Visa Categories for South Africa

Below is a brief overview of the visa categories available to persons wishing to relocate to South Africa. Please click on the respective category for details. For further information and a detailed quote simply contact us or receive a free assessment of your immigration prospects.

Visitors Visa

A foreigner wishing to stay in South Africa for a period of up to 3 months as a visitor/tourist.

Work Visa

Persons wishing to take up employment in South Africa. There are various categories of work visa depending on your circumstances.

Business Visa

this can be issued to foreigners who wish to establish a new business in South Africa or invest in an existing business.

Retirement Visa

Can be issued to foreigners (of all ages) who are able to submit proof of sufficient financial means available to them for their retirement in South Africa.

Study Visa

Persons wishing to attend school, university or other institutions of learning in South Africa.

Relative & Partner Visa

Family relation (spouse, life partner or other) to South African citizen or permanent resident.

Permanent Residence Permit

This permit allows for maximum flexibility with regards to movement in and out of South Africa and your activities (e.g. work, study) in South Africa.


The 3 main grounds for South African citizenship are birth, descent and naturalisation.

Categories of Work Visa in South Africa

Since the legislative amendments of May 2014, "work" is defined to include "conducting any activity normally associated with the running of a specific business, or being employed or conducting activities consistent with the profession of the person, with or without remuneration or reward". This means that any such activity requires the appropriate South African work visa in order to be conducted legally in the country. A person that wants to take up employment in South African is required to apply for a relevant work visa. There are a number of options depending on the type and duration of the post as well as the applicant’s qualifications and/or experience.
In essence this is a Visitors Visa with “authorisation to work”. It can be issued for up to three months. It is usually issued for short-term project work, unpaid internships or seasonal work in the hospitality or film industries for example. The visa requirements are far less onerous than for the formal work visa.
This visa type is available to persons with qualifications and/or skills and experience in specific industries and professions. A list of "Critical Skills" has been published by the government listing all of the specific professions and fields. The applicant would need to prove that he/she fall within a specific category in order to qualify for a Critical Skills Visa. The main requirements are a letter from the relevant professional body, council or board, or from a relevant government body, confirming the qualifications, skills and experience in that particular category. If required by law, registration with such body, council or board is required. The applicant also needs to have his highest qualification evaluated by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which can be time-consuming and costly (CT&A can assist with this process). The visa can be issued for up to five years. If the applicant does not have a job offer they can apply for a Critical Skills visa that is not linked to a specific employer. This can be issued for up to 12 months. Contact us if you wish to find out whether you qualify for a critical skills visa.
If you are looking to transfer employees between branches, related or affiliated companies, your best option could be an intra-company transfer visa. The requirements for this type of visa are not as onerous as in the other work visa categories, but there are certain limitations – the visa can be issued for up to four years and is not renewable. The main requirements for the application are proof of the affiliation between companies or branches, proof of the secondee's employment relationship with the company abroad (for at least the last six months), and a transfer of skills plan.

General Work Visa

The best known category of work visa is the General Work Visa. With this type of visa the prospective employer needs to motivate his need for the foreign applicant’s specific qualifications, skills or experience. The employer must submit proof of his efforts to recruit a local candidate (including showing an advertisement of the position in a specific format, interview records etc.) The applicant also needs to have his qualifications evaluated by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA), which can be time-consuming and costly. Before the visa application can be submitted the employer must obtain a recommendation letter from the Department of Labour. Getting this recommendation requires a number of processes by the prospective employer and employee and may be time-consuming, and thus the lead times for general work visas have increased substantially.
If the applicant is married to or in a life partnership (opposite or same sex) with a South African citizen or permanent resident they can apply for a Spousal/work visa. Many of the requirements for the visa have been relaxed and it is generally a fairly uncomplicated application. The visa can be issued for up to two years at a time.
People wanting to take up volunteer work in South Africa (normally with a non-profit, religious or other charitable organisation) can obtain a Volunteer visa for a period of up to 3 years, which authorises them to conduct this type of work.
Certain activities will qualify you to apply for an extended visitors visa with authorisation to work for a period of up to three years. These activities include: teacher at an international school; journalist; working in the film industry; visiting professor or lecturer; artists, performers in the entertainment industry and tour leaders. Please contact us for detailed requirements.
Certain categories of work permit allow the applicant to qualify for Permanent Residence. They include if the applicant fits into one of the categories on the Critical Skills list or if he has been in possession of a work visa for at least 5 years and has a permanent offer of employment.

Relatives and Partners Visa

Immediate family members of a South African citizen or permanent resident can obtain a relatives visa if the South African host can prove that he/she is able to financially support the applicant. The relatives visa can be issued for two years (and is renewable) but does not include the right to work, study or conduct a business. Spouses and life partners of South African citizens or permanent residents, who do not qualify for study, work or business visas in their own right, can obtain a visa in South Africa which will allow them to study, work or conduct a business on the grounds of their spousal relationship. The requirements for these visas are less onerous that if they had applied for the visa directly. However, this visa is only valid for up to two years (renewable) and is dependent on the continuation of the marriage/life partnership. The life partner visa includes both same sex and opposite sex relationships. To qualify as a life partner they must be able to prove cohabitation and the extent to which the related financial responsibilities are shared by the parties. Unmarried couples have to provide proof that the relationship has existed for at least 2 years in order to qualify as "life partners" for immigration purposes.
Family members of persons who hold a long term visa (e.g. visitors visa (3-36 months), study visa, work visa, retirement visa or business visa) may apply for an extended visitors visa that allows them to accompany the main visa holder. This includes dependent children and spouses/life partners. Accompanying children who will be going to school or tertiary educational institutions during their stay need to obtain study visas. Partners who wish to work in South Africa need to obtain work visas in their own right.

