Guide to medical tourism in South Africa – important facts and features

Even though South Africa might not be the obvious choice for medical tourism, it is slowly becoming a strong contender in the global healthcare as more tourists are beginning to recognize the cost-effective medical services South Africa offers. In fact, South Africa is the leading medical tourism destination in Africa, having the best healthcare system found in south of the Sahara. It attracts patients from other African countries like Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Tanzania and a handful of America and European patients as well.

The country is already recognised as a land of cultural diversity and natural attractions worldwide. This is an extra bonus for medical tourists who can recuperate while enjoying all South Africa has to offer, right after checking out of their world-class medical institution.

South Africa

LanguageAfrikaans, English, Ndebele, Pedi, Sotho, Swazi, Tsonga,

Tswana, Venda, Xhosa, Zulu

Time ZoneSAST (UTC +2)
Dialing Code+27
Major CitiesCape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, Soweto
CurrencySouth African rand
ClothingDepending on your activities pack your things accordingly,

is planning a safari trip pack non-synthetic clothes.

Temperature drops at night so also pack a jacket.

Health Related
Mortality Rate42.5 deaths/ 1,000 population
Life Expectancy56.7M /59.6F
Patient: Physician Ratio1300:1
Hospitals JCI accredited0
Recommended    VaccinationsHepatitis A, Typhoid, Hepatitis B, Rabies, Diphtheriatetanus,

Poliomyelitis, Varicella, Yellow fever, Measles

Other InfectionsSchistosomiasis (snail fever), Marburg fever, Tick-borne

relapsing fever, African tick bite fever, West Nile fever,

Anthrax, Plague, HIV


Tourism Related 
Population5,312,400Reliability of Police Services108/140
Global Competitiveness4.37/7Physician Density96/140
Tourism Competitiveness4.1/7Hospital Beds65/140
GDP/Capita$50,323Quality of Air Transport Infrastructure15/140
Safety and Security 3.8/7International  Air  Transport  Network14/140
Health and Hygiene4.3/7Quality of Roads42/140
Air Transport Infrastructure4.0/7Hotel Rooms102/140
Tourism Infrastructure4.5/7Tourism Openness85/140
Cultural Infrastructure2.7/7Attitude  of  Population  Towards Foreign Visitors42/140
Visa Requirements28/140


Often described as ‘a world in one country’, South Africa is one of the world’s greatest tourist destinations. An excellent climate, natural beauty, first-rate infrastructure and welcoming people make this country one of the world’s fastest growing tourism destinations. Added to these attractions is the fascinating story, accessible through ordinary people and historical monuments, of the transition from apartheid to democracy.

South Africa offers the visitors a multitude of destinations. Cape Town, considered as one of the top 10 destinations in the world, the Kruger Park, the Garden Route and the pleasure resort of Sun City are among the few of the much sought after stops on any itinerary.


South African tourist destinations would captivate the mind of travelers of all age groups. The fastest growing segment of tourism in South Africa is ecological tourism (aka ecotourism), which includes nature photography, bird watching, botanical studies, snorkelling, hiking and mountaineering. The national and provincial parks in South Africa, as well as private game reserves, involve local communities in the conservation and management of natural resources. Briefly, South Africa has varied spots serving people of different age groups and tastes.  

Community tourism is becoming increasingly popular, with tourists showing keen interests to experience visiting many rural villages and townships across the country. Whether foreign tourists crave for endless beaches, birding, sports tours, the Big Five, historic battlefields, hunting, mountains, bush or forests, millions of people are discovering South Africa as an exceptional holiday destination and the numbers are to increase with each passing day

Among the attractions are breathtaking Cape Town nestling at the foot of Table Mountain, Cape Point, where two oceans meet, Cape Town’s laid-back, welcoming attitude and fabulous nightlife. Along with Robben Island, the prison in Cape Town’s Table Bay where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated, the delights of Sun City and many first rate casino resorts, walking in the spectacular Drakensberg Mountains. Johannesburg’s moving, state-of-the-art new Apartheid Museum, the Big Hole in Kimberley, the world’s biggest man-made hole and fly fishing in stunning scenery are few amongst all.


South Africa is not called the rainbow nation for nothing. South Africa has 11 official languages and scores of unofficial ones. English is the most commonly spoken language in official and commercial life.


South Africa is a year round destination. Summers are hot but one can visit the cities located on the higher altitudes during the season. However, the best time for visit is spring.

