People from the world’s media like to inflate some bad crime reputation on South Africa. Like anywhere in the world, 100% safety is not guaranteed, it is about being a responsible, knowledgeable traveller rather than assuming that everywhere is dangerous. All you need to do is take a few sensible precautions. This will help you avoid sticky situations and possible health problems, it will give you the freedom to enjoy this fantastic country and see all you want to see with confidence.
- Be a sensible traveller. The same rules apply for South Africa as for almost any country you travel in, including most likely your own. This means:
Tourists can be targets of crime. Safety begins before you even depart home by making sure you are well prepared. Know where you are going to stay and know how you intend to get there before you depart. Wandering tourists have been victims of crime all over the world.
Carefully pack your bags and ensure they are secured before checking in for your flight. As can be seen in news reports, South African airports have a reputation for luggage tampering and theft. It is advisable to use tamper evident seals to check if your luggage is intact upon arrival.
Do not accept any lift by unauthorised individuals. Car transport offers should only be accepted from airport counters or a staffed taxi rank / marked vehicles.
Avoid visiting known crime hotspots. Ask your tour guide, hotel/ guest house caretaker or other trusted people where it is safe to go and to warn you of places to keep away from. Some important things to keep in mind include:
- Doing your research before you travel. This will guide you on places you would like to visit, and it will give you ideas about challenges that might present themselves.
- Keeping updated with news events.
- Using common sense, being responsible, and asking for advice from trusted persons such as your tour guide.
Be vigilant when using electronic payment systems. Like in any other place in the world, it is important to take sensible precautions when using ATMs and credit cards.
- Avoid going anywhere that is isolated.
- Stay away from any place that is known for drug crimes, gang violence, etc. (always ask a trusted person).
- Always take taxis at night.
- Do not walk alone at night.
Take the standard travel precautions for not looking like a tourist:
- Always keep your PIN covered when using an ATM. It is advisable to use ATM's that are in well-lit places and not isolated. If you see anything suspicious, leave the ATM immediately. Con artists can try any sort of distraction to part you from your money.
- Don't allow any payment by credit be made out of your sight. If you suspect that your card is compromised, contact your card provider immediately.
Ask advices from trusted community residents before touring their community. Local knowledge is always preferable than what you read on papers. Be careful however, not to ask a criminal, better ask petrol attendants, hoteliers, concierges, retailers in malls, etc. Don’t be shy and don’t try to act smart.
Avoid walking alone anywhere that is isolated. Trust your guts and use common sense, if something doesn't feel right, don't go there, or leave quickly if you are there already.
Have the most up-to-date maps and information. In most big cities of South Africa, street names have been changed, make sure you get the most recent names before you get lost.
When hiring a car, ask for one that has GPS installed. If you bring your own GPS, make sure that it has the most updated southern African maps on it.
Have your driver's license with you at all times when driving. This is required under South African law.
Follow standard car crime reduction basics:
- Don't parade your valuables. Place them in the hotel safety deposit box.
- Dress down.
- Do not attract unwanted attention by being overly loud or brash, speak moderately.
- Avoid looking at your touring guidebook or map in the open.
- Keep bags well-held; avoid carrying too much cash on you. If you have to carry a lot of cash, wear money pouches hidden well under your clothing.
- Keep cameras in your shoulder bag rather than around your neck.
- Keep all your valuables out of sight at all times, including when you're in the car.
- When driving through a downtown area that is crowded, keep the car windows up and all the doors locked.
- Don't give anyone a lift.
- Always ensure all cars doors are locked before leaving it unattended.
- If you get lost, ask a police or traffic officer for directions.
- Make sure that all bookings have been made and secured before your departure to avoid any unnecessary running around and unpleasant experience.
- Bring more than one credit or debit card, but don't carry all of them, take one per day that’s fine.
- Keep copies of your identity and travel documents in a safe place, separate from the originals.
- Before departure, please ask if your credit/debit card is accepted in South Africa. Relax! Almost all major cards are accepted.
- If at the beach, avoid taking valuables with you.
- Safely carry enough cash when going to rural areas. Most of these places don’t have ATM facilities.
- Find out if you can use your mobile/cell phone; and if applicable, hire a rental phone.
- Always have your emergency numbers with you (your hotel numbers, ambulance, police number and a contact person.
- Always keep some loose change with you to be used for tipping.
- Listen to your tour guide all the times.
- Make sure to contact the Embassy or Consulate General of your country in South Africa, so that they know you are there in case of emergency or legal issues.
- Do not sponsor any sign-up scams, especially where your banking details will be required. Make it a rule not to sign or donate anything a person asks you to sign on the street.
- Do not buy any tickets on the streets or around the venue, buy from official sellers.
- Using and trading in illegal substances in South Africa can lead to a jail term.
- Avoid walking around at night in an isolated area.
- Don’t show off your cash at any place, at any cost.
- Don’t allow anyone to forcefully make you pay more than what you required to pay.
- Do not give tips of any sort to airport employees, it’s not allowed in South Africa.
- South African ladies can be very nice and welcoming, if you score a one night stand, please practice safe sex.
- Be warned of the common "jammed card in the ATM" scam. The con artist tempers with the ATM to cause your card to get stuck, and while you go around thinking on your next move, your cash is stolen.
- Avoid entering a typical African township without a South African in your company.
- Do not get out of your vehicle while on a game drive.
- Never approach or try to feed any wild animal (this includes baboons and monkeys that are commonly seen on the side of the road in some places of South Africa)
- Only swim in dams or rivers that have been declared safe by your guide. You sure don’t want to be a fresh meal for crocodiles.
- Do not try to tease wild animals; some can be very dangerous when irritated.
- Never leave anything of value unattended, not even in the hotel lobby.
- Don't put all your belongings in one basket; if you are unlucky enough to get something stolen, at least you don't lose everything.