If you’re stuck in South Africa like we are during the 2020 lockdown and worried about how to extend your South Africa tourist visa, here’s what the Department of Home Affairs has said:
- “During the lockdown, the Department is not receiving or adjudicating applications for visas and for permanent residence permits.”
- “Any person whose visa expired before or during the lockdown will not be arrested or detained for holding an expired visa.”
- “Those who opt to return to their countries of origin or residence after the lockdown instead of renewing their visas will not be declared undesirable upon departure.”
Read the full statement here.
Get the step-by-step instructions for how to extend your South Africa tourist visa, then see our local Cape Town travel blog, Garden Route guide, and “Hectic Route” Joburg to Cape Town Itinerary for ideas on how to get the most out of your extra 90 days in this amazing country.
Tilt the Odds in Your Favor
Based on all the contradictory online reports about how to extend your South Africa tourist visa, it seems like a crapshoot whether applications get accepted, rejection, or something in between.
Kim and I don’t like crapshoots.
We can’t afford to gamble either, so we went to the Visa Facilitation Services (VFS)* offices to get some answers.
Amazingly, we got some!
A surprisingly honest and helpful VFS agent assured us that if we follow the steps he advised, our South Africa tourist visa extension application would be accepted.
Guaranteed. No crapshoot!
And guess what. It worked! We just got approved for an extra 90 days!
Here are the exact steps we followed. Nothing is ever 100% certain, but these tips for how to extend your South Africa visitors permit should at least tilt the odds heavily in your favor.
*VFS is the company to which the South African Department of Homeland Affairs (DHA) outsourced the visa extension process.
13 Steps to Extend Your South Africa Tourist Visa
1. Go to the VFS online application page
2. Fill out the form and click “Submit”
As shown in the screenshot below select “Temporary Residence Visa,” “TRV – Renewal Visa,” “Visitors Visa Section 11(1),” and the city you’d like to apply in.
3. Create your account
Follow the steps by providing your email, confirming it, then setting a password.
4. Fill out the fields in the “Particulars of applicant” and “Visa details” tabs
- Get the entry and expiry dates from the stamps on your passport.
- For “Visa No.”, use the little number under the date on your entry stamp.
- You can’t leave the “Details of any subsequent visa issued to you, or the most recent thereof” section blank, so in those fields input the same data as in the preceding “Visa details section.”
5. In the “Overview” tab click “Submit’
You’ll be warned that once you click “Submit” you can no longer change the information.
If you make a mistake, though, it’s not the end of the world. Just log in again (here) and create a new application—i.e. repeat Step 4—under your same account.
6. Add applicants as necessary
If you are traveling with friends or family members, click “Add Applicant” in the summary screen (the one shown under Step 7 below).
You’ll have to repeat Step 4 for each new applicant, but then you can pay and schedule your appointments together.
7. Pay R1,775 per person
You can’t schedule an appointment until you pay and you can pay with a credit card.
Save and print the payment confirmation that you will receive via email. You’ll need it for your appointment.
8. Schedule Your Appointment
As you can see from the screenshot above availability was not an issue in our case.
Important tip: Pick an appointment as early in the day as possible because the later your appointment is, the bigger the likelihood there will be a backlog ahead of you.
9. Save the Appointment Letter and Application forms
Click the “Appointment Letter” and “Download Form and Checklist” links to open and print these documents for your appointment.
10. Print off all 10 items in this checklist
Each person applying to extend their visitor’s permit needs items 2-9 separately. For example, if you paid for two applications at the same time you’ll need two copies of that receipt, one for each person’s application.
- Your appointment letter
- From Step 9. You should get it in your email too. It’s password-protected with your login password from Step 3.
- Application form
- From Step 9 or log in and, in the table you’ll see on your screen, click the “Print” link
- Proof of payment of the 1,775 rands each
- The email receipt you’ll receive if you pay with a credit card.
- 3 months of bank statements
- They just want to see the totals. You don’t need to print all the transactions.
- Letter of why you want to extend
- The VFS staffer we talked to told us to keep it very brief.
- Here is exactly what we wrote:
- To Whom It May Concern, We wish to extend our visitors permits in order to remain in South Africa until April 30, 2019 because we would like to have more time to visit more parts of your country while it is summer here and winter where we are from (Canada). Thank you for welcoming us in your amazing country! Best Regards, Kim and Chris
- [If applicable to you:] Letter to apologize for not submitting within 30 days of arrival in South Africa
- Again, keep it short.
- Here’s exactly what we wrote:
- We apologize for our delay in submitting our application to renew our Visitors Permit, which we should have submitted before December, in other words within 30 days of our arrival in South Africa on November 1, 2018. During the time we should have extended our permit, we were doing a road trip across the country and by the time we returned to Cape Town, the offices were closed for the holidays. We sincerely apologize for our transgression and request you please be understanding of our situation.
- Return flight ticket
- If you don’t have one yet, buy a ticket on Expedia, save the ticket, then cancel it within 24 hours for a full refund. Visatraveler.com has complete instructions.
- Copy of your passport bio page
- Ensure it doesn’t expire before the date you’re extending to.
- Copy of your passport stamp
- [NOT OFFICIAL REQUIREMENT, BUT READER REPORTED] Proof of accommodation
- As of March 24, 2020, Lena reports in the comments that everyone without this was sent away. An email from a friend she’s staying with was enough in her case.
11. Go to your appointment to submit your application
- Here are the addresses of the VFS office locations across South Africa
- You don’t have to be right on time, but don’t be too late. Our 12:45 appointment started about 20 minutes later than scheduled.
