Safety and security – South Africa travel advice

Crime

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.

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

Violent crime

South Africa has a high rate of crime, including carjacking, house robbery, rape, and murder. The risk of violent crime to visitors travelling to the main tourist destinations is generally low. The South African Tourism Police prioritise protecting tourists and are deployed in several towns and cities. However you should always remain vigilant, as police resourcing can be limited.

The most violent crimes tend to occur in townships on the outskirts of major cities and isolated areas, but violent crime is not limited to these areas. Violent crime, including rape, sexual assault and robbery, can take place anywhere, including in public areas such as popular tourist spots and transport hubs. Try to travel with a friend, or ensure that a friend or responsible person is aware of your itinerary.

If you choose to visit a township, you should use a responsible and reliable tour guide and should not travel to townships without one.

Central business districts (CBDs) of major cities have a greater threat of crime (including armed robbery) than suburban areas, and the threat increases after dark. Fewer people in city centres post-Covid may increase the threat of crime. If you are visiting the CBD of any major city, follow basic security advice: remain alert, do not leave valuables on show, and take safe and reliable transport to and from your destination, be wary of people who approach you, and do not walk around after dark.

Be wary of criminals posing as officials. If in doubt, ask to see their ID and move into a safe, public and open space. All police officers must carry their Appointment Certificate on them. If you have any concerns, you can call the police on 10111 or emergency services on 112, or alert someone who can assist.

Hiking

If you’re hiking in national parks, South African National Parks advise that you hike in groups of four or more and stick to popular designated trails on popular days (e.g. weekends). You should plan your route, be prepared for bad weather and inform someone of when you expect to return. There have been violent attacks on hikers and tourists within Table Mountain National Park. Take care in quieter areas of the park, especially early in the morning or just before the park closes. Cape Town residents use social media (Meet up, Facebook) to coordinate hikes in larger groups. More advice on hiking on Table Mountain is available on the South African Nationals Parks website.

Across South Africa, avoid isolated beaches and picnic spots. Don’t walk alone in remote areas or on beaches after dark or when beachgoers have left.

Fraud and scams

There is a high incidence of credit card fraud, fraud involving ATMs and ‘card skimming’. Hide your PIN when withdrawing money from an ATM or making a transaction in a shop. Be aware of potential fraudsters, for example strangers offering to “help” when your card doesn’t work; or who try to lure you to an ATM by telling you that you need a permit to walk in public areas. Do not change large sums of money in busy public areas. Try to use ATMs in banks or secure shopping malls and be discreet when making withdrawals.

Protect any documents containing details of credit cards or bank accounts and do not give personal or financial account information details to anyone. There are organised crime gangs operating in South Africa, who may target visitors and charities.
British nationals are increasingly targeted by scam artists. The scams come in many forms including romance and friendship, business ventures and work or employment opportunities. Sophisticated scam artists may use social media and dating platforms to engage with victims. Be wary and do not meet up if you have any doubt about the person.

Be wary of criminals posing as officials for financial or personal gain and follow the precautions in the Violent Crime section.

Scams can pose a physical danger and great financial risk to victims. Do not send money to somebody you do not know. The British High Commission and Consulate General will never contact members of the public regarding personal financial matters including on behalf of any UK banks or other financial institutions. You should report these calls to the police.

Criminal kidnaps

There is an increasing threat of kidnap throughout South Africa. Kidnaps are generally for financial gain or motivated by criminality. In recent years, several foreign nationals, including British nationals, have been kidnapped.

British nationals can be perceived as being wealthier than locals and may be at particular risk of kidnap for financial gain.

Airports

There have been incidents involving people being followed from OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg to their destinations and then robbed, often at gunpoint. There have also been incidents of crime in and around the airport itself. Be vigilant in and around the airport and when driving away. Once outside the baggage hall, pass through public areas rapidly, avoiding isolated areas. If you are unfamiliar with the airport, consider arranging to be met on arrival, for example by your hotel or tour operator. If you are in transit, proceed quickly to your connecting flight.

Opportunistic thefts, including of baggage and valuables, can occur at airports in South Africa. Consider vacuum-wrapping luggage where local regulations permit. Keep all valuables in your carry-on luggage, and look after it.

