The Curse of the Green Mamba: Travelling on a South African Passport

I wish people wouldn’t take offense when I say bad things about my South African passport. You should believe me when I say that this feeling of bitterness toward my little green book has nothing to do with how I feel about the actual country. I love my country- but its passport sucks.

I also wish that people wouldn’t disagree with me when I say that a South African passport is quite frankly, mind blowingly frustrating when it comes to travelling the World. There are not many places that make it easy for us to enter. This is not an opinion but a fact. So please, don’t mess with me on this one.

Also, don’t come with your positive outlook and say ‘yes, but there are so many place that you can easily go’. That’s so besides the point its not even funny. Places I can go and places I want to go are two different things. (Although I have been ‘forced’ to choose alternative destinations before and with fantastic outcomes).

Anyone who has attempted to leave the country on an overseas vacation knows the blood, sweat and tears that go into obtaining a visa for various destinations. England, Australia, the USA, Canada and The EU (the list goes on and on) are all places we cannot simply book a flight and go to. If you have indeed experienced these visa processes first hand (endless paperwork, hours in consulates, breakdowns when you don’t have all necessary documentation) then imagine what its like for South Africans who work/travel across the globe. I am one of those people and am constantly met by barriers preventing me from experiencing these ‘live abroad’ programs that are available to other nationalities.


In 2012 I decided to go to South America because it posed the least amount of problems for me. Perhaps I should thank my difficult passport for forcing me to experience such an amazing place.

Some recent internet research carried out by yours truly shows that Aussies, Kiwis and Canadians have the most options for countries to work/holiday in. Working/holiday schemes are usually reciprocal agreements between two countries because: “these countries want to encourage travel and the exchange of culture between their citizens.” At this point I’m thinking but hey- South Africa has so much to share with the rest of the world, especially in the cultural department.

Google ‘working/holiday visas for South Africans‘ and depressingly little comes up. Oh wait, here’s something! 

Looking for work abroad is tedious, complicated, and requires a lot of patience because of the stages involved in the process. A good idea would be to work locally while applying for a job abroad.

I just realised why the whole of South Africa is in the yachting industry. We have almost nowhere else to go if we want to work outside the country (and are not a doctor, engineer or anyone packing actual skills). So we work on the oceans and seas. (or South Korea)

Of course we do have options to work abroad. But at a price. As a South African passport holder you are only able to obtain working holiday visas through agencies (and for very limited countries). Agencies like Chilli Adventures, OVC and Awesome Travel are some of the few South African based companies that ‘help you live out your dreams’.

The catch? Only about a R15 000+ fee payable to these middle-men. All countries have these companies available to assist people with their work travelling plans. But for them this is an option. Should they feel competent enough to organise themselves the visa then they could. We cannot. If you want a work/travel visa, you will pay someone a shit load of money to help you do so. Oh and you’re not allowed to find your own job either, the agency does that too. Not music to the independent traveler’s ears. 

My big question is WHY? And I’m sure there is a valid reason, or reasons. If anyone knows any of them, please feel free to comment below. An attempt at finding out online has just left me with a map of the countries we can visit without visas and let me tell you, its nowhere near 166 countries the Danish, Americans and Brits can visit on a whim.

Ironically enough Americans pay a hefty fee to visit Bolivia. South Africans also have to pay. Most people in this line just walked straight through. I had to visit border control in the next town a few days later so I could pay up. I spent a good few hours convincing them that I didn't have to pay the American price.

Most people in this line just walked straight through. I had to visit border control in the next town a few days later so I could pay up. I spent a good few hours convincing them that I didn’t have to pay the hefty American price.

An economist friend of mine helped me understand a bit more the other day. And what he said didn’t even surprise me after experiencing what I’ve experienced there.

It’s thanks to our home affairs who “lost” 100,000 blank passports a few years ago and they’ve ended up in the hands of baddies. When they expire we might be back in the game”.

No wonder we’re on the list of countries that aren’t welcome. There’s a massive chance you’re not who you say you are. I wonder if there’s not perhaps another person travelling around on my father’s passport after he received a text to come and pick his new one up and when he arrived it just didn’t exist. Nice one South African Home Affairs. 

