Most of the world has reopened to South African travellers – except for Asia

Business Insider SA

Travel from South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • Travel to and from South Africa was halted following the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant in late November.
  • Less than four months later, most countries have reopened to South African visitors.
  • But much of Asia, including China, South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, remain off-limits to South Africans who don't have an essential reason to travel.
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Most countries have dropped their bans on South African travellers, after imposing harsh restrictions following the discovery of Omicron in late November. But much of Asia remains off-limits.

Less than four months ago, South Africa's Network for Genomic Surveillance detected a new, highly mutated coronavirus variant. The discovery of Omicron resulted in widespread panic, leading to more than 70 countries imposing restrictions on travellers from South Africa and neighbouring countries.

These travel bans, implemented to stem the importation of Omicron cases, were criticised as being unscientific, ineffective, and discriminatory.

Evidence emerged that the Omicron variant, although discovered by South African scientists, had already been circulating overseas. Within a month of its discovery, Omicron had become the dominant variant in the United States. At the same time, the variant had been detected throughout much of Europe.

And although more infectious than the original virus that causes Covid-19, there's evidence that Omicron causes less severe disease. The latest data also shows that Omicron, coupled with an uptick in seropositivity and vaccinations, could be responsible for turning the coronavirus away from a global pandemic and towards an endemic disease.

These factors have led to a relaxation of coronavirus-related restrictions, including opening to international travellers, with some countries, like the United Kingdom, dropping pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated visitors.

Travel from South Africa
Travel restrictions (for fully vaccinated South Africans) noted by Sherpa. Green - Travel is open. Light Green - Test & Travel. Orange - Testing & Quarantine. Red - Entry is restricted.

Fully vaccinated South African travellers can visit the US and Canada, with proof of a negative Covid-19 test. Almost all countries in Central and South America – except for Guatemala – allow South Africans to enter, although Chile and Peru still require visitors to quarantine on arrival.

Most of Europe has also reopened to South Africans, with the European Union (EU) Commission recently urging all member states to lift any previous restrictions on non-essential travellers.

Some countries, like Portugal and Poland, still only permit travel from South Africa for essential purposes like work, study, family reunification, health, or humanitarian causes.

Australia reopened to fully vaccinated, valid visa holders in December, and recently extended that offer to international tourists. New Zealand, which has been one of the most isolated countries throughout the pandemic, is slowly reopening to international travellers, but will only welcome South African tourists from October.

And while much of the world has reopened to South African travellers over the past three months, countries in Asia remain especially hesitant to welcome visitors.

China remains largely off-limits to South African travellers unless there's a reason for essential travel. This applies to those travelling to China for diplomatic, economic, trade, scientific, or technological activities.

Travel from South Africa
International travel restrictions (for fully vaccinated South Africans) according to Skyscanner

Entry into Japan is also limited to those travelling for essential purposes, including "short-term stays, less than three months, for purposes including business or employment."

South Africans can travel to South Korea, if they've got a valid visa or electronic travel authorisation (K-ETA) but will still be forced to quarantine for a week.

Travellers to Taiwan can apply for a special entry permit. Even if granted, travellers will need to spend seven days in a designated quarantine hotel and a further seven days self-isolating.

Similar restrictions are encountered throughout Southeast Asia, with travel to Vietnam, Laos, and Myanmar still tightly regulated.

There are, however, some exceptions. Popular tourist destinations, like Thailand and the Philippines, recently reopened to South African visitors in a bid to revive the local travel industry.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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