Home Moving to South Africa Visas & Immigration A guide to South African visas and permits
Last update on August 13, 2020

Read this in-depth guide to immigration requirements for moving to South Africa, and applying for a South African visa or permit.

Most foreigners planning to live in South Africa require a visa to legally live, work, or study. South Africa offers a full set of visas; choosing the correct one is essential and depends on what you plan on doing in the country. You will need to provide different documentation depending on the type of visa or permit you are applying for. Below, we outline some of the major categories of South African visas, as well as the necessary conditions and documents.

According to the latest Immigration Act, temporary residence applications earn you a visa; permits refer to permanent residency only. Many foreigners apply for a temporary visa to South Africa to work, study, or stay with a relative or spouse. However, one can often easily qualify for permanent residency; find out how in the final section of this article.

According to the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA), South African visitors’ visas are available for:

  • visits to family or friends, or for tourism purposes
  • business purposes
  • a spouse to join their partner who is in South Africa on a work or study permit
  • children to join parents who are in South Africa on work or study permits
  • fiancée/ fiancé to join his or her partner with the intension of marrying within 90 days
  • study purposes (maximum stay three months)
  • charitable or voluntary activities
  • research
  • conferences
  • to work in the production of a movie or show
  • for medical purposes (maximum stay three months)
  • sporting events.

Choosing the correct South African visa

The first step is to choose the right South African visa for your stay. This depends on, according to immigration law, the exact reason for your move to South Africa. For some, this is simple, such as employment or joining their partner who has been transferred. But for others more than one option may be suitable, making the choice more difficult.

When multiple visa options are available, you need to look at each visa type and weigh the advantages. For example, you might be able to apply for a Relative’s Visa or a Critical Skills Work Visa; however, depending on your end goal, one or the other may be subject to limitations. You can read in detail about the different types of visas, conditions, and documentation from the South African Department of Home Affairs (DHA).

Where to apply for immigration to South Africa

For any visa application for South Africa, you generally must apply at the South African consulate, embassy, or diplomatic representative in your country of residence or citizenship, or in the closest country if not available in your own. Find out where to apply in your own country from this list of South African offices abroad. From abroad, you can call the DHA on +27 11 461 9252 for more information.

If you are already in South Africa, you must visit a Visa Facilitation Centre (VFS) or you can complete an application form online. You can visit your nearest Department of Home Affairs office for information or call 0800 60 11 90 (toll-free inside South Africa).

While there are many exceptions, if you come to South Africa on a Visitor’s Visa then you cannot change your visa status without returning home to collect it. Therefore, don’t travel to South Africa until you receive approval for your residency visa.

You may only apply for immigration once in South Africa under one of the following conditions:

  • you’re in the country on a valid work permit;
  • you are married to, or are the child of, a South African citizen or permanent resident, and are in South Africa on a valid temporary residence permit;
  • if you are being sponsored for immigration purposes by a blood family member who is permanently and lawfully residing in South Africa, and are in South Africa on a valid temporary residence permit;
  • you are exempt from the requirement for holding a temporary residence permit.

How to apply for a South African visa

An immigration lawyer will tell you that the set of documentation is unique for each visa type. However, there is a base set of documents that includes:

  • papers such as medical tests (both chest x-rays and tests from a doctor);
  • a criminal clearance certificate (not older than six months);
  • copies of all your identification.

The correct form is necessary; although the forms are downloadable online, the DHA only accepts the latest versions. As a result, they may ask you to complete these again if you haven’t obtained them from a reliable source. You can access application forms online via the VFS. If abroad, collect the necessary forms from the appropriate authority in your country.

Below is a list of the type of South African visas and permits you can apply for.

South African work visas

There are various types of South African work visas available, depending on the situation of the applicant. You can also read more in Expatica’s guide to South Africa work visas.

General Work Visa

The general work visa is the most common type of work visa. In order to obtain this type of work visa, the employing company has to show documentary proof that they tried to employ a South African citizen first and were unable to fill the position. This usually means showing advertisements of the position in the local media. Secondly, proof must be submitted of the applicant’s qualifications and/or experience, and their qualifications have to be approved by the relevant South African authority.

Critical Skills Work Visa

There are some skills and qualifications which the South African government sees as exceptional. A person who has such skills and/or qualifications may obtain a Critical Skills Work Visa. In order to obtain this visa, the applicant does not have to secure a specific position at the time of application. If you have a doctorate and have published articles or are an expert in a field, this can aid your application.

The most recent list of critical skills lists almost 35,000 positions across 53 different categories. These positions can be filled by formally qualified foreigners who have a minimum of five years practical experience.

