One Country, Four Perspectives - South Africa

Table Of Contents

      South Africa's diverse landscapes, rich cultural heritage, and vibrant communities have always drawn travelers and explorers from around the world. From the bustling urban streets of Johannesburg and Cape Town to the breathtaking wilderness of Kruger National Park and the stunning coastline of the Garden Route, the country exudes an allure that is hard to resist.

      However, it has to be acknowledged that South Africa has long grappled with safety concerns and a myriad of safety challenges can sometimes overshadow the joy of exploration. In this article we take a look at the perspectives of four different governments, those of the UK, the US, Germany and Austria on South Africa through the lens of their official travel safety advice.

      Please take into account that governments tend to be conservative in their assessments and accounts from people on the ground may actually be less concerning. Overall, the German advice for South Africa is surprisingly long, while the Austrian one is the shortest.

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      As with other countries’s safety advice, the UK once again mentions that there is a high global threat of terrorist attacks targeting UK interests and British nationals, as it does in its Mexico travel advice.

      Both the US and the UK mention terrorist groups, though the UK only mentions Daesh and points out that it is only individuals conducting terrorist attacks, while the US refers to al-Qai’ida, al-Shabaab, and ISIS and says that South Africa is a hub for extremist and ISIS sympathizers. Both the US and the UK mention the risk of kidnapping as part of the terrorist threat in South Africa.

      Interestingly, neither Austria nor Germany mention terrorism as a concern.


      Both the US and the UK advisories highlight the frequent occurrence of protests and demonstrations in South Africa. Both mention the potential for these events to turn violent and pose risks to participants and bystanders. Their advice is monitoring local media and staying updated on the situation during travel in South Africa.

      The US text provides additional details about the nature of potential violence, including burning of vehicles, buildings, and tires, as well as incidents of mob violence against refugees and immigrants. The US further mentions how “protests involving taxis and ride hailing services can turn violent.”

      Germany is the only country to give some context to the cause of demonstrations, explaining that there are “significant social disparities in the country” and “the escalating electricity supply crisis”. Germany also mentions specific locations, where violent protests have occurred, namely the Emalahleni area (on the main route between Johannesburg and tourist destinations in the east of the country, such as the Blyde River Canyon and Kruger National Park).

      Austria only advises that travelers should avoid violent protests but nothing more.


      This is a major topic that was not covered in any of the other countries we examined so far. However, all countries mention electricity being a current issue in South Africa, with the UK, Austria and the US mentioning the term load shedding, which refers to the practice of temporarily switching off the distribution of energy to certain areas when demand is too high.

      The UK warns of a higher risk of crime where security systems or public lighting do not work.

      The US is the only one to explain that these are “controlled rolling blackouts to safeguard the country’s electrical grid” and that can mean up to six hours or more without power daily. The US mentions the ceasing of traffic lights functioning and subsequent traffic jams as opportunities for smash and grab crimes (more on these below).

      Austria advises to book accommodation that has alternative energy sources such as generators or solar panels, and advises individuals to carry flashlights, batteries, and power banks.

      Germany gives the advice to take the power outages and the possible limitations into account when planning travel to South Africa. They alone mention finding out expected times of power outages at your location through the power provider Eskom’s website or "load shedding apps". Like Austria, Germany suggests inquiring with hotels and accommodations about measures taken to cope with power outages (generators, solar panels) and for individuals to keep flashlights, batteries, and chargers ready for use.

      Violent Crime

      All descriptions mention the high crime rate in South Africa, encompassing various violent crimes such as robberies, rapes, and murders. They emphasize the risk of violent crime in major cities, including townships and inner-city areas. Tourist destinations are also highlighted as places where crime can occur, although the risk to visitors is generally considered low in the main tourist cities. The importance of vigilance and caution during travel in South Africa is stressed in all descriptions.

      However, there are some subtle differences between the countries.

      The US description provides detailed information about specific crimes like armed home invasions, car theft, and "smash-and-grab" attacks (see more below). It refers to theft in South Africa as “bold, even in broad daylight”. The US also recommends secure parking and locked doors to prevent carjacking and theft, as does Austria.

