Unlocking the World

Traveling to South Africa during Covid-19: What you need to know before you go

CNN StaffUpdated 6th April 2021
Cape Town is one of the world's most striking cities.
Editor's Note — Coronavirus cases remain high across the globe. Health officials caution that travel increases your chances of getting and spreading the virus. Staying home is the best way to stem transmission. Below is information on what to know if you still plan to travel, last updated on April 6.
(CNN) — If you're planning to travel to South Africa, here's what you'll need to know and expect if you want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The basics

South Africa reopened to travelers at the end of 2020, and the country relaxed its stringent day-to-day restrictions on February 28. However, it's not all good news. The South African variant of Covid-19 is thought to transmit more quickly, and vaccines are potentially less effective against it. That means many countries have imposed flight restrictions.

What's on offer

Breathtaking coastline, buzzing cities, wine country and, of course, the Big Five -- South Africa is a real bucket list destination. Most tourists pair a safari -- the 7,523 square mile Kruger National Park, in the northeast of the country, is one of the largest game reserves in Africa -- with a city break in coastal Cape Town. But there's so much more on offer: sprawling, tree-lined Johannesburg is one of the largest man-made forests in the world; beachside Durban, home to much of South Africa's Indian population, is one of the world's best places for a curry; and other natural paradises are all over the country, including iSimangaliso Wetland Park, whose Zulu name, "something wondrous," is the perfect description. And of course there's Soweto, the township outside Johannesburg, whose museums bring the horrors of Apartheid home and whose restaurants are some of the best in the city.

Who can go

Anyone can visit, subject to usual visa regulations. There are strict protocols to follow -- see below.

What are the restrictions?

All travelers must complete a screening form within 48 hours of their trip to produce on their device at the airport. On arrival, they must present a paper copy of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of arrival. It must be signed by the person who took the test. You should take several copies, in case you have to hand them over at different stages. Those arriving without a test are subject to quarantine at their own expense.
Screening is ongoing at all points of entry.
Transits are also allowed, though again you must present the same negative PCR test.
Business travelers going between South Africa and the Southern African Development Community of 15 other states in Southern Africa must also produce the same negative PCR test, but are allowed multiple entries over 14 days.
Of South Africa's land borders, 33 are closed, 20 are open, including Beitbridge, Lembombo and Ficksburg.

What's the Covid situation?

South Africa has seen 1.55 million infections and nearly 53,000 deaths, as of April 6.
Although that's not by any means the highest death or infection rate, the South African variant of the disease appears to spread more easily. There are also concerns that vaccines might be slightly less effective against it -- although it's thought they still offer protection against severe disease.
Countries across the world swiftly moved to ban flights when the variant was discovered.

What can visitors expect?

On February 28, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the easing of restrictions from level 3 to level 1. That means there is a reduced curfew in place, from midnight to 4 a.m. (previously it started at 11 p.m.) No alcohol can be sold during those hours, and restaurants generally chose one hour earlier to allow staff and clients to get home before curfew. Extra restrictions were imposed over Easter.
Gatherings are now permitted -- the maximum number of participants is 100 indoors and 250 outdoors.
Mask wearing is compulsory on public transport and inside public buildings, and fines are issued for those not complying.
South Africa's world-famous beaches have had closures imposed during previous lockdowns, but are currently open.

Useful links

Our latest coverage

If you're wondering how South Africa has been looking recently, here's a look at its summer under lockdown from January.
Looking for inspiration? We picked our favorite places to visit in this astonishing country. Or dream of a trip with this article about the aptly named Paradise Beach.