South Africa - Country Commercial Guide
Business Travel

Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, currency, language, health, local time, business hours and holidays, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, temporary entry of materials and personal belongings, etc.

Last published date: 2020-10-01

Business Customs

Business customs in South Africa are generally similar to those in the United States and Western Europe. South African business people tend to dress conservatively, particularly in the financial sector. However, “smart-casual” clothing has become increasingly popular with executives in the ICT, tourism, and other services related industries. Terminology used in business invitations are:

Black Tie                            (dark suit and tie or tuxedo or formal evening dress)

Business                            (jacket and tie or a business dress)

Smart Casual                     (casual clothing with or without tie, but no jeans and no sneakers)

Casual                               (can include jeans but no sport shorts)

Business cards are usually simple, including only the basics such as company logo, name, business title, address, telephone/mobile number, fax number, e-mail, and web-address.  South Africans are usually punctual, so it is best to make every effort to be on time for appointments.  Appointments are always made in advance of a business visit.

Travel Advisory

For the latest Consular Information Sheet and travel advisory on South Africa, please check:

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/SouthAfrica.html

Travelers are encouraged to be vigilant and avoid large gatherings, particularly protests and demonstrations. Traditionally, South Africa’s nexus to international terrorism has been through recruiting, funding and as safe haven for international terrorists. While most visitors complete their travels in South Africa without incident, criminal activity, often violent, does occur regularly, i.e. armed robbery, carjacking, mugging, “smash and grab” attacks on motor vehicles and other incidents.

For general information on international travel, please visit the main website at:

https://travel.state.gov.

The South African government levies a Value-added Tax (VAT) at 15percent. Travelers may apply for tax refunds on purchases made in South Africa over $18 on departure.

Visa Requirements

The South African Government announced new visa regulations, revised in 2016:

The criteria for business permits:  it is required that the intended business fit into a specific business category as well as not being deemed an undesirable business.

Quota work permits and exceptional skills permits will no longer be available.

A new work permit called a critical skills permit is now offered.

First time permit applicants will have to submit their applications at an embassy or consulate in their country of origin. Further notes are available here:  http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/immigration-services/apply-for-a-south-african-visa

U.S. citizens traveling to South Africa require a valid passport. A visa is not required for regular passport holders on bona fide holiday or business visits for periods of up to 90 days or in transit.  However, should a U.S. citizen wish to visit neighboring countries, a visa may be required for that country. For South Africa, visas are also required for extended stays, employment, study, and for diplomatic and official passport holders.

Traveling with minors:  Visit the South African Department of Home Affairs Website for the most up-to-date requirements for traveling with minors to or from South Africa: 

http://www.dha.gov.za/index.php/statements-speeches/621-advisory-new-requirements-for-children-travelling-through-south-african-ports-of-entry.

Evidence of a yellow fever vaccination is necessary if arriving from an infected area. Information on South African visa requirements can be obtained prior to departure from the United States by checking with:

South African Embassy, Washington, D.C.  http://www.saembassy.org

S.A. Consulate, Chicago:            https://www.southafrica-usa.net/chicago/

S.A. Consulate, New York: https://www.southafrica-usa.net/consulate

For information on visa requirements for other countries, contact the Embassy of the country you intend to visit, or a travel agent, or a U.S. Consular Officer.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  All travelers to South Africa should make sure that their passports contain at least two completely blank visa pages for stamps; otherwise they risk being refused entry by South African immigration officials.  As a general precaution, travelers are advised to carry a photocopy of the photo/bio information page of their passport and keep it in a location separate from the passport.

U.S. companies that require travel of foreign business people to the United States should be advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process.  Visa applicants should go to the following links:

State Department Visa Website:  https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html

United States Visas:                  https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-za/niv

US Embassy Pretoria Visa Information: https://za.usembassy.gov/visas/

Currency

The South African currency is the SA Rand (“ZAR”) that can be volatile at times. It is reportedly the most traded currency of all Emerging Markets and the exchange rate often reflects carry trade that leverages global interest rate differentials, leading importers to hedge against devaluation with forward cover.  The Rand is the currency of the Common Monetary Area (CMA) comprising South Africa, eSwatini (formerly Swaziland) and Lesotho.  The ZAR is also a legal tender in Namibia, at a fixed exchange rate to the Namibian Dollar.

