Foreign travel advice

South Africa

Safety and security


South Africa has a very high level of crime, including rape and murder. The risk of violent crime to visitors travelling to the main tourist destinations is generally low. The South African authorities give high priority to protecting tourists and tourism police are deployed in several large towns. Most cases of violent crime and murder tend to occur in townships remote and isolated areas. Consult a reliable tour guide if you visit a township.

Crime increases in areas where large crowds gather, so be particularly vigilant if you’re attending sporting or other events that attract large numbers.

There are ongoing tensions between Uber and metered taxi drivers, which at times escalate into violence. You should exercise caution when using either service, particularly if using the Gautrain or travelling to and from airports in South Africa.

Incidents of vehicle hi-jacking and robbery are common, particularly after dark. Keep to main roads and park in well lit areas. Vulnerable areas include, but are not limited to: traffic lights, junctions, and when approaching or pulling out from driveways. Take care at all times and be vigilant of your surroundings when in a stationary vehicle.

There are frequent incidents of car windows being broken and valuables taken while cars are waiting at junctions. Keep valuables out of sight.

Due to thefts at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, you should vacuum-wrap luggage where local regulations permit. Keep all valuables in your carry-on luggage.

Keep large amounts of money, expensive jewellery, cameras and phones out of sight. Don’t change or withdraw large sums of money in busy public areas including foreign exchange facilities or ATMs. Thieves operate at international airports, and bus and railway stations. Keep your valuables safe and baggage with you at all times.

Don’t give personal or financial account information details to anyone. There are international fraud rings operating in South Africa, who may target visitors and charities.

Local travel

There are particularly high levels of crime in the Berea and Hillbrow districts of Johannesburg and around the Rotunda bus terminus in the Central Business District in Johannesburg.

Be particularly vigilant in Durban’s city centre and beach front area.

Keep to main roads and avoid driving at night when visiting Northern KwaZulu Natal and Zululand, as there have been incidents of hi-jacking and robbery, particularly on isolated secondary roads.

Be vigilant on the approach roads to and from Kruger Park where there have been cases of car hijacking.

Avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots. Don’t walk alone, especially in remote areas. Hikers should stick to popular trails. There have been violent attacks on hikers and tourists on Table Mountain. Take care in quieter areas of the Park, especially early in the morning or just before the park closes.

Call the police (on 10111 or on 112 from a mobile phone) at the first sign of danger.

Mobile phone reception is generally good in major towns and cities but can be intermittent in more remote spots.

Protest marches and demonstrations can occur anywhere in South Africa and sometimes at short notice. Avoid areas where demonstrations and marches are taking place.

Road travel

You can drive using a UK Driving Licence for up to 12 months.

The standard of driving in South Africa can vary greatly and there are many fatal accidents every year.

On highways overtaking can occur in any lane including the hard shoulder. On single-lane roads the hard shoulder is also sometimes used by trucks and slower vehicles to allow faster vehicles to overtake. At quieter intersections, first vehicle to arrive sometimes has priority. On roundabouts, you should give way to the right, although this rule is often ignored.

Road standards are mostly very good, but some roads in remote areas are less well maintained and may have potholes. Drive cautiously, obey speed limits and avoid unfamiliar rural areas at night. Thieves have been known to employ various methods to make a vehicle stop (eg placing large stones in the middle of the road) enabling them to rob the occupants. Park in well-lit areas. Don’t pick up strangers or stop to help apparently distressed motorists, as this is a technique sometimes used by hijackers. It’s better to report any incident to the police.

Water safety

Beach conditions and local safety provisions vary considerably throughout the South African coastline and every year significant numbers of people drown due to the strong sea currents. Speak to local people who are familiar with the conditions, and check whether there are any flags and/or lifeguards before entering the water. Most beaches don’t have warning signs, flags or life-saving equipment.

Follow any warnings that are displayed and instructions issued by lifeguards. Familiarise yourself with the signs of a rip current or tide. Contact the National Sea Rescue Institute in case of emergency.

For more information about how to stay safe, visit the website of the South Africa National Sea Rescue Institute, or read this information sheet and watch this video about how to avoid being caught up in a rip current:

watch this video