But as much as this country has to offer, there is always cause for concern for any Australian visiting South Africa, with the Smartraveller website recommending a “High degree of caution” when visiting this country. A lot can go wrong on your trip to South Africa, and it would be highly advisable to buy a comprehensive travel insurance plan, to cover you for all the potential risks in South Africa.
What can I expect to be covered by travel insurance in South Africa?
Medical expenses: The risk of falling ill, or being hurt in South Africa, is relatively high, due to the high crime rates, and exposure to rural facilities in some areas. Medical centres or hospitals are generally of a high standard in city centres but can lack in the more rural parts of South Africa. While a visit to a General Practitioner will not cost you too much, a stay in the hospital might. Most hospitals require proof of funds, a certificate of travel insurance, or an upfront payment, before admitting you. Your travel insurance will cover most of the costs involved in hospitalisation, or medical treatment. If you need to be medically evacuated to a better facility elsewhere in the country, or back home to Australia, your insurance will cover most of these costs as well – but you should confirm this with your insurer beforehand.
Theft or loss of property: The crime rate in South Africa is extremely high, with robberies, pickpocketing, and muggings being on the list of daily occurrences, anywhere in South Africa. If you experience loss or theft of your personal belongings, your travel insurance will cover most of the costs involved in replacing these items.
Theft or loss of luggage: Crime is high in South Africa, with theft of luggage, or out of luggage, a reality. Luggage can also go missing quite frequently in South Africa. Ensure your luggage is covered by your insurance for all electronic equipment and valuables – your insurer should cover most of the costs involved in replacing these items, together with any expenses incurred while you wait.
Cancelled or delayed flights: While some airlines might reimburse you for a cancelled flight, it may not always be the case. Delayed flights can often cause further delays to your travels, or accommodation, resulting in extra expenses for your pocket. Your travel insurance will generally cover most of the costs involved in a cancelled or delayed flight, and reimburse you accordingly.
24/7 emergency assistance: It would be advisable to choose an insurer that offers 24/7 emergency assistance, while in South Africa. This will allow you to call someone for assistance, if you are in an emergency, at any time of day.
Car rental cover: Public transport is not always reliable in South Africa, and although Uber is available in South Africa – safety can be a concern. If you do choose to hire a vehicle, ensure your travel insurance offers accidental and excess cover for your hired vehicle. The general road conditions in some parts of South Africa are not great, and drivers can drive recklessly. You can drive in South Africa with a valid Australian drivers license.
What can I expect not to be covered by travel insurance in South Africa?
Crime-related incidents: Some travel insurance providers might not cover you for any incidents related to crime in South Africa, due to the advance safety warnings against traveling to the country. You should check with your provider if you are covered for any theft, loss, or physical harm caused, as a result of crime.
Pre-existing medical conditions: Some insurers don’t offer cover for pre-existing conditions, or offer limited cover for certain conditions. You should declare all medical conditions that you are currently receiving treatment for, and ascertain if you are covered for these conditions or not. You might need to take out additional insurance to cover you fully.
Medical expenses for health risk areas: South Africa is home to some extremely serious diseases, such as cholera, yellow fever, and malaria, which can be found in certain areas around South Africa. It is advisable to receive the relevant vaccinations against these diseases before you travel to South Africa. If you contract an infectious disease for which there was an advance warning, your travel insurance might not cover you for any medical expenses incurred.
High-risk activities: Certain activities in South Africa are seen as high-risk, such as bungee jumping, scuba diving, mountain climbing, hiking, or going on a safari. You should check with your insurer beforehand if you are covered for any activities you plan on doing, and take out extra cover if necessary.
Negligence: Driving under the influence of alcohol, leaving your belongings on a beach unattended, or walking through serious crime-ridden areas, are some of the activities which could be seen as negligent behaviour. If you are involved in an accident, robbery, or physical harm, due to negligent behaviour, your travel insurance might not cover you for any costs involved.
Travel safety tips for South Africa
Crime: Crime is the most serious travel concern for South Africa, with violent crimes taking place daily. To stay safe in South Africa, you will need to be alert at all times. The police service in South Africa is nowhere near the standard of Australia, so receiving help from the police might take some time and patience. Some safety tips include:
- When you check in your luggage – avoid placing valuable items such as electronics and jewellery inside check-in luggage – rather carry it with you in your hand luggage. Theft from luggage at airports is quite common.
