Cape town South Africa

How To Apply For Residency In South Africa

Helpful information for British Nationals thinking of applying for residency in South Africa.

9 minute read

So, you’re considering the big move to sunny South Africa? Its gorgeous climate, ample space, astounding diversity, and outdoor lifestyle make it a popular choice for many Britons looking to embark on their next adventure. In fact, it is one of the top seven adoptive countries for Brits, with over 200 000 UK citizens currently living in the Rainbow Nation at present.

While the prospect of the big move South is exhilarating, there is undeniably much admin to contend with. Understanding the immigration process can save you a lot of time and ensure that all your documentation is in order, especially in these precarious Covid times when travel restrictions are changing by the day.

In this guide, we examine how to obtain residency and the different options available for British expats looking to relocate to South Africa. Temporary stays fall under the visa category and permanent residency falls under the permit category. Usually, you’ll need a visa before you can apply for permanent resident (PR) status.

Considering the Covid-19 pandemic, regulations and rules are in a state of constant flux, and it’s thus best to always check updated amendments and travel restrictions as they unfold. In order to keep up to date with travel regulations, it’s always a good idea to visit the UK Government website and their foreign travel advice section with regards to South Africa.

Types of Visas and Residency Permits

Here we explore various visa and residency options so that you can make an informed decision and embark on a stress-free immigration process.

3 Month Visas for Shorter Stays

British Nationals wishing to visit South Africa for less than three months simply need a valid passport. This makes South Africa an excellent destination for anyone looking to sojourn abroad for a few months without the hassle of applying for residency. Nonetheless, for many, a three-month stay isn’t long enough. Those wishing to stay in South Africa longer than the 90 day period will need to embark on the residency process and apply for a Temporary Residency Visa.

Relevant Visas for British Expats

For those wanting to stay in South Africa longer than three months, temporary or permanent residency is required. Temporary residency is open to the following people:

  • Those with a permanent work offer – the residency period will last for the duration of the work contract.
  • Critical skills visa – (Up to a maximum of 5 years after which permanent residency may be obtained)
  • Those who want to start a business in South Africa or invest in the country
  • Retirees
  • Relatives of someone holding permanent residency (biologically or through judicial adoption)

NB: Regardless of the grounds for residency (listed above), those who have lived in South Africa for five years can apply for permanent residence. This also relates to those with a spouse who has lived in the country for five years or the spouse or dependent of a South African citizen.

Permanent Residency Permits Can Be Obtained Under the Following Stipulations

  • You have been in South Africa for a minimum of five years with valid work visas or critical skill visas for the duration of this 5-year period
  • You are married to or in a life partnership with a South African citizen or permanent resident
  • You are the child (under 21 years) of a South African citizen or a permanent resident
  • You have a net worth of 12 million Rand and can pay the Department of Home Affairs a once-off lumpsum of R120 000

Permanent Residency vs Citizenship: What’s the Difference?

Permanent residency offers British Nationals many of the rights that South African citizens hold; however, there are two fundamental differences. Those with permanent residence (rather than citizenship) cannot vote in local or national elections and cannot obtain a South African passport. Nonetheless, they can enjoy working rights and other fundamental rights offered to citizens, such as access to public health care and education.

Becoming a Permanent Resident

Applying for residency can be a lengthily and somewhat costly process, and this is why it is imperative to have all your proverbial ducks in a row before starting the journey towards South African residency. Working alongside VFS Global - an outsourcing partner and official partner of the South African embassy - can streamline the process and ensure that all necessary documents are obtained. It’s a route that many expats take for added ease and less stress.

The most common avenues through which to obtain residency for expats are:

Direct residence permits

Those who have been living or working in the country for a period of five years can apply for a residency permit. This also applies to spouses or dependents of South African citizens and permanent residents.

The following fall under the residency on the grounds category and after five years, foreign nationals can apply for permanent residency.

General work visas

These are issues to foreign nationals on the basis of a valid work offer and last as long as the contract. They cannot exceed five years.

Critical visa permit

These permits are available to those who are deemed to have ‘exceptional skills’ by the South African government. These can last between one and five years and if the holder has a spouse, they too can access a visa for the duration of the permit.

Business visas

Those wishing to start a business in South Africa, and subsequently bolster the local economy, can apply for a business visa. This option has particular stipulations including a minimum investment of 5 million Rand, an obligation to hire at least 60 % staff who are South African citizens or permanent residents, and a commitment to registering with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and other regulatory bodies.

Retirement permits for those wishing to retire in South Africa

Many British Nationals wish to enjoy their retirement in South Africa, and it’s no wonder why. With the favourable exchange rate and affordable living costs, scenic landscapes, and pleasant climate, it’s a fabulous location to enjoy the slower pace of life offered by retirement.

Retirees can choose one of two options when applying for residency.

  1. Retired permit: Individuals need to prove that they have a monthly income of at least R37 000 per month (roughly £1760 on date of publication.) Those wanting to apply for permanent residence need more money in their bank and need to prove an annual amount of R444 000 (roughly £21200 on date of publication.)
  2. Independent financial person’s permit: This is another option for those with larger sums available. Individuals need to prove that they have a net worth of over 12 million Rands (Roughly £570 000 on date of publication.)

The Practicalities and Documentation

Regardless of whether you want to apply for a temporary visa (longer than 90 days in the country) or permanent residency, you will need to visit the High Commission of South Africa if you are still in the United Kingdom. If you are in South Africa, you’ll work through a specialised visa application centre.

The process can be arduous, and as such, it’s essential to have all the correct documentation in check before applying. Documents include:

  1. Valid passport
  2. Two passport photos
  3. Birth certificate
  4. Up-to-date medical reports (including radiology and no older than six months)
  5. A police clearance certificate from any country you have lived in within the past year

Opening a Bank Account

Once you have obtained a temporary or permanent residence permit, you will need to open a South African bank account. Happily, this can be easily done as long as you have the permit, your valid passport, and proof of address in South Africa.

For information on renting a property in South Africa, explore our guide here (link to the article about renting in SA, perhaps?)

Applying for Citizenship

As explored above, citizenship and permanent residency (PR) vary slightly in that those with PR status cannot vote or hold a South African passport. Permanent residents can, however, apply for South African Citizenship after 5 years.

It is imperative to note that not all nations allow dual citizenship, and therefore you’ll need to check that acquiring South African citizenship with not impact the retention of other citizenship.

The Next Steps

If you are dreaming about starting your next chapter, it is certainly worth exploring your visa and residency options. Bear in mind that the process can take some time, especially given current backlogs due to the pandemic. As such, it is worth investigating the process early on and allowing up to a year for things to materialise.

If you are able, it might also be worth making the most of the 90-day visa-free period. This will give you valuable time to get a feel for local suburbs and towns, explore available property and rental options in your chosen city, get a feel for the pace of life, and of course, revel in the wonders of some gorgeous outdoor locations and world-class cuisine. If you’ve embarked on the permanent residency process, we would love to hear about your experiences!


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Author: Charlotte Marais
Charlotte Marais is a content writer and copy editor with a passion for travel, dogs, 80s classics, and social transformation. After…