(Last updated Dec 2016)
Here’s my need-to-know information for visitors to Zimbabwe. I’ll try to keep this up-to-date as I hear of changes. Please note that I am neither a government official nor a doctor, so please contact your GP or nearest embassy for official health or consular information. Zimbabwe is roughly double the size of the United Kingdom, similar in area to Italy, so it is a varied place with a lot to offer visitors. Let’s get started! Click on the links to jump to the answers.
14. Is it ethical to visit Zimbabwe?
Answers are below … But first, a map! Just in case you wondered about the difference between South Africa and Zimbabwe (as many people seem to do). Confusingly, “South Africa” is the name of a country, not a region. South Africa and Zimbabwe are different countries.
Do I need a visa for Zimbabwe?
There is a full article dedicated to this question in my post Visa requirements for Zimbabwe, but here is a summary:
1. For most visitors, the good news is that the visa process is fairly simple and doesn’t require much planning. There are three categories of nationalities which have different visa requirements. You can check what category you fall into by checking the official Zimbabwe visa website www.evisa.gov.zw but here is a quick rundown:
- Category A: Citizens of SADC countries as well as Hong Kong and Singapore do not need a visa or pay a fee to enter Zimbabwe on holiday. When you show your passport upon arrival, you will be allowed to enter Zimbabwe.
- Category B: Citizens of the countries in this category need a visa upon arrival in Zimbabwe. This is doesn’t require much planning: It is done when you land or cross the border into Zimbabwe. You will be given a form to complete upon arrival and you will need to pay the visa fee in cash (US Dollars or Bond Notes). Countries in this category include Britain, Australia, Canada, Germany, Ireland and USA. You can choose to apply for the visa at your local embassy before you go, but in my experience it is much easier to do it when you arrive in Zimbabwe.
- Fees: For most Cat B countries: Single Entry US$ 30; Double Entry US$ 45. Payable in cash.
Fee exceptions: Britain (UK) and Ireland: Single Entry US$ 55; Double Entry US$ 70.
Canada: Single Entry US$ 75 – Canadian Passport holders can ONLY get a Single entry Zimbabwe Visa at the port of Entry.
- Fees: For most Cat B countries: Single Entry US$ 30; Double Entry US$ 45. Payable in cash.
- Category C: Citizens of some countries, such as India and Mexico, need to apply for a visa in their home country before travelling. Contact the Zimbabwe High Commission in your country to do this, or apply online at www.evisa.gov.zw. More details can be found in the article Zimbabwe visa requirements.
- Fees: Single Entry US$65 to US$100. Category C nationals can only get a single entry Zimbabwe visa.
What currency is used in Zimbabwe?
2. Zimbabwe has a multi-currency regime which means that there are a number of officially-accepted currencies, in addition to the newly released Zimbabwe Bond Notes. The official currencies of Zimbabwe include US Dollars, South African Rands and Botswana Pula. The United States Dollar and Zimbabwe Bond Notes are the most widely used. Strange, I know, but the Zimbabwe Dollar was withdrawn in 2009 due to severe hyperinflation. US Dollars are accepted in all shops and hotels in Zimbabwe. Pre-2001 USD notes are not accepted. It is always useful to have small denominations of notes such as $20-dollar bills, so try to avoid bringing hundred-dollar bills with you. You can read more tips on using cash in Zimbabwe here.
The smallest denomination of US Dollars in Zimbabwe is a $1 note, and Bond Coins/Notes are used for change. This means, for example, that if you buy something for $4.70 and hand the teller a $5 note, they will give you 30 cents’ worth of change in Bond Coins. You could ask for a sweet or chocolate instead of the bond coins if you don’t want them. Sometimes change is given in South African Rands, and R1 roughly equates to 10 US cents.
Prices in shops, etc, are usually quoted in US Dollars, but you can pay the equivalent in Rands or Pula (often to a bad exchange rate as it’s rounded off). Travellers’ Cheques are not accepted.
Try to pay for as much as possible in advance before you travel. For things that you can’t pay for in advance, take cash with you rather than withdrawing it in Zimbabwe. Keep it in a safe place and only carry as much as you need when you leave your accommodation. When budgeting for the amount of cash you will need to take with you to Zimbabwe, remember to include the the visa fee if you are paying this on arrival.
International debit cards are more widely received than credit cards although it may be difficult using any sort of international card at a swipe machine in Zimbabwe. Email the businesses in advance to check that they can accept your specified card.
