It’s April – and that means Russia is officially a visa-free destination for South Africans! To add to this great travel news, South Africa’s formal proposal for the European Union to consider doing away with their extortionate fees and tree endangering visa paperwork has officially been submitted.

south africa

Let’s all take a moment to hold collective thumbs that this goes through…

Last year, I put together a list of the 14 cheapest flights to grab from South Africa this summer.

It’s one of my most popular blog pieces and I thought I’d put together a bit of an update. However, instead of focusing on just cheap flights,  I decided to put together a list of some of the best, cheapest and unique visa free countries for South African passport holders to visit in 2017.

I’ve included average return flight prices as well as affordable indirect flights if you want to add an extra country to your itinerary.

Whether you’re looking to catch a tan on an island in Asia, visit Europe or explore our beautiful African continent, here’s some of the best visa free countries for South African passport holders in 2017!

Visa-Free Countries In Europe For South African Passport Holders

1. Armenia

Armenia is not a country you would find on most people’s travel bucket lists. Despite its delicious food, ancient sights, extreme sports and a rich cultural heritage; its European neighbours often overshadow Armenia.

But with its lack of visa paperwork and cheap accommodation prices, it’s one of the most affordable European destinations for South African passport holders.

Why You Should Visit Armenia

  • It was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion. Visit Echmiadzin Cathedral, the first Christian cathedral in the world.
  • Head to the mountains to gaze upon Lake Sevan. The largest like in the Caucasus that looks like the water surface is touching the sky when you sit on the bank.
  • Visit a traditional restaurant in Yerevan and taste one of the oldest cuisines in Europe and the South Caucasus.

Visa Information: 120-day visa on arrival for South Africans.
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 36.05 Armenian Dram
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Yerevan R 8000+ return.
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Armenia R 800+ one way.
Hotels: R 250+ per night
Hostel: R 70+ per night

2. Ireland

Photo by: Alex Rendali

If magic does exist, I’m 100 percent certain its epicentre can be found in Ireland. With its world-renowned beauty, beautiful cliffs, Game of Thrones set locations and leprechauns there are more than enough reasons to head to this European country.

And for South Africans who usually have to deal with an onslaught of dead trees and personal information requests, visiting this part of Europe visa-free is a godsend.

Why You Should Visit Ireland

  • Rent a car and drive the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s one of the most scenic drives in the world and stretches over 1, 500 miles along the west coast.
  • Visit the Cliffs of Moher. At 8 miles long and 702 feet high, not only is this one of Ireland’s most beautiful places but it was also a set location in Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Price.
  • Bibliophiles will be in heaven with the country’s impressive list of native authors. Visit Dunluce Castle in County Antrim, thought to be the inspiration for the castle in CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.

Visa Information: 3 month visa
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 0.070 Euro
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Dublin R 5000+ return
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Ireland: R 1000+ one way
Hotels: R 400+ per night
Hostels: R 200+ per night

3. Georgia

Haven’t heard of this country? You are not alone. The former Soviet Republic of Georgia is on the fringes of Europe but is on its way to becoming a popular destination.

Georgia is considered to be the birthplace of wine (Cape Townians the motherland awaits) and is surrounded by spectacular mountain scenery, ancient cathedrals and cave cities that reveal its complicated past and beautiful architectural heritage.

Why You Should Visit Georgia

  • It’s capital city Tbilisi, can trace its first settlement to the 4th millennium B.C. and its position on the old Silk Road turned it into a multicultural hub.
  • Georgia has some of the most unusual cave cities in Europe. The oldest, Uplitstsikhe resembles a lunar landscape and Vardzia, once housed over 2,000 monks underground.
  • Get love drunk and married in the “City of Love“, an old designed to look perfectly preserved from the 18th and 19th centuries with a 24 hour a day wedding registry.

Visa Information: 1-year visa for South Africans
Exchange Rate: R 1/ 0.18 Georgian lari
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Tbilisi  R 7000+ return
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Armenia R 1000+ one way
Hotels: R 200+ per night
Hostels: R 120+ per night

Read Next: 8 Reasons to Visit Georgia

4. Russia

Russia might not be high on every South African’s list of holiday destinations – but it should be. It’s the largest country in the world, home to forty UNESCO Biosphere reserves, the world’s oldest mountains and of course, it’s incredible and distinctive architecture.

