Residency in South Africa

Foreigners who meet eligibility criteria can apply for permanent residence, allowing indefinite stay in South Africa. Typically, a temporary residence is required for several years before qualifying, but immediate permanent residence is possible if criteria are met.

South African and Belarussian Passport on white background

Understanding the South Africa Permanent Residence Permit

A South Africa Permanent Residence Permit is a valuable authorization that grants individuals the privilege of residing and working in South Africa indefinitely, eliminating the need for visa renewals upon expiration. 

Residence Permit and flag of South Africa

This permit is typically granted to those who have established a significant presence in the country over several years and have made substantial contributions to South Africa's economic growth and development.

Varieties of Permanent Residence Permits Available in South Africa

In South Africa, there are different types of permanent residence permits that you can acquire depending on the reason for your relocation to the country:

  • Direct Residence Permit

The direct permanent residence permit is the most common route to obtaining permanent residency in South Africa. Eligibility for this permit is based on holding a work visa and having resided in the country for a minimum of five years.

  • Residence Permit on Alternative Grounds

This category of residence permit is granted to individuals who meet the criteria for permanent residence in South Africa under specific circumstances, such as holding a financially independent visa or having refugee status.

Understanding the Direct Residence Permit in South Africa

The Direct Residence Permit is a type of residency authorization available in South Africa. If you have been residing in South Africa for a minimum period of five years on the basis of your work permit, you are eligible to apply for a direct residence permit. Additionally, this permit extends its eligibility to the spouses and dependents of South African citizens or permit holders.

In the case of spouses seeking this permit, they must provide evidence of a relationship with the primary permit holder that spans at least five years, which can be established through either cohabitation or a valid legal marriage certificate.

Obtaining Permanent Residence in South Africa through Alternative Criteria

In South Africa, individuals have the opportunity to seek permanent residence based on various alternative criteria, provided they meet the following eligibility requirements:

  • Holding Refugee Status in South Africa.
  • Possessing a Financially Independent Visa or a Retirement Visa.
  • Qualifying as a Skilled Worker under a Skilled Critical Visa.
  • Receiving a Permanent Job Offer in South Africa.
  • Aspiring to Establish or Invest in a Business in South Africa.

Documents Required for Obtaining a Permanent Residence Permit in South Africa

To apply for a permanent residence permit in South Africa, you are required to submit a comprehensive set of documents as follows:

Register text and flag of South Africa on the keyboard

  • BI-947 Application Form: Complete and sign the application form using black ink only, avoiding the use of correction fluid or alterations.
  • Valid Passport: Present a passport with a minimum validity of three months beyond your intended departure date from South Africa.
  • Full Set of Fingerprints: Provide your biometric data to facilitate the processing of your permanent residence permit.
  • Marriage Certificate/Proof of Spousal Relationship (if applicable): If you have a partner or spouse, ensure you possess evidence of your relationship, including a marriage certificate. Additionally, provide divorce decrees or proof of legal separation if applicable.
  • Valid Temporary Residence Permit (if already in South Africa): This requirement applies only if you are currently residing in South Africa on a temporary residence permit.
  • Application Fee: Submit the original bank payment or electronic fund transfer receipt for each applicant.
  • Passport Photograph: Include a recent passport photograph for all applicants aged one year or older. Ensure the names of the applicants are on the reverse side.
  • Police Clearance Certificate: Furnish police certificates from all countries where you have resided since turning 18 years old.

For Permanent Residency on Alternative Grounds, you must include the following additional documents based on your specific criteria:

- Proof of Refugee Status.

- Evidence of Investment in South Africa.

- Proof of Establishing or Investing in a Business in South Africa.

- Confirmation of Holding a Permanent Job in South Africa.

- Evidence of Sufficient Financial Means.

For Minors, include the following documentation as applicable:

- Proof of Custody (if applicable).

- Death Certificate of a Late Spouse (if applicable).

- Parental Consent (in the case of minors).

- Proof of Judicial Adoption (if applicable).

- Written Consent for Minor Applicants.

Depending on the category under which you qualify for a permanent residence permit, additional specific documents may be required, and you can find these details in the application form.

Steps to Apply for a Permanent Residence Permit in South Africa

The process of applying for a permanent residence permit in South Africa involves the following steps:

  • Verify Your Eligibility

Before applying for permanent residency in South Africa, confirm your eligibility by meeting direct residence permit requirements or alternative bases, like holding a work permit. Living in the country for an extended period doesn't automatically guarantee eligibility, as some temporary permits do not lead to permanent residency.

  • Make an Appointment

Applying for a permanent residence permit necessitates scheduling an appointment at one of the approved offices within South Africa. A list of these offices can be found on official government resources. An appointment is mandatory, and you must bring your appointment confirmation letter when you submit your application.

  • Prepare Your Documents

As part of the application process, you must gather and submit the required documents as outlined in the official application form. It is important to note that documents originating from your home country should be appropriately translated and authenticated by a certified notary.

  • Submit Your Application

Visit the designated office on your appointed date and submit your permanent residence permit application. During the processing period, it is advisable to renew your temporary residence permit to ensure uninterrupted legal status while awaiting a decision on your permanent residence application.

