Monday, August 28, 2017

How to renew / extend your South African tourist / visitor Visa

This post assumes you hold a port-of-entry (issued on arrival) South African tourist Visa that you wish to extend before you leave the country.

(Addendum Start)
You can request any amount of time you like for your renewal, including more than three months which is the maximum time for standard tourist visas, but the amount of time you will be granted (if granted at all) is not guaranteed and will depend on the reasons you state and the supporting documentation that will be reviewed by the immigration officials. In my case I requested a three months renewal but was only granted half of that. I used the procedure outlined below and did not hire an agency although there are some agencies/lawyers that advertise related services.
(Addendum End)

Basically you need to go the VFS South Africa web page, register and login, initiate an application, pay and then schedule an appointment for physical documentation and biometric data submission. You can only apply for Visa renewal / extension within the first 30 days of your stay in South Africa (if your stay is for 30+ days) and at least 7 business days before the expiration of any visa duration less than 30 days.

All of this can be done online but when it comes to payment you may not be able to use your overseas credit card (mine was not accepted and I have noticed that some online vendors in SA don't while others do), and assuming you do not have an Internet Banking enabled South Africa based bank account or someone with a South African credit card to help you, you will probably have to print out the payment reference page and go to any Standard Bank to pay it in person and get it stamped.

VFS (Visa Facilitation Services) is basically and international organization specializing in Visa processing outsourcing service. In the case of South Africa, the Department of Home Affairs (the gov org dealing with immigration) uses VFS for client facing and QA of submitted applications services.

You start by going to this page: and clicking where it says "Please click here to proceed with the online process if you are applying for the first time." or if you have already registered this one: "If you have already registered previously and have your login details please click here."

There are three issues here:
  1. The website really sucks. Documentation, usability, design are all pretty bad. DO NOT use Chrome as it is not fully supported and you will have issues. Internet Explorer (yes IE) is your best bet although Firefox seems to also not have any issues.
  2. Although links to relevant legislation docs are provided the specific options that you need to select while applying do not become clear after reading those docs and there is no guidance on the site to help you out. If you select the wrong option your application will not get accepted when you try to physically submit it and you will have to go through the whole process again. They will refund you the abnormally high fees though (R1,350 or about 100 USD at this time) but only after 1 month!   
  3. Do not ask people at the VFS or DHA; there is a good chance they will give you inaccurate or conflicting information due to ignorance or indifference.
Most relevant legislation can be found in the docs linked to below:
Here is a screenshot of the options you need to select when applying to extend your tourist visa from the standard 3 months to, say, 6 months:

Do not get confused with the multiple different 11(1) subtype options. Just select a the plain 11(1) option.

After starting like that it should all go smoothly. You just fill out your details, relevant dates and the reasons you are asking for a Visa renewal.

Remember: you should ask for RENEWAL, NOT EXTENSION, of your Visa.

In my case, in one of the forms, I was asked for dates of "any subsequent visa issued to me" and there was no way to skip of leave this blank(!) I think this is just a bug though because I simply entered the same dates as my original Visa and I had no issues physically submitting this and all supporting documentation to VFS. I am currently waiting to see if I will be granted my 3 months extension or not - regardless, thankfully, one can travel back home and then return to SA for another 3 months as many times as he likes.

Once the three involved forms are fully filled out and the application submitted you will be given the the option for payment and scheduling an appointment. The link to schedule an appointment will not work until you have paid. If you pay via Standard Bank physical teller it will take 2-3 working days for the appointment link to be activated. Appointment slots seem to be generally available the next day or, in any case, not too far in the future; but do make sure that the appointment date falls within your first 30 days of stay in South Africa as it is probably this date that counts as "application submission date."

Before you actually show up for your VFS appointment please make sure you have the following items with you - some of them actually listed in the checklist in the appointment letter you will receive via email but will also be available on the site:
  • Your passport valid for no less than 30 days after the expiry of your intended visa renewal/extension
  • Online filled Visa Application Form (you can print this via the website but you must have also received it via email)
  • Photocopies of passport and all passport pages with visas/stamps
  • Original Bank payment / Electronic Fund Transfer receipt for payment made
  • Original and Copy of Bank Receipt in case of Repatriation or Bank Guarantee paid in Department of Home Affairs Account (this is not usually a requirement for the typical tourist Visa renewal)
  • Appointment Letter (you can print this via the web site)
  • Supporting Documents for the application:
    • Ticket with date as close as possible but before the intended date of departure
    • Proof of income (at least 3-4 full months back from date of application submission - basically this needs to show that you can easily maintain yourself in the country)
    • Letter of purpose (why you are requesting renewal/extension explained in a nice short letter)
    • Duration letter (a letter stating the number of the Visa you wish to extend, date of entry, current Visa expiry date and your desired date of exit after renewal/extension)
Good luck!

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