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Advice for South African Citizens Travelling Abroad

Be prepared / Do you have your passport / What happens if your passport is stolen/lost while abroad? / Visas/Permits / Travel insurance / Flights abroad / Driving abroad / Important notice / Registration of South Africans abroad / Health risks / Yellow Fever requirements / Personal Security / SA travellers and the law /
Best travel tips
/ What you must know before traveling to work abroad

Statement issued by the Department on working abroad

Preparation and knowledge is the key to a successful trip.

Be prepared

Before boarding an aeroplane, South Africans should take time to learn about the financial, customs, political, cultural and economic environment of their intended destination. Learn at least a few key phrases in the target country's language. Even a modest command of the local language will go a long way. When travelling abroad the laws of the foreign country apply to everybody. South Africans are not exempt from local foreign legislation and will not receive special treatment.

Find out about the destination paying particular attention to issues of personal security, safety, health, immigration, customs and import regulations.

South Africans are encouraged to contact the nearest South African Representative and to carry contact details of their next of kin at all times.


Do you have your passport?

A combination of your South African passport and identity document are the best proof of your South African citizenship. Anyone who intends travelling abroad should have a valid passport. If you do not have a passport, apply for it well in advance. Temporary passports can be issued on short notice but they are not accepted in all foreign countries. If your passport is damaged in any way it is advisable to replace it before travelling.

Passport application forms are available at all offices of the Department of Home Affairs countrywide and at South African Embassies abroad. If your passport is due to expire within the next six months or has less than two blank pages, check with the embassy or consulate of the country of your intended destination in South Africa for its rules and restrictions regarding passport validity and expiry.

If you have any questions about passports, you can either contact the Department of Home Affairs in Pretoria at telephone (012) 810-8911 or any regional office of the Department of Home Affairs. Keep certified copies of your passport (including the visa pages) with you for identification purposes. Do not keep the passport and the copies in the same place. An additional precaution is to leave a copy with a relative or friend at home.


What happens if your passport is stolen/lost while abroad?

If your passport is lost or stolen while you are travelling abroad, report the loss/theft immediately to the local police station. Take a copy of the police report to the nearest South African Embassy where you will apply for a temporary passport/emergency travel document.

Before a passport can be issued, you must:

1. Complete an application form.
2. Be finger-printed.
3. Produce written evidence of your South African citizenship (e.g. a birth certificate, identity document, certified copy of passport, driver's license).
4. Provide a copy of the police report.
5. Present two photographs.
6. Pay the required fee.

A South African passport remains the property of the Government of South Africa and may only be used by the person to whom it is issued. Selling your passport or permitting any other individual or agency to use it may lead to criminal prosecution and is considered sufficient cause to revoke the passport and refuse future passport services.


Visas/Permits

A visa or permit is your permission to travel to, enter, transit or remain in a foreign country. A visa or permit does not, however, guarantee entry, as the decision to grant entry remains the decision of the immigration officials of the foreign country.

South African passport holders enjoy visa exemptions for certain countries. This means that South Africans can travel, usually for holiday or business purposes, to a country without a visa for a pre-determined time. South Africans are strongly advised against using visa exemption to travel to a foreign country if the real intention is to work there. A work permit must be applied for.

South Africans must always check with the travel agent and/or the Foreign Representative in South Africa whether a visa is required or not. Since requirements can change from time to time it is best to double check the requirements before each trip.

If you do not correctly comply with visa or permit requirements or overstay on your visa or permit you will be subject to any or all of the following: charged, jailed, deported and blacklisted.


Travel Insurance

It is strongly recommended that you take out travel insurance before travelling abroad. Travel insurance should cover hospitalisation and related medical costs as well as a possible emergency evacuation. Depending on your age, physical condition and destination you should consider provision in the event of death. Your travel agent or bank will be able to advise you.

Medical costs abroad can be astronomical compared to South Africa. In some instances medical treatment can be withheld if a person has no proof of funds or travel insurance.

Travel insurance that cover expenses in the event of death abroad will ensure that family and friends are not burdened with the costs for the preparation and transportation of mortal remains to South Africa. Remember to confirm the details of your coverage with your insurer as pre-existing medical conditions may require additional cover.

It is important to cover all the members of the travelling party adequately.


Flights abroad

There is a tendency for airlines to overbook flights during peak season in order to balance out "no-shows" and ensure full flights. This often leads to the number of passengers arriving for a flight exceeding the available number of seats. Passenger with pre-paid tickets should be especially careful and collect pre-paid tickets in advance from the airline's office or arrive as early as possible on the day of the flight.