      Austria affords South Africa a security risk level of 2. The Austrian description mentions the need to exercise caution on highways. Austria mentions that robbers impersonate police officers and even points to specific routes to and from airports in Johannesburg and Pretoria being particularly affected by this. They caution that you should never resist, as the level of violence is extremely high. Finally, Austria is the only country that mentions being cautious of date-rape drugs.

      The German description adds more details about street theft, particularly handbag snatching, and thefts in hotel restaurants and rooms. The German description includes specific cases of travelers being followed and spied on at Johannesburg airport before being robbed at suitable locations.

      Finally, both Austria and Germany mention manipulation of ATMs and credit card fraud.


      Smash-and-grabs are a particular type of flash robberies mentioned by all countries. The Austrians and Germans both explain that travelers should beware of so-called "smash-and-grab" incidents, i.e. flash robberies in dense traffic or at red lights, where car doors are opened or windows are smashed to steal valuables from the car. They also mention the risk of carjackings after dark at less busy intersections.

      The US mentions Smash-and-Grabs multiple times, in their overall country summary, in the context of the frequent power outages that cause traffic jams and thereby present a perfect opportunity for such crimes, as well as in their general crime section.

      The UK only mentions them once as part of their vehicle hijacking and robbery section offering tips for travelers on how to reduce risk. They suggest asking the hire car company for a vehicle with smash-and-grab film installed on the windows.

      Fraud & Scams

      Both the US and the UK have fairly extensive segments on scams and fraud. Both highlight the prevalence of scams and fraudulent activities in South Africa, including online scams, card skimming, and confidence tricks, such as lottery scams or online romance. Both countries advise individuals to be cautious with their personal information and money, especially when dealing with unfamiliar individuals or situations. Both countries also point out the risks associated with using ATMs, including ATM skimming and being cautious about potential fraudsters around ATMs.

      However, there are some differences between the two. The UK mentions scams related to business or employment opportunities, visa facilitation, romance, and friendships. In contrast, the US focuses more on internet romance and financial scams, money transfers, gold purchase, and other specific scams.

      The UK further highlights that criminals often use the details of British High Commissions and embassies for fraud.

      The US emphasizes the need for travelers not to surrender their credit card to any vendor and to be cautious about using ATMs outside of banks and reputable hotels. This specific advice is not present in the UK’s advice.

      The UK further advises changing large sums of money in banks or secure shopping malls, while the US never mentions this.

      Finally, the US provides a detailed list of common scams, including romance/online dating, lucrative sales, grandparent/relative targeting, lotteries, and more.

      While Germany has no special section on scams, they do have a segment in their general tips for travelers section relating to cash and credit cards. They advise that travelers should opt for cashless payments and take only the cash needed for the day and no unnecessary valuables. They caution travelers to never let their credit card out of their sight and to insist on a portable reader. Finally, the only scam mentioned by Austria in passing is credit-card fraud.


      The UK is the only country that has a specific section on kidnapping, which points out that kidnapping is on the rise. They also state that: “British nationals can be seen as wealthier than locals and may be at particular risk of kidnap for financial gain.”

      Tips on Staying Safe

      The US and the UK both offer some tips on how travelers can stay safe.

      Both the UK and the US advice emphasize the importance of not displaying cash and valuables to avoid becoming a target for theft. They both recommend avoiding walking alone, especially after dark, to enhance personal safety. Both advisories suggest using safe and reliable transportation to minimize risks. And both encourage travelers to be cautious and vigilant, especially when approached by strangers.

      There are however some differences, too. The UK advice includes suggestions such as not leaving valuables in your car, traveling with friends, and only visiting townships with a responsible and reliable tour guide.

      The US advice specifically warns against visiting informal settlement areas unless accompanied by someone familiar with the area. It also highlights the dangers associated with cash-in-transit vehicles and remote jamming during load shedding periods. Additionally, the US advisory emphasizes carrying a copy of your passport and visa while keeping the originals secure.


