Driving in South Africa can be challenging, and drivers are not as disciplined or courteous as their counterparts in Europe and the US. The infamous mini-bus commuter taxis have a road code all of their own. It is important to be wary of them, keep a safe following distance and anticipate pretty much anything.
Most expatriates in South Africa do not however hire drivers. If you are anxious about driving in the country, it may be a good idea to have a few local driving lessons before venturing out on the roads.
Vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road.
The speed limit on national highways is 100 - 120km per hour.
The speed limit in built up areas is 60 km per hour (unless otherwise indicated). The Metro Police are frequently on the roads, and cameras are located on main roads and motorways, and heavy fines are imposed.
It is compulsory for all passengers to buckle up.
It is illegal to talk on your cell phone while driving, unless it is a hands-free set.
There are heavy drink-drive penalties. Despite this, be especially cautious of other drivers late at night
Important: Make sure you carry your driver’s licence with you at all times, and that your vehicle licence disk is up to date.
As detailed in Section 3, high-jacking is a threat in SA, particularly in Johannesburg. BMW offers both Advanced Driving Courses and a Hijack Prevention Course which comprises a theory session, including: video and slide material which aims to inform the viewer of the operational techniques and methods of hijackers and how best to avoid these situations. Following that there is a practical session on correct procedures when dealing with confrontational situations in and around your vehicle. Tel: (011) 466 2710/1; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In cities and on main highways filling stations are generally open 24/7, and both unleaded petrol/gasoline and diesel are available. Credit cards are not always accepted for purchasing petrol (gas), and some of those garages who do accept them levy a small additional charge. Payment can be made by either cash or specially issued petrol/garage cards or cheque/debit cards, however it’s best to clarify this before you start to fill your vehicle.
South African filling stations are not of the self-service type. The pump attendants rely heavily on small tips for filling the car, checking oil/water/tyres, and cleaning the windscreens. You will find them friendly and very happy to perform those tasks, while you attend to calls of nature or visit the garage shop. R5.00 is regarded as a fair “bonsela” for such services.
It is not necessary to obtain a South African Driving Licence to drive in SA. See our comments below regarding the purchase/registration of cars though.
Most foreign driving licences are recognized in South Africa, provided they are valid, in English and have an ‘integral’ photograph.
If your driving licence is not in English, it is advisable to have it officially translated before arriving in the country. We further recommend that you obtain an International Driver’s Permit (IDP) from your home country before arriving in South Africa
Make sure your home-country driving licence does not expire while you are in SA, or you may have to take a driving test again upon repatriation
The legal age for obtaining a driving licence in South Africa is 18 years. A Learner’s Licence can however be obtained, after passing a written test, at the age of 17. A learner driver may only drive with a qualified driver in the vehicle.
The JHB Metro Police, Cape Town Metro Police, Durban Town Metro Police and other traffic officers regularly set up road blocks to check drivers and vehicle licence disks. They also on occasion arrest motorists for unpaid traffic fines. The best advice we can give you is to pay your traffic fines using www.payfine.co.za
Expatriates intending to remain in South Africa for any length of time will need at least one private car. Couples will find if difficult to operate with only one car, since bus services are infrequent and unreliable, commuter rail system non-existent and individual taxis are tatty (mostly) and expensive.
Cars (as by now you have no doubt discovered) are comparatively expensive in South Africa. There is a good choice – most global makes and models are available, both new and second hand – many are manufactured or assembled locally. Since some of the large manufacturers make all their right hand drive versions of certain models in South Africa, and export them, you can be assured that quality of locally assembled cars is of a high standard.
We recommend that whether you are purchasing a new or pre-owned vehicle, you do so from a reputable dealer, franchised by the respective manufacturer. Buying a car from a private individual or un-registered dealer involves a high degree of risk given the number of stolen cars in the market. If you purchase a vehicle that has been stolen, it may be impounded by the police.
New car prices range from R130,000 for entry level small cars to upwards of R800,000 for luxury sedans and SUVs.
We recommend, for security reasons that, at barest minimum you purchase cars with central locking and air conditioning. You should also have a good satellite tracking system fitted.
