
Do not give your passport over to anyone except immigration officials or if requested to do so for reasons of identification e.g. Police or Hotel check-in reception. It is illegal for an employer to ask to hold onto your passport for any reason and you should never agree to do so, regardless of whether this is stipulated in an employment contract.
The problem that is being experienced by South African citizens in some countries of the Arabian Peninsula goes back a long time and is rooted in the system of sponsorship as practised by these countries vis-à-vis foreigners. It is important to note that sponsorship imposes a number of serious obligations on the sponsor. He/she typically has to provide accommodation, transport, basic sustenance, minimum medical care and repatriation.
Added to that, he/she has a traditional obligation to the private debt that his/her sponsored worker may incur. It is the latter circumstance that, more than anything else, prompts the sponsor to retain her/his employee’s passport.
Diplomatic and consular missions of many countries have, over the years, sought to address this particular complaint with the governments of the countries involved, to little avail. However, until the sponsorship system is not radically altered, the passport issue under discussion will remain. Besides establishing a preferential position of trust with his/her employer, there is not much an employee can do in the circumstances.
A South African or any foreigner may object to his sponsor/employer holding on to his passport, but with a proper understanding of the implications for his employment. As a last resort, he/she may have recourse to the courts, if he feels strongly enough about it.
The Department does not condone the practice, but recognises that it reflects the peculiarities of the expatriate labour system in that particular part of the world.
Intervention, legal or otherwise, must be weighed against the benefit and importance of the individual employee’s labour contract. It is reasonable to assume that the decision ultimately rests with that employee.
In the final instance the South African Government confirms that the South Africa passport is the property of the Republic and is made available to a citizen for purposes of travel.
- Make contact
Once you have arrived in your country of destination, contact your local embassy and report that you are in the country. Also contact friends and family at home and let them know that you are safe and give them your contact details. If you find yourself in trouble, make contact with the police or your local embassy.