The timing of Russia’s visa-free regulations for South African’s could not be better. 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the 1917 revolutions, and while there aren’t any official events yet, it is a perfect excuse to visit.

Why You Should Visit Russia

  • Explore Russia’s 49 national parks and visit the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal, the Virgin Komi Forests or the Volcanoes of Kamchatka.
  • Founded in 1703, St Petersburg is Russia’s cultural centre, boasts 2,000 libraries, 221 museums, 80 theatres, 45 art galleries and 80 nightclubs.
  • Hop on board the Trans-Siberian Railway and slow travel across Russia, Mongolia, China and North Korea on the longest railway in the world.

Visa Information: 90 days visa-free for South Africans
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 4.19 Russian ruble
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Moscow R 7000+ return
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Moscow R 1200 + one way
Hotels: R 100+ per night
Hostels: R 60+ per night

Visa-Free Countries In Asia For South African Passport Holders

5. Indonesia

Photo by: Kai Lehmann

Are you looking for the ultimate island hopping adventure?

Forget Thailand or the Caribbean and head to Indonesia – visa free! This beautiful country is made up of 17, 800 islands, hundreds of distinct native ethnic groups as well as an abundance of wildlife.

Why You Should Visit Indonesia

  • Indonesia is home to the largest living lizard in the world – The Komodo Dragon. Visit the closest thing we have to dinosaurs in their natural habitat at Komodo National Park.
  • 20% of the world’s coral reefs can be found in Indonesia, making it an ultimate destination for scuba divers. Explore the many shipwrecks off its shores, and if you are lucky, you might even spot a whale shark or two.
  • Visit Borobudur – the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Made up of over 2000 relief panels and 500+ Buddha statues, this 9th-century temple is an amazing site to see, especially at sunrise.

Visa Information: 30-day visa
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 992.30 Indonesian Rupiah
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Bali R 5700+ return
Indirect Flights: Thailand to Medan R 500+ one way
Hotels: R 100+ per night
Hostels: R 70+ per night

6. Laos

Compared to other South-east Asian destinations, Laos often gets skipped. It sees ten times fewer tourists than Thailand and even Myanmar, a country that only recently opened its doors to the world, sees higher visitor numbers.

Not only is Laos cheaper for South Africans than Thailand (and less crowded), but it has just as much to offer. From its Buddhist culture, isolated beaches and forests teething with wildlife – there’s no better time to visit this South-east Asian underdog.

Why You Should Visit Laos

  • Laos is committed to responsible tourism and becoming South East Asia’s premier eco-tourism destination. Visiting Laos means you can support community-based tourism initiatives while exploring the country with minimal negative impact on the locals and its natural beauty.
  • Laos’ high annual rainfall and mountainous terrain combine to form some of the world’s most impressive waterfalls. Visit Kuang Si Falls just outside of Luang Prabang and stop along the way at the moon bear sanctuary.
  • Nothing about traditional Laos food is processed. It is all fresh and healthy ingredients, making it an excellent choice for vegan travellers.

Visa information: 30-day visa on arrival
Exchange rate: R1 / 614.35 Laotian kip
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Vientaine R 10, 000+ return
Indirect Flight: Thailand to Vientaine R 300+ one way
Hotels: R 250+ per night
Hostels: R 50+ per night

Read Next: A Responsible Traveller’s Guide to Alms Giving

7. Nepal

After Nepal’s devasting earthquake in April 2015, the country has been working hard to boost tourism numbers. While some of its most famous monuments are still being rebuilt, its rich history and scenic natural beauty are still there, along with countless other reasons to visit the Roof of the World.

Why You Should Visit Nepal

  • Visit Kathmandu Valley and explore the ancient cities of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur, each with their own royal palaces and temples that date back to the 12th and 18th centuries.
  • For extreme sports, head to Pokhara. Paraglide, zip line or fly past the Annapurna mountain range and over Phewa Lake. Or if you prefer to stay grounded, hike or bike the numerous mountain trails.
  • Trek to Everest Base Camp. It is an achievable goal for travellers who want a glimpse of the world’s highest peak. Who knows? It might inspire you to go all the way to the top.

