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A Guide To Expat Visas For South Africa

The Republic of South Africa, with its bustling cities, beautiful beaches and friendly people, can be a good destination for expats. However, before you arrive, make sure your right to stay is officially approved.

South African Immigration Laws

There’s a lack of clear information about how many expats live in South Africa, meaning that immigration laws have been undergoing review and change since 2014. Most importantly, you must have a valid residence permit or visa when entering or leaving the country.If you don’t have one, or your if your residence permit has expired, you’ll no longer be fined. Instead, you’ll be refused permission to enter the country, even if you show evidence that you have applied to renew your expired residence permit. The ban will remain in place between twelve months and five years.

Which Documents Do You Need?

Anyone arriving in South Africa must have at least two blank pages in their valid passport.

If you are intending to live in the country, you must also have obtained a valid residence permit or visa based on your reasons for your stay. Details about these categories are discussed below.

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Before entering South Africa, check your vaccine record. You should have been immunised against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and polio as a minimum. There is an additional requirement if you are arriving from a country where there is a risk of yellow fever, or if you have spent more than 12 hours waiting at an airport in one. If this is the case, you must present a certificate showing you have received a yellow fever vaccination. One injection lasts a lifetime, so the date on the certificate doesn’t matter.

If you have tuberculosis (TB), you will not be permitted to enter the country. TB is a highly infectious, deadly disease so your presence would put other people’s lives at risk.

Travelling With Children

Read the rules carefully if you are travelling with children under the age of 18. You’ll need to show your child’s full birth certificate. As a minimum, this must include both the child’s details and those of the parents. In the UK, new parents are normally given a short version of the birth certificate for their baby, so will have to request the full certificate online.

Parents often don’t understand the difference between birth certificates, so do check your records, as the rules are strictly applied. If you are travelling with a copy of the birth certificate or of parental identification, rather than with originals, you must have these copies certified. Furthermore, additional evidence is required if your child is to travel alone, with an adult who is not a biological parent, or even with only one of their biological parents.

Residence Visas

The company Visa Facilitation Services has been contracted by the government to process visa applications on behalf of the Republic of South Africa’s department of home affairs. They have 11 centres around the country known as visa application centres. However, expats should have obtained their residence permits before entering South Africa. This can be done via your nearest embassy or consulate.

You can apply for a temporary residence visa or a permanent residence visa. Many people apply for both at the same time, as temporary visas are usually issued faster. However, note that some categories do not allow applications for permanent residency to be made until applicants have lived legally in South Africa under a temporary visa.

Different types of visa are available

Permanent visas typically take 18 to 24 months to be approved, but once they are granted they will not need to be renewed.

You can renew your temporary residence visa from within South Africa, but you must apply at least sixty days before your current one expires. If you don’t leave enough time, your visa will expire and you should not travel.

Criminal Records

If you have been convicted of a serious crime, you will not be given permission to live in South Africa. Murder, rape and armed robbery are some of the convictions which will prevent your application being successful.

However, if your offence was for something minor, your application will still be considered. The conviction will be assessed along with the rest of the submitted evidence.

Changing Your Visa

There are very few circumstances where you will be permitted to change your category of visa from within South Africa. The rules are strictly applied, especially if you arrive under a visitor’s visa. Examples where a change will be considered include if a spouse or child wishes to obtain permission to work or study in South Africa.

Everyone else must apply to the embassy or consulate of their home country.

Bringing Your Family To South Africa

If you and your partner have been together for two years, an application for a temporary visa can be made. A permanent residency permit will only be issued once you have been together for five years.

Evidence to prove the length of your relationship will be required if you aren’t married. You will also both attend interviews, held separately but at the same time.

If you have been previously married, you will be asked to prove the end of that relationship, by providing divorce papers or a death certificate.

If you are a South African citizen or have received a permanent residency permit, your spouse can apply for permanent residency too. This also applies to your children, including any that are legally adopted.

Company Transfer Visas

If you have worked for your employer for at least six months and they wish to transfer you to South Africa, an application for an intra-company visa may be made. However, this is only valid for four years and is non-renewable.

General Work Visas

A general work visa can be issued to qualifying applicants. This will be valid for five years under the temporary residence rules. In order to apply for a general work visa, you and your prospective employer will have to submit plenty of evidence to the department of labour.

Your prospective employer must prove that they could not find a suitable, equally qualified and experienced person to fill the role from within the existing South African community.