Cost of a Permanent Residence Application and Ineligibility Criteria

The application fee for a permanent residence permit in South Africa varies due to different factors over time. It is important to note that this fee must be paid when you submit your application, and it is non-refundable, regardless of the outcome of your application.

Bank card featuring flag of South Africa as a key on a computer keyboard

Ineligibility for a permanent residence permit in South Africa applies in the following cases:

  • Prohibited Person: Individuals falling under the category of prohibited persons are not eligible for a permanent residence permit.
  • Undesirable Person: If you are considered an undesirable person by South African authorities, you do not qualify for a permanent residence permit.
  • Lack of Intent to Fully Migrate: Applicants who do not have the genuine intention of making South Africa their primary place of residence and fully migrating to the country do not meet the eligibility criteria for a permanent residence permit.

Criteria for Prohibited Individuals in South Africa

In South Africa, individuals are classified as prohibited persons and, as a result, are ineligible for permanent residence if they meet any of the following criteria:

  • Contagious Disease: If you carry an easily transmissible infectious disease, you are considered a prohibited person.
  • Criminal Record: Individuals with a criminal record, particularly those convicted of serious offenses such as human trafficking, genocide, torture, or involvement in drug trade, are not eligible for permanent residence.
  • Association with Hate Groups: Membership in an organisation that promotes racial hatred or incites social violence against marginalised groups within society renders an individual ineligible for permanent residence.
  • Affiliation with a Terrorist Organization: Being a member of a terrorist organisation disqualifies an individual from obtaining permanent residence status.
  • Prior Deportation from South Africa: If you have been previously deported from South Africa, you are considered a prohibited person.

Criteria for Undesirable Individuals in South Africa

Individuals are classified as undesirable for permanent residency in South Africa if they meet any of the following conditions:

  • Ministerial Designation: If the Minister of Home Affairs identifies an individual as undesirable, they are ineligible for permanent residency.
  • Potential Public Charge: Individuals who are likely to become reliant on government support are considered undesirable for permanent residence.
  • Fugitive Status: Being a fugitive from justice disqualifies an individual from obtaining permanent residency.
  • Previous Criminal Record: Having a prior criminal record can render an individual undesirable for permanent residence.
  • Unrehabilitated Applicant: An unrehabilitated applicant is someone who has not undergone a process to become eligible for permanent residence. Rehabilitation may involve submitting a sworn statement of compliance with the immigration laws or fulfilling specific requirements, such as the payment of applicable fees. 

Advantages of South African Permanent Residency

Holding a permanent residence permit in South Africa grants individuals a range of privileges and obligations that are akin to those of South African citizens. Permanent residency provides the following benefits:

  • Unrestricted Living and Working: Permanent residents can live and work in South Africa without any limitations.
  • Business Ownership: Permanent residents are allowed to establish and operate businesses in South Africa.
  • Property Ownership: Permanent residents have the right to own property in South Africa.
  • Education: Permanent residents can pursue educational opportunities in South Africa, including enrolling in schools, colleges, and universities.
  • Participation in All Activities: Permanent residents can engage in various activities and endeavours available to South African citizens, enjoying a broad spectrum of rights and responsibilities.

Possibility of Losing Permanent Residence Status in South Africa

It is possible to lose your permanent residence status in South Africa due to the following reasons:

  • Departing South Africa for a duration of three years or longer without notifying the Department of Home Affairs.
  • Engaging in criminal activity.
  • Breaching the terms of your permanent residence permit, such as failing to renew it on time or providing false information in your application.
  • Acquiring citizenship of another country.
  • Being deported from South Africa.

To avoid losing your permanent residence status:

  • Notify the Department of Home Affairs if you plan to be absent from South Africa for more than three years.
  • Obey the law and avoid engaging in criminal activity.
  • Comply with the terms of your permanent residence permit.
  • Maintain a permanent home in South Africa.
  • Visit South Africa regularly.


What are the benefits of permanent residency in South Africa?

Permanent residency in South Africa provides several benefits, including the right to live and work in the country without restrictions, the ability to own property, run a business, study, and engage in various activities available to South African citizens.

Can I lose my permanent residency status in South Africa?

Yes, you can lose your permanent residency status if you leave South Africa for three years or longer after obtaining permanent residency. However, you can inform the Department of Home Affairs and provide a valid reason for your extended absence to prevent the withdrawal of your status.

Are there financial requirements for permanent residency in South Africa?

Yes, some pathways to permanent residency, such as setting up a business or earning a retirement income, require specific financial criteria, including investment amounts or minimum income thresholds. These requirements vary depending on the chosen pathway.

What is the process for applying for a work-related permanent residency permit in South Africa?

To apply for permanent residency based on a work-related visa, you typically need to have an offer of permanent employment, demonstrate five years of continuous work visa status, and, if applicable, provide proof of registration with a relevant professional body or council.

Is there a language requirement for permanent residency in South Africa?

Generally, there is no specific language requirement for permanent residency in South Africa. However, proficiency in English or another official language of South Africa may be beneficial for communication and integration into the society.

Can I apply for permanent residency as a retiree in South Africa?

Yes, you can apply for permanent residency as a retiree if you meet the income or pension requirements, and have a reliable source of income, such as a pension or rental income from property.