South Africa is reopening for tourists, but will U.S. travelers be allowed to visit?

Sep 17, 2020

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After nearly six months of lockdown from the rest of the world, one of TPG’s favorite countries is reopening its borders for tourism on Oct. 1.

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“We are ready to open our doors again to the world,” South African president Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement announcing the decision, “and invite travelers to enjoy our mountains, our beaches, our vibrant cities, and our wildlife game parks in safety and confidence.”

The country closed its borders to foreign travelers in late March in response to the coronavirus pandemic. South Africa has been one of the world’s hardest-hit countries. But after extensive efforts to flatten the infection curve, the country says it is now ready to begin welcoming back tourists. Pre-pandemic South Africa hosted 17 million visitors a year.

Here’s what we know so far.

In This Post

Can you Visit South Africa right now?

President Ramaphosa is allowing travelers from a select number of low-risk countries to visit South Africa during this initial phase of reopening. Given the high infection rates in the United States, it’s doubtful that U.S. travelers will be permitted to visit anytime soon. South Africa has not yet released the official list of approved countries, but on Friday September 18, there were reports that citizens of all fellow African nations would be able to visit. United Kingdom travelers will also have to wait on an update.

But TPG will keep a close eye on details as they emerge, and update this article with information as soon as it is available.


Before departure

Travelers must be able to show proof of a COVID-19 PCR test, with negative results dated within 72 hours of departure time. Entering arrivals who present a negative PCR test won’t need to quarantine after passing health screenings, including temperature checks, at the arrival airport. But any traveler who either fails to present a timely PCR test or shows additional symptoms upon arrival will be asked to quarantine for 14 days at their own expense.

Travelers must also download the South Africa coronavirus mobile tracing app for the duration of their stay in South Africa.

Upon arrival

Foreign travelers arriving in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban must adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Face masks are required in all public spaces
  • A curfew is in effect each night from 12 a.m. midnight until 4 a.m. beginning Sunday, Sept. 20
  • Most gathering will be allowed at 50 percent of the venue’s capacity, with 250 people allowed at a maximum indoors, or 500 people maxium at outdoor venues
  • Individuals may purchase alcohol for personal consumption between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday
  • Beaches, wildlife game parks and other outdoors tourist attractions will be open
  • While hotels, restaurants, and other tourism-based businesses will be open, there may be individual restrictions on capacity and hours, and social distancing guidelines will remain in effect.

Flights and hotels

We don’t yet know if U.S. travelers can enter South Africa during this initial phase of reopening, so TPG chose dates farther out in 2021 to hedge our bets. The great news is that wintertime in the Northern Hemisphere is sunny summertime in South Africa, so a winter trip might be just what you need.

Related: Dreaming of South Africa — how I plan to return on points, miles and cash

Flights to South Africa

Three major airports in South Africa will open for international tourism in this next phase of reopening:

  • Johannesburg (JNB)
  • Cape Town (CPT)
  • Durban (DUR)

Assuming travelers in the U.S. and UK are allowed to visit, here are some flights we found available for October and November 2021:

Round-trip flights from London (LHR) to Johannesburg (JNB) on British Airways in October, starting from $667:

Or American Airlines from New York (JFK) to Johannesburg (JNB) via London (LHR) over Thanksgiving for $775 round trip.

High taxes and fees are a great example of why award flights aren’t a great deal in this circumstance: That same New York flight for late November still costs $582.75 in taxes in fees, as well as 80,000 AA miles.

Hotels in South Africa lists more than 10,000 properties available to book throughout the country in February 2021, and Airbnb also lists a range of properties available throughout South Africa for late 2020. Unfortunately, a number of higher-end properties, including the beautiful Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town, are closed until further notice.

Marriott lovers, pay attention: Your points go a long way in South Africa. The huge hotel chain has a number of properties in Johannesburg, including the Category 1 all-suite Protea Hotel Johannesburg Parktonian begins at just $52/night in cash, or 7,500 points per night.

Hilton travelers don’t have as many options. The Hilton Sandton outside of Johannesburg’s city center starts at just over $100 per night in cash, or 22,000 Hilton Honors points per night.

As a general rule, accommodations in South Africa are quite wallet-friendly for the quality of experience they offer. In 2019, I booked a two-bedroom Airbnb with a balcony view of Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain for just $800 over nine days.

Bottom line

TPG loves South Africa, and we hope you do too. But don’t get too excited just yet: Chances are, U.S. travelers won’t be able to visit for a little while yet.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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