The Automobile Association of South Africa (Tel: 011 799 1000) will give advice on all aspects of driving in the country. We recommend that you become a member of the AA. Website: www.aasa.co.za
Most installment finance in South Africa is contracted through the medium of a lease, rather than hire purchase or other type of suspensive sale agreement. There are certain tax advantages to leasing rather than purchasing, and we recommend that you consult with your tax advisor if in doubt as to which route to go when purchasing a car for yourself or your partner.
There are essentially two forms of lease available to purchasers of motor vehicles:
A financial lease is similar to a suspensive sale or hire purchase agreement. There is typically no deposit or down payment required. The lessee can opt to purchase the vehicle at the end of the lease for a nominal figure. Leases in South Africa are quite flexible, and one can opt to pay the vehicle off over any period from three to five years.
The problem facing expatriates is that finance houses will not finance a lease over a period longer than his/her contract of employment in this country, and they are reluctant to finance vehicles over periods less than three years. That sometimes leaves an expatriate with little option other than that described below, or buying a car for cash.
A full maintenance lease is essentially a long term rental arrangement, in that the maintenance is included with the rental, as is insurance. The only additional costs for the lessee are fuel and top-up oil. It is however rather more expensive.
The car may be also subject to some restrictions as to what can be done with it during the currency of the lease, such as taking it outside the borders of SA, to Botswana etc. Any damages will be billed to the lessee on return of the car. The car will be subject to a monthly mileage limit. Most FML companies in South Africa will only lease to resident corporate clients.
Having said all that, there are some advantages in entering into a full maintenance lease for a two, or maybe even three year period. The main advantages being that the total cost of the car can be managed, and the car handed back at the end of one’s contract without the hassle of having to sell it.
Financial leases can be arranged through major financial institutions such as Standard Bank Asset Finance or Wesbank, or via dealerships for example, BMW and Mercedes and other local manufacturers have their own finance companies. Full maintenance leases or contract hire are arranged through specialised fleet management companies such as Imperial Fleet Services (011 455 1175) or Vuyatela Car Rental (083 256 6735)
Financing vehicles in South Africa is quite straightforward for local residents with regular employment and an acceptable credit rating, but is a little more demanding for new residents, or those on secondment from overseas employers.
Interest rates for car finance are currently running at around 10%, sometimes lower for financing new cars on promotion.
The documentation required by an expatriate contract worker is somewhat more onerous than that which would normally be required from an SA resident, and it must be in original form when presented to the Finance Representative at the dealer’s showroom. She’ll take copies for her records and return the originals to you.
Passport with work/residence permit endorsement
Valid Driving Licence. There are some additional requirements for those who are not driving on an SA driver’s licence. The best option is to use an International Drivers Permit issued in your home country. Most however need to be re-issued each year in your home country which can be problematic.
Signed copy of the lease on your home in order to establish your residential address. It is important that you are named as the Occupier or Tenant, even if your employer is the lessee – a clause included in all standard ECR leases.
Letter from your local company/the establishment to which you are seconded or sub-contracted. The letter must state the following
Traffic Register Number Certificate (see below
Comprehensive Insurance Policy (see comments above concerning driving licences). The finance house can usually arrange insurance.
Your pay advice from your actual employer, be it local or foreign based.
Recent bank statements showing your monthly local remittances/salary being paid into your local bank account.
Letter from foreign employer (if that is the establishment with which you have an employment contract, otherwise the abovementioned letter from the local employer will suffice) stating the circumstances of your assignment and how long at least you are expected to be working in South Africa.
Some finance houses are developing something of a specialization of providing overseas expatriates with finance for vehicles, and these requirements may become relaxed a little over time, especially where a particular employer becomes known to the finance house concerned.
Cash purchasers of cars require only a valid driving licence for the purposes of insuring the vehicle, and the Traffic Register Number in order to register and licence it.
www.impfleet.co.za (Full Maintenance. Leases – to Corporates only)
All motor vehicles have to be registered, licenced and carry a number plate. When purchasing or leasing a new or second-hand car through a motor vehicle dealership, the dealership will usually take care of the registration formalities on your behalf, at a relatively small additional fee which is well worth paying.
