An easy guide to the different types of visas for South African travellers

Planning a holiday and unsure of which visa you need? This simple guide to the different types of visas will help you understand what they are and help you figure out which one is right for you so you can make those travel dreams come true.

holiday visas

What is a visa?

It is an official document issued by the embassy or consulate of a particular country that grants you permission to travel to that specific country. You will need a valid passport to apply for a visa.

Need to renew your old passport? Find out how with this guide to a South African passport renewal.

Visas are required by most countries and are either obtained before travelling or issued upon arrival (e.g. Maldives, Cambodia, and Madagascar).

Find out more about visa-free countries for South Africans.

foreign currency and passport

What does a visa look like?

Visas are one-page printouts that are glued onto a blank page in your passport. These are unique to each country and usually include details such as your name, place of birth, the reason for travel, passport number, expiration date, and sometimes a photograph.

Upon entering a country your passport will be stamped with an entry stamp e.g. Canada and the United States), although some countries (e.g. Hong Kong) issue landing slips that are stapled to a page in your passport.

travelling to new york city

What is an eVisa?

Unlike a traditional visa, which is glued to a page in your passport, the eVisa (electronic visa) is a digital visa that is stored in a database. Applications are typically done online, and the visa is linked to your passport number. You will receive a visa approval letter, which can be presented while travelling.

Electronic visas are only offered by certain countries (e.g. Sri Lanka). You will need to check the embassy or consulate website of your chosen country to see if this option is available.


  • In some cases, you will need to book your flights before applying for a visa.
  • Entry into the country is at the discretion of the airport authorities at your destination. It is important that you ensure you have the correct visa before embarking on your journey and have all the necessary documents on hand. Find out more about our Visa Denied Service.
  • You should ensure your passport is valid for at least six months (or three months for a Schengen Visa) beyond your date of return.
  • Ensure you have two blank pages available for entry stamps.

passport with visa stamps

What are visa categories?

Visas are divided into two main visa categories: short-term and long-term.

Long-term visas allow you to stay in a particular country for an extended period of time (e.g. Immediate Relative & Family Sponsored visas). In some cases, these eventually allow you to become a citizen of that country.

Short-term visas allow you to stay in a particular country for a limited period (typically about 90 days) and do not allow you to become a citizen of that country (e.g. Travel and Business visas). The requirements for these can vary widely.

How many different types of visas are there?

There are about 185 different types of visas around the world.

village in europe

What are the different types of visas?

Some of the most popular visas amongst South Africans include:

  • Transit visa – a transit visa allows you to pass through another country on route to your destination country. You will usually need one if you will be in the transit country for more than a few hours. In some countries, you may need one if you will be going through immigration control to collect your luggage or catch a connecting flight.
  • Tourist visa – a tourist visa (also known as a travel visa) allows you to travel to a foreign country for a set amount of time. These visas do not entitle you to work or participate in any business activities while you are in the country.
  • Work visa – a work visa allows you to take on employment while in the country. These visas are usually valid for the duration of the employment contract or a period not exceeding five years. There are several types of visas, including working holiday visas and professional speciality
  • Business visa – a business visa allows you to conduct business and engage in business activities in another country. These visas are granted to individuals who are attending a business conference or travelling to another country to do business with another company. You will need to show that you are not receiving any income from the country.
  • Student visa – a student visa allows you to pursue academic studies in another country. These visas allow you to enrol at a college, university, or academic programme and stay in that country for the duration of your course. You are also usually allowed to stay for a short period (anything from 60 days to four months) after completing your studies.
  • Spousal visa – a spousal visa allows you to visit your spouse if you are both from different countries. These visas entitle you to visit for two years and apply for residency after five years (although the rules and requirements vary from country to country).

canadian visa

Visas also range from media/journalist visas, medical treatment visas and religious worker visas to entertainer visas and exchange visas that cover au pairs, teachers and scholars.

There are also a number of special visas that are unique to certain countries:

  • The Escort Visa allows a man to accompany an unmarried woman while she conducts business in Saudi Arabia.
  • The Non-Immigrant “O-A” Visa allows applicants aged 50 years and over to live in Thailand for one year, but prohibits them from working during their stay.

The five most commonly issued visas are: tourist visas, immigration and naturalisation visas, student visas, business and work visas, and transit visas.

waterfall in south america

What is the difference between a single entry and multiple entry visa?