Driving abroad

Prospective travellers who intend driving abroad must apply for an international driving permit (IDP). These are issued by the Automobile Association of South Africa. Always ensure that you have both your original driver’s licence as well as your IDP with you and keep copies (preferably certified copies) separate from the originals.

South African drivers' licences are recognised in SADC countries (Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). It is recommended that a letter of verification be obtained from the South African Department of Transport.

When travelling by road to a neighbouring country always take the original vehicle registration documents plus a certified copy. Establish before the journey where the temporary import permit for the vehicle/trailer is obtained. The temporary import permit must be valid for the full duration of your stay in the country. Check with your vehicle insurer that the vehicle will be covered in the country you travel to (have this confirmed in writing) and that the 3rd party insurance is in order. Some countries have specific regulations and required stickers for taking your vehicle across the border. For more information on cross border and sticker requirements, you may contact the Automobile Association of South Africa

Important notice

It is illegal to take any firearms, ammunition and, in some instances, hunting knives into a country without the required permits. In the event that you wish to carry such items it is recommended that you contact the resident mission prior to travelling.


Registration of South Africans Abroad - ROSA 

What is ROSA?

ROSA is the acronym for the ‘Registration of South Africans Abroad’, a software programme developed by the Department of International Relations and Cooperation allowing travellers to register on-line.

The information travelers register on ROSA allows the Department to assist South African citizens in event of an emergency.  The registration is a free, voluntary service provided by Government (through the Department of International Relations and Cooperation).  ROSA is only available to South African citizens who are travelling, living or working abroad.

ROSA is an initiative that is endorsed and supported by the Association of South African Travel Agents (ASATA).

Why should I register?

Vast numbers of our people who travel abroad every day do not encounter any difficulties.  However, through our missions abroad, we have assisted a growing number of South Africans who have become victims of crime, accident/s, illness, death, natural/man-made disasters, civil unrest, or whose family and/or next-of-kin needed to contact them in an emergency.

Registration through this website is NOT considered proof of South African citizenship.  If you apply for any service from an Embassy, High Commission or Consulate General (mission) while abroad, you will be asked by staff to provide proof of South African citizenship, such as a passport or bar coded ID book.

By registering your trip on-line with ROSA you assist the Department to locate you during an emergency, verifying your status and liaising with your next-of-kin.  Information on ROSA is not continuously monitored and will only be accessed during a declared consular emergency.

Registration is voluntary and free of charge.  We encourage you to consider registration as an integral part of your travel planning and security.

How do I register?

The ROSA software is an on-line registration process available on the Department of International Relations and Cooperation website.  The address is http://www.dirco.gov.za/consular/index.html

Click on the  button and follow the easy steps.


The ROSA software is unique as it allows for a traveller to:

  • Register as an Individual Traveller
  • Register as Group Travellers
  • Register multiple destinations
  • Update their profiles (Individual or Group)
  • De-register their profile from the system.

How can the Embassy or Consulate assist me while I am abroad?

The Chief Directorate:  Consular Services in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, in close collaboration with the Consular Sections of South African Representatives abroad, provides consular services to South African citizens who work, live and travel abroad.  Consular Services operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  On weekends and after hours, assistance is rendered in cooperation with the Department’s Operations Room in Pretoria.  The Operations Room supports our 121 Representatives in 105 countries affording services that cover the entire world.

A detailed list of services is available at http://www.dirco.gov.za/consular/services.htm

How will my information be used?


ROSA will be utilised by Consular Officers at Head Office or at a South African Mission abroad in the event of a disaster, emergency or other crisis as outlined above.

Only authorised officers of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation have access to the information which will only be used in the event of an emergency.  This will enable the Department to e.g. react by contacting the next-of-kin to verify the status of the South Africans travelling abroad that might have been affected by the emergency.

Registration and Privacy


The Department is committed to ensuring that any personal information received through the ROSA on-line registration process is safeguarded against unauthorised disclosure.

The Department will not disclose the information you provide through the registration application to any third parties (this includes family members) unless you have first given it written authorisation to do so.  In the event that family members make enquiries about your whereabouts, such requests will be forwarded to you.  You may choose to inform the mission of your decision to respond or not.

This internet site uses secure encryption to safeguard your privacy and therefore any unauthorised interception by third parties of the information you send via the internet is unlikely.  The Department does not accept responsibility for any such interception.

Important Notification


The responsibility remains with the individual traveller to-

  • act responsibly and be aware of the risks
  • consider and purchase full travel insurance or an overseas health plan
  • respect the culture and customs of the countries visited.