- Avoid traveling anywhere at night, rather stay indoors if you can.
- When driving, keep all windows and doors shut and locked, and keep an eye out at intersections. Hijackings occur frequently at stop streets, often with violent behaviour displayed by criminals.
- Don’t walk around with flashy jewellery or valuables visible – pickpocketing and muggings happen daily and in all areas around South Africa.
- Avoid drawing cash from ATMs in quiet, dark areas. Rather use an ATM in a shopping mall or bank, with lots of people around, and preferably a security guard. Don’t flash money around – keep it well hidden in your hand luggage, or on your body if possible. Refuse help at an ATM from anyone, where criminals can access your pin and card.
- When traveling by train, or bus, keep an eye out for people watching you, and avoid letting someone you don’t know sit next to you if possible. Criminals are known to take advantage of commuters and steal their belongings.
- Never leave your luggage or valuables unattended – always keep them in a locked hotel room, and in a safe if there is one available in your room. If you need to leave valuables in the car, avoid leaving them in sight for criminals to smash the windows and grab – rather keep them in the boot if you can.
- There are often beggars at the traffic lights and intersections, avoid leaving your window down, or giving them money – they have been known to rob vehicles.
- Criminals are known to place rocks or other debris in the roads and throw rocks off bridges to smash vehicle windows. They use this as a tactic to encourage drivers to pull over on the highway, to be able to then rob them. Be vigilant on the roads at all times.
- When hiking up table mountain, or any other mountain in the Drakensberg, or around South Africa, be vigilant of people hiding in the bushes, ready to attack you. Hikers have been known to be robbed of their belongings when hiking up certain mountains.
Political unrest and tension: Avoid areas where large groups of people are gathering or protesting. Workers are known to strike in public areas, causing chaos and often displaying violent behaviour. Services, such as gas stations, shops, and schools can also be temporarily closed due to protest action and striking – keep an eye on the South African news for information regarding protests and demonstrations around South Africa.
Health Risks: You are at risk of contracting some very serious diseases in South Africa, and need to take the necessary precautions against these.
Some vaccinations or medications that are advisable, at least eight weeks prior to your trip to South Africa, are:
- Yellow Fever
- Hepatitis A and B
- Rift Valley Fever
- Yearly Flu Shot
To avoid contracting water-borne or food-borne viruses, don’t eat meat that is raw or undercooked. Drink only from bottled water, and avoid swimming in open water that could potentially be contaminated. Avoid contact with wild animals or their blood if you are visiting a game reserve. The threat of HIV in South Africa is high, so you should always avoid exposure to blood or saliva of other people in South Africa.
Travel: The majority of public transport comes in the form of minibus taxis or buses, which are generally unsafe and unreliable to travel in. You should always ask for travel advice from your travel agent, or from a trustworthy local – where possible, use a reputable taxi service, or an Uber. Some trains, such as the Gautrain in Johannesburg are reliable and a safe way to get to your destination. Roads are generally good in South Africa, but in some areas, large potholes can be found, which can cause excessive damage to your car. Drivers, and in particular, minibus taxi drivers, can drive recklessly – remain vigilant at all times.
Animals: Always respect the local wildlife and animals in South Africa – many are dangerous and can cause harm if interfered with. Look out for animals, such as cows, goats, or horses, wandering across the road – they can cause major accidents, so be alert when driving on some roads, especially at night.
Sign up for alerts and updates for South Africa through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), before you leave Australia so that you can be aware of the situation in South Africa at all times, and change plans if need be.
|24-hour Australian Consular Emergency Helpline
1300 555 135
+61 2 6261 3305
+61 421 269 080
|Australian High Commission, Pretoria
292 Orient Street, Arcadia
Pretoria, South Africa
Phone: (27 12) 423 6000
Fax: (27 12) 342 8442
|Emergency phone numbers
National emergencies: Dial 10111
Fire and ambulance emergencies: Dial 10177
Criminal issues, contact police: Dial 10111
Netcare911 Emergency Response: Dial 082911
International emergency number: Dial 112
*Always get a police report when reporting a crime.
¹ “What makes South Africa unique”, SA People News, accessed on 9 September, 2018. https://www.sapeople.com/2013/08/27/what-makes-south-africa-unique-and-special-477/
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