The current Covid-19 travel restrictions on South Africa – including Australia, the US and UK

As countries around the globe move to reopen their borders, countries like South Africa risk missing out if vaccinations aren’t increased and Covid-19 cases are not contained.

Although Covid-19 variants may affect conditions, it is only a matter of time before travellers in some parts of the world take to the skies again, thanks to rising vaccination rates and manageable caseloads, say analysts at Mckinsey and Company.

In an analysis for the World Economic Forum, the group noted that some countries have tentatively begun to relax travel restrictions and reopening of borders.

“As the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic ebb, most indicators point to travel coming back—with a vengeance—as people look to reconnect, explore new destinations, or revisit reliable favourites. Many just want to get away from the confines of their homes,” it said.

“All these trends should taste sweet for the industry, but ill-prepared companies may find themselves facing the wrath of a cohort of leisure-focused vacationers who might already be struggling to keep up with new travel protocols.

“If the industry doesn’t work to increase capacity now, the ecosystem may buckle under the pressure, forcing travellers to endure long wait times and inflated prices.”

Two travel recovery paths 

Despite the near-universal desire to travel, countries will likely manage their plans to reopen differently. “Two main factors come into play here: current Covid-19 caseloads and vaccination rates,” Mckinsey and Company said.

“People living in countries with limited access to vaccines and uncontainable levels of cases—such as a number of countries in Africa and Southeast Asia—will continue to be bound by tight travel restrictions for some time to come.”

The group said that it expects a surge in travel in, and between, countries with manageable and moderate Covid-19 caseloads and vaccine access.

These regions are willing to accept rising case levels as long as death and hospitalization rates remain low, it said.

“In many European countries and the United States, a significant portion of the population has been inoculated.

“Such people feel safe enough to travel both domestically and internationally, especially with the introduction of safety measures such as the EU-issued digital health certificates given to people vaccinated against Covid-19.

“Despite fluctuating rates of new caseloads in these regions, the efficacy of the vaccine so far (to reduce the spread of the disease and avoid its worst effects) gives many people enough feeling of security to travel.”

South Africa

While South Africa has mostly kept its borders open to international tourists since easing its first hard lockdown in mid-2020, other countries have not reciprocated, and South Africans still face strict travel restrictions.

This also impacts travellers who are dissuaded from visiting South Africa because of the difficulties in returning to their own countries.

mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of 4 August, South Africa has 86 ‘major restrictions’ from other countries in place. This is up from around 60 major restrictions before the third Covid wave hit.

These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry, or entry may only be possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entrance requirements.

By comparison, there are currently 27 moderate restrictions in place for South Africa, where travel is possible, but only if travellers meet certain entry requirements which can include taking Covid-19 tests.

Despite the high number of restrictions in place, some countries have eased restrictions on South Africa in recent weeks.

On Sunday (1 August), Germany said that South Africa is no longer listed as an area of concern, but “only” a high-risk area. The general travel ban has also been lifted.

Similarly, Spain has lifted its complete travel ban on South Africa from 3 August, but still requires travellers to quarantine for 10 days even if they are fully vaccinated.

The below table gives an overview of some of the major travel restrictions still in place for South Africa as of Wednesday (4 August).

This does not constitute travel advice and is for comparison purposes only.  South Africans should still check with the respective health authorities before travelling.

Country Restrictions on people travelling from South Africa
Australia  Australia’s borders are currently closed and entry to Australia remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Travel to Australia is only available if you are exempt or you have been granted an individual exemption.
China Chinese and foreign passengers travelling from or transiting through South Africa must apply for ‘Green Health Codes’ (for Chinese citizens only)  by submitting their Covid-19 negative certificates for nucleic acid tests to Chinese embassies or consulates.
France South Africa is on the red list for entering France. Travellers who are vaccinated will still be allowed entry, however, unvaccinated travellers will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis based on three separate travel requirement lists.
Germany With effect from 1 August 2021, the Federal Republic of Germany no longer lists South Africa, Lesotho and Eswatini as areas of concern. This implies that the general travel ban has been lifted. Some travel restrictions remain in place.
Spain As of Tuesday (3 August) South Africa is classified as ‘high risk’ by Spanish authorities. This means that travel is permitted, but travellers will have to quarantine for ten days.
New Zealand Entry to New Zealand from all countries remains strictly controlled to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. South Africans are expected to go through managed isolation if they are allowed entry.
United Kingdom South Africa is on the red list for entering England. If you have been in a country or territory on the red list in the last 10 days you will only be allowed to enter the UK if you are a British or Irish National, or you have residence rights in the UK.
US Only people that qualify for the NIE visa exception are allowed entry into the US. The US also requires all air passengers entering the country to present a negative Covid-19 test, taken within three calendar days of departure or proof of recovery from the virus within the last 90 days​. Airlines must confirm the negative test result or proof of recovery for all passengers two years of age and over prior to boarding.

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The current Covid-19 travel restrictions on South Africa – including Australia, the US and UK