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Is South Africa Safe? | Travel Tips & Safety Concerns

Is South Africa Safe? | Travel Tips & Safety Concerns

South Africa is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but is South Africa safe for travel? South Africa is on the southern tip of the African continent and is home to a diverse range of cultures, languages, and landscapes. 

It is one of the largest African countries and shares a border with six countries: Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, and Lesotho. South Africa is large in size and population.

Almost 60 million people call South Africa home, and there are 11 official languages. South Africa’s popularity comes from its rich culture, wine making, natural beauty, and strength in sports such as soccer and rugby.

Unfortunately, South Africa is also an incredibly divided nation economically. While cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg are bustling modern metropolises, many parts of the country are incredibly poor and impoverished.

That can be partly attributed to the terrible racial policies enacted under Apartheid. The consequences of these terrible racial policies are the root of the crime that is a danger to tourists that visit this beautiful country.

You should be aware of some safety concerns before traveling to South Africa, but there are ways to mitigate these risks. 

Is South Africa Safe to Visit in 2022?

For a piece titled Is South Africa Safe to Visit, a woman sitting on the side of a rock face

GuilhermeMesquita/Shutterstock

The short answer is yes. South Africa is safe to visit. However, you should know the potential risks of traveling to any country to mitigate them.

A few safety concerns are specific to some areas of South Africa, especially areas popular with tourists. For example, the Garden Route draws in many people, but there have been several shark attacks there.

Elsewhere, there is a danger from large predators if you go on a safari. You may also find a heightened risk for women and LGBTQ+ tourists.

Women might be more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault. Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ individuals may also experience discrimination and violence.

Crime in South Africa

One of the biggest safety concerns when traveling to South Africa is crime. The high levels of poverty and inequality have resulted in increased crime. There are areas of Johannesburg and Cape Town that you should avoid, especially at night.

In addition to robbery, travelers should also be aware of violent crimes. These include rape and murder, and some tourists have been victims. However, muggings, assaults, and robberies are more common and are particularly prevalent in tourist areas.

With that in mind, you should be careful when using ATMs and always keep your belongings close. It is also a good idea to take taxis instead of walking, particularly at night.

Regarding property crime, you should take precautions such as not leaving valuables in your car and keeping your hotel room locked.

There is also a crime in the form of hotel theft. Some hotels and homestays are known to allow robbers to break into your room and take your belongings. Keeping your valuables in a safe place, such as the room’s safe or the front desk, is vital.

Although rare, kidnapping for financial gain is also a concern for tourists. Never walk alone, get into unlicensed taxis, and always have your car’s doors locked.

Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods

Johannesburg, South Africa - May 07, 2022 - Hillbrow and Johannesburg Central Business District Skylines and Streets for a piece titled Is South Africa Safe

Paul Saad/Shutterstock

No matter where you go, there are specific bad neighborhoods that you should avoid. It is crucial to keep this in mind when traveling in South Africa due to the high poverty rates. These areas are usually the ones with high crime rates.

In Johannesburg, there are several townships that you should avoid. These include Soweto, Alexandra, and Hillbrow.

In Cape Town, several townships pose a potential risk to tourists unfamiliar with the city, particularly Mitchell’s Plain, Khayelitsha, and Lavender Hill. Elsewhere, keep an eye out at the beachfront and Victoria Street in Durban.

These are more touristy locations and are more likely to attract pickpockets. When in doubt, it is always best to ask at a local tourist office (if one is available) or your hotel to find out where it is safe to go and what areas you should avoid.

Common Safety Concerns in South Africa

Some safety concerns that you should be aware of before traveling to South Africa include:

  • Violent crime: The country has a high rate of violent crime, though it is typically concentrated in larger cities like Johannesburg and Cape Town. Several gangs operate in these cities and are often involved in violent acts, such as mugging, robbery, and carjacking.
  • Property crime: This can be a significant source of criminality. It includes crimes like burglary, theft, and vandalism.
  • Corruption: While corruption is unlikely to manifest violently, tourists should be prepared for it. In particular, some officials may try to solicit bribes or take advantage of tourists.
  • Scams: Several scams target tourists in South Africa. These can include anything from someone pretending to be a police officer to try and get money from unsuspecting individuals to people selling fake souvenirs.
  • Health concerns: You should be aware of some health concerns before traveling to South Africa, such as diseases like malaria and HIV/AIDS. It would be best to speak with a doctor before traveling to South Africa to get the appropriate vaccinations

Risks From Wildlife

An Emergency Shark Attack Kit on the rocky shores of South Africa.

Jim Cork/Shutterstock

Many people visit the Rainbow Nation for the natural beauty and wildlife. In that context, two of the most popular activities are safaris and surfing. Of course, both come with potential risks.

For instance, there have been several shark attacks in South Africa in recent years. The most popular beaches for surfing, such as Muizenberg and Jeffreys Bay, have had the most attacks.

Still, it’s important to put these attacks into context. Since 1905, there have only been 248 unprovoked shark attacks along the country’s coastline. Most of the victims have been surfers or swimmers.

If you are interested in swimming or surfing, stop by a local surf shop and ask about the conditions and recent shark attacks. Speaking with locals is the best way to stay safe. Safaris come with similar predatory risks, such as lions, leopards, and elephants.

It is essential to follow the rules and regulations set by the safari company to avoid any danger. The large animals you can see on safari are hazardous, and even though you are on tour, you are still in their environment.

Going on a safari and visiting a zoo are not the same thing. The animals you will see are wild, have predatory instincts, and should not be approached.

