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I will be flying one-way from Europe to Cape Town, South Africa in early December.

Some time later (early January), I will fly from South Africa to the USA. My employer will be purchasing this ticket; so I don't have it yet (and may not have it at the time I enter South Africa).

As a U.S. citizen, are there any requirements for proof of onward travel when entering South Africa?

travel.state.gov doesn't mention any such requirements, but it also doesn't mention that there are NOT such requirements, so I want to be sure.

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According to Timatic (the source used by most airlines), YES, a US citizen visiting South Africa DOES require an onward ticket, although there is an alternative.

This is the relevant section :

R38) Ticket ......

Immigration authorities may request visitors and transit passengers to prove that they will depart from the country within the prescribed period, by showing a return or onward ticket to their next international destination.

Unless stated otherwise, return/onward ticket is defined as:

a. International airline ticket (i.e. any types of airline tickets, reservation confirmation, booking code etc.); or

b. Evidence of departing from the country by other means of transportation (e.g. confirmation of joining a cruise, train, bus or ferry tickets, proof of departing by private boat or plane, etc).

Technically there is a provision for visitors arriving without a return ticket, which is :

Warning: - Visitors arriving without a return or onward ticket will be required to pay a refundable deposit in lieu of ticket. Failure or inability to pay this deposit will result in refusal of entry.

There is no mention of how much the refundable deposit is, or how it must be paid.

In general, your airline will confirm that you have an onward ticket before you board your flight, and it is possible that they will not consider the deposit clause when refusing you access, so it may not be a good idea to rely on that if possible.

You may be able to work around this by purchasing a fully refundable ticket for the return, and then cashing it in once you have arrived in the country. If you are caught doing this you can expect to be immediatley deported - but realistically the odds of that happening are small. If you have frequent flyer miles, it's worth checking if you can use them for such a flight - even if there is a fee for canceling, it's frequently less than for a normal ticket, and you won't have to tie up your money in order to buy a full fare/refundable ticket.

South Africa also requires that :

  • Visitors are required to hold proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay and documents required for their next destination.

So if you book your onward ticket to a country other than the US, make sure that you have the required documents for that country as well!

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FYI, when I boarded in Frankfurt, Germany, the airline clerk asked if I had onward travel plans. I told him I did, but he didn't ask to see them. When I landed in Cape Town, nobody asked about my onward travel. So clearly, YMMV, but I'm glad I had made my onward arrangements anyway. –  Flimzy Jan 16 at 16:17

There have been reports of requiring onward travel to South Africa. It depends on the agent and airline. Once you get past checkin, you are not likely to get asked again.

Now I'm not saying this is what you should do nor what I have done but I've seen people printing out fake onward travel tickets with a different airline and get by just fine with that.

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Where have you seen/heard these reports? –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 12:57
    
Blog posts (such as this butforthesky.com/rtw-how-to/visas) and as a frequent traveler from other travelers. –  Michael T Nov 21 '13 at 14:48
    
Thanks, good info. –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 14:52
    
And when you say check-in, you mean when boarding the plane? Or after landing in SA? –  Flimzy Nov 21 '13 at 14:53

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