Travelling as a South African Permanent Resident

A common question that we get at our offices is whether as a permanent residency holder, it is a requirement to travel with an original permanent residency certificate.

This question often arises after a bout at the airport, where an immigration official asks for proof of permanent residency. Some ask for an ID book, others a recently certified copy and others the original permanent residency certificate. As a permanent residency holder myself, I have been asked for all three documents in various combinations.  I’ve heard stories of permanent residency holders being held-up at immigration because they do not have the original permanent residency certificate on hand.

In short, nowhere in the Immigration Act, Immigration Regulations or any Government Notice is it stated what document a permanent residency holder must travel with and it is definitely not stated that a permanent residency holder must travel with the original permanent residency certificate. Thus, an unspoken discretion has been given to immigration officials at the ports of entry and exit in South Africa to ask a permanent residency holder to ‘prove’ their status in whichever way they see fit, if at all.

If a traveler is a permanent residency holder, this is clearly reflected on the ‘movement control system (MCS)’ and is attached to a name and birth date combination. So, in theory, it shouldn’t even be necessary to show any documentation to prove residency. But due to rampant fraud within the Department and false documents, extra due-diligence seems to be the new norm.

So, what’s our advise for travelling without hassle to and from South Africa as a permanent residency holder? If at all possible, travel with the original permanent residency certificate to avoid any potential hassle.

If, however, you are prone to losing documents or travelling in countries where it may not be safe to have an original on hand, then it is best advised to travel with a recently certified copy (within the last three months) of the permanent residency certificate. If questioned about why you do not have the original, explain to the immigration officer the situation, and if all else fails, escalate the issue to management.

You will only ever get one copy of your permanent residency certificate. If you no longer have your original permanent residency certificate, then as a matter of urgency you should apply for ‘proof of permanent residency’ through VFS Global. This is a letter from the Department of Home Affairs confirming your permanent residency status and is for all intents and purposes, treated as a permanent residency certificate. It takes roughly 8-12 months for a proof of permanent residency application to be processed, so best to take care of this application as soon as possible.

If you are not sure whether you still have permanent residency in South Africa or have some other question regarding travelling as a permanent resident, contact us and let us advise you on the best way forward.