Overstaying an SA tourist visa: What happens at the airport

Off to Mauritius, with plenty of time to spare at the airport.  Enough time to eat, buy duty free and then get to the gate in good time.  Well,  not if Home Affairs have anything to do with it

As Rob and I are not married I had to apply for my life partner visa once we were in SA (standard procedure) as the paperwork is not valid in the UK.  We made our application as soon as I arrived, yet I have overstayed my 90 day tourist visa by 7 days though, as it takes months and months for the application to be processed – I’ve met people who waited 9 months!

When we realised that I was flying on holiday outside of my visa dates, Rob’s company typed a letter for me explaining the circumstances and attached the confirmation from Home Affairs that they have received my application.  I am still legally allowed to stay in the country until they make a decision on my application.  I knew that I would have questions asked at passport control, but was in no way prepared for what would happen, and the general miscommunication and incompetence

At the gate my passport was scanned and there was an alert on the system as I had overstayed.  If you overstay then you have to pay a fine before you can leave – I believe it is R1000 for 30 days and then increases the longer that you stay.  This is fair enough, but I had all of my documents with me to show that I am allowed to stay here and shouldn’t pay the fine.  Yet a “supervisor” was called.  He took my passport and documents and told me to follow him.  We had over an hour before our flight was due to leave so thought that we would be fine. He took me to 2 different windows, asking the person working there questions.  He didn’t ask me anything.  He obviously did not know what he was doing, and asked me to stay where I was and he would be back.  He then proceeded to help at the windows with everyone else that was having trouble coming through, all the while holding my passport, boarding pass and visa documents.  We stood there for 5-10 minutes before he called another guy over they took me to the “office”

We followed this guy through the airport, past all the wonderful duty free shops in into a dingey corridor.  We went down a few flights into the stinky pit of the airport to the immigration “office”.   They were busy, so he took my documents and told us to wait in the dirtiest room in all history, with a bunch of other people who were having immigration issues.  He assured us that whatever they needed to do would only take 5 minutes and that we would have no problem catching our flight.  The room was so depressing, and they used it as a bin room too!

By now, we had about 30 minutes until the gate closed for our flight, and we were not in the right part of the terminal for the gate.  It said that it was 10 minute walk away. We waited for 15 minutes, whilst a strange Indian man who was also being detained asked us what our problem was (er, none of your business) and I sat opposite a woman that was being deported.  Then Rob started to get annoyed. We literally had 15 minutes to get to the gate. We started asking people that worked there where my documents were and how long we had to wait.  They all kept saying 5 minutes.  After another 10 minutes I thought that Rob was going to burst a blood vessel. We would not have been able to afford another flight each if we missed this one, and I’m not sure whether our travel insurance would cover it

Eventually a guy came in and told us that everything was “lekker” and in 5 minutes they would give me my documents back.  10 minutes passed, and then Rob got really angry!  We really did think that we were going to end up back home.  No one in Immigration seemed fazed that our flight was about to depart.  Finally, a guy came in and told us that they had called the airline and told them that we were going to be 5 minutes late and he would be back with my documents to take us to the gate.  Another 5 minutes passed and I really did think that this was it for my Mauritian Christmas.  Eventually a guy came along with my documents and took us back into the terminal.  Strangely he wouldn’t give me my documents back.  This really should have been a red flag to us.  He then told us that we had to go back to passport control and be checked out.  I’ve never seen Rob get so red – his face was redder than after a serious cardio session in the gym!  We went back and he gave them my documents and disappeared.  So much for taking us back to the gate

They scanned my passport and then asked me if I was aware that I had over stayed as there was an alert on the system and I would have to go to the office.  I really did think that Rob’s head was going to explode at this point.  By now, the gate for our flight was closed.  Thankfully, the lady there listened to our story and got her supervisor to put a code in and stamped my passport.  I was free!  We ran to the gate, past the duty free and food *sob* and when we got to our gate there were people there for the next flight already.  Thankfully our plane was still on the tarmac, and Air Mauritius were amazing and let us through without any problems.  To my shock, it seems immigration did in fact call the airline in advance of us arriving at the gate

We were obviously the last people to get on the plane, but we did not delay it thankfully.  By this point, all I had eaten/drank was a protein shake first thing in the morning (flight was at 4pm) and we asked the stewards if we could buy food after take off.  They laughed at us, told us we could have it for free, and gave me 10 packets of crackers and a bottle of coke before take off!  Thanks Air Mauritius for being so amazing.  Your economy seats are shabby as hell, but your service is amazing


24 thoughts on “Overstaying an SA tourist visa: What happens at the airport

  1. Geez, this is scary. I left the country under the same circumstances back in August and had no problem at all. Just showed the guy my application receipt and he let me through. I guess you never know. Or maybe they’re really cracking down. Ugh.

  2. I can’t read this again – the blood vessel in my head just started throbbing again at the thought of all the incompetence and the apathy. Thank god for Air Mauritius.

  3. Omg I’m so sorry you guys had to go through this! I had something similar happen to me when trying to come back into the country from Tanzania because I was carrying a copy of my yellow fever certificate instead of the real thing. Most nerve racking experience!

    Luckily Air Mauritius was good to you!


    • And they never wanted to see our yellow fever certificates coming back from Tanzania. It’s just like you’re saying Martina, you never know who you’re going to get and that could make all the difference! Now I’m slightly nervous, as our visas have officially expired and we also only have that slip that we applied, and due to travel in April.

  4. God how horrible! I was hoping to give my horrible habbit of nailbiting in stress situations a rest for 2012 but if this happens to me, it will undo that new years resolution in a second…
    It sounds like you had a great lunch though ;-)!