A single-entry visa allows you to enter a specific country just once (e.g. you are attending a wedding in Australia and have no intention of returning in the near future), while a multiple-entry allows you to enter multiple times (e.g. a 10-year U.S. visa may be issued to a business person who frequently attends meetings and conferences in the country).

Some countries automatically consider applicants for multiple-entry visas (e.g. Canada), while others require applicants to specify which visa they need on their application and provide documents to support their choice.

Note: Whether you qualify for a multiple or single-entry visa is at the discretion of the visa officer.

immigration passport stamp

While this guide aims to give you a better understanding of the different types of visas, each country has its own requirements and processes for obtaining them, so it is important to research the visa rules for your chosen country before you book your flights and set off on your journey.

For more information about a particular visa, check out these detailed guides to some of the most popular visas amongst South Africans.

All information on this page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of information from this website.

Our Readers Comments

  1. Hi if I was planning to go and study in Los Angeles, California for a good three years and possibly stay there. What type of visa should I have that will allow me to study and become a full time citizen there.

    • Hi Hazel,

      Please contact the Embassy or official visa handling agency direct.

      They will be able to advise on what visa you would need to apply for, the documents that would be required when applying and the cost.

      US Consulate: Johannesburg
      Telephone No : +27 011 290 3000
      Visa call centre : +27 087 550 2160
      Fax No : +27 011 884 0396
      Street Address : 1 Sandton Drive, Sandhurst (opp Sandton City Mall)
      Postal Address : P.O. Box 787197, Sandton, 2146
      Email Address :
      Website Address :​

  2. Hi
    we planning to go on a middle east cruise which stops in Bahrain, Dubai, Doha and Muscat.

    DO i need visas for each of the countries?

    Also do you know the costs of the visas?

    • Hi Fatima,

      Thanks for getting in touch. Below are contact details of the Embassies and official visa handling agencies where you would need to apply for your visa’s. Please contact them direct, they will be able to advise on the correct procedures to follow, what documents would be required and the cost involved.

      Bahrain: Evisa are available for South African passport holders:(Tourists only)

      Dubai: UAE VISAS SA:

      EMIRATES AIRLINES – contact VFS Global directly on 011 783 1941, 021 423 6573 and 031 584 7153 this applies only to Emirates Airlines passengers. VFS Global, also known as DVPC- Dubai Visa Processing Centre, will be processing all visas for passengers travelling to Dubai on Emirates Airlines. If the passenger is flying Emirates Airlines only & the exit & entry is from Dubai Airport only, the passenger can apply through VFS Global (Pty) – Please click here for Emirates (EK) visa details
      For cruises, 2 single entry visas are required, refer to VFS Global (Pty) for more information.

      Doha: South African passport holders can obtain a visa for a stay of up to 30 days through the Embassy of the State of Qatar.
      Embassy of the State of Qatar
      Telephone No : (012) 452 1700 / 11/ 13
      Fax No : (012) 452 1710
      Street Address : 1077 Justice Mahomed St, Waterkloof, Pretoria

      Oman: SA passport holders must apply online for a e-visa.
      Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman
      Telephone No : (012) 362 2766/ 3114
      Fax No : (012) 362 6258
      Street Address : 11 Anderson Street, Brooklyn, Pretoria
      Postal Address : P.O. Box 2650, Brooklyn 0075
      Email Address :

  3. Hi do you assist with Umrah visa to suadia Arabia ( Mecca and Medina. We want to travel with our 4 kid’s. KIndly advise.

    Thank you

    • Hi there,

      Thanks for contacting us.

      I’m afraid we do not specialise in visa applications. For this you will need to contact the Embassy direct. They will be able to assist in answering any questions you might have and advise on the cost, correct procedures to follow when applying for a visa and what documents are required.

  4. Can you please assist me I’ve tried contacting the embassy but no joy.i have an American visa expiring 2020 Nov. However my SA passport expires 2019 Nov. Is the US Visa still valid in the old passport can I still use it

    • Hi there,

      To my knowledge one is able to travel with both passports. Your expired passport with your valid visa. And your new/valid passport. However you will need to contact the Embassy direct to get the most up to date info, as this could have changed.

      Please see below contact details of the US Consulate in Joburg, Cape Town and Durban

      US Consulate: Johannesburg
      Telephone No : +27 011 290 3000
      Visa call centre : +27 087 550 2160

      US Consulate: Durban
      Telephone No : +27 031 305 7600
      Call Centre : +27 087 550 2160

      US Consulate: Cape Town
      Telephone No : +27 021 702 7300 between 11:00 – 12:00
      Call centre : +27 087 550 2160

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