The consular assistance provided by the Department, in the case of an emergency, is usually of a non-financial nature, and the Department will not be responsible for payment of legal, medical, traveling expenses or any other expenses on behalf of the traveller.
It is reiterated that information on ROSA is only accessed by the Department during a declared consular emergency.


Health Risks

Make timeous enquiries regarding the health risks in the country/countries you intend travelling to. Your doctor or centres such as Medi-Travel International or the Airport Medical Clinic would be able to assist.

The prescribed immunisations and/or medication can prevent serious long-term and fatal diseases.

Depending on the destination other basic precautionary measures are:

  • Avoid drinks with ice.
  • Be careful of vegetables or fruit grown on the ground (e.g. Lettuce, strawberries) and served raw.
  • Avoid mayonnaise or other egg-based sauces.
  • Avoid street foods.
  • Peel fruits before eating them.
  • Use insect repellent.
  • Wear appropriate clothing.

Whenever necessary the Department will, when alerted by the Department of Health, highlight specific health warnings.

For more information on Yellow Fever click here.

For more information on Avian Influenza/Bird Flu click here.

For more information on the Chikungunya virus click here.


Yellow Fever Requirements

A vaccination against yellow fever is a requirement for a person whose journey starts or entails passing through the yellow fever belt of Africa or South America. According to international health regulations, a valid yellow fever certificate is required from all passengers older than one year coming from or going to infected areas. The countries concerned are listed hereunder.

Visas or permits will not be issued to persons who have not met the requirement of being vaccinated against yellow fever. Yellow fever certificates are valid for a period of 10 years commencing 10 days after the date of vaccination or, in the case of re-vaccination, within such period of 10 years, from the date of that re-vaccination.

According to the Department of Health, persons arriving without a valid yellow fever vaccination certificate will either be:

  • kept under observation for six days at their own cost
  • vaccinated against yellow fever at their own cost.

At ports of entry where no Port Health Officers are based, persons will be refused entry into the Republic of South Africa.

These precautionary measures will be strictly enforced by the Department of Health to protect its residents in the RSA from this virus.

For ease of reference the Yellow Fever Endemic Areas are (verify with your travel agent):

Angola
Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Burundi
Cameroon, Central African Rep., Chad, Colombia, Congo, Cote d'Ivoire
Democratic Rep. of Congo, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea
Ethiopia, French Guinea, Gabon
Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana,
Kenya
Liberia
Mali
Niger, Nigeria
Panama, Peru
Rwanda
Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Suriname
Tanzania, Togo
Uganda
Venezuela

For more information on international health requirements: www.who.int


Personal Security

Inform yourself thoroughly, prior to your trip, of the safety risks in the country/countries you intend to visit.

As we are well aware, we are exposed to crime everywhere. Basic precautionary measures will contribute to ensuring your safety, for example:

  • Do not attract attention to yourself with expensive jewellery and clothing.
  • Take care when you pay for something - avoid flashing all your cash.
  • Get to know the foreign currency and use a note that requires the smallest amount of change to be returned to you.
  • When travelling by public transport have the correct amount of cash at hand, take care when you hand over the money and keep your eye on it.
  • If secure, keep your passport, travellers' cheques and extra cash in the hotel safe. Alternatively wear it in a money belt under your clothing and keep only the money you intend using in your pocket/handbag/wallet.
  • Know where you are going. Keep a map with you and consult it regularly. Make sure that you have the contact details of where you are staying on your person at all times.
  • Obtain information from the hotel in which you are staying on security related precautions in the area.
  • Remember that when you are travelling to another country you, unknowingly, stand out making you an easy target for criminals.
  • Keep certified copy of your passport, visa as well as the South African Representatives contact details with you.

You should ideally avoid countries experiencing war and/or civil/political unrest. If the trip is unavoidable, ensure that you prepare yourself by having all the necessary information and contact details of your hosts and South African Representatives in the country of your destination.


South African travellers and the law

Do not become involved in activities that may be, or are, illegal. Please remember, once you leave South Africa, the rights enjoyed under the South African Constitution and laws cannot be guaranteed or enforced in the countries you intend to visit. If arrested abroad, the South African Government cannot intervene to secure your release from prison.

Government will intercede with local authorities to seek to ensure that your rights, under the laws of the arresting country, are fully observed and that the Prisoners are applied.

For more information on South Africans in prison abroad click here.

The South African Government views crimes, particularly those involving women and children, traffic in humans, illegal drugs, mercenary activities, traffic in arms and the proliferation of nuclear material and technology, in a most serious light.

