How do you know if the number plates on your vehicle, motorcycle, trailer or caravan are legal? Here is our quick guide.


There are only three legal number plate sizes and each must be embossed with alphanumerics of a specific size.

520 mm x 113 mm – embossed with 75 mm high alphanumerics
250 mm x 205 mm – embossed with 75 mm high alphanumerics
250 mm x 165 mm – embossed with 60 mm high alphanumerics

Because there are vehicles on which the front and rear number plate apertures are not the same size, two different size number plates can be used on the same vehicle.

Markings and font

Apart from an SABS sticker, a number plate must also bear a certification mark, which contains the name or trademark and batch number of the supplier.

Embossers must use the font that was specifically designed for the local number plate industry. The use of any other font is illegal.

Attachment of number plates

Attaching a number plate with double sided tape is illegal. By law, number plates must be attached to the vehicle with 4 mm rivets or one-way self-tapping screws.

If you prefer not to rivet the plate directly onto your car, there is also the option of a number plate carrier or holding bracket. Such holders must comply with legal requirements and be approved by the National Department of Transport.

Remember that all vehicles must have a number plate both front and rear. Motorcycles, however, require only one plate, at the back.


It is important to note that on regular passenger cars and SUVs the number plates must not be higher than 1.5 metres from ground level.

If the front design of the vehicle is such that it can’t accommodate a number plate right in the middle as is the norm, it can be mounted to one side.

The rear number plate may not be obscured by a permanent fixture such as a tow bar. However, if the obstruction is considered to be temporary – as with a removable bicycle rack for instance – a second number plate must be attached to the rack to ensure that it is clearly visible. Such racks must be removed when not in use.


Each province of South Africa has a different background design for number plates. Visit SANA to see examples for each province. Anything other than these designs are considered illegal and could result in a fine.

Also remember that no advertising is allowed on number plates and you could be forced to remove and replace plates that do not comply.


Once your vehicle has been registered with the licensing department you will receive a printout of the registration paper. You will need to produce this document, as well as your ID document, before an embosser will make your number plates.

According to the South African Number Plate Association any embosser who does not request this documentation should be avoided.

To ensure you are dealing with a reputable embosser, you should also enquire whether they are approved by the South African Bureau of Standards.

Personalised number plates

If you would like to get personalised plates for your vehicle, bear in mind that there is an additional cost involved. This can be anything from R600 to R10 000 depending on how many alphanumerics (anything from one to seven) you want

Only letters and numbers are allowed and any symbols such as %, &, @ or $ are illegal. Vulgar language is not allowed and blatantly vulgar or offensive numbers will not be allocated. Members of the public may lodge complaints with the metro police department if they deem a number plate to be offensive.

Interestingly, a personalised number plate is the property of the owner and can be transferred from one vehicle to a next. Such plates can even be transferred to a beneficiary when the original owner passes away.

To get a personalised number plate you need to apply at your local traffic registry office and supply a certified copy of your ID document, a vehicle registration certificate and proof of residence.

If the application is approved you will receive an order letter giving the embosser of the plate permission to prepare the personalised plate, a licensing letter and a certificate confirming the approval.

Planned number plate changes

Although no roll-out date has been confirmed, new laws on number plates are on the cards, aimed at standardising number plates across the country.

The proposed changes include the inclusion of the national flag in the top left corner, with the name of the province underneath it.

Different coloured letters and figures will identify different types of vehicles; black for public transport, red for government vehicles, green for diplomatic vehicles and blue for personal vehicles.

Sources: South African Number Plate Association, Department of Transport