Location: Southern Africa, at the southern tip of the continent of Africa
Coordinates: 29 00 S, 24 00 E
Area: total: 1,219,912 sq km
Land: 1,219,912 sq km
Water: 0 sq km
Land Boundaries: total: 4,862 km
Border Countries: Lesotho 909km, Swaziland 430km, Botswana 1,840km, Namibia 967km, Zimbabwe 225km, Mozambique 491km.
Climate: mostly semiarid; subtropical along east coast; sunny days, cool nights
Population: 45,7 million
Official Languages: English, Afrikaans, isiNdebele, isiXhosa, isiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.
World Heritage Sites in South Africa: Robben Island, Sterkfontein and Kromdraai archaeological sites, Mapungubwe Cultural Landscape, Isimangaliso Wetlands Park and Ukhalamba-Drakensberg Park.
Summer - mid-October to mid-February
Autumn - February to April
Winter - May to July
Spring - August to October
CAN YOU TELL ME THE TIME?
South Africa does not change its clocks during the year, and there are no regional variations within the country. South African Standard Time is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean (or Universal Standard) Time, one hour ahead of Central European Winter Time, and seven hours ahead of the USA's Eastern Standard Winter Time.
WHAT DOCUMENTS DO I NEED?
Depending on your nationality, and the purpose and duration of your visit, you may not need a visa to visit South Africa at all. For information on the basic requirements for entering South Africa, as well as comprehensive information on visas – what they are, who needs them, and when, where and how to apply for them – see http://www.thedti.gov.za
WHAT AM I ALLOWED TO BRING INTO SOUTH AFRICA?
South African customs passenger allowances entitle you to bring new or used goods of up to R 3.000 in value into the country without paying any duty. For additional goods, new or used, of up to R 12.000 in value, you will be charged a flat rate 20% duty. Thereafter, normal customs duties apply.* The alcohol and tobacco allowances only apply to people over 18.
All currency must be declared on entering the country.
You can also bring in, duty-free, the following:
* Wine - up to 2 litres per person.
* Spirits and other alcoholic beverages - up to 1 litre in total per person.
* Cigarettes - up to 200 per person.
* Cigars - up to 20 per person.
* Cigarette or pipe tobacco - up to 250g per person.
* Perfume - up to 50ml per person.
* Eau de toilette (scented liquid lighter than cologne) - up to 250ml per person.
* The alcohol and tobacco allowances only apply to people over 18.
Details of requirements for the temporary importation of exhibition goods are obtainable from the Department of Customs and Excise. To view the current import regulations by South africa customs:
WILL I HAVE TO PAY TAX ON GOODS BOUGHT IN SOUTH AFRICA?
Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on most goods and services, but as a foreign national you may reclaim VAT on anything you bought for over R250 to take out of the country unused. You need to do this before you embark on your flight home, and will have to produce the original tax invoice for the item. To view the current regulations view:
TAKING RANDS OUT OF SOUTH AFRICA
When you leave the country you are permitted to take up to R500 in South African Reserve Bank notes. A 20% levy is charged on amounts above R500. To view the current regulations view:
South Africa has a warm sunny climate and you should wear sunscreen and a hat whenever you are out of doors during the day, particularly between 10am and 4pm, regardless of whether there is cloud cover or not. Even if you have a dark complexion, you can still get sunburned if you are from a cooler climate and have not had much exposure to the sun. Sunglasses are also recommended wear, as the glare of the African sun can be strong.
CAN I DRINK THE WATER?
South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where the Municipal tap water is palatable and perfectly safe to drink. Check if the tap water is suitable to drink at more remote lodges. Water in streams and rivers could be polluted and Bilharzia is commonly found in rivers and streams on the northern and eastern regions of the country. Bilharzia is not present in the sea or in swimming pools.
High-quality tap (faucet) water is available almost everywhere in South Africa, treated so as to be free of harmful micro-organisms, and in any area other than informal or shack settlements, is both palatable and safe to drink straight from the tap. In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a bit of gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places.
Drinking water straight from rivers and streams could put you at risk of waterborne diseases – especially downstream of human settlements. The water in mountain streams, however, is usually pure and wonderful. In the Cape, particularly, the water contains humic acid, which stains it the colour of diluted Coca-Cola – this is absolutely harmless, and the water is wonderful. You may also find this colouring in tap water in some areas. It's fine – it just looks a bit weird in the bath.
If you're an adult, you won't need any inoculations unless you're travelling from a yellow-fever endemic area (the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America), in which case you will need certification to prove your inoculation status when you arrive in South Africa. It is recommended that you have the required inoculations four to six weeks before you travel to South Africa (a yellow fever inoculation certificate only becomes valid 10 days after inoculation - after which it remains valid for 10 years).
