South Africa

ABIL Lawyers

Chris Watters

Bedfordview, South Africa

More Information


The meanings of the terms “visas” and “permits” are the subject of pending legislative amendments.

Passports can be categorized, currently, as being either “visa-exempt” or “non-visa-exempt.” The holders of visa-exempt passports may travel to South Africa without needing permits or visas if the purpose is tourism.

The list of which countries are visa-exempt and the period of time for which visitor permits may be issued upon arrival based on a visa-exempt passport can change without notice. The list is available on the home page of the Department of Home Affairs.

The holders of non-visa-exempt passports must obtain a visa at the nearest South African embassy before traveling to South Africa, irrespective of the purpose of the intended visit.

Traditional visa-exempt countries include the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, European Union countries, New Zealand, and Brazil.


The Immigration Act, 2002, applies what might be called a “snapshot test.” If in doubt, ask whether what you are doing in South Africa is “consistent” with being employed, self-employed, or working in some profession. In practice, persons coming to South Africa for less than three months on behalf of companies/employers to meet possible partners; to do work; or to participate in a sporting, cultural, or arts-related event should apply at their South African embassy for a section 11(2) visitor permit. This allows short-term employment or self-employment.

Department of Home Affairs policy is that if you are coming for a period of more than three months, extensions of this permit will only be considered in the most exceptional circumstances. And if the stay will be more than six months, another category of permit must be applied for via an embassy. Currently, one can enter South Africa and work on an 11(2) and then change status to a work permit. But this requires that exceptional circumstances be shown.

The current practice is that the first and correct permit should be applied for via an embassy and not from inside South Africa.

Requirements for Business Visitors

This is under active review. Currently, advance written permission is required, in the form of a letter from the Department of Home Affairs. This can no longer be obtained upon request at a port of entry.

The request must describe when the person is coming, flight details, intended activities, company, location in South Africa, business necessity of the South African partner, and length of time of the work.

Allowable Activities

There is no prescribed list of allowable activities. The person will be held to the terms of his or her originally stated and approved motivation for coming to South Africa.

Duration/Maximum Period of Stay

The maximum term of any visitor permit is six months, divided into two three-month terms. The period of validity of an 11(2) visitor permit cannot be longer than three months.

Consular officials may issue permits for shorter periods if they consider it appropriate.

Extension of Stay

An 11(2) visitor permit will only be extended for one additional period of three months in exceptional circumstances.

Approximate Timeline

Applications for temporary residence permits or for the extension of visitor permits, applied for within South Africa, take approximately one month to be adjudicated.

Applications for extensions of visitor or residence permits cannot be submitted to an embassy.


The Department of Home Affairs charges a fee of ZAR425,00 (or the US$ or Euro equivalent in the case of an embassy) for a visitor permit.


The only business visitor visa is the 11(2) visitor permit. Any person coming to South Africa to conduct work, whether for himself or anyone else, must obtain one in advance.

Business Visa Process and Documents

The requirements for an 11(2) visitor permit are actively under review. Please check with the nearest South African embassy for updates.

To apply for a business visa, the holder of a non-visa-exempt passport must submit a request for an 11(2) permit on the BI-84 form. The list of supporting documents must be checked with the nearest embassy.

Approximate Timeline

Officially, most embassies require two to three weeks to adjudicate a permit application, depending on how busy the embassy is. In some cases permits will be issued in two to three days, or even the same day.


The Department of Home Affairs charges a fee of ZAR425,00 (or the US$ or Euro equivalent in the case of an embassy) for an 11(2) visitor permit.


Any person who will be working in South Africa for more than six months must obtain a work permit. It is irrelevant whether he or she will be self-employed, working for an offshore company, working for a South African company, or volunteering. It is immaterial whether the person is being paid in South Africa, offshore, or at all.

Duration/Maximum Period of Stay

Currently, where a person is being deployed by an offshore company to work for or with a South African company, the permit is issued for two years. These permits cannot be extended.

Where the person is employed by a South African company, the duration of the permit is determined based on the term of the employment contract, up to a period of five years for permanent appointments. These permits may be extended or renewed upon application.

Work Permit Process and Documents

The Department of Home Affairs actively discourages persons applying for their first work permit from doing so inside the country. The first application should be made via the nearest South African embassy.

The list of documents to be furnished when applying for a work permit varies depending on factors such as the subcategory of work permit being applied for, the circumstances of the job, and the qualifications required for the post.

Approximate Timeline

Officially, most embassies require two to three weeks to adjudicate a permit application, depending on how busy the embassy is. In some cases permits will be issued in two to three days, or even the same day.


The Department of Home Affairs charges a prescribed fee of ZAR1520,00 (or the US$ or Euro equivalent in the case of an embassy) for a work permit.


Applicants for work permits may apply simultaneously to bring their legal dependents with them. The age of majority in South Africa is 18.

The general rule is that all foreign nationals in South Africa, and those who are not South African citizens, irrespective of their age, state of health, or infirmity, must have an appropriate permit endorsed into their passport that summarizes what they are authorized to do in South Africa.

Foreign spouses wishing to take up employment must obtain the appropriate work permit and in their own right. There is no special dispensation for foreign spouses unless they are the spouses of South African citizens or permanent residents.

The term “spouse” includes persons who are in life partnerships so long as the relationship is intended to be permanent and not polygamous.

Study permits are required for minors to attend school beginning in the first grade. Study permits are not required to attend pre-school.


Currently, “residence permits” are divided broadly into temporary residence and permanent residence permits.

Permits to work, study, receive medical treatment, conduct self-employment, or reside with a South African spouse are all categories of temporary residence permits. By definition they are issued for a finite period between six months and five years.


Under South African law, a person who has been issued or granted permanent residence under any of the different routes to permanent residence has all the rights of a South African citizen except for those rights expressly reserved for citizens. Typically those include the right to vote and to be issued a South African passport.

There are different grounds on which one may qualify to apply for permanent residence. Some allow a person to apply immediately for permanent residence whereas others require a waiting period or are conditional.


Ministries or Agencies involved in the visa and permit process:

External websites:

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