Is South Africa safe to visit and do I need travel insurance? |

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Is South Africa safe to travel to?

Hop from forest, safari and beach adventures with a few safety precautions in mind.


Fact checked

The US Department of State currently has issued a Level 2 travel advisory for South Africa. Travelers should exercise increased caution due to South Africa’s high crime, civil unrest and drought. The travel advisory is not related to the coronavirus. As of February 2020, there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus in South Africa.

  • If you’re buying travel insurance today, you’re unlikely to get coverage for coronavirus-related claims unless your policy allows cancellations for any reason.
  • If you purchased your policy before the coronavirus became a known event, you may have protection. Contact your insurance company for specific information.

From the breathtaking mountain vistas and wildlife encounters on safari to the sun-soaked coasts, South Africa is an incredible place to visit. While things like crime and malaria are common concerns, you can take some reasonable precautions to enjoy a trip to this country.

Is South Africa safe to visit in 2021?

South Africa is an exciting, vibrant and dynamic country. But it also has socio-economic problems that have left the country with a high crime rate. The good news is you can stay safe while journeying to South Africa if you plan ahead and take precautions.

Many areas tourists venture to have appropriate signs and restrictions to warn tourists about dangerous areas. During protests, you may see local officials nearby for added security.

Overall, South Africa has a travel advisory to exercise a high degree of caution because of crimes such as robbery or carjacking. Some key safety considerations from the US Department of State:

  • Use caution around townships, business districts and areas where foreigners flock, especially at night.
  • Multiple robberies have happened when visitors arrive in Tambo Airport in Johannesburg where they’re followed to their hotel or destination.
  • Avoid showing your money or valuables in general. This can include drawing cash from ATMs that open to the street.
  • Stay within designated safety areas at game parks. These safety areas help lower your chances of contact with wild animals.

Before visiting South Africa, you can watch for important alerts from the Department of State through the free Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP). You can also monitor news reports about the local areas you’re visiting.

Is the food and water safe in South Africa?

Is it safe to eat in South Africa?

Yes, South Africa regulates food safety through its Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and the National Regulator for Compulsory Specification.However, food safety can be a concern if you’re eating locally grown food. Africa in general saw a recent outbreak of listeria due to improper sanitation — a problem that is now under control. However, it did raise questions about the domestic safety of some African food.

You can follow the same general health precautions that you might in the US, such as:

  • If you’re ever unsure about food in a local restaurant or market, stay away from fresh salads, unpeeled fruit and tap water.
  • Make sure your food is cooked thoroughly and avoid rare meats or sushi if the restaurant doesn’t specialize in these foods.
  • Don’t eat food that looks like it’s been kept at room temperature, like buffet food and old or unrefrigerated food from street vendors.

Is the water safe to drink?

Tap water in major towns and cities is generally safe to drink, although it’s a good idea to check with locals before drinking. Bottled water can be found everywhere, so there’s no need to bring water purification tablets. You can bring bottled water if you’re planning a safari trip, since you won’t find a tap on safari.

Is it safe to travel to South Africa alone?

Yes, you’ll find many solo travelers, including women, having a blast in South Africa. However, you might take precautions to make sure you’re not taking any risks, just like you would in any strange place:

  • Stick to well-lit places with lots of people around.
  • Don’t hike alone – find a partner or group to go with.
  • Don’t walk alone after dark, and avoid travelling after dark in townships and business districts.
  • Avoid carrying anything of value.
  • Wear a cross-body bag or moneybelt under your clothes to deter bag snatchers.

Compare South Africa travel insurance

Name Product Trip Cancellation Emergency Medical Expenses Baggage Coverage Trip Delay
Travelex Travel Basic
Essential travel coverage — with the option to customize — that can protect the cost of your trip.
Travelex Flight Insure
Protect the cost of your flight and choose the coverage amount that meets your needs — trip delay protection included.
RoamRight Essential Travel Insurance Plan
Basic policy with coverage that includes trip cancellation insurance, tourist health insurance and baggage insurance.
Travel Guard Silver
Budget-friendly coverage with basic travel protections that include trip cancellation and trip interruption.