Hepatitis B inoculations are recommended for children up to the age of 12 who have not completed the series of injections as infants. Booster doses for tetanus and measles can also be administered.
DO I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT MALARIA?
Many of the main tourist areas are malaria-free, so you need not worry at all. However, the Kruger National Park, the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, and the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal do pose a malaria risk in the summer months. Many local people and some travellers do not take malaria prophylaxis, but most health professionals recommend you do. Consult your doctor or a specialist travel clinic for the latest advice concerning malaria prophylaxis, as it changes regularly.
Whether you take oral prophylaxis or not, always use mosquito repellent, wear long pants, closed shoes and light long-sleeved shirts at night, and sleep under a mosquito net in endemic areas (the anopheles mosquito, which carries malaria, operates almost exclusively after dark). It is advisable to avoid malarial areas if you are pregnant.
Medical facilities in cities and larger towns are world-class, but you will find that in rural areas the clinics and hospitals deal with primary health needs, and therefore do not offer the range of medical care that the large metropolitan hospitals do. Trained medical caregivers are deployed round the country, so help is never far away.
WHAT CLOTHES TO WEAR?
People dress informally, though 'smart casual' wear is often required after dark at theatres and other art / entertainment venues, and by the more sophisticated hotels and restaurants. Beach wear is acceptable only on the beach, casual clothing is customary at holiday resorts and in the game areas.
South Africa enjoys long hot summers and generally mild winters. For the summer months (October to April), pack lightweight garments and a hat but include a jacket or jersey for the cooler, and occasionally chilly, nights. Most of the country is in the summer-rainfall zone, so bring an umbrella or raincoat. For the winter months, pack warm clothing.
Tipping is common practice in South Africa for a range of services. In restaurants the accepted standard is around 10% of the bill, although sometimes a gratuity will be included (often in the case of a large party). Barmen are tipped a similar percentage.
Petrol stations are manned by attendants who will expect a tip of two or three rands for filling up with petrol, checking oil, water and tyre pressure and cleaning windscreens. Hotel porters should be tipped two to five rands. It is also appropriate to tip taxi drivers, tour guides and even hairdressers.
If you park a car in a populated area such as near a shopping centre, street security guards will usually ask whether they can watch over your car and in return should be paid a small fee - anything from two rands upwards.
The law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas.
Should you lose your passport, report the loss as soon as possible to your country's embassy or consulate, and to the local police.
STAY OUT OF TROUBLE
Crime, like anywhere else in the world, can be a problem, but you really need not do much more than take all the usual sensible precautions. Know where you're going before you set off, particularly at night, watch your possessions, don't walk alone in dodgy areas, lock your doors at night. Much like anywhere else. And, like anywhere else in the world, there are some areas of major cities which are more dodgy than others. It is easy to avoid these and still have a good time.
Those who choose to drive private cars, either borrowed or hired, should be aware that car hijackings do occur, although precautions can be taken to avoid this. Drivers should always be on the alert when they come to a halt at traffic lights or stop streets, as well as when they are arriving at or leaving premises. Doors should be locked at all times, and while the temptation is to keep windows open in sunny weather, they should be kept closed. Plan your travel route beforehand. Make sure that you do not leave valuables in clear view of people on the side of the road. Articles such as cellular phones and handbags left on seats are favoured targets of smash'n'grab thieves.
When parking at night choose well-lit or security-patrolled parking areas. Street security guards will usually ask whether they can watch over your car and in return should be paid a small fee – anything from two rand upwards.
When walking through areas that are considered risky, avoid wearing visible jewellery or carrying cameras and bags over your shoulder. Keep cellphones (mobile phones) and wallets tucked away where no one can see them. Check beforehand that the areas you plan to visit are safe by asking hotel staff or police. It is not advisable to use local commuter and metro trains as attacks on foreigners have occurred.
Other sensible advice is not to hitchhike or accept or carry items for strangers. Our airport security is quite strict so, to avoid delays in checking in, remove all sharp objects (even nail files and hairclips) from your hand luggage.
Watch out for con artists. A favoured target is the automated teller machine (ATM). Under no circumstances allow a stranger to assist you in your transactions. Should your card become stuck in the ATM, enter your PIN three times whereupon the machine will retain your card. You can then approach the bank to release it, or call the helpline number that can usually be found at ATMs for assistance.
Beware, too, of confidence tricksters who try and persuade you to invest in their schemes, requiring you to disclose confidential banking details.
And, while on the subject of crime, do bear in mind that committing a criminal offence in any foreign country is always more of a problem than doing so at home. You're probably not planning to, but there are a few actions which could land you in one of our not-too-luxurious jails. These include smuggling, bilking, and trading in, or using, recreational drugs – with the exception of tobacco and alcohol. Poaching is probably far from your mind but, just in case you're tempted to "harvest" a rhino horn as a souvenir, remember our game scouts are armed.