Important Notice:

  • Possessing or smuggling drugs is a criminal offence in almost all countries. Penalties are harsh and can lead to a lifetime imprisonment or even the death penalty. Do not accept or carry parcels, baggage or any items that you have not packed personally. Do not offer to collect parcels, letters, documents, etc. on behalf of other persons. Attempting to smuggle drugs is not worth the payment that you may be offered.
  • South Africans who intend to work abroad, especially in war stricken countries like Iraq, should remember that they may find themselves in extremely dangerous situations. It is advisable to register yourself at the nearest South African Representative.
  • Should your passport be damaged in any way, it is advisable to obtain a new passport before travelling.
  • Always keep a certified copy of your passport and visa on your person while on holiday.
  • To cater for unforeseen emergencies ensure that a friend or relative is in possession of your travel plan, contact details, a copy of your passport, visa pages as well as an identity document.

The best travel tips

  • Obtain as much information as possible about your destination.
    • Take out sufficient travel insurance to cover hospital treatment, medical evacuation and even death. Pre-existing conditions and the risk associated with your destination or the activities you plan to partake in can influence the travel insurance cover you need.
    • Register your trip on the ROSA (Registration of South Africans Abroad) on-line service prior to leaving South Africa or whilst abroad.
    • Double-check whether you require a visa or permit for the country or countries you are visiting or transiting.
    • Keep a copy of your passport information page, relevant visas, travel insurance, travellers' cheques and credit card with you but not with the originals. Leave a copy in an envelope with a friend, relative or a work colleague.
    • Make sure that you are familiar with the health risks of the country or countries you intend visiting. Get all the recommended vaccinations and/or medication before travelling. If you need to travel with medication ensure that it meets the requirements of your destination(s). Take your prescription along.
    • Ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months with enough blank pages. Additional passport photographs are very useful should you need a temporary passport or emergency travel certificate.
    • Make sure that your family, friends or colleagues know what your movements will be while away. Leave a detailed itinerary with them. Contact them regularly by e-mail, a phone call or SMS.
    • Remember if you are a dual national you must leave and enter South Africa on your South African passport.
    • Always act within the prescripts of the law.

More tips are provided in the rest of the document.


What You Must Know Before Travelling to Work Abroad

“Working abroad should always be a beneficial experience for both the employee and employer."

Working abroad can be an exciting and rewarding experience. It may be an opportunity to improve your economic situation, gain valuable work experience, and travel to new and interesting places. However, accepting a job offer without making adequate preparations and taking precautions can put a migrant worker in a vulnerable position, and optimistic migrant workers may find themselves in the hands of unscrupulous employers or human traffickers.

Human traffickers can be very good at identifying and recruiting potential victims. They can make a job offer appear very enticing and realistic. The story about unsuspecting South African women trafficked to Israel to work as au pairs that was reported on page 2 of this issue illustrate how traffickers often successfully deceive would-be migrant workers about opportunities for employment abroad. It is therefore essential that migrant workers avail themselves of proper information when seeking employment overseas, and arm themselves with a back-up plan should things go wrong.

In Issue 9 of the EYE on Human Trafficking, the article 'Middle East Job Opportunities for South Africans' describes several recent cases of young South Africans who found themselves in rather unfortunate circumstances after accepting employment opportunities overseas. They were promised jobs with substantial salaries and comfortable accommodation, but ended up working for far less, and living in undesirable conditions. As a result of this article, IOM's toll-free help line in South Africa (0800 555 999) received a barrage of calls from the general public asking how to avoid finding themselves in a similar situation. In response to these requests for more information, as well as the increase of reports of trafficking victims from the Southern African region, we have compiled a list of basic precautions that one should take before accepting any offer of employment abroad.


Before you leave home

Ensure the job offer is genuine

Check to see that the recruitment agency is registered with the local Chamber of Commerce and, if possible, contact the company offering the job on a landline to confirm that they are recruiting, and that the conditions of employment are those promised by the recruitment agency. Offers from third parties, disreputable recruitment agencies, or people who approach you on the street should be treated with caution. You may also contact the local embassy of the country of destination to confirm that the company is reputable, and is permitted by law to employ foreign nationals in the manner promised. Beware of job offers that sound too good to be true and/or which offer to cover all of your expenses, including air fare and accommodation, up-front.