You can bring your partner to South Africa, as long as you meet the criteria

Your own skills and experience must be shown to meet the post’s requirements. This includes a document proving your qualifications have been approved by the South African qualifications authority. If the document is not in one of the official languages of South Africa, a translation must be obtained from a sworn translator.

The salary and benefits you are being offered must be at least equal to those of South African residents. The conditions within your employment contract, signed by you and the employer, must be in line with South Africa’s labour laws.

Once you have been working legally in South Africa for five years and continue to enjoy permanent employment, you may apply for permanent residency.

Critical Skills Work Visa

The exceptional skills and quota visa has been abolished and replaced with the critical skills work visa. No one can be issued with a new visa under the exceptional skills and quota permit category. Anyone who holds one cannot ask for it to be renewed when it expires.

Under the critical skills work visa rules, a list of occupations has been identified which are of critical importance in the nation and may face skills shortages. These include skilled roles in the forestry, agricultural and surveying industries.

Unusually, you do not need to hold a job offer to apply for this visa. However, you will be asked to prove you are employed in your specialised field within twelve months of your visa approval.

If you work in your specialist field in South Africa for five years and have the offer of a relevant permanent job, you are eligible to apply for permanent residency.

Business Visas

If you wish to obtain a business visa, you will need submit evidence to the department of trade and industry. They will thoroughly examine the feasibility of your business and assess its likely impact on South Africa’s national interest. You will also need to show that the business is not listed as undesirable.

You must be investing at least R5 million; this can be verified by any accountant registered with the South African institute of professional accountants or the South African institute of chartered accountants.

At least 60 percent of your workforce must be South African citizens or permanent residents. As temporary business visas expire after three years, you will need to maintain this employment target ready for your visa renewal application.

Study And Exchange Programme Visas

There are 26 public universities and a range of private educational centres in South Africa. Students may apply for a visa which will be valid for the duration of their course.

Those holding a student visa are allowed to work in South Africa. However, work is only permitted as a part-time activity to be undertaken in addition to full-time studies. Students cannot work more than 20 hours in any week.

Exchange students can apply for visas which are set for the duration of their exchange activity. Applicants must be less than 25 years old. The activity to be undertaken will be considered and must not be present on the list of undesirable work as determined by the department of trade and industry.

Retirement Visas

Retirement visas are assessed against an individual’s financial circumstances; age is not considered relevant. Those holding a retirement visa must apply for renewal every four years until they receive permanent residency.

You will need to prove that your income exceeds R37,000 each month. This can be received from pensions, annuities, property rentals or any other source that does not require you to work for the money. However, if you want to bring your partner with you, the income amount rises to R40,000 per month.

Retirement visas are assessed on income rather than age

If your retirement income does not reach these targets, you may alternatively apply using your savings. You will need to prove that your capital sums are at least R444,000 for each year of the visa, which is R1,776 over the four years.

Visas For Wealthy People

You can apply for the South African financially independent permanent residence permit if your global assets are worth at least R12 million. The application fee is R120,000 and you will need to provide proof of your asset wealth.

Travelling Without Valid Permits

If you are found to be travelling without documents, you will immediately be given a Form 19, which is a declaration of undesirability. You are then blacklisted from entering South Africa for between twelve months and five years. You can appeal against this decision by sending an email to overstayappeals@dha.gov.za. Your email must contain, as a minimum, scans of the following documents:

• Your current passport
• Your last valid visa
• Form 19
• Proof of application for a residence permit

At no point should you be asked to pay a fine as these have been abolished. Anyone requesting money for an infringement of your visa documents is doing so illegally. If you pay money to be allowed in, you will be living in South Africa illegally.

Specialist Help

There are a number of private companies operating in South Africa who provide advice and assistance to those applying for visas. Their workforce will typically include staff who are fluent in a number of languages from around the globe. If you are finding the visa application process for South Africa difficult or confusing, their services can make a real difference.

It is possible to make applications independently, but the procedures are time consuming. The government timescale for processing applications have been doubled as the previous targets were rarely met. Any missing evidence in your application can introduce further delays, and cause frustration.

Once you have successfully negotiated the application procedures, provided all the evidence, and received your visa, you are free to move to South Africa safe in the knowledge you are there legally. Then it is time to settle into your new job or business ventures, and enjoy being a resident in the sunny Republic of South Africa.

Have you lived in South Africa? Share your experiences in the comments below, or answer the questions here to be featured in an interview.

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