While it remains important to limit movement, including international travel, there are situations where one may no longer be able to delay travel to or from South Africa, be it for a relocation for work or urgent business travel.
A key importance is staying on top of all relevant flight and travel restrictions and we have therefore put together a brief Q&A for you of the current rules (as of 29 January 2021).
Q: Has South Africa closed its borders?
A: South Africa has only closed its land borders for most visitor purposes, except in the case of an emergency. Importantly, as the airports are deemed a more controllable environment, no travel restrictions apply to those entering the country via one of the three operational international airports (OR Tambo International Airport, Cape Town International Airport, King Shaka International Airport), even if coming from a neighbouring country. Should travel via air not be possible for you, but an emergency situation exists, IBN is able to assist in drafting and submitting the required application to the Department of Home Affairs.
Q: Which countries have currently banned flights from South Africa due to the new Covid-19 variant discovered in South Africa?
A: Amongst others, the following key countries have banned all flights originating from South Africa: The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Dubai (with an exception for valid Dubai residence visa holders, although all direct flights have been cancelled), Brazil.
Q: Does this mean, travelers cannot under any circumstances reach those countries?
A: The good news is that many of the restrictions apply to all direct flights but keep the broadly keep the previous regulations in terms of international travel applicable, meaning citizens, permanent residents, work permit holders, family members and other cases deemed eligible, may enter via indirect routes, subject to relevant quarantine periods. Currently, for example, Germany and France have not yet banned flights from South Africa, with Lufthansa and Air France operating flights from South Africa, making indirect travel to most European destinations possible.
Q: Besides availability of flights and permission to enter, what are the key regulations to keep an eye out for, when travelling internationally?
A: At this point in time the absolute majority of countries have implemented the requirement of a negative Covid-19 test, and possible quarantine periods. We strongly recommend obtaining updated information before traveling on the following:
- Is a specific type of test required? Most countries require a PCR test. The Netherlands have recently introduced the requirement of a second rapid test, conducted closer to departure.
- How old may the test be? Many countries have a time frame of 72 hours, although some countries, such as Germany, have reduced this to 48 hours). It is important to note whether the time is counted from departure or arrival.
- What rules are applicable to countries you will transit?
- Is there a mandatory quarantine period you will be required to observe and if so, for how long?
Q: How are visa applications impacted by this?
A: The EU restrictions on visa applications and entry remain in place, meaning that visa applications for tourist purposes (Schengen visa) are not possible and holders of such visas may not travel, subject to a limited list of permissible cases, such as family re-union and urgent business. Long-term visa applications for most work categories remain possible across the various European countries, with most embassies in South Africa being operational.
Q: Is it worthwhile starting the visa application process now?
A: Yes, most definitely. The restrictions described above are frequently changing and direct flights may well have been re-instated, given the time allocated for compiling the application and processing of the visa application. IBN assists in ensuring your visa applications meet all the requirements and keeping you up to date with all developments in terms of current Covid-19 restrictions throughout the process.
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By Hannah Mminele