But I digress. My aim was not to go on a rant about South African Home Affairs, or complain (too much) about my passport (because there are worse ones out there). This post was to share with you the frustration I so often feel. I have chosen a life that forces me to rely on my passport and while I feel a sense of pride when I see the stamp collection grow and the pages fill up, I also feel angry and exasperated when I don’t see the countries that I long for.



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18 thoughts on “The Curse of the Green Mamba: Travelling on a South African Passport

  1. Nic says:

    Hey Victoria

    Stumbled across your blog, and I feel your pain, ive also only got the cursed green mamba.
    im in the process of looking for a work/travel abroad job and its incredibly difficult. I have found some amazing websites offering fantastic working deals, until i read the requirements and see that us South Africans are excluded.
    I wanted to ask what were the best options you have discovered on your journey so far?
    im only starting out now and perhaps exploring a place you have been before and found easy to acquire work might be best for me…

    • Hi Nic,
      We’re in this together! 🙂 My general finding is that first world countries are difficult/impossible to work in unless you go about it cash-in-hand or have a sponsored work visa. Once I realised this I decided to go where I was wanted and needed- so I chose teaching English in Chile. South America in general is a good option for Green Mamba holders, however your only option really is to teach English there.
      Asian countries are also forgiving of our situation, again teaching English would be the way to go. South Korea is a massively popular work/travel destination these days for Saffas. If you don’t think teaching English would be your thing you could consider working on private yachts in the Med or Caribbean, has everything you need to know about this. Otherwise there is the cruise ship option too.
      One has to get creative when work/travelling on a South African passport. It can be frustrating a lot of the time, but we do still have options. Feel free to contact me again to talk more about options!

  2. Unine says:

    We are a family wanting to travel the world, like a few others have done. Unfortunately, we are all on South African Passports. I would love to know if there are any other families who have traveled and worked around the world, who happens to be on a South African Passport. Very frustrating to see the options we don’t seem to have.

  3. Nick says:

    Hi Victoria,

    I ama South African citizen, but have a German passport compliments of my mum. I can relate to this on the sense that I realize how many places I can go to with my German passport and work there. And I am currently in New Zealand on a Work Holiday Visa. My cousin who wants to travel and work however is struggling andI suggested many of the options you have. He has gone so far as to look into whether he can acquire a British or Greek passport through relatives.

    I love our country but it frustrates me when one realizes how the SA passport ‘ cripples’ so many. I would love to meet more South Africans on my travels. We have so much to offer the world.


    • Victoria says:

      Hi Nick! Did you find this while trying to help find options for your cousin?! I’m glad that you understand and appreciate the value of your German passport. I think my only wish in life would to have been blessed with a ‘better’ passport. New Zealand is my absolute dream! But I’ll have to settle on just visiting it one day instead of staying and working. Enjoy every second of it (for me!) We do indeed have a lot to offer to the world, least not an education that South Africans can also be white!

  4. Hello Victoria,

    Came across your blog asking that exact question, where can I go to work on my SA passport, your article above is what alot of us are feeling, so frustrating, just got back from honeymoon in Thailand, we went to the most southern island in the Andaman sea, Koh lipe, it was breath taking and getting home, made us both pose the question, what do we do now? The travelling bug has hit hard and not to mention the crazy costs of planning another trip overseas. We are looking at UK, as we want to travel for the next 2 years before babies and all enter the picture. But I’m sure you know getting a working visa for UK is even harder than before, besides teaching English in Chile, South Korea etc, what other options do we have other than joining the other thousands of people down under?


    • Victoria says:

      Hi Bronwyn,
      Urg, sorry I only came across this now! My new spam filter is making me miss all the real comments too! I haven’t actually looked into a working visa for the UK but I imagine its extremely difficult slash impossible? There more I look into it, the more New Zealand seems like a viable option. In fact, I just ran into someone at a wedding the other day. He works at a company that helps send us Saffas abroad and he told me they have a new section that send people to NZ. Find them here and chat to Chris, tell him I sent you 🙂 awesometravel dot They sent me abroad in 2010 to Colorado and when i bumped into him at the wedding I just gushed about how they had changed my life! hahaha

  5. Renier says:

    Hi everyone!