South Africa has the seasons atypical for the southern hemisphere, with the coldest days starts from July till August. In winter, also due to altitude, temperatures drop to the freezing point, and in some places, even lower. Rare snowfall stunned the residents of Johannesburg in August 2012. During winter, it is warmest in the coastal regions, especially on the east of Indian Ocean coast.

Healthcare System

South Africa’s healthcare system consists of a large public sector and a smaller but escalating private sector. Medical services in the country vary from basic primary healthcare offered free of cost by the government to highly specialized, technologically advanced health services available in the private sector for those who can afford to pay for the treatments on their own. Unfortunately, the public sector is under-resourced and overused. On the other hand, the fast developing private sector caters to middle and high-income groups and to the foreigners looking for top-quality surgical procedures at relatively affordable prices.

Quality of Healthcare

South Africa has been a world leader in medicine for long. In 1967, Dr Christiaan Barnard performed the world’s first successful heart transplant, which boosted South Africa’s reputation as being a pioneer in medical advances. Since then, the country has remained at the forefront of medical innovation and today can boast of significant achievements like successful separation of Siamese twins and the African developed HIV vaccine, which is the first one ever developed in a third world country.

To eliminate language barriers, the country has also an added advantage of English being one of the main languages for the medical tourists.

Ebola outbreak plays havoc on medical tourism in South Africa

The deadly Ebola outbreak has brought a wave with itself that has had a huge impact on the world. The Ebola outbreak has become a bigger public health problem and it is believed to have a cascading effect on medical tourism. Ebola, a hemorrhagic disease that can kill up to 90 percent of those it infects. Ebola has a negative impact on the various industries namely aviation, hospitality and tourism, trade, agriculture, medicine, and medical tourism.

If the Ebola epidemic continues to surge in the three worst affected countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, its economic impact could grow eight fold next year, dealing a potentially catastrophic blow to the already fragile states according to an analysis by the World Bank. World Bank officials further said that if the deadly virus is not slowed in the three most affected countries, there could be broader regional contagion, especially through tourism and trade.

This deadly disease crumbles the economy and makes the situation from bad to worse. The epidemic is causing people to cancel projects and business people are leaving the affected countries. The risk of transmission of Ebola virus disease during air travel is low. Unlike infections such as influenza or tuberculosis, Ebola is not spread by breathing air (and the airborne particles it contains) from an infected person and transmission requires direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead people or animals.

Ebola virus has had a marked affect on the medical tourism industry. Medical tourism destinations are cancelling or postponing surgeries and only engaging in serving urgent surgical patients. This outbreak has deeply affected the South African economy. Africa is a cost effective medical tourism destination but with the Ebola virus in the open, medical travelers have cancelled their visit to this country.

The contribution to GDP is in shambles with the risk of this disease. This outbreak has global impact; any medical traveler is at an exposed risk if he travels to Africa for a cost effective medical treatment and anyone from the affected regions could be the carrier of the virus to other destinations around the globe. Therefore, the risks associated with the virus are far too high.

The healthcare staff at any medical destination is at a far greater risk. As a precautionary measure, hospitals have restricted the number of patients from Africa. At medical tourism destinations, the doctors are advised to take extra precaution while meeting a patient from Africa. Surgeries will be postponed for a while, and emergency cases will be dealt with after taking into account the virus infection status and directives from health officials.

To enable travel to continue while still acting to prevent spread of the disease, countries have been requested to conduct exit screening of all persons at international airports, seaports and major land crossings, for unexplained febrile illness consistent with potential Ebola infection. Despite the reported low risk to travelers, and policies designed to maintain normal air travel links the medical tourism industry is in doldrums.

There has also been a huge fiscal impact to South Africa because of the Ebola outbreak. Major contributors to the GDP namely aviation, trade, tourism and hospitality are badly hit tainting the economical picture of the countries so affected. Therefore, to better the picture a little WHO is discouraging the imposition of blanket bans on trade and travel on Ebola-hit countries, as it maintains the transmission risk from flying is low. Medical tourism will remain to be on a low for South Africa for a while however, the situation is trusted to improve with time.


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Dr Prem Jagyasi and Team

Dr Prem is an award winning strategic leader, renowned author, publisher and highly acclaimed global speaker. Aside from publishing a bevy of life improvement guides, Dr Prem runs a network of 50 niche websites that attracts millions of readers across the globe. Thus far, Dr Prem has traveled to more than 40 countries, addressed numerous international conferences and offered his expert training and consultancy services to more than 150 international organizations. He also owns and leads a web services and technology business, supervised and managed by his eminent team. Dr Prem further takes great delight in travel photography.

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