Planning a trip to South Africa? Learn everything you need to know before you go with insider tips from our travel experts. Find answers on Health & Safety, Passports & Visas, Currency & Tipping, and What to Pack.
Health & Safety
Is South Africa Safe?
South Africa is a safe destination for tourists. In fact, you’ll find that South African has some of the most friendly and hospitable people you could hope to meet.
While it’s true some areas of South Africa have a high crime rate, this typically does not affect tourists. Of course, you should always take sensible precautions while traveling: avoid walking through strange areas at night, don’t bring unnecessary valuables, and don’t wear flashy jewelry or display large amounts of cash in public.
- Cape Town: The V&A Waterfront is very safe. If you’re staying at a hotel in this area, you can certainly walk to restaurants and attractions nearby.
- Johannesburg: Maboneng is a safe place to stay downtown. The area is well lit at night and has its own 24-hour security.
- Ubers and taxis are very affordable in the cities. If you prefer not to walk around town, this is a great option for peace of mind.
- When in doubt, ask your hotel staff for advice on the local area.
The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. Image: Tourism South Africa
Do I Need Any Vaccines to Visit South Africa?
If you’re traveling from the US to South Africa, there are no vaccines required to enter the country. However, your doctor may recommend some vaccines depending on where you plan to travel. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.
- Some areas of South Africa, including Kruger National Park, have a low risk of malaria, and therefore your doctor may recommend malaria medication.
- For families with young children, we recommend visiting one of the country’s many malaria-free game reserves.
- A yellow fever vaccine is required if you are entering South Africa from a country with risk of yellow fever. A yellow fever vaccine is not required when coming directly from the US.
Passports & Visas
Do I Need a Visa to Visit South Africa from the United States?
If you are a US citizen visiting South Africa for 90 days or less, a tourist visa is not required for entry. For the most up-to-date information, visit the U.S. Department of State website.
Please be aware that there are special restrictions for children under 18 entering South Africa. For the most up-to-date information, visit South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs website.
Currency & Tipping
What Currency Is Used in South Africa?
South Africa’s national currency is the rand (which you might see written as R, i.e. R100). We recommend keeping a small amount of local currency on hand for tipping; you can exchange your currency at home before you leave or simply withdraw cash from a local ATM upon arrival.
The exchange rate between the US dollar and the rand is favorable, and you’ll find that most areas are quite affordable. Fine dining in Cape Town, for instance, will run up a much smaller tab than a comparable meal in the US.
Can I Use My Credit Card in South Africa?
Yes, major credit cards are typically accepted in restaurants and shops, especially in large cities. Credit cards are often the most convenient way to pay, and safer than carrying large amounts of cash around. We recommend using a traveler’s credit card that doesn’t charge fees for international purchases.
How Much Should I Tip in South Africa?
South Africa does have a tipping culture, although tipping is always at your discretion. Here are some common tipping guidelines we recommend.
- Restaurants: 10-15%
- Hotels: Most hotels have a tip sharing system where you can leave your tip at the end of your stay and it will be divided among the staff. If a hotel staff member assists you with baggage or helps you hail a cab, a tip of R20 is appreciated.
- Tour guides: Approximately R100 for a full-day tour
- Car attendants: If you’re driving around town, you’ll likely see car attendants who will assist you with parking and safeguard your car while you’re away. A tip of R5 is usually sufficient.
- On safari: In addition to tipping your lodge staff, it is common courtesy to leave separate tips for your safari guide and your tracker (if you have one). For more detailed safari tipping guidelines, speak with one of our safari experts.
Packing for a safari. Image courtesy of Vanessa Massey
What Should I Pack for South Africa?
When packing for your trip to South Africa, it’s important to remember that you’ll probably have to stick to soft-sided carry-on luggage (we usually recommend one duffel bag and one backpack). Versatile clothing is key!
- Casual clothes such as a t-shirt and jeans are perfectly acceptable in the city. You probably will not need formal clothing, unless you’re traveling on a luxury rail.
- Pack layers that you can mix and match for different situations.
- Bring a light, waterproof jacket for cool evenings and unexpected rains.
- On safari, wear lightweight clothing that covers your arms and legs to protect yourself from bug bites.
- Comfortable walking shoes are a must.