- Count on it to take just over an hour in total to go through the three steps of the appointment:
- Quality control: An agent checks your documents are in order
- Submission: Another agent officially submits your visitor permit extension application
- Biometrics: They take your photo and fingerprints
- Keep your application receipt in your passport. You’ll need it when you return to pick up your visa (Step 13).
The VFS agent and website told us to expect to wait 8 to 10 weeks to get the final word on whether our visa extension application would be accepted or not, but in our case it took only 3 weeks.
Over that period, we received seven automated emails from VFS updating us on the status of our applications.
If you’re facing delays or challenges, send a direct message on Twitter or Instagram to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. They’ll respond with an email address of someone who can help you with an update.
Thanks to Jana from the comments, who deals with extending visas for international volunteers, for this tip!
13. Pick up the verdict
The emails you get don’t tell you whether your application was accepted or not, so the journey to the VFS office to get the verdict is a nervous one.
Don’t make it worse by having to wait forever. Get to the VFS as early as possible to avoid huge lines. Also, make sure you have your receipt from Step 11 or you won’t be allowed upstairs.
In Cape Town, pickups start at 10 a.m., so we came at 9:45 and were fifteenth in line. For some reason, the agents didn’t actually show up until 10:40. From then, we waited another 50 minutes until our number was called, so altogether we waited for 1h45min.
It was worth it, though, because we got the good news that our visa extension application was accepted!
The agent stuck the extension approval to our passports and we were free to leave and enjoy South Africa for a full 180 days.
By the time we left the VFS offices, the waiting list to pick up was at least sixty people deep. Like we said, go early.
Cape Town Tip:
For a pick-me-up, a celebration, or just to kill time, stop by a cafe/restaurant called Brownies and Downies. It’s just around the corner from the VFS offices and one of our picks for the 23 Best Cape Town Restaurants for 23 Unique Occasions.
Important Things to Know
What happens if I don’t bother with all this mess, and overstay my visa?
You’ll be declared an “undesirable person” and banned from returning to South Africa for anywhere from 1 to 5 years.
Can I just do a visa run instead?
There is no official word on whether, or in what circumstances, you can get a fresh 90-day visa by leaving South Africa and returning again.
Here’s what we’ve seen in practice:
Doing an overland visa run to neighboring countries won’t work. Unless you get lucky and get a generous or unobservant immigration agent at the border crossing, you may only get a couple of days to leave South Africa or not be allowed back in at all.
Flying to non-neighboring countries does work. For example, we flew to Rwanda for a week and got a fresh 90 days upon our return to Cape Town airport, no questions asked. If you fly outside of Africa for your visa run you’re just about guaranteed to get a new 90 days. People we know have repeated this every three months for years without issue.
The DHA and VFS say I have to apply for an extension within my first 30 days of arriving in South Africa. What if I apply later?
You can still extend your visa.
In fact, the insider VFS agent we talked to told us that DHA agents who receive applications have a bad habit of extending visas 90 days from the extension date, not the expiry date. So if they receive your application a month before your initial 90-day visa expires, your newly extended visa may expire a month sooner than the 180 days you had hoped for.
But if you wait until towards the end of your initial 90-day visa to extend, as we’ve done, you face the risk of not getting your verdict until after your initial 90 days have expired. This isn’t an issue so long as your extension is approved. (See next question.) But if it’s rejected you will have overstayed you will need to appeal, which can take 2-to-3 months. If your appeal is rejected or if you need to leave before you hear back from your appeal, you will be banned from returning to South Africa for up to 5 years.
So it’s a trade-off. Do you want to extend early and risk the DHA agent screwing up and not giving you the full 180 days? Or do you want to extend later and risk being rejected and banned?
What if my initial 90-day visa expires while I’m waiting on the response to my application?
According to the VFS staffer, your tourist visa extension application receipt from Step 11 counts as a temporary visa extension.
You can’t leave and re-enter South Africa during this period, so if you want your full 180 days in South Africa but also want to explore neighboring countries, don’t plan on doing any international travel during the 8-10 weeks it can take for the DHA to receive and respond to your tourist visa extension.
What if my 90-day visa expires while I’m waiting on the response to my application and they deny my extension?
You have two choices.
- Appeal within 10 days of your visa expiry. It can take 2-3 months to get a verdict on your appeal
- Leave and be banned. The DHA says you’ll have 10 days to leave the country without penalty, but that’s not the reality. You’ll be banned from returning for up to 5 years.
The latter happened to an unfortunate fellow reader, T. The DHA stupidly rejected T for having insufficient funds because they misread his bank statements as being in rands, not euros. T couldn’t stay an extra 2-to-3 months to appeal, so he went through all possible lengths to see if he could still leave within 10 days without being banned. He talked to lawyers, the DHA, and the VFS. No luck. He ultimately was banned from returning to South Africa for 5 years.
Click here to read T’s the full story in the comments.
I’m from [whatever country]. How many days can I stay in South Africa without needing to extend my tourist visa?
Some nationalities only get a 30-day tourist visa upon arrival. Check the official DHA site.
You didn’t answer my question. Now what?
Ask us in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer and update the post accordingly. Please look through the comments to see if your question hasn’t been asked already.
What to Do While You’re Waiting…
(Or Once You’re Extended!)
Kim and I only moonlight as pro-bono immigration advisors.
Our real “job” is to share ideas for extraordinary experiences that will hopefully help you escape the ordinary.
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