Obtain the correct working permit for the country of destination

Ensure that you are travelling with the correct and legal documentation to work in the country of destination. Most countries will require you to apply for a working visa if you intend to work in the country. The application for the visa must be filled out and signed by you, the employee, and not by the agency. Be suspicious if the recruitment agency attempts to convince you that a visitor's or tourist visa is sufficient for you to work legally in the country in which you wish to find employment. This is very rarely the case. If you are unsure, you can contact the Embassy of the country to which you hope to travel and/or check the government website, which may provide travel information to prospective migrant workers.

Sign a contract before you leave home

The contract should be in a language you can read, and stipulate your wages and deductions, your duties, working hours and breaks, benefits, leave, and procedures for resignation or termination. Be careful of accepting offers where you are required to pay back money to the employer if you do not fulfill the full term of the contract. The contract should clearly stipulate any amount paid for up-front by the prospective employer (for example, the cost of your airfare) and the conditions under which you will be required to repay this sum. Have an independent attorney examine the contract before you sign. Both you and the employer must sign the contract, and you should each be in possession of a copy of the contract.

Have contacts for people/organizations that can provide assistance

Before leaving home, make sure you have the contact details for your country's Embassy or High Commission in the country in which you wish to find employment. It is also advisable to notify your embassy that you are in the country and give them your address and contact details. Have a list of emergency contact details in the country you are going to: e.g. migrant worker organizations, churches and shelters, the police, friends and family in the destination country. IOM offers counter-trafficking programmes in many parts of the world that may be able to provide assistance to you in case of an emergency. It is also advisable to agree on a contact schedule with family and/or friends at home before leaving for a new destination. Should something go awry, and you fail to contact them at the agreed time, they will be able to contact the relevant authorities for help.

Know your rights as an employee of the country you are going to

Migrant workers are entitled to the same rights as all workers, and should be treated with respect and dignity. Before you work abroad, know your rights, and how to protect them. Be sure to investigate the minimum wages and other conditions of employment in the country to which you're travelling.

Once you arrive in your country of destination

Do not give your passport away to anyone (see remarks on certain countries of the Arabian Peninsula below):

Do not give your passport over to anyone except immigration officials or if requested to do so for reasons of identification e.g. Police or Hotel check-in reception. It is illegal for an employer to ask to hold onto your passport for any reason and you should never agree to do so, regardless of whether this is stipulated in an employment contract.

The problem that is being experienced by South African citizens in some countries of the Arabian Peninsula goes back a long time and is rooted in the system of sponsorship as practised by these countries vis-à-vis foreigners. It is important to note that sponsorship imposes a number of serious obligations on the sponsor. He/she typically has to provide accommodation, transport, basic sustenance, minimum medical care and repatriation.

Added to that, he/she has a traditional obligation to the private debt that his/her sponsored worker may incur. It is the latter circumstance that, more than anything else, prompts the sponsor to retain her/his employee’s passport.

Diplomatic and consular missions of many countries have, over the years, sought to address this particular complaint with the governments of the countries involved, to little avail. However, until the sponsorship system is not radically altered, the passport issue under discussion will remain. Besides establishing a preferential position of trust with his/her employer, there is not much an employee can do in the circumstances.

A South African or any foreigner may object to his sponsor/employer holding on to his passport, but with a proper understanding of the implications for his employment. As a last resort, he/she may have recourse to the courts, if he feels strongly enough about it.
The Department does not condone the practice, but recognises that it reflects the peculiarities of the expatriate labour system in that particular part of the world.

Intervention, legal or otherwise, must be weighed against the benefit and importance of the individual employee’s labour contract. It is reasonable to assume that the decision ultimately rests with that employee. 

In the final instance the South African Government confirms that the South Africa passport is the property of the Republic and is made available to a citizen for purposes of travel.

Make contact

Once you have arrived in your country of destination, contact your local embassy and report that you are in the country. Also contact friends and family at home and let them know that you are safe and give them your contact details. If you find yourself in trouble, make contact with one of the organizations on your list, or contact the police or your local embassy.

Working abroad should always be a beneficial experience for both the employee and employer. While social services providers, government departments and law enforcement officials can be helpful in assisting persons who are victimised in the process, the ability and responsibility to prevent such incidences lie solely on the individual.

For further information, refer to the handbook The Migrating Woman's Handbook, published by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, available on their website at www.gaatw.net. It is a very informative manual developed to help women and others working abroad make a safe journey.

This article originally appeared in the EYE on Human Trafficking, Issue 11, written and published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Pretoria. For more information, visit www.iom.org.za.

To add value and improve consular services to the public, this consular site is constantly under construction. For consular related services, information and enquiries you are not able to find on this site, please contact the Chief Directorate Consular Services or the Webmaster.

Last updated: 10 November 2009
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