If you are planning to or have just relocated to South Africa, here is what you need to know to get on the road

When chatting to expatriates about their first experiences in South Africa they often mention the shock and stress when they first got on the road to drive themselves. Road rules, although internationally applied, are applied differently in every country and South Africa is no exception. You may also get mixed information on the documents required to buy a car and drive legally on the roads depending on whom you talk to. So here is some basic info you need to know to get started.

Your driver’s license

Ideally you should get an international drivers license in your country of origin. If you forgot and are already in South Africa, don’t worry, you can drive with your own country’s driver’s license as long as it is in English and has your photo and details on. If it is in another language you can have it translated by a sworn translator and drive with the original sworn translation. Next time you are back home remember to get the international license because it will make your life easier not having to explain each time you are stopped by traffic cops. Keep track of the expiry dates, it is very easy to overlook this and you will battle to renew while in South Africa.

Traffic register number

You need one of these in order to purchase a vehicle and register it in your name. It is used in place of an Identification (ID) number that foreigners do not have in order to identify you at the traffic department. You have to apply in person at a traffic police department. You will need to provide a number of documents for this including bank account details, proof of residence and employment info. The traffic register number will be issued within a few days and then you can register your car.

Vehicle finance

You can apply for vehicle finance. You will need to have a visa to reside in South Africa for longer than 6 months and proof of financial means and regular income among a list of other documents. The bank will usually issue the loan for the duration of your visa, will request a hefty deposit and will give you high interest rate because you have no credit history in the country. Try to negotiate the interest terms and shop around for the best offer.

Vehicle insurance

Comprehensive vehicle insurance is a must. Many vehicles on the road do not have full insurance. If you unfortunately end up in an accident the chances are the other vehicle does not have insurance and you will have to claim from yours anyway regardless of whether it was your fault or not.

Road side assist

Make sure you have road side assistance provided in the event of breakdowns or puncture. This is provided by the AA (Automobile association), your bank as part of the petrol card you received, or your vehicle insurance company. Save their emergency number and even put a sticker on your car with it.

We drive on the left side of the road

It will take some getting used to if you are coming from a “right lane driving” country and you may end up turning into the opposite traffic once or twice. If that happens, immediately put your emergency lights on, put an apologetic expression on your face and right your vehicle as fast as you can.

We also break the left side rule sometimes

If you are on the highway and observe cars overtaking from both sides, don’t be alarmed. Drivers here don’t perceive the fast lane as a lane for overtaking and fast vehicles only. You will often see cars driving at well below the speed limit in the fast lane and other drivers overtaking them from the left. Added to that are the motorbikes that swirl between cars on the highway to keep things interesting and keep you alert and on your toes.

Minibus taxis

The unspoken rule is that no rule applies to the minibus taxis. Left hand drive, emergency lanes, traffic lights and stop signs are all there merely as a suggestion to the mini bus taxi drivers and you should never expect them to do what you think they should do. When you see a minibus taxi stay a safe distance away and expect them to stop, swerve or make a U turn at any point of the road.

“The robot creep”

First of all, did you know that we call traffic lights “robots”? The “robot creep” is an interesting maneuver performed by impatient drivers when waiting for the light to change to green. They keep slowly moving their vehicle forward while the light is red and often end up in the middle of the road before the light changes to green. If you don’t focus on the actual traffic light you might find yourself following suit and ending up in the middle of the road as well. This becomes awkward when the light actually changes to a turning arrow for the opposite traffic and you are sitting in their way looking them straight in the face.

Amber light

No one knows for sure what that means and drivers usually speed up to cross the road when the light turns to amber rather than stop. Keep alert especially if you are in front and planning to stop on amber because the car behind you may just have other ideas.

You can also turn right on amber because many robots do not have dedicated turning arrow and this is your only chance. This is also the one time I believe in performing the robot creep to the middle of the road so you have enough time to quickly turn right when the robot changes.

Traffic circles, four way stops and yield signs

Another mystery on our roads that seems to be open for interpretation. Of course there are rules but some people have simply forgotten them or never knew them to start with. I always try to make eye contact with the other drivers and check that they know I will be going now, just to make sure. Otherwise the rule is usually first in on the right has right of way.

This list is not exhaustive but it should be enough to get you started on our roads. As long as you don’t message and watch videos while driving and keep alert and expect the unexpected you will be 100% fine and will even enjoy the adrenalin rush and excitement our roads can present.

At Expats On The Globe we know the ins and outs of traffic register number applications, searching for a vehicle and road tips. Call us and we will gladly assist you to make sense of it all with a personal consultation, a short briefing session or a full handholding program to help you get what you need including traffic register number, bank applications or vehicle search.