Visa Information: 90-day visa on arrival
Exchange Rate: R1 / 7.74 Nepalese Rupee
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Kathmandu R 6000+ return
Indirect Flights: Georgia to Kathmandu R 2, 500+ one way
Hotels: R 200+ per night
Hostels: R 60+ per night

8. South Korea

South Korea is known for its technological advances, traditions and incredible natural beauty. From the snow-capped mountains in winter to the pulsing Dongdaemun shopping district and its growing foodie scene, South Korea offers travellers a dazzling array of experiences.

Known as the Land of the Morning Calm, its juxtaposition of modernisation and 5000-year-old cultural heritage, make it a unique holiday destination for travellers around the world.

Why You Should Visit South Korea

  • The cherry blossom festival runs from March to May and the tunnels of pink that blanket the country can put Japan to shame.
  • Visit the Bongeunsa Temple in Seoul. It is the home of Buddhism in the country and over 1000 years old.
  • Watch dawn break on top of Seongsan Sunrise Peak. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most popular hiking routes in the country.

Visa Information: 30-day visa for South Africans
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 83.26 Won
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Seoul R 9000+ return
Indirect Flights: Russia to Seoul R 1 400+ one way
Hotels: R 300+ per night
Hostels: R 200 + per night

Visa-Free Countries In The Middle East For South African Passport Holders

9. Iran DOES Require a Visa

Photo by: Always Shooting

Iran is another Middle Eastern country that is wrongfully misunderstood thanks to negative press and unstable neighbours. In reality, this country is an amazing travel destination, safe, affordable for South Africans and home to 19 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Why You Should Visit Iran

  • Visit Persepolis one of the most iconic ruins in the country. It dates back to 550-330 BC and was once the capital of the Achaemenid Empire.
  • Celebrate Persian New Year, a tradition so old it predates both Christian and Islamic religions.
  • Go skiing at Dizin and enjoy Iran’s best-kept secret. Not only is it far cheaper than European destinations, but it is only a two-hour drive from the capital of Tehran.

Visa Information: Please see UPDATE below.
Exchange Rate: R 1 /2415,34 Iranian Rial
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Tehran R 8000+ return
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Tehran R1300+ one way
3-Star Hotels: R 500+ per night
Hostels: R 150+ per night

UPDATE: According to Dirco, SA passport holders DO need a valid visa before entering Iran. Visas should be applied for at the Iranian Embassy in Pretoria. Applications take up to 15 working days to be processed; and visas issued are valid for a single entry for a period of three months from date of issue. The visa fee for a single entry visa is R200 for private passport holders.

10. Jordan

Jordan is a land of lost cities, incredible landscapes and epic adventures. Not only is this country safe, despite the reputation it gets from being in the Middle East, but it offers a variety of unique experiences.

With tourism to the Middle East on the decline thanks to the turmoil in neighbouring countries, Jordan has seen a 66% decrease in tourism since 2011. Some of the country’s most extraordinary sites are virtually empty, making this gap in crowds the perfect time for South Africans to visit all its wonders.

Why You Should Visit Jordan

  • Float in The Dead Sea. Bordered by Jordan, Israel and Palestinian, the lakes extreme saltiness makes your body instantly float at the world’s lowest point.
  • Visit Petra, a city built of stone, one of the new seven wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Once the capital of the Nabataean kingdom, the centuries-old metropolis is like nothing else on Earth.
  • Camp inside Wadi Rum – a UNESCO World Heritage protected desert. The unusual terrain is often used as a stand-in for moon or Mars landscapes and is one of the most beautiful places in Jordan to watch the sunset.

Visa Information: 30-day visa on arrival
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 0.053 Jordanian dinar
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Aqaba R 8000+
Indirect Flights: Turkey to Amman R 2600+
Hotels: R 100+ per night
Hostels: R 120+ per night

11. Turkey

Turkey is a country where you can start your weekend on a ski slope and end it floating in the Dead Sea.  A meeting point between various empires, this historic nation is brimming with vibrant culture and is a springboard to cheap flights to numerous other European and Middle Eastern destinations.

It is often one of the cheapest flights from South Africa into the region, making it the perfect for either a full-blown Turkish adventure or a pit stop in your travels.

