Travel information: Cape Town fast facts A-Z

Everything from tourist information to immigration, customs to currency

By Annette Klinger

Customs

There is a huge list of prohibited goods. If in doubt, visit www.sars.gov.za, and follow the Customs link, or call 0860 121218. Used personal effects are duty free, as are new personal effects up to the value of R3,000. For additional goods up to the value of R12,000, a flat rate of 20% duty will be charged. Other allowances for visitors to South Africa are as follows (per adult):

1 litre of spirits
2 litres of wine
400 cigarettes
50 cigars
50ml perfume
250ml eau de toilette

People who are under 18 years old are not allowed to bring any tobacco or alcohol products into the country, and adults need a permit for firearms (available at entry points, valid for 180 days).

Disabled

Since Cape Town is such a major international tourist destination, most of its hotels, attractions and malls have some form of disabled access and are usually graded according to how disabled-friendly they are. If you’re disabled you can usually arrange with your airline for someone to come and meet you on arrival and they will also make the necessary arrangements for you while on board the plane. Most reputable car-hire companies provide vehicles with hand control. For any further enquiries phone the Association for the Physically Disabled (011 646 8331/www.apd.org.za), based in Johannesburg or, if you are blind, the SA National Council for the Blind (021 979 2451/www.sancb.org.za).

Electricity

The power supply in South Africa is 220/230 volts AC. The standard plug in South Africa is the 15-amp round-pin, three-prong plug. Euro- and US-style two-pin plugs, and UK-style three-pin plugs, can be used with an adaptor, available at supermarkets; bring transformers along for larger appliances where necessary. Most hotels have 110-volt outlets for electric shavers.

Embassies & consulates

Check the local phone book or Yellow Pages for a complete list of foreign consulates and embassies in Cape Town, or call directory enquiries on 1023.

British Consulate General
Southern Life Centre, 8 Riebeek Street, City Centre (021 405 2400).
Canadian Consulate General
19th Floor, Reserve Bank Building, 60 St George’s Mall, City Centre (021 423 5240).
French Consulate 78 Queen Victoria Street, Gardens (021 423 1575).
German Consulate General & Embassy
19th Floor, Safmarine House, 22 Riebeek Street, City Centre (021 405 3000).
Netherlands Consulate General
100 Strand Street, corner Buitengracht, City Centre (021 421 5660).
US Consulate
2 Reddam Avenue, Westlake, Tokai (021 702 7300).

Language

South Africa has no fewer than 11 official languages: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, siSwati, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. In the Western Cape, English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are the most commonly spoken. Since there is such a large international community based in Cape Town, staff at some establishments and attractions speak German, French or Italian.

Money

Banks

ABSA Bank LTD
136 Adderley Street, City Bowl (021 480 1911).
First National Bank
82 Adderley Street, City Bowl (021 487 6000).
Nedbank
85 St George’s Mall, City Bowl (021 469 9500).
Standard Bank
10th Floor, Standard Bank Towers, Standard Bank Building, Heerengracht, City Bowl (021 401 3396).

Bureaux de change

Foreign exchange facilities are found at large commercial banks, as well as at Cape Town Tourism Visitor Information centres, the airport and bureaux de change such as Rennies Travel and American Express.

American Express
V&A Waterfront, Atlantic Seaboard (021 419 3917); Thibault House, Thibault Square, City Bowl (021 425 7991/www.americanexpress.co.za).
Rennies Travel
2nd Floor, The Terraces, Black River Office Park, Fir Road, Observatory (021 486 3600/www.renniestravel.co.za).

Credit cards & ATMs

Most shops and hotels in Cape Town accept credit cards, including international cards such as Visa and MasterCard (and to a lesser extent American Express and Diners Club). In far-flung towns the use of cards might be restricted. ‘Skimming’ of cards has recently become a problem, so ask always keep your card in your sight or walk over to the machine at a restaurant. Note that petrol (gas) stations in South Africa do not accept credit cards; you will have to pay with cash. Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) are widespread (and also often conveniently located in petrol stations) and accept most international cards. Most ATMs also offer the option to top up mobile phone credit.

Lost or stolen cards

American Express 0800 991 021 (note: for both credit cards and traveller’s cheques).
Diners Club 011 358 8406.
MasterCard 0800 990 418.
Visa 0800 990 475.

Currency

The local currency is the South African rand. It’s quite weak on international currency markets, which makes Cape Town a great destination for bargain luxury.

(At the time of print one US dollar was worth around R11, one British pound R15 and one euro R13.)

There are 100 South African cents in a rand. Coins in circulation are: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2, and R5; and banknotes in circulation are R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.

Tax

South Africa’s VAT (Value Added Tax) is 14 per cent on purchases and services, and can be claimed back for purchases of R250 or more upon departure. You can’t, however, reclaim on services.

If you want to reclaim tax, go to the VAT office in the international departure hall at the airport, making sure to leave yourself plenty of time before your plane departs. You’ll need to take along your passport and original tax-invoiced receipts together with the purchased goods. Once you’ve filled in the necessary paperwork and had your application processed, you can pick up a refund in your home currency from one of the banks in the departure lounge.

You can also do the paperwork at the VAT Refund Offices at the Tourism Visitor Information Centres.