Compare up to 4 providers

Is it safe to travel to South Africa when pregnant?

Stay aware of common illnesses and medical care near your destination if you’re travelling to South Africa while pregnant.

  • Common health problems: One major concern for pregnant women travelling to South Africa is malaria. Malaria can turn more severe during pregnancy, leading to some serious complications. Typhoid fever is also a prevalent bacterial infection in the country. You might be limited from medications that treat malaria or typhoid.
  • Safety precautions: If you are pregnant, it may be wise to avoid travel to any at-risk areas. Make sure you talk to your doctor about your medical options for vaccinations and other health precautions you should take.
  • Medical care: South Africa has adequate medical care in populated, urban areas or around game parks. However, you might find limited care in rural areas. You may be required to deposit funds before receiving medical care.
  • Travel insurance: Travel insurance can help with medical expenses for illnesses you might acquire while in South Africa. However, your policy may only provide coverage if you’re not travelling against your doctor’s advice. You might have other limitations, like not travelling past a certain point in your pregnancy, which can range from 18 to 36 weeks.

Do I need vaccinations before going to South Africa?

Yes, South Africa requires you to get a yellow fever vaccine at least 10 days before arrival if you’re coming from or passing through a country at risk for yellow fever. At-risk countries are listed with the World Health Organization. Otherwise, you may not need any vaccines to get through customs.

However, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor about any travel vaccinations recommended, such as the malaria vaccine. You might make sure routine vaccinations are up to date before travelling to South Africa.

Keep in mind that travel insurance may not cover illnesses you contract after forgoing recommended vaccines.

Is it safe to drive in South Africa?

Driving in South Africa includes several risks because of risky drivers and unenforced traffic laws. The following tips and precautions can help your trip run smoothly:

  • Carjacking. Common in parts of Johannesburg, you should drive with your doors and windows locked and approach intersections with caution. If possible, don’t drive at night.
  • Road accidents. The chance of getting in a fatal car accident is almost three times higher in South Africa than the US. Use caution when driving at night because of sporadic or drunk driving.
  • Traffic lights. You might find traffic lights out of order throughout the country. Treat the light as a four-way stop in this case.
  • Rental damage waiver. This helps you avoid out-of-pocket expenses if you get into an accident and damage the rental vehicle. You might find rental vehicle coverage with your travel insurance policy or the rental car company.

Is transportation safe in South Africa?

You can find several safe methods of getting around in South Africa. But the Department of State includes a few warnings about some local transportation.

  • Taxis. Uber and driving apps offer a low-cost way of getting around major cities. If getting around with a taxi or tour bus, you can use reputable, established companies rather than hailing local drivers on the street. Local cabs might require you to negotiate a price before you jump in to avoid getting overcharged.
  • Railways. Rail services such as the Gautrain in Johannesburg are generally safe for getting around to specific destinations.
  • Minibuses. You might spot locals using a minibus taxi in the form of a Toyota minibus. These are not recommended since there are no official routes or timetables, there’s limited space for luggage and drivers may be unlicensed.
  • Airplanes. You might choose to fly with local air carriers for a quick, affordable option to get between cities. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has approved the safety of South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority.

What travel insurance should I get for South Africa?

You may benefit from travel insurance in South Africa because of several moderate risks for crime or illness. Coverage you might consider includes:

  • Emergency medical and transportation provides coverage for emergency medical expenses and transportation you might need for care in a private medical facility.
  • Lost, stolen or delayed baggage can help you recover expenses if your personal items, luggage or travel documents get stolen, lost or delayed in transit.
  • Rental vehicle damage waiver makes sure you won’t pay out-of-pocket for damage caused while traveling over rough roads or if you get into a traffic accident.

Bottom line

Traveling in South Africa involves some level of caution, although you can travel to a variety of locations without incidence. In general, heed local warnings and advisories from the US Department of State to keep yourself as safe as possible. You can also look into wide travel coverage for belongings and medical care for extra peace of mind.

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