Travel restrictions

Updated travel restrictions for South Africa

Several countries and airlines have announced easing travel restrictions for South Africa as governments seek to move into the endemic phase of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will lift its entry and transit ban on South Africa and other African countries from Saturday, January 29. Restrictions have been in place since the discovery of the Omicron Covid variant in late November 2021.

Those traveling from South Africa will need to obtain a negative Covid-19 PCR test 48 hours before departure and a negative rapid PCR test at the airport of departure. Passengers will also be tested upon arrival.

In line with the announcement, UAE-based airline Emirates said it would also restore flights to South Africa from Saturday, reopening a number of important routes.

“Flights between Dubai and South Africa will operate as a daily flight to and from Johannesburg, from January 29 and as a double daily service from February 1. Flights to and from Cape Town and from Durban will operate daily from February 1,” the airline said.

“All passengers traveling from Emirates’ African network with Dubai as their final destination must undergo a 48-hour PCR test. Passengers must present a valid negative Covid-19 PCR test certificate with a QR code for a test carried out in a approved establishment, and validity should be calculated from the time the sample was taken.


Australia has also relaxed pre-departure testing requirements for international arrivals into the country and will make changes to provide more flexibility for people to demonstrate they have a negative Covid-19 test result before departure.

“While PCR testing remains the gold standard, a rapid antigen test (RAT) within 24 hours is an acceptable indicator of whether a traveler has Covid-19 before flying to Australia. This is consistent with the steps taken in Australia to accept RATs for diagnostic purposes,” said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

“In addition to this, the time between receiving a positive test result and being able to be cleared to travel to Australia will be reduced from 14 to seven days. This will reduce waiting times for travelers who contract Covid-19 overseas to return to Australia under new national isolation requirements.

The move follows the decision by several states, including South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, to drop all Covid-19 testing requirements for fully vaccinated people arriving interstate.

In another change to inbound traveler rules, those who contract Covid-19 abroad will also be allowed to return home seven days after testing positive, down from the existing 14 days. “This will reduce waiting times for travelers who contract Covid-19 overseas to return to Australia under new domestic isolation requirements,” the statement said.

Australia lifted part of its travel ban on South Africa in mid-December as part of the general reopening of borders for the first time since the start of the pandemic. However, this mainly applies to Australian citizens and significant restrictions remain in place, including a lack of direct flights between the two countries.

A number of European countries are also expected to announce easing of restrictions in the coming weeks as the region recovers from a fourth wave driven by the Omicron variant.

Current Restrictions

Despite these eased restrictions and a drop in local cases of Omicron, South Africa still faces various travel bans until February 2022.

A mapping tool developed by travel website Skyscanner shows that as of January 28, South Africa had put in place 88 “major restrictions” from other countries. This represents an increase from around 60 significant restrictions in mid-2021. These countries have suspended travel, may be closed to entry or entry is only possible if you are a citizen/meet strict entry requirements.

Skyscanner data shows there are currently 27 moderate restrictions for South Africa, where travel is possible but only if travelers meet specific entry requirements, including taking Covid-19 tests and quarantine.

On Thursday January 27, South Africa reported 4,100 new cases of Covid-19, bringing the reported total to 3,594,499.

Deaths reached 94,651 (+160), while recoveries climbed to 3,432,829, leaving the country with a balance of 67,019 active cases. The total number of vaccines administered is 29,702,542.

Read: Economists on the future of containment in South Africa