South Africa is a popular holiday destination all year round for many New Zealander. It’s easy to see why with its wildlife and stunning African scenery. But whether you’re off to explore Cape Town, drive down the Garden Route or head for Kruger National Park, there is one key thing that you need to have before you depart – travel insurance.
Whether it’s a cancelled flight, lost or stolen luggage, serious medical emergency or one of the many other unforeseen events, travelling without travel insurance could mean that your trip of a lifetime becomes memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Continue reading our informative guide to travel insurance for South Africa.
Everything you need to know about Travel Insurance for South Africa
Why travel insurance for your South African getaway is essential
South Africa offers travellers a combination of thrilling adventures, spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife.
Popular adventure activities include mountain climbing, shark cage diving, elephant back riding or Big Five wildlife safaris and white water rafting. While South Africa will definitely leave you with a memorable trip, there are large health and safety risks including:
Theft and armed robbery. Theft is a common issue for travellers visiting South Africa.
Tourist police scams. This involves criminals posing as ‘tourist police’ and stopping tourists to check them for proof of identity and search their luggage. Another concern is beggars who target cars on highway off ramps or when stopped at intersections and traffic lights.
Regional unrest. Attacks against immigrants from neighbouring regions has led to violence in some parts of South Africa.
Poor road and driving conditions. Due to factors like alcoholism and poor driving standards, driving can be risky.
Cholera and malaria. Rural areas of South Africa have occurrences of cholera, with serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Malaria is also prevalent in remote areas of far north and east South Africa, including Kruger National Park.
HIV/AIDS. The rate of HIV/AIDS infection is very high in South Africa.
Dangerous wild life. Although there are many beautiful animals, many are dangerous and pose the risk of severe injury.
Extreme adventure activities. South Africa is home to a 216m bungee jumping facility and other activities that carry safety concerns.
Four South African adventure activities you must get cover for
A safari is one of the key experiences of any South African getaway. These wild animals however, are unpredictable and things can sometimes go wrong. While most insurers will cover you for injury and illness while you’re out on safari, it’s important that you always follow the advice of the tour guide or park ranger, as you won’t be covered if you fail to do so and recklessly put yourself in danger. See how different travel insurers cover safaris.
2. Hiking and Trekking
Some providers will exclude hiking from cover altogether. However, there are policies out there that will cover you for incidents that occur while you’re hiking in South Africa – just make sure you read the PDS closely to work out if hiking is included or as an extra.
3. Shark Diving
An iconic feature of any South African holiday is diving with great white sharks. Most diving businesses will have liability insurance in place to cover any unexpected incidents and it’s a good idea to check what cover a company before you book a dive. It doesn’t however hurt to take out a travel insurance policy that also covers shark diving, giving you the peace of mind you need to enjoy this memorable South African experience.
4. Bungee Jumping
South Africa is home to iconic bungee jumping sites such as the Orlando Towers at Soweto. Like most extreme activities, it is a must that you check with your travel insurer if it is included in your policy or if you have to add an option. Additionally check with the bungee jumping provider what means of cover they have.
Bungee jumping in Soweto
Craig had been looking forward to his South African holiday for months and, in particular, a bungee jumping adventure he had planned. But due to an unfortunate bungee jumping mishap when Craig takes the leap of faith, he ends up with a dislocated kneecap and some severe ligament damage. The resulting surgery and hospital stay needed to repair his knee leads to a medical bill in the vicinity of $8,000, but luckily Craig has planned ahead. He purchased travel insurance with optional cover for adventure activities, meaning that all his medical costs are covered by his insurer.
Will I be covered if racial riots force me to cancel my trip?
