The Facts – Entering & Leaving South Africa

For many South Africans abroad who hold dual citizenship (or maybe thought they did…and have subsequently discovered they relinquished it without knowing!), the question about which passport to use when heading back to South Africa on holiday has becoming slightly confusing. So we turned to legal experts for the facts.

UPDATE October 2020: Please sign the petition for a Passport Emergency Extension for South Africans living abroad.

South Africa
Dual passport holders must enter and exit South Africa on their South African passport. Photo source: Sammi Jo

A company specialising in the field of UK and South African immigration, have kindly provided an answer to the following question posed by expat Deborah Goemans (and echoed by many others):

The Burning Question from a South African traveller

Deborah Goemans:

“I believe that SA citizens are required by law to use a South African passport to enter and exit South Africa. So if you don’t have a South African passport and your foreign passport shows South Africa as your birthplace, you might get into trouble trying to visit South Africa (I was warned back in February this year both when I entered and exited the country that I MUST have a South Africa passport ).” 

The Answer from a Senior Immigration Consultant

Countdown to South Africa“The current SA Citizenship Act clearly stipulate that any person who has the right to make use of a South African passport must enter and leave South Africa whilst utilising his/her South African passport and not a foreign one.

“If people fail to do so, they will be warned (as this person was) but will definitely encounter further difficulties when he/she travels to SA again whilst utilising a foreign passports.

“SA citizens who have not renounced their SA citizenship status must always ensure that they enter and leave SA on their SA passports.

“People who obtained a second nationality through naturalisation without applying for retention of their SA citizenship status normally lose their SA nationality, but in these cases the people must apply for SA citizenship determination applications so that they can receive a letter issued by the SA authorities confirming that they do not have the right to make use of a SA passport any longer, which letter is then shown at the SA port of entry when they arrive on their foreign passports.”

But what if my South African passport expired years ago?

“The current SA Citizenship Act clearly stipulates that any person who has the right to a South African passport must enter and leave SA whilst using his/her SA passport,” says Hannes Breytenbach.

“Thus, even if a person’s South African passport expired 10 years ago and he/she still has the right to a SA passport, he/she must apply for a newly issued one in order to travel to South Africa.”

UPDATE: We also received this message from the South African High Commission: “South African citizens must use their South African passport to enter and exit the Republic. Please visit the following link for the requirements and forms, for the renewal of your South African passport.”

If I’m no longer a citizen, can I enter with my foreign passport with no problems?

You will still need a letter stating that you cannot use a South African passport.

“For people who have lost their SA citizenship status through accepting a second nationality and not applying for permission first, they must do a SA citizenship determination application whereafter they will be issued with a letter confirming that they cannot make use of a South African passport, which letter can then be shown when they enter South Africa as confirmation why they are not travelling on a SA passport,” explains the immigration consultant.

And for those in the USA?

South Africans living abroad in Ohio, USAMany expats in the USA sent SAPeople questions asking if the same rules of dual citizenship apply to them.

US-based global immigration attorney Inge Meischke Elliott, confirmed: “The USA recognizes dual citizenship. Provided you still have a bar coded new SA ID book, you can apply for an SA passport in SA and receive it within 2 weeks.

“Unless you fall into a specific limited time period where South Africa did not recognise dual and you did not pro-actively seek to retain your SA nationality, you may have given it up without realising.

“If you do have both, you are for example, required to enter South Africa on your SA passport, just as you have to enter the USA on your US passport. Nationality and dual citizenship is indeed a very complex topic as well as an extremely specialised practice of law, so choose wisely if you seek professional guidance. This is the practice of international private law so please make sure you do due diligence.”

UPDATE October 2020: Please sign the petition for a Passport Emergency Extension for South Africans living abroad.


South African Dual Citizenship & Retaining your South African Nationality
What to do if you’ve Relinquished your South African Citizenship & how to Prevent Losing it


  1. Sometime in the late 1990s, I contacted the SA Embassy in Washington DC when I heard about the requirement to request permission to hold dual citizenship. The little man I spoke to at the Embassy berated me for not knowing I should have asked permission – not knowing was no excuse. He went on to inform me that, by becoming a US citizen without permission and paying the fee, I was longer a SA citizen. Needless to say his attitude and this definitive statement resulted in me tossing my now unnecessary and useless SA passport.

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