In transit through Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport: International layovers

Transit through Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info TamboIf you’re flying to an African country south of the equator, there’s a high chance that you’ll transit through Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport in South Africa. Airlines like SAA, BA and Virgin all fly through Johannesburg O.R. Tambo (AKA Jo’burg Airport). This article gives info about the international layover, directions within the airport, facilities, and what to expect airside. I’d also like to start by saying that having flown from the UK to Zimbabwe through many different cities, my favourite transit airport for Zimbabwe is O.R. Tambo.

This guide about Jo’burg’s International Transit Area is applicable for you if:

  • boarding passes for your whole journey (including passes for your onward flight from Jo’burg) will be issued to you from your departure airport
  • your baggage will be checked through all the way to your final destination
  • your transit will be an international one (Einstein): if you’re not sure whether your onward destination is in a different country to South Africa, it’s time to do some Googling
  • for example: when I flew with SAA to Harare via Jo’burg , this applied to me. Another example is when I flew with Virgin Atlantic and then BA to Harare via Jo’burg (despite being with two different airlines, the ticket was booked in one bundle with

If the above applies to you, chances are that you’ll remain in the International Transit Area while in Jo’burg Airport and that you won’t need to go into the domestic terminal. If in doubt, ask your travel provider.

Arriving at Jo’burg O.R. Tambo Airport and getting to the International Transit Area

When you disembark your first flight and arrive in Jo’burg Airport, you may be taken in a bus to the terminal, or you may walk a short distance to the terminal.

In the building, follow signs to the International Transfers (Terminal A). The signs are blue and neon, which is helpful.Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 01

You’ll most likely join an Immigration queue in a rather forlorn-looking hallway. There are toilets in this hallway if needed. The length of queue depends on the time of day and the popularity of your flight. The shortest I’ve had to wait is 20 minutes, and the longest has been 1hr 30 minutes. There are no chairs in the Immigration queue area. It’s a good time to chat to your fellow travelmates or just stretch your legs after your flight. Once at the front of the queue, the border officials usually stamp your passport and let you through without fuss. If your previous flight was delayed and you’re running late for your onward flight, don’t hesitate to go to the front of the queue and explain this to the security guard – they will let you go to through first.

Transit through Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 02

Immediately before security, there is a large and rather dark-looking lounge area with some chairs and a line of airline desks. Do not fear: this is not where you will have to spend the next 2 hours of your layover. Unless you need a boarding pass or flightcheck, you can walk straight past this area to security.

Transit through Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 03

Another queue awaits you after the “dark lounge area with airline desks”, but do not fear, as this means you are nearly at the good bit! There are only 2 X-ray machines at security which means the queue can be long. Once again, if your previous flight was delayed and you’re running late for your onward flight, don’t hesitate to go to the front of the queue and explain this to the guard – they will let you go through first.

Now the tedious part is over! Airside at Jo’burg Airport is spacious, light, has lovely views of the runway, and has a great restaurant to grab a bite to eat. Mugg & Bean is my favourite restaurant there – the food is reliable, the portions are generous, and the staff are so friendly and helpful that I feel like I’ve been wrapped in a warm blanket (especially after a usually draining long-haul flight).

Transit through Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 07

Curio shops, clothing stores, cafes and duty frees await … spend the next few hours stretching your legs and avoiding buying handcarved ostrich eggs before your next flight.

