Visa Limitations for South Africans

In the world of fast-paced, global travel, the last thing you want is visa hassles ruining your clients opportunity to take advantage of a special travel offer at short notice. In this article, Mwangi Githahu and Simon Lewis take an in-depth look at visa limitations for South African travellers.

“All men are created equal,” Abraham Lincoln reminded the people of the United States at Gettysburg in 1863.

Of course, honest Abe never crossed an ocean or travelled abroad, so he never had to hassle with applying for a visa. If he were alive today, you could be sure to read wry tweets along the lines of “All passports are not created equal” flying into cyberspace from @honestabe.

A quick scan through the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index will illustrate just how unequal most passports actually are, from Finland, Sweden and the United Kingdom (all on an eye-popping 173 visa-free countries) down to Afghanistan on a paltry 28!

Visa-free access based on a passport is a reflection of that country’s tourism status, political relations as well as their economy. Easy access might mean they are very tourism friendly and politically welcoming, while limited access can suggest the country is a bit of an outcast (usually due to a history of conflict and warfare) or is so strong economically that they are eager to keep easy access through their border posts more exclusive.

Access to a wider range of visa-free countries offers substantial opportunities for tourism as it stimulates tourism bodies and operators to offer short-notice specials to take advantage of sudden heightened tourism activities or events. Marketing such special offers to countries whose passport holders can take off at a moment’s notice is a great way to help fill empty airplane seats or hotel rooms and it also makes it easier to adjust travel arrangements at short notice when on holiday.

As tourists, South Africans have easy visa-free access to 94 countries around the world, the same as St Lucia and Turkey. That might seem like a lifetime’s worth of travel, but it all depends on the individual country breakdowns. Sadly, some key destinations are not visa-free for South Africans, such as North America, almost all of Europe as well as Australia. On the positive side, South America is open, as is a lot of Asia and Oceania. Turkey is understandably stronger in Russia and the Middle East, but while a lot of Africa is not available visa-free with a South African passport, crucially the main Southern African tourist destinations are, along with the countries situated along the eastern coast of Africa.

There are 26 African countries that South Africans can travel to either without a visa or with a visa that can be snapped up on arrival. These countries include Botswana (where we can stay for 90 days without a visa), Mauritius (60 days visa-free as tourists, or 90 days-visa free for business visits) and Senegal (three months without a visa).

The only African nations that trump South Africa are the Seychelles (visa-free access to 126 countries) and Mauritius (123). Critically, both of these nations are strong through Europe, while Seychelles has the added benefit of visa-on-arrival to Egypt (not an easy country to access visa-free).

Madagascar offers South Africans a 30-day visa on arrival at no cost and Zambia welcomes South Africans for 90 days in a year visa-free (these 90-days can be taken all at once or in intervals). Ironically, in terms of SADC countries, South Africans only get a 14-day free visa for Lesotho, yet they can get into Tanzania visa-free and stay for 90 days! Go figure!

All is not lost for frequent flyers holding a South African passport, though. Choosing your marriage partner with care (in regards to his or her passport!) could give you a second passport which might open up a great many travel gates. The other ways to get your hands on a second passport are through a lengthy residency application (a sign of the truly committed international traveller) or citizenship by investment, whereby you buy property in another country and are rewarded with the fairly rapid granting of citizenship and a passport. The latter is only for the seriously well-heeled, but carries tremendous advantages in terms of their lifestyle.

“Affluent South African passport holders who do a lot of international travel, whether for leisure, business or both, can gain enormous benefits from having a second passport through a citizenship-by-investment programme. These are offered by several countries and allow an investor to legally, and almost immediately, acquire citizenship without needing to physically live in that country,” says Andrew Taylor, Managing Partner at Henley Estates, global leader in citizenship by investment. “This speeds up travel, facilitates business opportunities and even affords their children the opportunity to be educated overseas.”

“If the South African passport holder acquires citizenship of Cyprus (151 countries visa-free), for instance, then they can add Canada, Europe, parts of Asia and Russia, Australia and even some African countries that are not open visa-free on the South African passport. That’s a powerful passport combination to have, and it literally makes the world your oyster,” adds Taylor.

About the Authors: Mwangi Githahu and Simon Lewis are a South African-based writing team specialising in tourism and travel. Henley & Partners are a global leader in citizenship by investment programs. Their African office is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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