Living in South Africa: Residence visa requirements
If you are planning to move to South Africa, there are several South African visas you can apply for to get legal residence in South Africa.
Many foreigners planning a move to South Africa will generally need to arrange a South African visa or permit before making travel plans to South Africa, although some exceptions exist.
South Africa offers a full set of visas and immigration permits, and you will need to provide different documentation depending on the type of visa or permit you are applying for. Outlined below are some of the major categories of South African visas and permits, and the conditions and documents required in each case, as published on the website of the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA).
Conditions for applying for a South Africa visa
As of 26 May 2014 applicants are required to submit an application for a temporary residence visa in person at the South African diplomatic representative, such as an embassy or consulate, in their country of origin or in a neighbouring country if there is none. An in-person application is required to collect biometric data, such as fingerprints.
Applicants must apply for the correct temporary residence visa according to their intended activities in South Africa, since holders of visitor’s visas are no longer allowed to change their status from inside South Africa. For example, someone who applied for a visa to visit a relative in South Africa cannot apply for a relative’s visa once there to remain in the country. Such person would need to return to their country of origin to apply for a new visa.
The Immigration Act (2002) allows for various categories of temporary residence visas, including:
- Transit visas enroute to a neighbouring country
- Visitor’s visas for visits up to 90 days
- Visitor’s visas for activities longer than 90 days but less than three years
- Study visas
- Treaty visas
- Business visas
- Medical treatment visas
- Relative’s visas
- Work visas
- Retired person visas
- Exchange visas
Applying for a South African temporary visa
In general, you will be asked to provide the following documentation when making an application:
- A passport valid for at least 30 days after the end of your intended visit
- A photocopy of all temporary residence visas endorsed in the passport
- Processing fee
- One recent passport size colour photograph
- A yellow fever vaccination certificate (if you have travelled through or intend to travel through the yellow fever belt area)
- Police clearance certificates in countries where the applicant has resided for 12 months or longer since aged 18 years.
- Medical and radiology reports
- A birth certificate
- Supporting documentation of your relationship: proof of custody or adoption of a minor, marriage certificate or proof of a relationship by means of an affidavit.
South African work visas
There are various types of South African work visas that may be issued, depending on the situation of the applicant. These types have been listed below.
General Work Visa
This is the most common work visa but in order to obtain this type of work visa, the employing company and employee must prove the following:
- despite diligent search, the prospective employer was unable to find a suitable candidate in the local market;
- the employee has qualifications or proven skills and experience suitable to the job;
- the job salary and benefits are not lower than the average salary and benefits of employees in similar positions;
- a mutually signed contract of employment; and
- proof of qualifications evaluated by SAQA and translated by a sworn translator into one of the official languages of South Africa (English is acceptable).
Critical Skills Work Visa
There are some skills and qualifications which are regarded as exceptional by the South African government. This list of critical skills lists almost 35,000 positions across 53 different categories.
You may be asked to show proof of:
- relevant qualifications as certified by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), including authenticated copies of academic certifications or degrees;
- a minimum of five years practical experience;
- any qualification certificates not in English must be translated by a sworn translator;
- registration with the relevant South African professional body, trade organisation, board or council, if your field requires such permission.
See the full list of conditions for the Critical Skills Work Visa.
Intra-Company Transfer Visa
If an employee in multinational companies is transferred between countries, they can apply for the Intra-Company Transfer visa, which has certain conditions:
- The employee must have first worked for a minimum of six months in the company’s foreign office.
- The employer doesn't need to prove efforts to obtain the services of a South African citizen or permanent residence.
- An intra-company transfer visa is issued for a maximum period of four years and is not renewable or extendable.
- If continued employment is required after the visa expires, the application for a new intra-company transfer work visa must be applied for from the applicant’s country of origin or of permanent residence.
The immediate family member of a South African citizen or permanent resident – for example, a father, mother, brother, sister, grandfather or grandmother – can qualify for a relative's visa, provided that:
- the South African resident has at least ZAR 8,500 per person per month to provide financial care;
- kinship is proven via a birth certificate;
- where an application is made by or on behalf of a child of a South African citizen or permanent resident, a paternity test may be required.
South Africa encourages business investment, whether establishing a new business or investing in an existing one.
You will need to show:
- certification by a chartered accountant of at least ZAR 5.0mn in cash and/or a capital contribution;
- a recommendation from the Department of Trade and Industry regarding the feasibility of the business and the contribution of the business to the national interest of South Africa;
- an intention to employ at least 60 percent of South African citizens or permanent residents;
- an undertaking to register with the relative authorities related to your business activity, including the South African Revenue Service or the relevant professional body, board or council.
Read more conditions on the Department of Home Affairs' (DHA) website.
Retired persons visa
The Retired Person’s Visa can be issued to anyone who intends to retire in South Africa, regardless of age or whether it will be on a continuous or seasonal basis.
To qualify for a Retired Person’s Visa the applicant will need to show:
- that they receive a monthly income of at least ZAR 37,000 per month through certain means, which can include pension funds, an irrevocable retirement annuity, a net worth or a combination of assets.
A Corporate Visa is not issued to a worker, but to the employing company. It provides a simplified process for a company based in South Africa to employ foreigners and obtain work visas.
Once you are accepted into an approved education institution, you can qualify for a student visa.
Students are required to show:
- proof of annual medical cover for the duration of the intended study period
- the scheme must be taken out with a medical scheme registered in terms of the Medical Schemes Act.
This requirement can be waivered if the student is the dependent of a South African citizen or permanent resident and is registered on a family medical insurance scheme.
Other visas include medical treatment visas, volunteer/exchange visas and a visa called the financial independence visa (for those with enough funds, ZAR 12.0mn or more) to prove that they are self-sufficient. You can read all the conditions on the Department of Home Affairs' (DHA) website.
Permanent residence permits
Permanent residence permits is available to foreigners who have legally resided in South Africa on a work permit for a minimum of five years, and extends to spouses and dependents of South African citizens/permanent residence permit holders.
Permanent residency permits are also possible on many other grounds:
- if you are in possession of a permanent work offer in South Africa;
- if you have exceptional skills and qualifications;
- if you intend to establish a business in South Africa;
- if you qualify as a refugee in terms of the Refugees Act;
- if you qualify as retired persons;
- if you are financially independent (net worth of over R 12.0mn);
- if you are the relative (biologically or judicially adopted) of a South African citizen or permanent residence permit holder.
Read more on the conditions and documentation required to apply for a South African permanent residency permit.
Updated: 2011; 2015.
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