  5. Ahhh, the joys of dealing with South African Home Affairs Officials…
    I’ve had my fair share of fun and games with departments in Pretoria and Johannesburg – what with going through the whole Study Permit, then Work Permit and finally Permanent Residence application procedures.
    I’ve learned a few tricks though:
    1. Do so much research that you can do their job better than the entire department put together (not that difficult… 😉 )
    2. Don’t give the impression that you are irate with them. They love getting you all worked up. They know they are inconveniencing you – and won’t actually let you miss your flight, but they do get a rise out of stressing you beyond limits. Act cool, pull out a book, have a good read… – don’t fight them… The minute they see that you are apparently “bored” with the circumstances, they won’t get any fun out of you, you’ll probably be released sooner rather than later.
    3. Point 2 is applicable for many of the border control posts throughout Africa…

    There will always be the incompetent ones… only a few months ago, when I was departing SA – the passport control lady double-checked my residence status – as the last time I entered SA, the dufus entered me into the system as a temporary visa holder! Almost got a red flag 🙂

    Good to know Air Mauritius looked after you though!

    • Agree with you, Lu. Same happens to be at traffic controls now – I wave my South African road traffic act copy at them and then they see that they can’t just tell me some BS story about needing this that and the other document, and wave me through. And you’re right about the second point too. Happened to us in Zanzibar, turns out the visa fee was much more for US passports than European ones and we were travelling on three of each kind, so didn’t have enough money with us. We basically just sat down and did nothing while they were holding our passports, and eventually they waved us through. Like Peter Godwin says in one of his books – “they didn’t know what to do with me, a white guy with time on his hands.” Not sure I quoted that literally but in the spirit.

  6. Jesus, can you be more ignorant? You’re trying to fly, on a non existent visa and you think that just rocking up at the airport with an hour before your flight and a PHOTOCOPY from your boyfriends boss and you’ll be let through?! wow, you must be special.
    have you ever worked in airport security? probably not.
    1. we don’t want to let terrorists through
    2. we have the right not to let people who do not have the correct visa through.

    yes, sure, there are south africans who do not know what the hell they are doing and i am sorry you had to deal with it. it drives us all crazy. but, excuse me, next time do the proper thing. Get a letter from Home Affairs directly. It will take you long? Yes. You’re a foreigner. Secondly, get in touch with someone at the airport before you fly – a week or so, so they know you are coming. You can’t just waltz through , prepare better.

    • So you have never had to apply for a visa then, have you?

      1. I’m legally allowed to stay as I have, and had, the receipt from Home Affairs with me to say I have applied. It’s a proper document
      2. I’m lucky I have a receipt as most people don’t get a confirmation even. Good luck trying to get that letter you mention. I would pay money to see it happen
      3. As if me calling them in advance would have made a difference
      4. Read the blog post properly. Where do I claim I have a photocopy from Rob’s boss?
      5. Funny how they held me up on the way out, but when it really mattered on the way in, when I don’t have a visa or a return flight, they let me straight in without even looking at the Home Affairs document

      Don’t presume to know about things you have never experienced. Bureaucracy is a minefield here and unless you have experienced it then you would never understand it. It had nothing to do with terrorism and everything to do with money holding me up like that. They just wanted R1000

      You are obviously South African that has taken offence to what I have written, but I’m just telling you how it is. If you go back and read my blog you will realise I love this country and only really ever have good things to say. Yet, there is no denying that good service hardly exists here. Should I censor that for my blog? No way

      If you were really offended about this post, then definitely don’t tune in for the post I’m about to write about just how bad the driving is here…

    • Thanks for the helpful advice Rebecca. Next time we’ll make sure we “do the proper thing. Get a letter from Home Affairs directly.”

      Except… we did get the letter from Home Affairs, just like Martina said.

      • Late reply, but… there *is* a kind of letter you can get from Home Affairs explaining that the application is still pending, which is different from the original application receipt. I suspect this is what Rebecca means. BUT, I don’t think it’s fair to call people ignorant for not knowing about this magical letter, since up until recently only the application receipt was required, and even the DHA helpline has given out different and conflicting information about this every time I’ve called them!

      • Hi, I find this whole HA thing a minefield – everytime you talk to someone there they give you differing information. I wish they would just close down for 2 days and do a mass training course for their staff! It would make life so much easier for everyone

      • “I wish they would just close down for 2 days and do a mass training course for their staff!”

        Heh, if only… In my case, I had called earlier to find out what I need to do to leave SA when my application is pending. They said I simply need to bring the receipt, and notify Home Affairs of my travel dates in advance. OK, fine. Then two days before the flight (I was forced to travel on short notice) I call them again: “Oh no, you can’t notify Home Affairs through us, we’re just the helpline!” me: *pulls out hair from head*

        Luckily I still had one day before the flight to visit the HA office where I had applied (the local one wouldn’t do), and even more luckily the one person who “does these letters” was available, and wrote me an official-looking note to show at the airport.

  7. Hi Martina – did you delete the previous comment? Now it looks like you’re replying to me! Funny, I got it in my email notification though. Anyway, I’m with you, I’ll always have an honest debate about South Africa but I will not censor my blog just because my opinion might not be everybody’s opinion. After all,you DID experience this, as you said. This person obviously doesn’t understand South Africa, or your blog. And on top of that there is no need to be so vicious.

    Looking forward to your post about bad driving. I’m working on one about robots – how is it they are out for months at a time? this is the only country in the world I have ever experienced that. And yes, it all has to do with bad service.

    • Ha- I did not! I’m trying to reply using my phone as my laptop is still in for repair! I shall sort once I’m online. I take comments like that with a pinch of salt. My blog, my views and if you don’t like it don’t read it! I welcome a debate but not only when it is intelligently worded and has some weight!

      I drove all the way to Sandton the other day without a single light working!

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