Why You Should Visit Turkey

  • Hike Turkey’s highest peak, Mount Ararat. It is believed to be the site where Noah’s Ark landed after the great flood, and some even claim to have found remnants of the ark’s shell.
  • Visit Sumela Monastery. It may be an hour hike, but its’ collection of Turkey’s best-preserved biblical frescos and mosaics make the climb worth it.
  • Take a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over Cappadocia. Fly over the “fairy chimneys” and take in this unique landscape from a different perspective.

Visa Information: Free 3-month e-visa
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 0.27 Turkish lira
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Istanbul R5000+ return
Hotels: R 100+ per night
Hostels: R100+ per night

Visa-Free Countries In Africa For South African Passport Holders

12. Madagascar

For nature lovers, Madagascar is one of a fascinating wildlife hotspots. After splitting with India over 88 million years ago, its distinctive ecology has earned it the unofficial title of the world’s eighth continent.

Why You Should Visit Madagascar

  • It is home to over 15,000 plant species, with over 80% endemic to the island.
  • Madagascar is the only place in the world where you can find all 101 species of lemur. It is also home to two-thirds of the world’s chameleon species and a giant jumping rat called a fossa.
  • Soak up some rays on Madagascar’s unspoiled beaches. Choose between Nosy Be, Ile Sainte Marie or one of the other islands for palm-lined shores and 30m visibility for snorkelling and diving.

Visa Information: Free 30-day visa on arrival
Exchange Rate: R1 / 240,42 Malagasy Ariary
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Antananarivo R 5000+ return
Hotels: R 200+ per night
Hostels: R 100+ per night

13. Mauritius

Located 1,200 miles off the coast of Mozambique, this former pirate paradise is an affordable island getaway for South Africans.  This small nation packs a punch with its pristine beaches, crystal blue waters, lush forests and the world’s third-largest coral reef.

Whether you are looking to splurge on its luxury resorts or relax at the more affordable apartments, Mauritius is one of the few island escapes that can work for almost every type of budget.

Why You Should Visit Mauritius

  • Mauritius is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna as well as the Seven Coloured Earth that is one of the world’s most incredible natural phenomenon.
  • Visit the island of Ile Aux Aigrettes. Declared a Natural Reserve in 1965, you can find exotic species including the giant tortoise of Mauritius and the Pink Pigeon, a bird that has been rescued from going extinct.
  • Experience the largest Hindu pilgrimage outside of India. In February each year, 500,000 people make their way to the foot of the Grand Bassin which is home to the second largest Shiva statue in the world.

Visa Information: 90-day visa
Exchange Rate: R 1 / 2.62 Mauritian Rupee
Direct Flights:  Johannesburg to Mauritius R 3500+ return
Hotels: R 600+ per night
Apartments or Guesthouses: R 250 + per night

14. Rwanda

Rwanda may be one of the smallest countries on the continent, but it doesn’t lack for things to do and see. “The Land of a Thousand Hills” has transformed itself from its violent past into a vibrant destination that is filled with wildlife, world-renowned national parks and none of the tourist hordes.

Why You Should Visit Rwanda

  • Trek for Gorillas inside Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda is one of three countries in the world where you can see the world’s remaining 880 mountain gorillas.
  • Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa and the world. It is ranked fifth globally by Gallup’s Law, and violent crime is near nonexistent.
  • Visit the Genocide Memorials in Rwanda and learn about the event that shook Africa and the world.

Visa Information: 30-day visa on arrival
Exchange Rate: R 1 /61.51 Rwandan franc
Direct Flights: Johannesburg to Kigali R2300+ return
Hotels: R 400+ per night
Hostels: R 200+ per night

So which of these visa-free countries for South Africans will YOU visit in 2017?

This article first appeared on Lauren Melnick’s blog – Wanderlust Movements – and is republished here with Lauren’s kind permission.



Hey, I’m Lauren! I’m passionate about inspiring young South Africans to travel for less, and sharing my experiences and how to navigate the endless visa paperwork along the way. When I’m not busy preparing for the inevitable zombie apocalypse, I’m having a travel fail somewhere and geeking out in countries all over the world. Connect with me on TwitterInstagram and Pinterest! Follow Wanderlust Movement.