There are 11 official languages in South Africa: English, Afrikaans and 9 Bantu languages (with the official status since 1994). South Africa also recognizes 8 non-official languages.
There are 11 official names for South Africa as a result of using 11 official languages:
- Republiek van Suid-Afrika (Afrikaans)
- Republic of South Africa (English)
- IRiphabliki yeSewula Afrika (IsiNdebele)
- IRiphabliki yaseMzantsi Afrika (IsiXhosa)
- IRiphabliki yaseNingizimu Afrika (IsiZulu)
- Rephaboliki ya Afrika-Borwa (Sepedi)
- Rephaboliki ya Afrika Borwa (Sesotho)
- Rephaboliki ya Aforika Borwa (Setswana)
- IRiphabhulikhi yeNingizimu Afrika (SiSwati)
- Riphabuḽiki ya Afurika Tshipembe (Tshivenda)
- Riphabliki ra Afrika Dzonga (Xitsonga)
South Africa is member of the Commonwealth of Nations (which comprises most of the former British colonies).
South Africa is on GMT+2 (same as Eastern European Time) and does not operate Daylight Savings Time.
Counting and Numbers
Dates in South Africa are written just like in Europe: the day first, then the month and then the year. Most commonly, dates are written in the following format: 30 January 2008.
When South Africa adopted the metric system, it also started using the comma as decimal separator, exactly opposite to US but the same as in Europe (except UK). So Rand 3,50 means 3 Rand and 50 cents.
South Africa uses the metric system. Hence the distances are given in Kilometers (km) and the temperatures in Celsius (C). In order to convert from Metric to Imperial, use this conversion tool.
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Electricity and Plugs
South Africa operates on 220/240 volts at 50 Hz electrical system. The outlet has two circular metal pins above a large circular grounding pin. Adaptors should be used for all your electrical equipment. Be careful to read the information before you plug anything in the outlet.
Currency and Banks
It’s advisable to tell your bank that you will be withdrawing money in South Africa. Make sure to keep all the recipes from the ATMs and when using your credit card. Check the fees and cash withdraw limits applicable before you leave as well.
The South African currency is the Rand (ZAR), divided into 100 cents. Denominations include 10 Rand, 20 Rand, 50 Rand, 100 Rand, 200 Rand banknotes and 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 1 Rand, 2 Rand and 5 Rand coins. When entering the country you need to declare if you posses any local currency (you should not carry more than Rand 5,000 which is about USD 700).
Banks are open on weekdays from 9 AM to 3:30 PM and the ATMs are available in main towns.
Using the Telephone
The country code for South Africa is 27. To call South Africa from the US you should first need to dial out of the US and into South Africa. So that’s 0011 + 27 and then the South African phone number. To call within the country, just dial the number you were given (make sure it includes the city code). To call the US from South Africa, dial 00 + 1 and then the US number (area code + telephone number).
Public phones are widely available and are painted either blue or green. The blue ones accept coins, while the green ones accept phone cards.
South Africa is GSM compatible so you can activate the Roaming feature and use your mobile. You should talk to your mobile carrier about the compatible networks. Also you can hire a mobile at the airport and buy a local sim card.
Useful Telephone Numbers
Flying Squad: 10111
Tourist Assistance:418 2852
Most nationalities don’t need a visa to enter South Africa as a tourist as long as your stay doesn’t exceed 30-90 days. You do need a valid passport which doesn’t expire within 6 months.
For more details check the South Africa Department of Home Affairs website
Safety and Health
By law, no vaccinations are required to enter South Africa. Most of the main tourist destinations are malaria free but the disease is still present in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo and on the Maputaland coast of KwaZulu-Natal. When planning to visit those areas do tell your doctor so that you can take the appropriate medicine with you.
Unfortunately, South Africa has one of the highest AIDS/HIV rates in the entire world so if you are planning to have sex do take the necessary precautions (yes, condoms!).
The crime rate in South Africa is still high but fortunately it’s restricted to townships while the tourist areas are not that exposed. Avoid walking in the city at night and always keep copies of your travels documents at hand. Keep your personal belongings with you all the time especially when using the public transport. Be very careful when changing large amounts of money as well.