You should provide proof of:

  • relevant qualifications as certified by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), including authenticated copies of academic certifications or degrees.
  • any qualification certificates not in English require a translation from 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 (ICT)

It’s not uncommon for employees in multinational companies to be transferred between countries. Where a person transfers to South Africa, they must apply for the Intra-Company Transfer visa. Also, any applicant must have first worked for a minimum of six months in the company’s foreign office before applying to relocate and immigrate to the South African branch. An intra-company transfer visa lasts four years and is not extendable. If you were issued an ICT visa for two years under the old Immigration Act, then it can be extended for a further two years from inside the country.

Relative visa

A temporary residence Relative’s Visa can be applied for by a family member of a South African citizen or permanent resident if they fall within the first or second line of kinship.

This visa includes:

  • spouses
  • life partners
  • parents
  • children
  • siblings.

Life partners (heterosexual or same-sex) of a South African citizen or permanent resident must provide comprehensive and satisfactory evidence that their relationship is at least two years in length to apply for the Relative’s Visa.

For any dependent family members, the South African citizen or permanent resident must prove their ability to financially care for the applicant, for example, earning an amount of at least ZAR 8,500 per person per month, and must prove kinship via a birth certificate. For spouses, a financial requirement is not necessary. However, they may be subject to an interview to prove the relationship is real.

Relatives’ permits are valid for one year, and can be extended. For certain immediate family members – such as a spouse or dependent children – the permits are issued free of charge (except for the VFS fee) but there is a fee and different conditions for other relatives wishing to come to South Africa.

Business visa

South Africa is a country that has an often-stated need for foreign investment. Therefore, there is a section of South African immigration legislation that deals specifically with foreign individuals wishing to conduct business in the country, or invest in a South African business.

If you are trying to establish your own business in South Africa, take over an existing South African business or invest in a South African business, you need to apply for the Business Visa. You’ll need to invest at least R 5.0mn and employ at least 60 percent South Africans in your business.

You should also show proof of:

  • 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 your business plan;
  • undertaking to register with appropriate statutory body, depending on the nature of the business;
  • an undertaking to register with the South African Revenue Services.

Read more on the Department of Home Affairs’ (DHA) website.

Retired persons visa

The Retired Person’s Visa is a temporary residence visa for any person regardless of age who intends to retire in South Africa. To qualify for a Retired Person’s Visa, the applicant must show they have sufficient financial means to support themselves in South Africa.

To meet the necessary financial requirements the applicant will need to show that they receive a monthly income of at least ZAR 37,000 per month through certain means, for example, from a pension fund, an irrevocable retirement annuity, a net worth or a combination of assets.

Corporate visa

In basic terms, the Corporate Visa allows a company from South Africa to employ foreigners. It provides a simplified process for granting a work visa to those employees. The Corporate Visa is for the worker per se, but for the employing company.

Study visas

Once you receive an acceptance letter from a South African educational institution, you qualify for a student visa. Students must show proof of medical coverage on an annual basis for the duration of the course, taken out with a medical scheme registered in terms of the Medical Schemes Act. This requirement is not necessary in certain cases. For example, if the student is the dependent of someone who holds a South African visa and has a family medical insurance scheme.

Other visas

Other visas include medical treatment visas, volunteer/exchange visas, and 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

Many people decide to stay in South Africa permanently. The step between a temporary visa and citizenship is permanent residence. To apply for a direct residency permit, you must complete numerous lengthy forms but there are many ways to qualify for it.

Direct permanent residence permits are applicable 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:

  • when 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;
  • in case you qualify as a refugee in terms of the Refugees Act;
  • if you qualify as retired persons;
  • when 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.

Extending a visa

If you wish to extend a temporary residence visa, it must be done at least 60 days before the visa expiry date by submitting an application online at www.vfsglobal.com. There is a fee payable.

Tips for your visa application

If you are abroad, get information from your nearest South African embassy. Alternatively, go to the nearest Department of Home Affairs office if you’re in South Africa. You can also find a lawyer to take over the difficulties of doing it yourself. However, make sure this person is qualified to do the work, as South Africa’s Immigration Act doesn’t stop anyone from trying to represent you.

There are many reasons to relocate to South Africa. A casual glance at the South African job boards shows there are many job opportunities in the country, particularly for skilled workers in certain shortage occupations; however, there are fewer opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled employment.

Vacancies are offered first to locals. To overcome this, visit South Africa to attend interviews in-person. Applications by entrepreneurs who wish to relocate their existing businesses or establish anew are particularly encouraged.

Basic legal requirements for South African visas state that each application for immigration to South Africa is considered individually on merit by the Department of Home Affairs. There are three pieces to any individual’s immigration application. First, there is a base set of documents necessary for all applications, followed by additional documents for the specific visa. Lastly, one often needs to include documents that are only relevant to the exact application being made by a certain individual. This is also where many people face rejection; a lawyer can advise on any potential issues.

In short, there are many options available to those wishing to enter South Africa. Visit the country first as a tourist before making a full move, to prepare yourself not only in terms of the correct South African visa but also in terms of cultural and other factors.