The visa-application ritual is an unavoidable rite of passage to international travel for holders of South African passports, as many countries impose a gauntlet of requirements before allowing entry. This ritual is often the only thing standing between your potential clients and the vacation of their dreams. In this article, Brent Willie looks at five of the easiest and five of the most difficult countries to get into with a South African Passport.
Depending on where a South African tourist is planning to go, this last hurdle can either be a daunting heap of paperwork and complex set of procedures to follow, or it can be a breeze. Regardless of the destination and intricacies involved in the visa application, it is always best to advise your prospective client to contact a visa specialist for assistance. There is generally a lot of money involved in planning an overseas vacation, and the last thing you want your client to do is spend money on accommodation, flights and other travel arrangements without securing his or her visas.
The range of visa requirements is broad and varies from country to country. Many require that South African passport holders apply for a visa weeks before travel, with some even cautioning that airline tickets only be confirmed after they’ve issued the visa. For other countries, it’s as easy as presenting a valid passport on arrival.
Easiest and most hassle-free countries to get into with a South African passport
There are fewer than 100 countries in the world where South Africans can go without a visa. Many countries in South America, Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, for example, allow South African tourists to stay for as many as three months, visa free. All of them typically require that the tourist has evidence of onward travel, such as a ticket or a confirmed reservation, and that his or her passport is valid for up to six months after their planned departure.
Among these are some surprising must-see tourism meccas. These are my top 5 selections:
1. Hong Kong
Hong Kong is sometimes described as the New York of the East, thanks to its bright lights, skyscrapers and cosmopolitan blend of nationalities who call the country home. Still, the island retains its distinctly Chinese character in some of the architecture and much of the food. South African passport holders can visit Hong Kong for up to 30 days without a visa.
2. New Zealand
Unlike neighbouring island Australia, New Zealand does not require that South African tourists apply for a visa before travelling. What’s more is that South African tourists can stay up to three months to take in the island’s natural splendour, provided that on arrival they show evidence of onward travel and that they have enough money for food, accommodation and such during their stay.
Jamaica, and much of the Caribbean, is a tropical paradise that welcomes South African passport holders without much hassle. A valid passport gets them in for up to 90 days without a visa. The island’s friendly resort towns of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril are ideal for unwinding on the beach with a cocktail in hand while the sunsets over the ocean.
Kenya’s mix of abundant wildlife, mountainous terrain and luxurious seaside resorts on the Mombasa coastline make the country an attractive travel destination. It has a bit of something for everyone. South Africans can visit Kenya without a visa for stays up to 30 days.
The Rio Carnival, the Amazon rainforest, the 2014 soccer world cup, the bronzed, sculpted bodies that line the country’s more than 2,000 beaches—there are plenty of reasons to visit Brazil. Like much of South America, immigration requirements for South African tourists to Brazil are pretty relaxed, allowing stays for up to 90 days without a visa.
Most difficult countries to get into with a South African passport
It’s best to warn your clients that the difficulty in getting a tourist visa, when they need one, isn’t in whether or not it will get approved. That’s the easy part. The hard part is navigating the sometimes-complex application procedures and forking out the hefty fees for something that in some cases will expire in a few months. These are some of the more difficult to navigate:
1. The European Union
The word “Schengen visa” is enough to trigger an episode of post-traumatic-stress disorder for anyone who has ever had to plan a visit to multiple countries in the European economic area, which is the European Union countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. A Schengen visa allows tourists to travel freely between countries in the European economic area—a good idea, except the application can get tricky.
Your client will need to submit the application to the embassy or consulate of the country that is their main destination based on the length of their stay. If they can’t make that determination because, for example, they will be staying in each country for an equal amount of time, they then should submit the application to the embassy or consulate first country they’ll be entering in the European economic area.
The visa itself takes a few days to process and issue, but advise your client to apply at least three to six weeks before they intend to travel.
2. United Kingdom
South African passport holders used to be able to jet into the United Kingdom without having to apply for a visa beforehand. That all came to an end a couple of years ago. A tourist visa to the UK will set your client back almost R1,200 for a stay of up to six months.
As with the UK, Australia’s tourist visa requirements for South Africans are aimed mainly at establishing their identity and confirming that they are bona fide tourists who plan to return home at the end of their trip. The requirements are similar, and tourists should probably travel with copies of these as well. Once they navigate this, the beaches of the Gold Coast and street side cafes of Melbourne are good ways to unwind from the stress.
5. United States
Even though South Africans are required to apply for a visa to visit the United States, this visa probably offers your client the most bang for their buck. America is huge, spanning diverse destinations, such as wine valleys of Napa and Sonoma in California, the ski resorts of the Rocky Mountains and the beaches of southern Florida. Not only that, the tourist visa can be issued with a 10-year validity period. The drawback however is the lengthy application form, the approximately R1,500 cost depending on the exchange rate, and the wait times for an appointment and for your clients passport with the visa inside to be returned.
It is important that you advise potential clients to always check the requirements for their specific destination before they travel, because countries are always renegotiating and changing visa arrangements.
The Global Visas South Africa website www.globalvisas.com has up-to-date information on global immigration and visas for a range of popular destinations.
About the Author: Brent Willie, Head of Sales at Global Visas South Africa, has extensive experience in immigration and relocating clients from around the world and has expert knowledge on visas and visa requirements.