Areas of race-related violence
Although it’s an amazingly beautiful country, South Africa does have a reputation around the world for crime problems. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Safe Travelrecommends that New Zealand travellers ‘exercise a high degree of caution’ when visiting South Africa. It warns travellers to:
Be particularly vigilant around O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg
Avoid using ATMs outside business hours or use within a bank or shopping mall
Avoid travel after dark and to isolated areas
Avoid displaying or wearing items that appear valuable, such as mobile devices and jewellery
Avoid all demonstrations, protests and rallies as they have the potential to turn violent
When travel insurance covers you
If you were ever unfortunate enough to get caught up in such violence, you probably won’t be covered by your insurer — a common exclusion of most travel insurance policies is that no cover is available when you visit an area which MFAT has advised against travelling to
However, if you were to cancel your trip ahead of time, if the threat of race related violence or an unstable situation arises after you have bought your travel insurance, policies may pay you out to cover your cancellation expenses.
After South Africa, I wish to travel the rest of the continent – Will I be covered?
Check official government warnings.
As we touched on above, don’t expect to receive cover from an insurer if you travel to a country which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has advised against visiting. Such travel advisories can be found on MFAT’s SafeTravel website.
Check with your travel insurance provider
Some insurers will explicitly not cover certain countries due to their volatility and climate of instability. You’ll need to check the fine print of a policy for full details of excluded countries, but destinations such as Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zimbabwe regularly make the list of excluded countries.
Dangers on the road that insurance may not cover
If you’re hiring a rental vehicle and taking to the road in South Africa, be warned that there are several dangers to keep an eye out for. In fact, South Africa has some of the most dangerous roads in the world, with 25 road fatalities per 100,000 people (New Zealand’s is around 8 road deaths per 100,000 people). Remember, travel insurance is meant to cover you in unforeseen circumstances, don’t put yourself in a position of loss by taking part in reckless driving.
Common risk factors with South African roads
Roads that are poorly lit, poorly marked and not properly maintained
Dangerous driving – other drivers changing lane without warning and with little concern for any other road users
Old, underpowered cars sharing the road with much newer, high-speed models
The standard of health care in South Africa is typically excellent, especially in the major cities, although remote cities may be limited in medical services. In order to ensure that you can receive prompt medical attention whenever you need it, it’s vital that you have travel insurance in place that covers your overseas medical costs.
Due to long waiting times and staffing issues in the public system, it is ideal to receive treatment in a private facility. At most hospitals and clinics, upfront payment (a guarantee of payment or confirmation of your medical cover) will typically be expected before you can receive any treatment.
Who do I contact in an emergency?
Whether you’re travelling in South Africa you can call your insurance provider for 24/7 emergency assistance should you ever need it, but you should also take note of the following South African emergency numbers:
Police. 10111 is the nationwide emergency number for the police
Ambulance. 10177 is the nationwide emergency number for ambulance
Netcare911. Emergency Response. 082911 is the number for Netcare911, the largest privately-owned emergency response company in South Africa. They will respond whether you are a member or not.
Mobile Network provided emergency number. 112 is the standard GSM emergency number and should work on all mobile phones – you don’t even need to have credit
New Zealand embassies and consulates. You can find locations and contact details on the MFAT website.
What vaccinations should I consider getting before my trip?
It’s always important that you consult your GP before travelling overseas. When travelling to South Africa, it’s advisable to have the following vaccinations:
Varicella and polio
Yearly flu shot
Hepatitis A and B
Travel Tips for South Africa
Now that we’ve got you well on your way to finding a suitable travel insurance for your trip to South Africa, here are some travel tips to make your holiday as breezy as possible:
Safety. While known for its extraordinary beauty, South Africa is also known for high levels of serious crime. Leave your flashy jewellery or gadgets at home to avoid being a target of crime. Be wary of strangers approaching you for help to avoid being scammed. Always be aware and alert to your surroundings.
Baz Bus. This hop-on, hop-off bus is a super convenient, flexible, safe and affordable way to explore all that South Africa towns and landscapes have to offer. What’s more, they will pick you up and drop you off at the door of your accommodation.
Tipping. Tipping is usually done in the local currency, Rand, but US dollars are also acceptable. At restaurants and bars it is customary to tip 10% to 15%, but many restaurants will automatically add a 10% service charge for groups larger than six people. If you are driving, petrol stations are not self-serviced and your attendant can be tipped about R5 to R10 to fill your petrol, check the oil, water and tyre pressures and clean windscreens. At hotels, leaving R50 per person per day for housekeeping is customary.