Transit through Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 04

General advice & info on Jo’burg O.R. Tambo Airport

  • At your departure airport, get your bags wrapped in cellophane. This service is often at the oversized baggage area. Getting your bags wrapped comes with a fee (around $10 per bag) but it is a deterrent to anyone thinking of opening your bags in transit at Jo’burg Airport.
  • Don’t expect everything to be absolutely efficient at Jo’burg Airport. Keep checking the screens for your flight information and departure gate as they may change without warning and they may not show the most up-to-date information.
  • Allow yourself at least 20 minutes to get to your departure gate; some of the gates are further away than they seem. On rare occasions you may get to your gate only to find out that it’s changed and that you have to walk to another one.
  • I personally ensure that my layover in Jo’burg Airport is a minimum of 2 hours; any shorter and it’s just too rushed.
  • WiFi is available by selecting the ‘AlwaysOn’ Network but it requires payment with a Credit Card when you log in.
  • Baby changing facilities are available but sadly only in the womens’ toilets.
  • If travelling with children, ensure you check in advance what travel documents are required. Here’s a link to official UK travel advice for SA. The South African Department of Home Affairs have stated that no supporting documents will be required by people in direct transit through a South African International Airport (see here). However, it is wise to bring your child’s birth certificate just in case.
  • Nine airlines have lounges in the International Terminal – visit the O.R. Tambo website for details.

Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 06

Layover Johannesburg International Airport Transfer Info 05

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Beth is the founder of Great Zimbabwe Guide Travel Blog: Zimbabwe’s first and longest-running independent online travel guide, created in 2010.

13 Responses

  1. Tamlyn

    Hi, I have a flight that arrives in Joburg at 1.15pm and then i have another flight from Joburg to Harare on fast jet that departs at 4.45. Will it give me enough time to go through immigration, collect my bags and check in for fast jet flight at 2.45? And how do i get to departures from arrivals? Thank you.

  2. Waqar Ashraf

    Good day,

    I am visiting Botswana for 7 days and will have return tickets with me.

    I will get visa on arrival at Gaborone airport and visiting with invitation letter and return tickets and will not leave airport place in Johannesburg.

    I have connecting flights via Johannesburg airport, SA and I came to know that I must have transit visa for connecting flights also.

    Please confirm in this that it is must to have transit visa also for connecting flights via Johannesburg airport, SA to Gaborone airport, Botswana.

    Kindly update at earliest and if required then I will proceed to get transit visa as well.


    Waqar Ashraf


    Lahore, Pakistan

    • Waleed Bin Waqar

      I am going to mozambique from Pakistan and my stopover is at johnnesburg airport for connecting flight, do i need transit visa to change the plan ? because south africa not giving transit visa to pakistani

  3. Mussah

    Hi, I hope you’ll see my comment on time. My flight is arriving at joburg at around 5pm and the connecting flight to my home country will leave following day at 6am. I’m more worried about my luggage because I booked my tickets separately to save $500. Do I have to collect my luggage or I can ask to have it checked in to my destination?? Also, I know this sounds crazy but can I sleep at the airport? I really don’t want to go anywhere, I just want to stay inside and wait for my flight.

  4. Siomha

    I have a layover of 1hr30 in OR Tambo (coming from Dublin via Dubai with Emirates) at 16.30 on a Saturday to catch an 18.00 Air Botswana flight to Gaborone. I know you’ve said above to leave two hours but is the above doable if everything goes my way?

    • Siomha

      Additionally, how close to my flight timewise do I need to be before I should ask to skip the queue? Ie, 45 mins, 20 mins, 5mins?

    • Great Zimbabwe Guide

      Hi Siomha thanks for your comment. That layover time is doable but I suggest that when you get off your first flight (and get off it quickly), you go straight to the front of the immigration and security queues during the layover. If you tell the officials that you’re on the 18h00 flight to Gaborone they will let you do so – and sometimes they even have airport staff actively calling people on specific flights to go to the front of the queue. All the best, Beth

      • Mo


        How come we need to go through immigration and stamp the passports if we are just transiting?

  5. Joy Griffith

    Can you go out from airside to landside whilst in transit without too much fuss? I have a friend living in Jo’burg who may be able to meet up on a 7hour layover. I am on a British passport.

    • Great Zimbabwe Guide

      Yes, that should be fine as long as you allow time to get a visa and go through immigration etc. I would advise meeting the friend at the airport rather than going any further. Best wishes, Beth

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