Medical Advice for Travellers Heading to South Africa

Despite the Australian government stating that the general travel advice for anyone planning a trip to South Africa is that they should exercise a high degree of caution, the country remains a popular place to travel. In terms of the degree of caution needed, the government's guidance says most care is needed due to the high, if dropping, levels of crime in the country.

The latest medical advice is that the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country means that sexual contact should only be entered into with extreme caution. In addition to this well-publicised risk to health, the Australian authorities recommend the following.

Travel Insurance

The government's position on travel insurance is clear. Because it rules out paying for any medical expenses that are incurred or medical evacuation fees from South Africa, buying your own medical insurance is a must. Ensure that any so-called high-risk activities you might take part in are covered under your policy. Things like SCUBA diving or hiring motorbikes may not be.

Health Check-Ups

Around eight weeks prior to your departure to South Africa, you should see your doctor or attend a travel clinic for an all-round health check-up. You'll need to make your travel plans known and discuss possible immunisations or boosters that might be needed for the trip. Health checks are particularly important if you have a known pre-existing condition because dealing with any changes in your condition may be much harder when you are in South Africa.

Understood Health Risks 

Other than the aforementioned prevalence of HIV/AIDS, South Africa is known to have a problem with cholera, mostly in poor and rural areas. Avoid drinking tap water in such areas unless it has been boiled and steer clear of ice in your drinks. Unless you are in a top class hotel, it is worth avoiding raw food, too.

Malaria can be problematic, as well. Take the usual precautions in the countryside, especially if you are close to swampy lands. Sleep under a mosquito net and use an insect repellent.

Finally, a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate is a must for all Australians arriving in the republic from another country which has a known problem with this disease, as laid down by the World Health Organisation. If you are unable to produce proof of your recent yellow fever vaccination on arrival, then you are likely to be refused entry into the country.


You'll need to pay for emergency medical assistance upfront and then claim the costs back from your insurer. All of the major urban centres have good quality hospitals. To call for an emergency ambulance dial 10177 or phone your medical insurer's 24-hour emergency line.