    Victoria thank you for writing this as its so true and I have experienced it first hand. I was lucky to get a “working holiday” to the UK back in 2008. After being scammed by a company for R15k and got a blank passport back and actually had someone help me put everything together for only R500 – haha. Anyway did my 2 years in the UK and joined cruise ships for 3 years after that and did 4 contracts for 2 different companies – this is where I want to offer my help if anyone is considering cruise ships I can honestly recommend it from taking photos, selling art, shore excursions to working in the spa. You must be 21 and older except for spa (last I checked). You will work hard and long hours but will see many places, meet amazing people and food and small cabin 🙂 are included. Please contact me – for a small fee* I’ll help you out.

    *I’m kidding lol its free 🙂

    Kind regards

  6. Jan says:

    After graduating from Stellenbosch with a degree in engineering I got an offer for an internship in the UK working for en electric car company – my dream come true! Turns out there is no way I can work there without a degree from the UK or a Tier 2 sponsorship, which an internship doesn’t qualify for. Lekker Suid Afrika.

  7. Stan Spencer says:

    Hi there.
    Thank you for everyones views. There are other options available. South African passports are high in demand in China, Vietnam and Cambodia. The biggest demand is Caucasian and native English speaking.
    English teachers are so high in demand that most schools dont require a Bacherlors degree or TEFL course to obtain a working visa. This may sound obscure but it is true… They are interested in 2 things only to give you the job..m
    1. Your photo (Caucasian) Theres a stereotype stigma in Asia that if you are white you are superior. Especially outside the big cities like Hanoi, Shanghai, Beijing etc. That is what they really want
    2. Native English speaking

  8. Jack says:


    Won’t you tell me a bit more about your travelling through South America and the ease of access into the different countries!?

    Thanks for your help.


  9. YM says:

    Hello, Victoria.
    Came across your blog from a Reddit article.
    As a citizen of Russia, who also needs to get a visa for everything, I totally understand your frustration. But such is the life of citizens of countries with low per capita GDP. The main reason why countries have visas, is to control immigration. Rich countries must screen people from poor countries before they can let them in, to filter out those who might be likely to overstay their welcome and become illegal immigrants. South Africa has an average GDP PPP of about 13 000 USD, which is pretty much 3rd word tier, and shows that majority of citizens of such country will be highly motivated to stay illegally.
    We all know that South Africa consists of different ethnic groups with drastically different levels of education and income, and certain groups will probably not need such screening. However, for obvious reasons no one will allow to apply different rules to citizens of a country based on their ethnic origin — everyone must go through the same door. So the only way to deal with it is to accept it.
    It’s understandable though that it’s very hard for you Afrikaners to accept it, since culturally and ethnically you are part of the North Atlantic civilization, yet legally it feels like you are not wanted there. It’s easier for us, since we always differentiated ourselves from the west and it’s something that feels natural.

    • Victoria says:

      Thank so much for this! Your point about GDPs is so valid and is the biggest reason why we struggle with our passports. I mean, I’m definitely guilty of wanting to overstay my welcome in places! I’ve long since accepted my passport. There are always ways around it!

  10. Michelle says:


    Could anyone possibly tell me how to go about working in NZ? I’ve done so much research already, but seems like I only have 2 options – a Skilled Migrant Visa, or Work to Residency Visa, where the Skilled Migrant Visa will cost us South Africans around R60k, excluding help from a Immigration Advisor.. which cost about another R60k.. And the Work To Residence Visa, you need to get a job offer first..and I’m finding this very difficult, as no one’s willing to go through the process..

    Can anyone out there give advise or if some ones been through the motions, please help..

  11. Destiny De Great says:

    Ireland is visa free for SA passport holders

  12. Mandy says:

    I thought I was the only one feeling like this. it is indeed frustrating. I’m so glad I came across your blog while searching for working holidays. I’ve not travelled in 10 years and have this hunger to explore for so long. Travelling does not come cheap

  13. Sandy Lampen says:

    Hi Victoria, so related to your article. Came across it when I searched for `where can South African citizens get a working holiday visa“ after rejection after rejection . My daughter wants to work and travel for a gap year and every single programme I have found has an issue with the Visa. Just so frustrated!!!!!! Anyone with ideas please let me know!

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