In Calendar Year 2019 the official month-average U.S. Government’s South African rand-dollar exchange rate was R 14.58.

Telecommunications/Electric

The South African telecommunications sector boasts one of the continent’s most advanced telecommunications markets in terms of technologies deployed and services provided.  The national fixed line operator is Telkom.

There are four licensed cellular service providers:  Vodacom, MTN, Cell C, and Telkom (8ta).  All four mobile operators offer voice and data solutions to subscribers.  In up-market hotels and shopping centers, wi-fi is commonplace.

Transportation

South Africa boasts one of the most modern and extensive transport infrastructures on the African continent in terms of road, railway systems, airports, and seaports.

There are three major international airports:  OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, King Shaka International Airport in KwaZulu Natal, and Cape Town International Airport in Cape Town. Carriers that fly directly from the United States to South Africa are Delta Air Lines and South African Airways (SAA). In December 2019 United began flying a direct route from Newark International Airport to Cape Town. The Gautrain, high-speed train, runs from O.R. Tambo International to multiple destinations in the Gauteng Province including Sandton, Rosebank, and Pretoria, Station opening times and train intervals are detailed at https://www.gautrain.co.za.

Do not hail taxis in South Africa.  When taking a taxi, it is recommended to use private taxi companies that operate at all four- and five-star hotels.  Travelers to South Africa can also rent a car.  In cities and larger towns, Uber is available.

Major car rental groups represented include:

Hertz                     https://www.hertz.co.za

Avis                       https://www.avis.co.za  and

Budget                  https://www.budget.co.za

Uber                      https://www.uber.com/en-ZA/

Traffic in South Africa moves on the left, and the steering wheel is on the right-hand side of the car.  Under South African law, all occupants of motor vehicles equipped with seatbelts are required to wear them while the vehicle is in operation.  Texting or talking on cell phone without a hands-free unit while driving is illegal.

South African law does not require an international driver’s license.  A valid driver’s license from any U.S. state or territory that has the signature and photo of the driver is valid to drive in South Africa for stays of less than six months.

Road conditions are generally good in South Africa, but the road traffic death rate is nearly three times higher in South Africa than in the United States.  The high incidence of road traffic mortality is due to a combination of poor driving, limited enforcement of traffic laws, road rage, aggressive driving, distracted driving, and driving under the influence of alcohol. Use extreme caution driving at night.  U.S. Mission employees are prohibited from driving after dark outside of major metropolitan areas, except for highway travel between Pretoria and Johannesburg. Traffic lights are frequently out of order.  Treat all intersections with malfunctioning traffic lights as a four-way stop.

To view U.S. Consulate information sheet on travel to South Africa visit: 

https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/south-africa.html.

Language

English is one of 11 official languages in South Africa and is the most commonly used language for conducting business. Based on the most recent data available, the respective percentages of the population speaking each of them are:  Zulu (25.3%), Xhosa (14.8%), Afrikaans (13.3%), Sepedi (9.4%), English (8.2%), Setswana (8.2%), Sesotho (7.9%), Xitsonga (4.4%), Swazi (2.6%), Venda (1.7%), and Ndebele (1.5%).  Languages used by the Asian population include Tamil (2%), Hindi (2%), Gujerati (2%), and Urdu. 

Health

In line with U.S. laws, the South Africa’s health policy stipulates that smoking is prohibited in public places unless otherwise designated as smoking areas.  South African tap water is mostly safe to drink, generally adhering to the highest standards, but if a traveler is not acclimatized to it, or has a sensitive digestive system, bottled water is widely available.  South Africa has world-class (private care) medical services and all major cities have modern well-equipped hospitals and ambulance services to assist travelers in emergency situations.  Private medical facilities are good in urban areas and near game parks but limited elsewhere. Private medical facilities may require a deposit before admitting patients.  Travelers should familiarize themselves with emergency telephone numbers and the locations of nearest hospitals on arrival in the country.  The national emergency telephone number is 10111.

South Africa has a few provinces where there is a threat of contracting malaria.  Appropriate prophylactics taken well in advance of visiting these areas should limit the risk of falling ill. Self-protection actions should include use of mosquito repellant (all day), wearing of light long sleeved shirts and pants as well as socks and shoes from dawn and at night.  Visitors should also consider sleeping under a mosquito net or in a mosquito-proof room.

