Can I visit South Africa? Latest travel advice as country reopens borders

South Africa will reopen to international tourists on October 1
South Africa will reopen to international tourists on October 1 Credit: iStock

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has announced that the country will reopen its borders as it eases its Covid-19 measures.

The country closed its borders on March 27, and has been one of the world’s hardest-hit countries since the beginning of the pandemic, recording more than 650,000 cases and over 15,000 deaths.

However, case numbers have dropped and levelled out in recent weeks, allowing the South African Government to ease lockdown and travel restrictions.

“We will gradually and cautiously ease restrictions on international travel, allowing travel into and out of South Africa for business, leisure and other travel with effect from the 1st of October 2020,” Ramaphosa said in an address to the country.

“Travel may be restricted to and from certain countries that have high infection rates.”

So does this mean you will soon be able to travel to South Africa? Here we answer all of your questions regarding quarantine, travel insurance, tests and flights into South Africa.

Will I be able to go to South Africa in October?

South Africa has not yet issued its list of green-lit countries. As it stands, the UK has 30.6 cases per 100,000 over 7 days. By comparison, the United States is on 84.1, Spain is on 126.9 and South Africa is on 18.7. So there remains a chance that travellers from the United Kingdom will still be denied entry.

Would I need to take a test?

On arrival, all passengers will be required to present a negative PCR test, taken no longer than 72 hours before departure.

You will also be subject to a health screen on arrival, which will check for symptoms and temperature. If you are symptomatic, you will be subject to additional testing and could face a possible quarantine.

Will I need to quarantine on arrival?

If you carry out a PCR test, you will not need to go into a mandatory quarantine. However, if you do not provide a negative PCR test, you will be required to go into a 14-day isolation.

All arrivals will be asked to download the Government’s contract tracing app for the duration of their stay.

Will my insurance be valid if I go?

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) currently warns against all-but essential travel to South Africa. This means that, unless you have a special travel insurance policy that allows travel to red-listed countries your travel insurance will likely be invalidated.

Will I have to quarantine on my return?

Yes. As it stands, South Africa does not fall on the UK’s travel corridors list. This means that you will need to go into a mandatory 14-day quarantine on your return to the UK.

Will South Africa get a travel corridor any time soon?

Don’t rule it out. Cases in the country are dropping and, for the first time in months, the infection rate has fallen to lower than 20 per 100,000 based on seven-day figures.

The numbers of cases per 100,000 is now 18.7. The threshold after which the UK Government imposes or removes a travel quarantine is currently 20. So if the case rate remains at this level, South Africa could be in for a travel corridor.

Are flights operating?

Yes. British Airways and South African Airways are operating flights between the UK and South Africa. 

You can travel out on October 2 and return on October 16 with British Airways, departing from Heathrow and landing in Johannesburg, for £472.

South Africa entered a strict lockdown in March Credit: iStock

What are the restrictions in South Africa?

South Africa implemented one of the world’s strictest lockdowns 10 days after recording its first case of coronavirus in March.

It declared an official "state of disaster", a seven-week lockdown that saw the outlawing of sales of all but food and pharmaceuticals, a travel ban within the country and the shutdown of all international airports. 

There are still a number of social distancing rules and hygiene measures in place, to reduce the spread of Covid-19. These include:

  • Face masks required in all public spaces
  • A curfew between midnight and 4am
  • Gatherings limited to 50 per cent of capacity (250 max indoors, 500 max outdoors)
  • Alcohol sales restricted to 9am–5pm Monday to Friday

Is it safe to travel?

Cape Town has certainly been working hard to rid itself of Covid-19. The Continent’s southernmost city has become the first in South Africa to receive the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) ‘Safe Travels’ stamp.

South Africa announced that its domestic tourism sector was open and ready on August 18. This coincided with the country reducing its alert level to two, allowing the resumption of economic activity across most industries within South Africa.

Now, cities – and the tourism businesses within them – are applying for marks that demonstrate their safety and help give consumers confidence during the ongoing pandemic. 

The WTTC’s stamp is, according to its website, “a specially designed stamp that will allow travellers to recognise governments and companies around the world which have adopted health and hygiene global standardised protocols.” 

“This is a great achievement as it highlights that as a destination, we are committed to be aligned with the Safe Travel protocols as set out by WTTC,” said Enver Duminy, CEO of Cape Town Tourism, of the news. “It emphasises that we are serious about being a safe destination for travelers and that we are ready to cautiously but warmly welcome visitors back again.”