I wish that South African drivers’ license requirements for foreigners would actually be broadcast to all the traffic cops out there. Or that the traffic cops would quit making up their own stories about the rules.
Noisette was driving to the airport recently to pick up two visiting teenagers who were travelling by themselves. Needless to say, it was somewhat important to be there on time. However, just as he was driving around the bend and into airport parking at O.R. Tambo, there was a police road block. He showed his American license (as I was told by the licensing department head himself would be sufficient – in fact, you can’t get a South African license as a foreigner), but the police wanted to see an international permit. Which is only necessary if your license is not in the English language. We used to have them anyway, but they expire after just one year. When the international permit wasn’t forthcoming, they just went ahead and invented new requirements. In this case, they said, since they were on airport property, a passport was needed as well as a drivers’ license. A passport? Huh? That is such a blatant lie, and Noisette would have been mildly amused, had he not been in a hurry to get to arrivals. But he continued to be harassed by the police for almost half an hour, threatened to be arrested and put in jail, and did he really want that? All the while exchanging frantic phone calls with me who was shooting off SMSs to Germany to see if the parents could reach their kids to let them know where to wait. He was finally let go because, of course, there was no arrest warrant whatsoever and no grounds to issue one.
To all you prospective expats out there: A valid English-language drivers’ license is all that is needed to drive on South African roads. If the cops tell you otherwise, it is because they’re looking for a bribe, but if you stay firm, they will let you go. However, I only have this information verbally from the Randburg licensing department as well as some other websites, and have not been able to find anything official in writing. But doing just that has now become another item on my never-shrinking list to-do list. I’ll keep you posted.