See guidance on using Ubers in the Road travel section below.

Vehicle crime

Incidents of vehicle hijacking 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, petrol stations and when approaching or pulling out from driveways. Always take care and be aware of your surroundings.

Try to avoid being stationary in your vehicle for prolonged periods of time, (e.g. by paying inside the shop rather than waiting in the car when you stop for fuel). Keep your windows closed, especially when stationary at junctions. Criminals have been known to employ various methods in order to force a vehicle to stop. Common tactics include throwing spikes (these may have been hidden in plastic bags), stones or glass in front of the vehicle in order to rob the occupants. Should your vehicle be targeted then drive as far as safely possible before you stop.

Don’t pick up strangers or stop to help apparently distressed motorists, as this is a technique sometimes used by hijackers. It is better to continue and report any incident to the police. If you are involved in a hi-jacking, remain calm and surrender your valuables, and your vehicle if asked. Do not try to resist.

There are frequent incidents of car windows being broken and valuables taken while cars are waiting at junctions. Keep valuables out of sight. You can protect yourself further by asking your hire care company for a vehicle with ‘smash and grab’ film installed on the windows.

Car remote jamming is used by criminals to disable a vehicle’s central locking system. You should always double check that your car doors are locked before you walk away from your car.

Further information

The South African authorities publish indicative statistics on crime on the Statistics South Africa website.

Protests and demonstrations

There are regular protest marches and strike related demonstrations, and periodic incidents of public disorder across South Africa, which can turn violent. Such protests, marches and demonstrations can occur anywhere in South Africa, sometimes at short notice. You should avoid areas where protests, demonstrations, or marches are taking place, especially in city centres and townships. Don’t attempt to cross protester roadblocks as this could provoke a violent reaction. You should monitor local and social media for updates, including local radio.

Road travel

Licences and documents

You can drive in South Africa with a valid UK photocard driving licence for up to 12 months. If you have a paper licence, you should also get an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you travel. If you’re living in South Africa, you should exchange your UK licence for a local licence within 12 months of your arrival. See our Living in South Africa guide for more information.

There are ongoing tensions between Uber and metered taxi drivers, which at times escalate into armed violence. Tensions have been particularly strong at taxi ranks outside some Gautrain stations and airports. Uber passengers have reported being on the receiving end of harassment from metered drivers. The Uber app generally reports where the trouble spots are, but you should exercise caution when using either service.

Uber scams do occur in major cities. Uber is generally safe to use in South Africa, but you should ensure you check the registration of the vehicle, and the identity of the driver, before embarking on your journey. It is safest to avoid waiting in the street for your Uber if you can. At airports, be wary of unregulated drivers posing as Uber drivers. If you order an Uber, go to the designated area and vehicle as displayed in the app.

Road safety

The standard of driving in South Africa varies. Road accidents resulting in death are common, particularly around major public holidays. On highways, overtaking or undertaking 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 most intersections, including 4-way stops and where traffic lights are out of service, the first vehicle to arrive generally 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. If you are travelling to a lodge in a remote area, you should check the condition of the roads with the lodge management as a car with good ground clearance may be required. Drive cautiously, obey speed limits and avoid unfamiliar rural areas at night. You can learn more about road safety awareness by visiting the Arrive Alive website.

Rail travel

You’re advised not to use the Metrorail suburban railway in the larger cities of South Africa and the long distance train services operated by the Passenger Rail Authority of South Africa (PRASA). Both are unreliable and have high crime levels including theft of infrastructure and criminal activity on board trains.

The ‘Gautrain’ high speed commuter train service which runs between Johannesburg, Pretoria and the Oliver Tambo International Airport is secure and reliable. Walking to and from Gautrain stations after dark is not advisable.

Water safety

Beach conditions and local safety provisions vary and every year significant numbers of people drown due to the strong sea currents. Most beaches do not have warning signs, flags or life-saving equipment. In the absence of warning signs, you can speak to local people who are familiar with the conditions. If in doubt, do not enter the water. On busier tourist beaches, follow instructions from lifeguards and any warnings that may be displayed. Watch this video to understand how to avoid being caught in a rip current, and contact the National Sea Rescue Institute in case of emergency.

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