South Africa – Homepage

General country information

With a land area of over 1.2m square kilometres, South Africa is larger than the combined area of Holland, Belgium, France, Italy and Germany yet has a population of just 42.6m. It is comprised of nine provinces. Durban, the major sea port, is in Kwa-Zulu Natal on the north east coast, Cape Town is in Western cape to the south west, and Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape.

South Africa’s two major international airports are in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The legislative capital is Cape Town, the administrative capital is Pretoria, the judicial capital is Bloemfontein and the biggest city is Johannesburg. Known as the ‘rainbow nation’, it has a rich mixture of races and cultures with no less than 11 officially recognised languages, including English, Afrikaans, and native African tongues..Sitting at the southernmost tip of the African continent the Republic of South Africa commands strategically important sea routes between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, . With a coastline of some 2,954 kilometres, it is bounded to the north by borders within Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. To the north east is Swaziland, a small, landlocked kingdom surrounded by South Africa except for a short border with Mozambique. Also contained within South Africa’s borders is the independent country Lesotho.

On the west coast, the cold Atlantic current creates arid scrubland terrain. Higher levels of rainfall on the central plateau produce grassland. A continuous mountain range runs down the east coast warmed by the Indian Ocean giving a sub-tropical climate. The north of the country has savannah-type vegetation, whilst the southern tip has a Mediterranean-type climate.

Once shunned because of its apartheid policy, the country is now an active player in international relations: hosting major international sporting events, playing a full part in the UN and the Commonwealth, and having a significant stake in international business. But although a manufacturing country, with important mining (including gold and diamond, and also coal and minerals) and finance services industries, South Africa also ‘has an economy consisting of the very poor who eke out a living through near-subsistence agriculture or the informal sector’, says the Foreign Office.

South Africa is Africa’s biggest economy (pop. 51.2 million, GDP/cap US$7,636). It has formidable manufacturing and financial sectors. It is the world’s largest exporter of gold and platinum. Tourism is also a key source of foreign exchange.

In the last quarter of 2012, the South African economy recorded a higher-than-expected real GDP growth (annualized) of 2.1%, up from just 1.2% the previous quarter, according to Statistics SA.  Despite this, overall growth was lower in 2012 at 2.5%, down from 3.5% in 2011.

The Foreign Office warns that there are high levels of crime in the country, but that most occurs in townships and isolated areas away from the normal tourist destinations. ‘The standard of driving is variable and there are many fatal accidents’. However, more than 460,000 Britons visit South Africa every year and most visits are trouble- free.

British nationals visiting South Africa on holiday for less than 90 days do not require visas. After entry, extensions of stay may be sought from the Department of Home Affairs. Visitors who overstay without authority may be fined, either on exit or at the nearest South African mission on your return to the UK (or elsewhere). Re-entry to South Africa will not be permitted until the fine has been paid in full.

Those who substantially over stay their visas may be arrested on departure and detained before appearing in court. In such cases you may face a very substantial fine and then be deported at your own expense.

In all South Africa has 13 types of temporary and 11 types of permanent residence permits, including relative’s permits, business permits, and retired person’s permits. Business permits are available for up to two years for people looking to invest or set up their own business. Work permits can be obtained for up to three years while a permanent contract of employment will support an application for permanent residence.

After four negative years the South African property market is bouncing back. Medium sized houses rose almost 10% during 2012 and this momentum is expected to continue through 2013.

Total property purchase costs are between 8.9% and 24.35%, inclusive of the 7.5% estate agent’s commission (plus 14% VAT). Six procedures are involved in registering a property transfer, completed in about 20 days.Foreigners can own immovable property in South Africa without restriction. However, all foreign funds remitted to the country must be declared and documented to ensure repatriation. The property must also be endorsed ‘non-resident’, as a condition for repatriation.

For the tax year 2012-2013, annual rental income below ZAR160,000 (US$19,428) is taxed at 18%. Marginal tax rates rise progressively to 40% for annual income beyond ZAR617,000 (US$74,920).

Non-resident investors have to pay Capital Gains Tax when they later sell their properties. The purchaser of the property is required to deduct a prescribed percentage from the proceeds of the sale and remit it directly to the South African Revenue Service before paying the balance to the seller. Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is calculated by adding 33.30% of the capital gain to the individual’s income for that year, and taxing that income at the individual’s marginal rate of income tax.

Rental market laws in South Africa are pro-landlord. The passage of the Rental Housing Act [No.50 of 1999] marked the end of rent control which had been in place since 1976. This paved the way for the entry of investors to the buy-to-let industry. If the tenant feels that the rent is too much, he can file a protest with the Rent Tribunal. However, only three of the nine provinces have established such tribunals, to the advantage of landlords.

Country information – South Africa

Area: 1.22m Sq km
Population: 50.59m
Principal cities: Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban, Johannesburg
Median age of population: 24.3 years
Language: English, Afrikaans, plus other local dialects
Employment rate: 73%
Flying time from UK: 11.34 Hours
Currency: 1 Rand = 100 Cents
Time difference from UK: +2 hour
Rate of inflation: 5%
International dialling code: ++27
GDP per person: $8,070
Climate: Semi arid – east coast sub tropical: sunny days and cool nights

Useful websites:
Foreign Office travel advice