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Can You Bring a Drone to South Africa?  

South Africa is a beautiful part of the world with a rich and wild landscape and a long, interesting history. It is for reasons like these that many people wish to fly drones in the region for both recreational and professional purposes.

The good news is that drones have been legal in South Africa since 2015. However, before you bring your drone into the country, you should apply for permission from the CAA. It’s also a good idea to register your drone and apply for licensing before planning to fly your drone in South Africa.

Here, we will cover these rules and their implications so that drone pilots, both foreign and domestic, can fly with confidence in South Africa!

Making contact with South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority

As is the case in many parts of the world, South African authorities are concerned about national security and the safety of their citizens, as well as private and public property. Needless to say, the use of drones raises these types of concerns anywhere they are flown.

Before bringing a drone to South Africa, and especially before flying a drone there, it is best to contact the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA):

One thing that is tough for many American travelers to understand is that rules and regulations governing these types of devices and activities are not exclusive to territories outside of the United States.

Indeed, in America, we do have rules and regulations controlling the use of drone aircraft, many of which have to do with the privacy of our neighbors, safety around electrical lines, and so on.

The reality is that drone pilots in the US violate these rules every day. Our state and federal governments are less reactive when this happens, but others are not so lax.

To avoid the confiscation of your drone and further legal action, it is strongly recommended that you inform the relevant authorities, and obtain the necessary permissions, licensing, and certification first.

To do otherwise is to place yourself and your property at risk.

Can I bring my drone to South Africa?

As stated above, the answer to this question is yes. You can bring your drone aircraft to South Africa. What’s important to remember is that each airport has its own rules for doing so. That means you may be questioned even if you follow the rules.

If you go through an airport where they don’t see a lot of drone owners trying to bring their devices into the country, this could happen.

For this reason, you must have your drone in your possession and registered in your name. This is so that you can both prove and demonstrate that the drone is rightfully yours, and that you have notified the authorities that you are bringing it into the country.

This is why we listed the local CAA contact information earlier.

If security personnel feel they have any reason to believe that you may be trying to smuggle or sneak it into the country, they may confiscate it until further notice.

As you can imagine, getting it back after that may be difficult.

Drone flight rules in South Africa

If you have contacted the local CAA and been given clearance to bring your drone into the country, be sure to get written permission via email, if not on paper. This way, you can present it to airport security if the need arises. That is your first step.

Next is to be familiar with the rules governing drone use in the country. They are as follows:

  • You do not need to be registered or obtain licensing if your drone activity is purely recreational. However, bringing your drone into the country by air can be seen as suspicious. Therefore, it is highly advisable to have it registered before entering the country.
  • SACAA RPAS rules still apply to recreational use, even if you do not register your drone. These rules will be covered.
  • Flying drones at night is prohibited. Flying during the day is only permissible in clear weather conditions.
  • A visual line of sight must always be maintained during flight. Flying your drone beyond visual range is considered a hostile military activity.
  • The drone may be no further than 500 meters from the pilot during flight.
  • Flying higher than 120 meters (400 feet) is prohibited.
  • Drones must remain 50 meters or more from roads, buildings, and people.
  • Drones may fly no closer than 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) to any airport.
  • Designated no-fly zones are to be avoided. They are listed on the South African government website.

Recreational drone use rules

The rules for recreational drone use are less stringent, but they are enforced. Therefore, it is best to abide by them.

It is important to understand the meaning of recreational use as defined by the South African government. Recreational drone use means any use that is not intended to produce any monetary gain.

If you are flying a drone to create footage for a monetized YouTube channel, that is considered commercial use and is subject to commercial drone flight rules.

If you are aiding a farmer in monitoring his land, that too would be considered commercial usage.

Here are the guidelines for recreational drone use:

  • Drones must be operated in a safe and responsible manner.
  • The pilot must maintain visual contact with the drone.
  • Night flying and flying in inclement weather are prohibited.
  • Drones must be inspected prior to each flight.
  • Drones may never be flown near people, vehicles, or private property without permission.
  • Drones must not be flown near airports or manned aircraft.
  • The maximum weight of a drone for recreational use is 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds).
  • Drone flight into controlled, prohibited, or restricted airspace is not permitted.

Commercial drone use rules

The South African government distinguishes between the recreational and commercial use of drone aircraft.

The rules governing commercial use are not complicated. But it is easy to accidentally be charged as a commercial drone pilot, even if you do not intend to be.

Be reminded, any activity which may produce a monetary profit is considered to be a form of commercial use. Using a drone in any capacity that is meant to support, grow, or create a profitable venture may be considered commercial in nature.

For example, if you use your drone to aid someone performing a for-profit activity, that could be considered a commercial use.

A more common problem people run into is the use of drones to create footage for a YouTube channel that is not monetized.

In this situation, you may be accused of using the drone for monetary gain and be compelled to prove that your YouTube channel does not earn money. Naturally, this can be difficult to prove during your stay in the country.

The rules for commercial drone use are as follows:

  • The drone pilot must be 18 years of age or older.
  • The drone pilot must have passed a medical assessment.
  • The drone pilot must be a proficient English speaker.

Where to fly

South Africa is a big, open country with a lot of wild terrain. Unfortunately, there are a number of no-fly zones. All it takes is an accidental dip into a no-fly zone, and you may lose your drone and even face criminal charges.

Fortunately, there is a tool you can use. This app will show you all of the no-fly zones that are to be avoided.

Our advice is that you consult the app before you travel to South Africa with your drone. Make sure the app works and that you have access to it before you need it.

If you wait till the last minute, you may find that your phone or browser can’t read the app. Or you may find that it is geo-blocked in South Africa when you get there.

You are permitted to fly drones in national parks, but you must obtain a permit first. Keep in mind that drones are not permitted to even fly near restricted zones like airports. The proximity limit is 50 meters, not the fence around the airport.

Drone pilot licensing and registration in South Africa

As we have tried to make clear up to this point, it is possible to run into authorities when traveling abroad who may challenge you on your drone usage.

Even though recreational use does not require registration or licensing, a lack of these things may cast a shadow of suspicion on your activities. Therefore, it may be wise to get registered or obtain a license.

To register your drone, use the contact information provided above, and fill out the form provided here.

To be licensed to operate a drone in South Africa, fill out the form provided here.

Even if you are only using your drone for recreational purposes, it may be in your best interest to seek licensing and registration. This may at least be seen as a gesture of goodwill, stating that you respect their land and people and that you intend to abide by their rules.