Johannesburg is a large and sprawling city and the options for places to live are endless. No matter where an expat ends up living, they will enjoy one of the greenest urban centres in the world, which gives the feel of a large metropolitan area and all of its modern comforts while still being surrounded by nature.
Given the size of the city, making the right decision regarding one's living arrangements is crucial. The two main commercial areas for expats are the city centre, which is a hub for mining, commerce and government, and Sandton, where many industries, including financial services and media, are located.
Remember that public transport is not a viable option so getting from home to office and back entails driving on Johannesburg’s congested roads. It is not uncommon for locals to spend up to three hours per day in rush hour traffic – hence expats choosing a residential area are well advised to find somewhere close to their place of work and/or their children’s school.
Many expats choose to live in houses within secure, cluster developments.
Relatively recent developments in the eyes of long-term Joburgers, these areas probably house the vast majority of expats living in Johannesburg. They are well-established neighbourhoods and have a host of good private schools to choose from. It is here that one finds one of the largest concentrations of security estates clustered around the Fourways area, which offers many options for shopping, entertainment, healthcare and recreation. It is fairly close to Sandton, but expats shouldn't be fooled – traffic going that way will be very heavy with daily commuters.
In the last twenty years or so, Sandton has replaced central Johannesburg as the city's hub of business and commerce, which means that many corporate headquarters, banks and large hotels are located there. As a general rule, the closer one gets to Sandton, the more expensive housing becomes, so expect to pay a premium in this area. Bryanston along the northern edge is slightly less expensive, and is mostly known for its beautiful freestanding homes on tree-lined streets which explode in a purple sea of blooming jacarandas in late spring. Further to the south, in Morningside, Sandown and Hyde Park one finds stately homes as well as apartment complexes. This area also sports a large concentration of renowned private hospitals.
Much quieter and less ritzy than Sandton, this area is nevertheless perfect in many ways – it's close to Sandton; the centre of Randburg has its own assortment of businesses; the nearby Cresta shopping centre is one of Joburg’s largest; as well as restaurants and government offices. These are leafy suburbs with spacious homes and gardens in close proximity to a championship golf course as well as the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam (perfect for dog walking and summer picnics). Randburg is a large area with lots of choice and housing here is generally cheaper than in areas like Sandton. Generally, this is a good area for families as well as apartment dwellers.
These are older and more established suburbs with some of Johannesburg’s most beautiful scenery. Northcliff Hill with its winding roads and park-like homes nestled on the slopes is especially stunning, while next-door Melville is trendier and has a bohemian feel. It’s definitely one of the most diverse neighbourhoods of Johannesburg, perhaps fuelled by the proximity of two universities. Here expats will encounter a lively nightlife scene, plenty of street cafés, antique shops and unique restaurants, as well as the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve with its beautiful walks and views.
Similar to Northcliff and Melville, Parkhurst and Greenside are some of the city's nightlife hotspots, while Emmarentia Dam and Zoo Lake offer beautiful scenery and recreation right within the city. Centrally located within easy reach of both central Johannesburg and Sandton, Parkhurst and Linden's comfortable family homes are set in well-established gardens surrounded by some of Joburg’s most beautiful trees.
Parkhurst, especially, is a trendy neighbourhood for young families pushing their strollers along 4th Avenue on a Sunday morning, a place where one can find eclectic coffee shops, bakeries, interior design boutiques, antique dealers and some of the best restaurants in Johannesburg.
Expats who find a home in one of these historic suburbs will be living at one of the city’s best addresses in close proximity to three of its oldest and best schools – King Edward VII School, Parktown Boys High, and St John’s College. The homes here are sizeable and dignified, set on large properties, and residents are very close to the popular, sprawling Johannesburg Zoo.
Located on the East Rand but still not far from the city centre, Bedfordview is ideally located for business travellers flying in and out of the nearby OR Tambo International Airport on a regular basis. It offers quiet, spacious and safe estate living in another one of Joburg’s leafy tree-lined areas, and is also conveniently located close to multiple shopping centres.
Most expats wouldn't dream of moving into Joburg’s city centre, given its bad reputation and the crime problems of areas like Hillbrow, Berea and Yeoville. However, just like in other big cities, this area has lately undergone some urban rejuvenation and many hail the Maboneng Precinct, Newtown and Braamfontein as the places to be, especially for professional singles and couples without children. There are plenty of renovated apartments and lofts available with good security, beautiful views, amazing nightlife and shopping within walking distance, and the campus of Wits University is just around the corner.