Talk to your hotel or tour company about paying for most of your accommodation before you arrive, so that you don’t have to carry as much cash with you. If you plan to pay the remainder of your fee by card, check with them first about their credit card policy. Read more details on paying in Zimbabwe in the article 8 tips for visitors to Zimbabwe during the “cash crisis”.
As of June 2016: You can not withdraw cash from Automated Teller Machines using your Visa or Mastercard at banks or in shopping centres of the main cities.
What language is spoken in Zimbabwe?
3. English is an official main language of Zimbabwe. It is used in business, education and many areas of life. Most people are bilingual in both English their local language, even in rural areas.
The two dominant local languages are Shona in the north and Ndebele in the south, but there are officially 16 languages spoken in Zimbabwe.
What health precautions do I need to take when visiting Zimbabwe?
4. Malaria and sunstroke are the biggest health factors for tourists to consider.
Read about them in the Health information post.
Ebola is not currently a threat in Zimbabwe because the country is situated so far away from West Africa: around 9000 km or 6000 miles! [Back to top]
Is it safe in Zimbabwe?
5. Zimbabwe is one of the safest African countries, as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. The people of Zimbabwe have a reputation for being among the most easy-going and hospitable in Africa, and, in my biased opinion, the world.
What’s the weather like in Zimbabwe?
6. It’s usually sunny and warm! The best time to visit is between April and September. Rain usually only falls between November and March, in the summer. The hottest months are September and October. In June and July (winter), it gets frosty at night but stays mild and warm during the day.
Zimbabwe is a year-round destination but some times are better than others if you have something specific in mind.
See my detailed climate and weather post for more.
Which airlines fly into Zimbabwe?
7. The number of airlines flying into Zimbabwe is increasing again, which means that you have a number of options.
What transport should I use in Zimbabwe? / How do I travel around Zimbabwe?
8. All-inclusive trips will usually organise all transport for you, or you could choose to self-drive, fly, or use a bus service.
What do I need to pack for Zimbabwe?
9. See my post on What to pack for a Zimbabwe holiday.
Note that Zimbabwe sockets are mainly square 3-pins (type G), but check with your accommodation first. [Back to top]
What time zone is Zimbabwe in?
10. Zimbabwe is 2 hours ahead of GMT. It’s in the CAT (Central African Time) zone – same as South Africa. This means that depending on the time of year, it’s 1-2 hours ahead of London and 6-7 hours ahead of New York. [Back to top]
Is Internet access/Wifi easily available?
11. Many hotels and guesthouses in Victoria Falls, Harare and Bulawayo will have internet of some form. If you have a laptop, many coffee shops have Wifi and you can surf to your heart’s content, although you may need to buy prepaid top-up cards from the cafe to do so. Note that Zimbabwe sockets are mainly square 3-pins (type G), but check with your accommodation first.
If you’re going outside of the cities into the countryside, the likelihood is that there won’t be internet – but that will be the last thing on your mind when you’re in the bush, believe me.
Zimbabwean websites usually end in the domain extension ‘co.zw’, but some use the South African ‘co.za’. [Back to top]
What’s the international telephone dialling code?
12. The international dialling code is +263. This is the number people from outside the country need to dial to phone Zimbabwe. They will also drop the first ‘0’ of the telephone number.
You can buy a SIM card in Zimbabwe and use a cell phone if necessary – but the phone needs to be unlocked. You can buy a cheap basic unlocked phone like this Samsung E1050 if your phone is locked to your country. Most of Zimbabwe has cell signal, except in remote areas of the National Parks.
Do people give tips at restaurants?
13. Yes, people usually tip about 10%. At hotels and safari lodges, tips after included meals are usually not required, but if you feel the service has been particularly good, an extra tip would be appropriate.
At the end of a stay in a hotel or lodge, you may wish to tip the guides or other members of staff if you feel they have done an exceptional job. [Back to top]
Is it ethical to visit Zimbabwe?
14. There has been a lot of media debate about the role of tourists in Zimbabwe’s politics. Some say that tourists should avoid visiting Zimbabwe to make a statement against Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe. I don’t think this avoidance solves any of Zimbabwe’s current problems. My opinion is that Zimbabwe needs tourists, so that local businesses can grow, and so that the wildlife and their habitats can be financially supported.
Read about specific locations and topics about Zimbabwe:
For more in-depth information, read the 2013 edition of Bradt’s Zimbabwe travel guide by Paul Murray.