Natural hazards

Local tap water is safe to drink. Visitors unaccustomed to South Africa’s strong sun should cover up with factor 30 (or more) sunscreen and wear a hat, especially between noon and
3pm. Although reasonably rare in these parts, venomous snakes and spiders do sometimes make an appearance. If bitten, try to get a look at the culprit and then call the poison hotline (021 689 5227) for assistance.

Safety & security

It’s a sad fact that South Africa has a terrible reputation as far as crime is concerned. Luckily, since Cape Town has been made a host city for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the provincial safety and security team has gone to great lengths in an attempt to make the Mother City a safer place.

The inner city has effective crime deterrents, such as closed-circuit security cameras as well as mounted and vehicular police patrols, but petty crimes like pickpocketing, as well as more serious muggings, do unfortunately still occur.

The best advice for tourists is not to act like tourists. The fanny-pack is a dead giveaway, as are travellers’ cheques and flashy cameras. Always park in well-lit, busy areas and avoid driving around in the early hours of the morning; especially if you don’t know your way around. Remotely situated ATMs are also no-nos. Since debit and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere in the city, it isn’t really necessary to draw out huge amounts of cash.

Muggings have been known to occur on Table Mountain’s hiking routes, and even though the mountain security has been considerably improved over recent years, you should never hike on your own. Always hike in large groups, tell a friend when to expect you back and leave any unnecessary electronics at home. Apart from pepper spray, an old-fashioned whistle is a trusted method for alerting other hikers when you’re in a scary situation.

For information on what to do if you get bitten by a poisonous animal, see Natural Hazards.

Smoking

Smoking in enclosed public spaces in Cape Town is strictly prohibited. Some restaurants and bars do provide specially demarcated smoking sections for customers, however.

Telephones

Making a call

To make a phone call within South Africa, dial the area code followed by the phone number.

To make an international call, dial 00 before the International Direct Dialling code, the area code and then the phone number. Cape Town’s area code is 021, Jo’Burg is 011, Pretoria is 012 and Durban is 031.

Phone Directory Enquiries (1023) if you’re looking for a specific number that isn’t listed in the phone book. Otherwise call the Talking Yellow Pages (10118) or try iFind (www.ifind.co.za), a mobile directory service that you can call or SMS (text message) to find the required numbers of local shops and services.

Public phones

Green and blue public phone booths can be found all over the city. The blue phones are coin-operated, and the green ones work with a telephone card that can be bought at post offices, newsagents and Telkom offices, as well as selected grocery stores.

Mobile phones

All new mobile phones should operate in South Africa and SIM cards for all of the four national networks – Cell C (www.cellc.co.za), Vodacom (www.vodacom.co.za), MTN (www.mtn.co.za) and Virgin Mobile (www.virginmobile.co.za) – can be puchased at their respective outlets, at supermarkets like Pick n Pay and Spar, and also at newsagent chains such as CNA and PNA.

Time

South Africa is two hours ahead of GMT, seven ahead of Eastern Standard Winter Time and ten ahead of Pacific Standard Time. There is no daylight saving time in summer.

Travel advice

For up-to-date information on travel to a specific country – including the latest on safety and security, health issues, local laws and customs – contact your home country government’s department of foreign affairs. Most have websites with useful advice for would-be travellers.

Australia www.smartraveller.gov.au.
Republic of Ireland http://foreignaffairs.gov.ie.
Canada www.voyage.gc.ca.
UK www.fco.gov.uk/travel.
New Zealand www.safetravel.govt.nz.
USA www.state.gov/travel.

Tourist information

The Cape Town Tourism Visitor Centre is on the corner of Castle and Burg streets in the city centre (021 426 4260). If you’re having trouble deciding what to include on your itinerary, they’ll help you make up your mind with a selection of maps, brochures, tour outings and other essential information on what’s happening in the Mother City. Bookings and reservations can be made at the help desks. The V&A Waterfront also has a visitor centre, the Cape Town Tourism Office (021 405 4500/www.tourismcapetown.co.za), located in the Clock Tower.

Township tours

If you’d like to check out the townships fringing the city, but find the thought of hitching a ride with one of the minibus taxis daunting, then opt for a guided tour instead. Try these reputable companies:

Camissa Tours 021 462 6199/083 452 1112/www.gocamissa.co.za.
Inkululeko Freedom Tours 021 425 5642/www.inkululekotours.co.za.
Nthuseng Tours 021 559 6753/083 453 2544/www.nthusengtours.co.za.
Zibonele Tours and Transfers 021 511 4263/072 740 1604/www.ziboneletours.com.

Visas & immigration

Visa requirements

Citizens from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, most European countries and Australia do not need visas, as long as they have a national passport valid for 30 days beyond the length of their trip, a return ticket, proof of accommodation and, if travelling for business, a letter from the inviting organisation. If they stay for longer than 90 days (up to a year is allowed without a visa), they also need a letter from a chartered accountant offering proof of funds.

The requirements for trips of up to 90 days are the same for US travellers, but a visa will be required for longer trips.

Entry requirements can change at any time, so check carefully before you travel. For more information, visit www.home-affairs.gov.za/visa_schedule.asp.

More travel information

Getting to Cape Town
Getting around Cape Town
When to go to Cape Town