Read Next: The Best Safaris in Africa in 2022

Targeting of Specific Groups

Some safety concerns are specific to certain groups of people. Women, for example, might be more likely to experience sexual harassment and assault. LGBTQ+ individuals might also experience discrimination and violence.

Women

Women traveling to South Africa should take some extra precautions. There is a high rate of sexual assault and harassment in the country. It is essential to be aware of your surroundings and not walk alone at night.

Try to travel in groups and only use reputable transportation services. If you are the victim of sexual assault, you should go to the nearest police station or hospital.

The emergency number requiring police assistance is 10111. Several organizations can also help you, such as the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust.

LGBTQ+

The country is the only state in Africa to have legalized same-sex marriage (and the fifth country to do so globally). However, there are significant dangers present for members of the LGBTQ+ community, both residents and visitors.

This is especially true outside major cities. For instance, Moreover, there has been growing violence against the community, so much so that President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed it on Freedom Day in 2021.

Up to February of that year, some six members of the community had been murdered due to hate crimes. Indeed, a 2017 survey revealed that four out of ten LGBTQ+ South Africans know someone who had been killed due to their sexuality.

Nevertheless, South Africa is a popular destination for gay tourism and there are many pride parades. In addition, there are legal protections in place for the community.

Political Protest and Violence

For a piece titled Is South Africa Safe, Cape Town, South Africa -11 September 2018 : Land Rights Protestors March to Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town, South Africa -11 September 2018 : Land Rights Protestors March to Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa/Fivepointsix/Shutterstock

Political protests and violence can be risks for tourists. Some forms of political unrest can be triggered by the high levels of poverty and inequality. Political demonstrations can sometimes turn violent, so it is vital to avoid them if possible.

Unfortunately, unrest can happen at a moment’s notice, so it can be challenging to avoid these situations. With that in mind, keep aware of the news and stay away from any areas where political demonstrations and protests are happening.

Corruption in South Africa

Corruption most often occurs when dealing with police officers and other officials. In particular, there is the risk of officers demanding bribes or trying to take advantage of tourists. 

If a police officer stops you, make sure that you ask to see their badge and ID. You should also get their name and badge number.

Things to Consider

Before traveling to South Africa, there are several things to factor in when visiting:

  • Although there are 11 official languages, English is spoken widely. However, English might be less prevalent in smaller towns and some neighborhoods of big cities.
  • The food in South Africa is incredibly diverse and affordable. 
  • Citizens of some nations will need a visa to enter South Africa.
  • There have been water restrictions throughout the country in recent years. In 2018, it was even feared that Cape Town would run out of water. Given that, it’s a good idea to help out by not being wasteful.
  • Pickpocketing and theft are common, so keep your belongings safe and don’t display any valuable possessions.
  • South Africa is twice the size of France. One of the best ways to visit this amazing country is to rent a car. Never drive your car with the doors unlocked.
  • In most places, the working day ends between 4:30 pm and 5:00 pm. That is significantly earlier than many other countries. It’s a good idea to check ahead of time to ensure you don’t miss out.
  • One prudent step to take is to get travel insurance. This can cover you against potential losses from theft, from valuables to loss of baggage. In addition, insurance can be valuable if you require any kind of healthcare treatment, even if it is not the result of criminality. 
  • As in the US, it is common to tip at restaurants and when using a taxi service. Typically, expect a surcharge of between ten and 15 percent.
  • Disabled accessibility is not as routine as it is in the United States, so keep that in mind when traveling around the country. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Gorgeous sunny day view of a beach in Cape Town pictured in front of multicolored houses for a piece titled Is South Africa Safe to Visit

Benny Marty/Shutterstock

These are some frequently asked questions about visiting South Africa. 

Is it safe to visit South Africa?

The Department of State issued a Level 2 Travel Advisory for South Africa due to crime and civil unrest. That advisory means travelers should exercise increased caution when visiting the country.

What are some safety concerns in South Africa?

The most pressing concerns are crime, political unrest, and corruption. It is essential to be aware of your surroundings and take precautions when traveling in the country.

Are any countries banned from entering South Africa?

No countries are banned from entering South Africa. However, it’s important to review guidelines before traveling.

What should I do if I am the victim of a crime in South Africa?

If you are the victim of a crime in South Africa, you should go to the nearest police station or hospital. You should also contact your embassy as soon as possible as they will provide consular services, such as if you have your passport stolen.

Is South Africa safe for female tourists?

Yes, South Africa is safe for female tourists. However, taking precautions such as traveling in groups and avoiding walking alone at night is essential.

Is South Africa safe for LGBTQ+ tourists?

While South Africa has legal protections and many Pride parades, there are significant risks for LGBTQ+ tourists. There is high discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals in the country.

Is Cape Town, South Africa, safe?

Yes, Cape Town is safe. However, visitors should be aware of their surroundings and take precautions when traveling in the city.

Is South Africa safe to live in?

Yes, South Africa is safe to live in. However, there are some safety concerns that you should be aware of, such as crime, political unrest, and corruption. It is vital to take precautions when living in South Africa.

Can you drink the water in South Africa?

Yes, you can drink the water in South Africa when you are in large cities. The quality of the water is regulated by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry. In more rural places, the water may not be safe to drink, so it is wise to drink bottled water outside of urban areas.

So, Is South Africa Safe to Visit?

Yes, South Africa is safe provided you take the necessary precautions and do your research before you visit the country.

In particular, be aware of corruption (especially when dealing with police officers and other officials), sexual assault and harassment, the targeting of LGBTQ+ individuals, scams, and potential environmental hazards from local wildlife.

However, when fully prepared, you’ll be able to enjoy beautiful South Africa and all it has to offer tourists. Safe travels!