      The UK is the only country to extensively warn about carjackings in an entire segment. They explain that vehicle hijacking and robbery are common in South Africa, particularly after dark and at certain locations such as traffic lights, junctions, petrol stations, and driveways. They mention tactics, such as breaking car windows and throwing spikes or stones to force vehicles to stop and rob those inside. To stay safe, they advise drivers to drive as far as possible before stopping if targeted.

      The UK is also the only country to have an entire segment devoted to Ubers and e-Taxis. They say that Uber scams are a concern in major cities, so passengers should verify the vehicle registration and identity before getting in. At airports, the UK warns of unregulated drivers pretending to be Uber drivers and tells travelers to stick to designated waiting areas. They even warn that tensions between Uber and metered taxi drivers can lead to armed violence, especially around Gautrain stations and airports.

      The UK views the Gautrain train, MyCiTi bus in specific areas of Cape Town, airport shuttle buses through recognized hotels, and internationally recognized e-hailing apps with confirmed bookings as safe and reliable transport options. However, some services like minibus taxis, Metrorail train, and long-distance public train and coach services can be unreliable and pose risks of theft and violence according to the UK authorities.

      The Austrian have a surprisingly long segment on transport, considering the overall length of their advice is shorter than the other countries. They mention that while domestic flights and bus connections exist between all major cities, train and local transportation are insufficient. They advise against taking trips with minibus taxis. Taxis should only be booked through known (e.g., hotel-recommended) companies, according to the Austrians. They do say that South Africa has an excellent road network. Finally, they give a reminder that left-hand traffic is in effect.

      Germany also has a fairly long segment on transport, stating that long-distance public transportation generally functions reliably. However, they do recommend rental cars for individual travelers and small groups, because the public transportation networks are unsafe and confusing. An exception is the "Gautrain" between Johannesburg and Pretoria, according to Germany. They also remind travelers that left-hand traffic is the rule in South Africa.

      Germany also cautions to avoid suburban trains in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban (exception "Gautrain"). If you use the trains they suggest 1st class and only during daytime rush hours.

      Like the Austrians, Germany says to order cabs only from reliable, well-known companies and asking guesthouses and hotels to help with reservations. The say to refrain from hitchhiking and using so-called minibus cabs.

      The US does not cover the topic of public transport at all.


      Probably a little unsurprisingly, a topic that crops up in South African safety advice, that is not mentioned regarding Mexico or Bosnia & Herzegovina is wildlife and animal products.

      The UK warns that it is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animal or trade any of its parts without a permit. They point out that trading ivory or rhino horn is banned and perpetrators will be prosecuted.

      Germany also has a segment warning travelers off of picking or exporting protected plants and capturing animals of protected species, as this can result in severe fines and imprisonment of two to ten years.

      The US on the other hand mentions wildlife only in the context of game park safety, stating that visitors have been injured and killed by wild animals in South Africa.

      Austria does not mention wildlife at all.

      Kruger National Park

      Kruger National Park

      This particular national park is mentioned throughout the safety advice by numerous countries. It even gets its own segment from the UK and Germany.

      The UK states that after a violent attack that killed a tourist, South Africa National Parks (SANParks) advise against using the Numbi gate entrance. They further mention protests and violent incidents on the R538 road leading to the gate.

      Germany also warns off using the Numbi Gate. They also mention several incidents of robberies targeting tourists, sometimes involving significant (and in some cases deadly) violence. The US paints an even bleaker picture saying crime can occur “anywhere and anytime, including in and around Kruger National Park”.

      Austria on the other hand mentions Kruger in the context of diseases, saying Malaria also occurs primarily in Mpumalanga province, including Kruger National Park and neighboring parks.


      Overall, the safety advice for South Africa does sound slightly concerning and paints a picture of a country full of violence. However, all countries offer up some degree of tips for travelers on how to act when in the country and unlike Mexico, none of the countries mention any areas they would entirely advise against traveling to.

      Do you want to check out safety advice for other countries?

      Find our other reviews of safety advice by four governments here:

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    A profile picture of Ana-Marija Autischer
    by Ana-Marija Autischer
    The visionary Founder & CEO of Vigilios, where her extensive research into travel safety over the past two years has positioned her at the forefront of the industry. With a keen eye for innovation, she translates complex safety concepts into practical advice for travelers worldwide.

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