In order to register motor vehicles in their personal names all foreign nationals are required to obtain a Traffic Register Number from the Licensing Authority in the area in which they reside*. These numbers take the place of personal ID Numbers that all South African citizens and permanent residents are issued with as part of their ID Documents. Unfortunately the Traffic Register Number cannot be obtained for you by a third party. You have to appear in person.
The Licensing Department requires the following:
The presence of the person in whose name the motor vehicle will be registered.
Original passport, with Work Permit or Temporary Residence Permit if the spouse / partner / dependent is registering the vehicle in their name. They also need to retain a copy of the passport – ID page and Work Permit page, so take copies of those pages.
Proof of Residence – a copy of your lease or utilities bill. Again the authorities will need to keep a copy, so don’t give them the original.
4 x colour passport photographs
Registering a pre-owned car is a time consuming process, and to our point above we strongly recommend that you purchase from a reputable dealer, or from AA Autobay (various branches 0861 222 229) who will take care of the registration process (other than obtaining the Traffic Register Number) on your behalf – at a small fee, which is well worth paying.
In order to register and licence a second hand car the Licensing Department requires:
The Original Registration Document – from the previous owner or the finance house that funded the purchase (and the finance house requires that the previous owner settles their debt in full before releasing the Original Registration Document).
A Roadworthy Certificate – issued after the vehicle has undergone roadworthy checks. We suggest that you do not purchase a vehicle without the Roadworthy Certificate already having been issued. They are valid for a month, and can be obtained prior to putting the car on the market.
Proof of payment, and in the case of foreign nationals, a Traffic Register Number.
All motor vehicles must be licenced – the fee is approximately R200.00 – R300.00+ depending on the make/model of the car, and must be renewed annually. Once your car is licenced, you should receive a renewal notice by post and you can renew the licence by returning the notice, with payment by cheque. If you do not receive a Renewal Notice, the onus is still on you to renew your licence – you will need to go to the Licensing Department and pay the licence fee in cash – plus a penalty if you have not renewed the licence within the valid licence period.
The legally required minimum third-party accident insurance is covered by a levy on the cost of fuel. However, since many vehicles on the road in South Africa are not insured, you cannot make the assumption that other drivers are insured. Third party insurance does not cover the theft of your car. We therefore, strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive insurance cover. Your existing no-claims bonus may be accepted but you will need to have proof thereof.
Public transport (mini buses and Metro Bus) is not recommended - outside of rush hour bus services tend to be infrequent, and services are very crowded.
Taxis are available at the airport, all international hotels and large shopping centres. However unlike other major cities in the world, there are no cruising taxis, therefore you will need to phone to book taxi. Taxi services are expensive (approximately R400.00 to the airport) so be sure to confirm the fare before making the booking. We recommend Corporate Cabs 0800 800 800, AA Metrocab, 083 692 2222
Shuttle services are available to the airport from larger hotels and by booking from your home – the journey takes approximately 40 minutes to & from the northern suburbs.
Car hire is easily available and accessible – from airport, large hotels etc. Cars may be hired either on a self drive or chauffeur driven basis. You will need a credit card and valid driver’s licence.
Johannesburg International is situated 22 km east of the city centre. The automated flight information number is: 086 72 77 888; web site: www.airports.co.za. You can also obtain inbound flight information by sending an SMS text message of the flight number to: 35007. Johannesburg International is serviced by some 60 airlines, the larger of which operate daily services to the world’s and South Africa’s major cities. Certain airlines also operate local and charter flights from Lanseria north-west of Johannesburg – very convenient for Dainfern area.
British Airways - 011 921 0222 - www.ba.com (national and international)
1 Time - 086134 5345 - www.1time.co.za (low cost national)
Kulula.com - 086 158 5852 - www.kulula.com (low cost, national)
SAA - 011 978 1111 - www.flysaa.co.za (national and international)
Mango - www.flymango.co.za
Aside from Gautrain in Johannesburg and Pretoria, South Africa’s major cities are not serviced with efficient or safe commuter rail systems.
Gautrain offers safe, fast and convenient transfers from OR Tambo International Airport into the centre of Sandton, and shortly to Pretoria or the Johannesburg CBD, from where taxicabs are available to swiftly take you to your hotel, home or office. In June 2011it will commence commuter services between various stations in Johannesburg and Pretoria.