Business Visa

South African business visas are issued to persons who wish to establish a new business in the country, or to invest in an existing business. The main requirements are the following:

  • Minimum investment of R 5 million into the business in cash or capital. Certain industries have been declared to be in the South African national interest, and investors into these can apply for the investment amount to be reduced or waivered. These businesses include: agro-processing; BPO and IT enabled services; capital / transport equipment, metals and electrical machinery and apparatus; electro technical; textile, clothing and leather; consumer goods; boat building; pulp, paper and furniture; automotives and components; green economy industries; advanced manufacturing; tourism infrastructure; chemicals, plastic fabrication and pharmaceuticals; creative and design industry; oil and gas; mineral beneficiation; infrastructure development; and ICT. (Contact us if your investment amount is lower than R 5 million; we will assess your chances of obtaining permission to apply).
  • Recommendation by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) attesting to the feasibility of the business and its contribution to the national interest of South Africa.
  • At least 60% of the permanent staff of the business shall be South African citizens or permanent residents within 12 months.
  • Registration with the relevant statutorial and professional bodies (i.e. revenue Service, Unemployment Insurance Fund).
  • A comprehensive business plan showing the short and long-term viability of the business.

Two years after being granted a business visa, the holder is to submit to the Department proof that the investment has been met, and every 2 years thereafter proof that all of the requirements are still being met.

Permanent Residence Visa – Own Business

Persons who qualify for business visas may generally also obtain permanent residence. The respective requirements are almost identical. If permanent residence is issued based on business the holder will be required to maintain his/her business and investment for at least five years after having obtained permanent residence.

Study Visa

All persons wishing to attend school, university or other institutions of learning in South Africa can obtain a study visa. The learning institution must be registered with the Department of Higher Education and cannot be a correspondence course; however, the studies need not be full-time. Holders of a study visa for higher education may take up part-time work of up to 20 hours per week. Apart from the relevant documentation from the learning institution the applicant needs to provide medical aid cover by a provider registered in South Africa and must be able to prove that they have sufficient funds for the course and to stay in South Africa. Study visas can now issued for up to eight years, depending on the course that the student is studying.
Persons wishing to conduct academic research or spend an academic sabbatical in South Africa may obtain an extended visitor’s visa valid for a period of up to 3 years. The main requirements include documentation from the South African institution where they will be undertaking research/sabbatical and proof that they have sufficient financial means to support themselves during their stay.
Holders of a study visa, research visa or academic sabbatical visa cannot qualify for permanent Residence based on their visa.

Retirement Visa

A retirement visa can be issued to foreigners of all ages who can prove that they have sufficient financial means available to them for their retirement in South Africa. The holders of this visa may reside in South Africa on a temporary or continuous basis.

The main requirements are the following:

  • A monthly income from abroad of at least R 37,000 from a pension, an irrevocable annuity or retirement account; or
  • "Combined assets" (no minimum value) realising a monthly income of R 37,000.

Spouses, life partners (of at least 2 years), and minor dependent children can receive visas to accompany the holder of a retirement visa without having to provide further proof of funds or income. The holder of a retirement visa may be permitted to work under certain conditions.

Persons qualifying for the retirement visa may apply for permanent residence provided that their minimum income is secured for the rest of their lives. Permanent Residence based on financial independence can be obtained by persons with a net value of R 12 million and on payment of a fee of R 120,000 to the government.

Visitors Visa

Citizens of visa-exempt countries (e.g. UK, USA, Australia and most European countries) who wish to stay in South Africa for short periods of time can be issued with a port of entry visa (valid for between 30 and 90 days) upon entry to South Africa and presentation of a return flight ticket to their home country. Citizens of non-visa exempt countries need to apply for the appropriate port-of-entry visa through the South African mission in their country of citizenship or residence. This visa can be extended by a maximum of three months from within South Africa. This application must be submitted at least 30 days before the visa expires.

Extended visitor’s visas (which can be issued for up to three years) can be issued for in the following categories:

  • accompanying a family member who holds a long-term visa,
  • voluntary or charitable activities,
  • research or academic sabbatical,
  • teaching at international schools,
  • work in the film industry,
  • seconded journalists,
  • visiting professors or lecturers,
  • artists,
  • entertainers,
  • tour leaders.
One cannot qualify for permanent residence based on any category f visitors visa.

Permanent Residence

A Permanent Residence permit in South Africa allows its holder flexibility with regards to entry and exit as well as any activities followed in South Africa. Conditions are attached to the permanent residence permits issued in certain categories but in most instances permanent residence holders are free to pursue and activities in South Africa. Permanent residence does not affect the holder’s citizenship; they remain citizens of their country of origin. Permanent residents can obtain a South African identity book endorsed as "non-citizen", but not a South African passport
Grounds for granting South African citizenship are based on one of three categories: Birth, descent and naturalisation. Persons who previously held South African citizenship and have subsequently lost it may be able to reclaim their status. One can apply for a determination of citizenship to assess whether they still are entitled to South African citizenship. Naturalisation can be applied for if the foreigner has lived in South Africa for ten years on the basis of a valid permanent residence, during which time he/she may have left South Africa for more than 90 days per year.