Home Moving to South Africa Visas & Immigration South African citizenship
Last update on August 10, 2020

Discover more about South African citizenship, including all of the requirements and how to go about submitting an application.

Unless you are born in South Africa or have South African parents, you can apply for South African citizenship after holding a permanent residence permit for five years, by marrying a South African citizen or by being a minor with a permanent residence visa.

You can apply for permanent residence in South Africa if you or your spouse have been living and working in South Africa for a minimum of five years. It’s also possible to apply if you fulfill certain other conditions.

But what’s the difference between citizenship and permanent residence, which would be right for you – and how do you apply? 

Permanent South African residency vs South African citizenship

As a permanent resident, you have most of the rights and responsibilities of a South African citizen. However, you cannot vote in South African elections or hold a passport.

Permanent residency is not as permanent as citizenship. You may have your permanent residence permit withdrawn if you don’t live in South Africa within the first year after the permit has been issued if you live outside South Africa for three years or you are convicted of a serious criminal offence.

South African residency

Citizenship by birth or descent cannot be revoked unless you take on another nationality without first applying to retain your South African nationality or you serve in the armed forces of another country, which is at war with South Africa.

You could lose your South African citizenship by naturalization if you supply false information about yourself, conceal important information relating to your application, or obtain your naturalization fraudulently, or you are sentenced to jail for 12 months for an offense that would also have been an offense in South Africa.

How to apply for a South African permanent residence permit

You can apply for a direct residency permit or a residency-on-other-grounds permit. But before you can make an application for either, you have to prove to the Minister of Home Affairs that you are not an undesirable person.  These include people with certain infectious diseases (like cholera), many criminals, bankrupts and anyone involved with a racial hatred organization. Once you receive confirmation, you can apply for permanent residence in South Africa.

Direct residence permit

You can apply for a direct residence permit if you or your spouse have been living and working in South Africa for a minimum of five years, or you are the spouse or dependent of a South African citizen or someone who holds a permanent residence permit.

Residency-on-other-grounds permit

You can apply for a residency-on-other-grounds permit if you have a permanent work offer in South Africa or intend starting up a business, have exceptional skills and qualifications, are a refugee, are retired, are relatives (biological or by adoption) of a South African citizen or someone who holds a permanent residence permit and you are financially independent.

How to apply for South African residency

South African immigration

You must apply at the nearest office of the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa. Otherwise, you can apply at a South African embassy or consulate if you’re abroad. You need to submit Form BI-947 along with a full set of fingerprints and various documents. There’s information at the end of the form about documents you must submit; they vary according to the immigration category.

How to acquire South African citizenship

There are three ways to acquire South African citizenship: by birth, by descent or by naturalization. 

Citizenship by birth

If you were born in South Africa before October 6, 1995, or were born in South Africa after October 6, 1995, and one of your parents was a South African citizen or held a South African permanent residence permit at the time of your birth, or you were adopted by a South African citizen or by someone who holds a South African permanent residence permit – and your birth was registered within 30 days – you automatically qualify for South African citizenship.

In September 2016, the Supreme Court granted South African citizenship to a stateless girl born in South Africa to Cuban parents. Her parents had not lived in Cuba for some time she was unable to claim Cuban citizenship. Although this has been possible for some time, in practice, there was no application form. The Minister of Home Affairs thus passed laws so that stateless children can apply for citizenship.

South African citizenship by descent

If you were born outside of South Africa to a parent who was a South African citizen at the time of your birth or you were adopted by a South African citizen, and your birth was also registered, you can apply for citizenship by descent.

How to apply for South African citizenship by descent

You will need to submit the following documents to the Department of Home Affairs:

  • Form DHA-24 to register your birth.
  • Form BI-24 with signatures from both parents if your parents were unmarried at the time of your birth, to confirm paternity.
  • Forms DHA-529
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your parents’ marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • Form DHA-9, the application form for an identity document, along with two ID photographs (for those aged 15 years and over)
  • Proof of your parents’ identity
  • If applicable, proof of your parents’ foreign citizenship
  • Adoption order (if applicable)

Citizenship by naturalization

You can apply for South African citizenship through naturalization if you have held a permanent residence permit for at least five years if you have married a South African, or you are a minor under 21 years with a permanent residence.

If you’re a permanent permit holder, you must have lived for one year’s ordinary residence in South Africa immediately before your application. After you have acquired permanent residency, you should have lived for an additional four years in South Africa during the eight years before your application for naturalization (excluding the year of ordinary residence).

South African permanent residence

If have a South African spouse, you must have two years of permanent residence. You also must have been married for two years immediately before your application but after you received permanent residence status.

If you are a minor, then you can apply for permanent residence immediately. The responsible parent of a minor can apply on their behalf as long as the minor lives permanently in South Africa.

You must have an adequate knowledge of the duties and responsibilities of a South African citizen. Also, you must be able to communicate in an official language and be of good and sound character. You must also intend to continue living in South Africa.

How to apply for South African citizenship by naturalization

You must pay the fee for naturalization and submit the following documents to the Department of Home Affairs.

  • Forms DHA-63 and DHA-757
  • An original South African non-citizen identity document
  • Your marriage certificate (if applicable).
  • Your divorce decree  (if applicable)
  • An application for the re-issue of your identity document, including two ID photographs
  • The fee for the re-issue of your identity document
  • Proof of permanent residence or exemption
  • Form SAP 91 with a full set of fingerprints (needed for a police clearance report for applicants aged 18 years and over)
  • If you are under 18 years old, your parents or legal guardian must sign the application form (BI-63).

Citizenship by registration

If you are a British citizen who lived in South Africa for at least two years before September 2, 1949, you can apply for South African citizenship through registration.

Dual nationality in South Africa

Some countries allow dual nationality. Many do not, however; check with the authorities in your country of origin to find out if you can maintain both. Dual nationality is allowed in South Africa. Once you have the South African nationality, if you wish to acquire another nationality, you must apply to retain your South African nationality or you may lose it. 

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