Business visa vs. tourist visa - what you need to know when travelling in Africa

business visa vs tourist visa

The latest Passport Index, a global ranking of the world’s passports by Arton Capital, has ranked the South African passport at number 94 out of 199 countries worldwide. In terms of African countries, South Africa is third on the index, with the Seychelles in the first place and Mauritius in second.

A passport’s position on the index provides a good indication of the ease or difficulty of travelling with it, as it ranks travel documents by the number of countries that holders can visit without having to apply for a visa in advance.

Number one on the list, the German passport, allows travellers to visit 157 countries without having to apply for a visa beforehand, while South Africa’s travel document permits travellers to go to 90 countries without the hassle of doing paperwork beforehand.

Although you also don’t have to apply for a business visa prior to travelling to many of the 90 countries on the Passport Index that don’t require South Africans to have tourist visas, there are exceptions. Visa requirements change often due to changes in inter-country policies, and you’re more likely to need a visa for business than for leisure travel. 

“In general, you will only need a business visa when you are engaging in activities that earn you money in another country, but there are exceptions. Business travellers must make sure they are acquainted with whether they require visas, as well as with the additional documents needed, before every trip,” says Corporate Traveller operations leader Bronwen Lubbe.  

Ethiopia is an example of a country currently requiring South Africans to apply for business visas before arrival, but not for leisure visas. 

Here are five top factors to consider that may influence whether or not you need a business visa for your next business trip:

  • The reason for your business trip: Are you attending a conference? Or perhaps a tender for business?
  • Temporary trip or permanent in nature: Are you being deployed?
  • Length of stay: How long are you going for?
  • Earning potential: Will you generate another stream of revenue?
  • Past visa applications: How many times have you applied for a visa?


While South Africans do not need business visas for many African countries – and especially those within the South African Development Community (SADC) – those calling for them are becoming more demanding.

South African passport holders do not currently require business visas for Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland, among others.

Popular African business destinations that require you to apply for business visas before arrival include Angola, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Egypt and Morocco. Some, such as Rwanda and Tanzania, allow you to procure your business visa on arrival.

Business visas typically take longer to process than tourism visas because of the documentation and processing required. “Business travellers need to start thinking about getting their visas as soon as they start planning their trip,” says Lubbe. “They can no longer afford to wait until the last minute.”  

Other important factors to be aware of when applying for a business visa include: 

Visa documentation: 

You may need:

  • A letter of invitation and an itinerary
  • Proof of company registration
  • Bank statements
  • Tax-clearance certificates; and/or
  • A minimum bank balance.

Documentation formats: 

  • In some instances, the name on the invitation has to be exactly the same as what’s in the traveller’s passport
  • It may need to be in colour or translated into the local language

Maximum duration of stay:

Check that your passport is valid for at least six months after your expected date of return.

Visa rules and regulations are constantly changing and as you can see, there are many factors that countries consider to determine whether or not you even need to apply. Don’t miss your next business trip because you thought you didn’t need a visa, contact your dedicated travel manager for the latest information and assistance with your business visa applications.