Safety Tips for visitors to South Africa
Updated: Jan 10
In spite of South Africa's reputation, the country is generally safe to visit. Most of the areas frequented by visitors are fairly safe, and only a small minority of visitors experience incidents of crime during their visit. Like anywhere else in the world, it is wise to take a few basic precautions and stay away from high-risk areas.
Keeping your belongings and yourself safe while visiting this beautiful country in South Africa begins with some basic safety tips.
On your flight and at the airport
Try avoid storing valuables in checked luggage, rather keep them on you. Passports and other important documentation should be hidden in an inside pocket or travel wallet rather than in of the easily accessible pockets, like your back pocket or jacket pocket.
Be alert at the airport. Never leave any belongings unattended, rather keep them in sight or hold onto them. Be aware of your surroundings and walk with purpose. Follow the signs and directions rather than asking strangers for directions. Do not accept any help from strangers. A firm “no thank you” will deter strangers if they hassle you. Be suspicious of strangers randomly bumping into you and don’t be distracted. Thieves often stage distractions while accomplices steal your belongings.
If you’re carrying a backpack with valuables in, don’t carry it on your back. Pickpockets employ all kinds of tricks to distract and steal your wallet.
Do not enter any taxis that have been recommended by strangers.
Avoid carrying large sums of cash or exchanging a large amount of currency. ATM’s at the public arrivals hall, should be avoided.
If you notice someone following you or hanging around wherever you go, report them to an official.
ATM’s or cash machines are available almost everywhere. Some are in safe locations, like malls, banks and supermarkets, others aren’t in very safe locations such as those out on the street.
Avoid drawing large sums of cash at a time.
Be alert. Never accept assistance from a stranger at an ATM. Don’t divert your attention away from the machine for an instant. If someone tells you that the ATM is broken and use another, avoid using it and don’t draw cash there. Be suspicious.
If an ATM is in use, people leave a small distance between the user at the ATM and lineup so to avoid others looking over your shoulder. Never allow a stranger to get close to you while using the ATM. Never divulge your pin and always try shielding the keypad when entering your pin. If a stranger wants to assist you, just walk away.
If your card is stuck in the machine and someone comes to offer you assistance, it is almost certainly a scam. Stay at the machine and don’t enter your code again. Rather contact your bank immediately and cancel your card. Be sure to save your banks contact details saved on your phone and have international dialing in case you need to contact them.
Avoid allowing anyone to accompany you to the ATM or help you to draw cash.
Avoid storing your valuables on the passenger seat or backseat of the car. Make sure all your valuables like your phones, handbags, laptop bags etc. are stored out of sight. Rather keep your wallet, phone and passport on your person rather than anywhere in the vehicle.
Lock all your doors and keep your windows closed.
People generally approach your window at traffic lights, begging for money or trying to sell goods. Don’t panic, this is common in South Africa. A shake of the head is enough to indicate you are not interested.
Be alert when someone approaches you on the drivers side of the vehicle as this could be a distraction tactic whilst an accomplices scans the windows for any valuables laying around. They can grab through a smashed window.
Use a gps and plan your route before your trip. Sometimes a GPS will take you through a dodgy area that could be avoided if you have planned your route. Turn back if you find yourself in a dodgy area.
Never pickup hitchhikers or strangers looking for a lift.
Stick to the speed limits and obey all traffic rules. Remain friendly and polite when pulled over by traffic cops. Be aware that a small minority of traffic cops are corrupt and will try get a bribe. Never pay a fine in cash, on the spot. Insist that the ticket is written and you have been instructed not to pay any fine in cash. Spot fines are in fact illegal. If you are asked to go to a police station, agree to go and insist on a written ticket showing the infringement, the officers name and a receipt for the fine you paid.
In the unlikely event that you are robbed or hijacked, co-operate fully and do not resist. Stay calm and do not fight them.
In some areas, thieves use remote jammers when locking your vehicle, so check your car doors or listen for the click of the lock before walking away.
At your hotel or restaurant
Don’t leave any possessions unattended.
All credit card transactions should be completed in your presence. Your credit card can be cloned so don’t let anyone take it out of sight.
Some rooms have a safe for you to use and store valuables. Never leave your valuables in your suitcase or laying around the room.
Keep your door locked and avoid opening for strangers unless its hotel staff.
Ask your hotel front desk about places to go and which surrounding areas to avoid.
On foot and in public areas
Stick to areas that are well lit and frequented by tourists.
Don’t wonder around aimlessly. If you need directions, go into a hotel or shop instead of asking strangers on the street.
Don’t walk around with your phone in your hand. Keep your valuables out of sight and be alert.
Avoid displaying valuables like expensive jewelry and watches etc.
Never put your bag down and turn around or walk away from it.
Be cautious when strangers approach you. If you feel uncomfortable, go into a nearby shop.
Walking in a group is far better than walking alone.
Do not give money to people on the street. Rather reach out to charities. Be careful and don’t believe all the sad stories you hear.
Credit cards are much safer than carrying around cash. Credit cards are widely accepted.
Areas like the waterfront are very safe, even after dark. But, it is much safer taking a cab after dark rather than walking.
In game reserves
Game reserves are generally safe though, do not feed or touch any wild animal. Be careful of Baboons and wild monkeys at picnic sites within the Kruger National Park.
Avoid leaving any food, bags or valuables laying around in your vehicle. Always check your vehicle doors are locked before leaving.
In the Kruger National Park, do not leave any valuables in your bungalow. Cleaning staff have access to your room and fridge. Occasionally, something goes missing, so take care.
If you are doing a self-drive to the Kruger National Park, avoid Numbi Gate.
In Table Mountain National Park, avoid hiking alone on remote footpaths or hoking trails. Don’t carry valuables with you on a hike. It’s always best to hike in a group and stick to the most popular routes.
Most crimes can be prevented by following general sense and safety precautions, regardless of where you are. Never ignore the threat of crime, but foremost, do not let it ruin your African experience or take away from what it has to offer. Visitors are very rarely involved in crimes in South Africa, and most regions are safe to explore.
Best wishes and safe travels.
Compiled by Onne Vegter