High-risk malaria areas include the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and the Limpopo (the region where the Kruger Park is located) as well as in Kwazulu Natal (on the Maputaland coast).

Intermediate-risk malaria areas are Kosi Bay, Sodwana Bay, Mkuze Game Reserve, and St Lucia (but not the town of St Lucia and the river mouth).

Low-risk malaria areas are North West Province and the Northern Cape along the Molopo and Orange Rivers, including the Augrabies Falls and the Kgalagdi Transfrontier Park (malaria is rarely transmitted here, so anti-malaria drugs may not be necessary). Travelers may still contract malaria despite all precautionary measures, and if any flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever, muscular and joint pains, sweating, shivering and attacks of nausea or diarrhea occur at any time within six months after a visit to one of these high-risk areas, visitors should consult a physician immediately.

South Africa has an epidemic of HIV/AIDS and travelers should ensure that they are aware of the associated risks.

Local Time, Business Hours & Holidays

Throughout the year, Standard Time in South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and seven hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. Clocks are not advanced in the summer.  Generally, business hours are weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  Most offices observe a five-day week, but many stores are open on Saturdays, and from 9:00am to 2:00pm on Sundays.  All banks are open weekdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. In certain large shopping centers, some bank branches are open on Sunday mornings.

Local Holidays 2020

January 1

New Year's Day

March 21

Human Rights Day

April 10

Good Friday

April 13

Family Day

April 27

Freedom Day

May 1

Workers Day

June 16

Youth Day

August 9 *

National Women’s Day

September 24

Heritage Day

December 16

Day of Reconciliation

December 25

Christmas Day

December 26

Day of Goodwill

#:       denotes the holiday is observed the next Monday.     

U.S. Government offices in South Africa are closed on U.S. federal and legal holidays.

Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings

Travelers must declare all goods in their possession except for personal clothing, essential toiletries and used sporting equipment (such as golf clubs).  To be free from declaration, these goods must be for the passenger's personal use and not intended as gifts or to be sold, exchanged, or traded.  All articles, used or unused, carried by the visitor as presents or parcels for other people, must be declared.  There are no restrictions on the amount of U.S. dollars a traveler can bring into South Africa.

U.S. dollars cannot be used in South Africa and must be converted into the local currency, the South African Rand, by authorized foreign exchange dealers, hotels, commercial banks, and certain travel agencies. It is illegal to convey foreign currency to anyone else and U.S. Dollars may not be used in commercial or other private transactions.

With a valid driver’s license, a visitor may enter South Africa with his/her automobile for a period not exceeding 12 months. An import duty will be charged on entry and rebated on departure. If a visitor wishes to sell his/her vehicle during his/her stay or upon departure, he/she must first obtain an import permit and pay the relevant duty.

Web Resources

Hotels in larger cities:          

http://sandton.hotelguide.co.za/

http://capetown.hotelguide.co.za/

http://kwazulu.hotelguide.co.za/

http://gauteng.hotelguide.co.za/

Car Rental

Avis:                      https://www.avis.co.za

Budget:                 https://www.budget.co.za

Hertz:                    https://www.hertz.co.za

Uber:                     https://www.uber.com/en-ZA/

Air Lines

Delta Air Lines:                  https://www.delta.com

South African Airlines:       https://www.flysaa.com

United Air Lines:                https://www.united.com

Private Healthcare (Hospitals)

Netcare:                             https://www.netcare.co.za

MediClinics:                       https://www.mediclinic.co.za

Life:                                    https://www.mediclinic.co.za

U.S. Government:

Consular Services for American Citizens:  https://za.usembassy.gov/

or:

U.S. Consulate General Johannesburg

1 Sandton Drive (opposite Sandton City Mall)

Sandton, Johannesburg

South Africa

Telephone +(27) (11) 290 3000 (from South Africa 011 290 3000)
Emergency After-Hours Telephone (011) 290 3000 or 079 111  1684            (outside South Africa: +(27) 79 111 1684)
Fax+(27) (11) 884 0396 (from South Africa (011 884 0396)
E-mail:  consularjohannesburg@state.gov
Consular Information Sheet on South Africa

https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/south-africa.html

U.S. Commercial Service – South Africa

https://trade.gov/south-africa/