Smoking. It is illegal to smoke in public spaces, including airports and railway stations. You’ll be able to find designated smoking and non-smoking areas at restaurants and pubs.
Value Added Tax (VAT). In South Africa, VAT is included in the price of almost all products unless stated otherwise, much like our GST. You can claim back VAT on products that you buy to take out of South Africa, if they total over R250.
Local advice. Be open to local suggestions and tips and you’ll be sure to have a much more memorable experience of the local culture.
Common features that travel insurance policies cover
While the total amounts you are covered for will depend on your level of South Africa travel insurance chosen, some common features include:
Overseas medical and dental expenses. If you get sick or are injured in South Africa, your travel insurance will cover your medical and dental expenses. Many travel insurance policies cover overseas medical evacuation costs too.
Delays and cancellations. Travel insurance for South Africa will reimburse the costs associated with cancellation, rescheduling travel arrangements or last minute accommodation in South Africa.
Luggage, personal belongings and travel documents. If you have travel insurance for your trip to South Africa, your insurer will either cover the costs of replacing any lost and stolen items to the limit set out in the policy.
Worldwide 24/7 emergency assistance. Travel insurance brands understand how useful a 24/7 emergency assistance service can be. That’s why it’s important to choose a provider who offers emergency assistance at any time of the day or night.
Cooling off period. This means you can take the time to figure out if your South Africa travel insurance plan is suitable for your needs before you leave New Zealand.
What are some exclusions I should look out for?
It is crucial to check your travel insurance for all exclusions before you travel. Some general exclusions for South Africa travel insurance may include:
Pre-existing medical conditions. Pre-existing medical conditions may not be covered unless you specifically pre-arranged it with your South Africa travel insurance provider.
Irresponsible behaviour. Irresponsible behaviour includes being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, leaving your luggage unattended in a busy public area or knowingly breaking the law.
High-risk sports and activities. Many adventurous activities are not automatically covered by travel insurance brands, but often come as an add-on premium. Buying the appropriate options is particularly important if you plan on letting your inner daredevil out in South Africa.
Travelling against Government advice. If you choose to ignore advice and travel warnings from the New Zealand Government, your travel insurance will be void.
Six steps to comparing travel insurance for South Africa
When selecting the level of travel insurance you will need, ask yourself these six questions:
1. Where in South Africa are you going? Some part of South Africa will can be more dangerous e.g. Durban.
2. How many times will you go to South Africa this year? Decide on single trip or annual multi-trip cover.
3. What activities in South Africa will you take part in? If you plan on surfing in Cape Town make sure your insurance policy covers this activity.
4. Are you taking valuable items? Consider extra cover for expensive cameras and electronics.
5. Do you have any medical conditions? Make you declare any pre-existing medical conditions and make sure your policy covers medical cover.
6. Do you prefer paying more upfront or only when you have to clam? Look at both the price of the policy and excess required for claims.
Frequently asked questions
That will depend on you and the type of travel you are planning on doing. Think about where you are heading to, the type of activities you’ll be participating in and whether you want a basic or comprehensive cover. Once you have an idea about the factors, compare the benefits and features of the many travel insurance policies available.
SafeTravel provides a wealth of information about current warnings. While you’re there, it’s also a great idea to register your travel plans, so that if an emergency were to happen in South Africa, you can receive automatic updates to ensure your safety.
Most travel insurance policies will have options to easily include your partner or children. Be sure to ask your South Africa travel insurance provider for any fine print details you should be aware of.
Richard Laycock is Finder’s insights editor after spending the last five years writing and editing articles about insurance. His musings can be found across the web including on MoneyMag, Yahoo Finance and Travel Weekly. When he’s not doing deep dives on data, he is testing the quality of cocktails in his newfound home of New York. Richard studied Media at Macquarie University and The Missouri School of Journalism and has a Tier 1 Certification in General Advice for Life Insurance.
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