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03 Apr 2020
BY Zahida Ebrahim

South Africa: travel directions during the national state of disaster and the national lockdown

On 26 March 2020, directions were issued by the Minister of Home Affairs pursuant to the regulations published in terms of the Disaster Management Act, 2002 to provide temporary measures in respect of entry into or exit out of South Africa in order to prevent and combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID‑19).

While most of the directions related to the Immigration Act, 2002 apply to the duration of the national state of disaster (which was declared for a period of three months from 15 March 2020), certain provisions will only apply during the period of the national lockdown from midnight on Thursday 26 March, until midnight on Thursday 16 April, or any extension thereto.

During the national state of disaster, the following travel restrictions and provisions apply:


  • With the exception of foreigners who were already in South Africa on or before 15 March 2020, all temporary residence visas issued to foreigners residing in high-risk countries were withdrawn with effect from the date of publication of the directions on 26 March 2020.

  • Any foreigner who departed from or transited through a high-risk country and who entered South Africa on or after 15 February 2020, is required to notify a medical practitioner in accordance with the procedure for a suspected COVID-19 case.

  • The visa exemptions granted to nationals of any high-risk country were withdrawn in respect of persons who had not been admitted into South Africa by 15 March 2020.

  • A foreigner who has been in, has departed from, or has transited through a high-risk country since 15 February 2020, may not be granted a visa and is, for the purposes of visa eligibility, deemed to be a prohibited person. A prohibited person may not be admitted into South Africa.

  • A visa application from a national or resident of a high-risk country can only be considered if applied for in a third country that is not high risk if the applicant is ordinarily resident and has status in such third country, provided that the applicant has not visited any high-risk country since 15 February 2020.

  • Similarly, any foreigner who was in, departed from or transited through a high-risk country since 15 February 2020 will be denied a transit visa and is denied authority to transit through South Africa, save for residents of neighbouring countries. Residents of neighbouring countries must, prior to his or her transit through South Africa, be subjected to a prescribed screening or examination procedure and may be referred for isolation or quarantine.

  • A foreigner who had transited through a high-risk country and entered South Africa since 15 February 2020 may also be subjected to examination before departure and may not be re-admitted during the national state of disaster if they travelled to or through a high risk country.

  • A crew member of an airline who has been in, departed from or transited through a high-risk country since 15 February 2020, may be allowed to land in South Africa without the need for a visa, but may be subjected to medical examination as a port health official may determine.

  • Foreigners who entered South Africa since 15 February 2020 holding valid temporary residence visas that are due to expire or have expired during this period and who remain during the period of a national state of disaster, as well as foreigners from high-risk countries who entered before that date and who are unable to return to their country of origin due to the pandemic, are entitled to visa concessions that may enable them to apply for extensions of their visas until 31 July 2020, even if their visas are not ordinarily renewable. Holders of visas that expire during this period are allowed to ­apply for extensions or a relevant visa exemption without the need to first obtain authorisation to remain in the country and applicants may apply for waiver of prescribed requirements if these cannot be met.

  • South African citizens or permanent residents who departed from or transited through a high-risk country since 15 February 2020 must be processed for admission as a suspected COVID-19 case and are subject to prescribed screening or examination and must be referred for isolation or quarantine. A South African citizen or a permanent resident who has been outside South Africa during the period of the national state of disaster must be screened or examined and must be referred for isolation or quarantine, upon readmission.

  • Diplomats accredited to South Africa or to neighbouring countries and their families are allowed to enter or transit through OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airports, or any operational land port of entry, but will be subjected to extensive health risk assessment. If not visa exempt, they may apply for long-term multiple entry visas.

During the national lockdown and any period of extension thereto, the following applies:

  • No foreigner may be issued with a visa for purposes of travel to South Africa.

  • All ports of entry will be closed for processing of travellers who wish to enter into, transit, or depart from South Africa, except where a specific exemption is granted and for the transportation of fuel and essential goods.

  • Individuals will be confined to their homes except for specified activities, such as to seek emergency or chronic medical care, buy essential goods such as food, medicine and other essential supplies or to collect a social grant. Temporary shelters have been identified for homeless people. Sites have been identified for quarantine and self-isolation for people who cannot self-isolate at home. Gatherings are prohibited (except funerals, which may be attended by no more than 50 people and which may not include a night vigil). Persons are not allowed to move between provinces or between metropolitan and district areas.

  • Non-essential businesses must cease operations, save for working remotely. Essential services workers who may continue to work include, inter alia, health workers, emergency personnel, security services, producers, distributors and suppliers of food and basic goods, essential banking services, power, water and telecommunications services providers, laboratory services, and the provision of medical and hygiene products. Even essential services workers must perform their permitted activities within the parameters of the restrictions. Retailers are, for example, precluded from selling non-essential goods, workers must wear personal protective equipment, must have a permit to authorise work and must maintain a distance of at least one square metre.

  • All domestic and international passenger flights are prohibited irrespective of the risk category of the country of origin.

  • Air cargo can only be handled by certain designated ports.

  • The repatriation of foreign nationals from South Africa is allowed provided that foreign countries must charter their aircraft to South Africa without passengers, aside from the crew and the crew is not allowed to disembark.

  • Evacuation of South African citizens who wish to return is allowed provided they hold a fully paid return flight ticket and are subject to mandatory quarantine for up to 21 days.

  • Medical evacuation flights, aircrafts in a state of emergency, overflights, technical landings for refuelling and aircraft operations related to humanitarian aid, relief flights and other safety related operations are permitted, subject to specific conditions.

  • The Minister of the Department of Home Affairs or his assignee may allow a person entry for emergency medical attention for a life-threatening condition.

  • No person may provide border cross-border road passenger transport. Cross-border freight movement is allowed to and from neighbouring countries.

  • Hotels, lodges, guest houses and other recreational accommodation facilities are closed except to the extent that they are required for remaining tourists who are in confinement at their place of temporary residence for the duration of the lockdown.

  • For the duration of the lockdown, all commuter transport services including e-hailing services, bus depots, taxi services, train stations and airports are closed to the public, except for the purpose of rendering essential services. In rendering essential services, operational hours and maximum occupancy directions must be followed. No inter-provincial services may operate.

Zahida Ebrahim
Executive | Immigration | Dispute Resolution |
+27 83 645 8595

COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus, is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) that was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on 11 March 2020. The disease has since been reported in over 190 countries.

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