Moving to Swaziland

Expats moving to Swaziland will experience some exceptionally beautiful scenery. Despite its size, the tiny kingdom, which was recently renamed eSwatini by its monarch, King Mswati III, comprises an impressive array of landscapes, including mountains to the west, grassy savannah in the centre and rainforest to the north.

The administrative capital, Mbabane, has a temperate climate and is a small city of just more than 75,000 people. It also rates as a relatively cheap city for expats to live in, although some costs – most notably petrol and telecommunications – are comparatively high.

Swaziland’s free-trade policies and good road and rail links to major centres in South Africa, its main trading partner, make it a highly investment-friendly economy. The language of business in Swaziland is English, and, similarly to South Africa, cities retain a certain colonial character due to decades of British rule.

The vast majority of Swazi people rely on subsistence farming on Swazi National Land. Foreign investment in Swaziland is largely connected to high-value crops such as sugar, fruit and forestry. Most of the wealth in the country is in the hands of non-African expats involved in these industries. The textile industry is also growing, partly due to strong diplomatic ties with Asia, most notably Taiwan.

Swaziland is one of the world’s last absolute monarchies, a political system that critics say has hampered its growth economically. Opposition parties are banned, and although the occasional riot or protest does occur, life in Swaziland is, for the most part, a peaceful one for expats.

The country has beautiful scenery and excellent wildlife reserves, thanks to its progressive environmental laws. As British and American expats won’t need a South African visa for short visits, weekend trips to the vibrant, urban jungle of Johannesburg or the laid-back, balmy beaches of Durban are a five-hour drive or short flight away.

There are just a handful of international schools in Swaziland, but nearby Johannesburg has several excellent private and public boarding schools.

The country has some severe socio-economic problems. In addition to being a malaria zone, the country has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world. Many Swazis live in dire poverty and the healthcare system leaves much to be desired. Hospitals often face chronic shortages of basic medicines and supplies. There are a few good private clinics and hospitals in the capital, most notably Mbabane Clinic, but most expats choose to go over the border to South Africa for complex procedures and emergencies. It is essential that expats have comprehensive private medical insurance.

Crime is a concern for expats. They should avoid dense urban areas at night as carjackings, muggings and robberies are not uncommon. Swaziland’s roads, particularly outside the capital, are not always well maintained. There is effectively no public transport for expats so an off-road vehicle would be a good investment.

Expats moving to Swaziland will find a country brimming with unspoilt, natural beauty and will never be more than a few hours away from the luxuries of modern life. However, the widespread poverty and the prevalence of crime in the country create unique challenges for foreigners, and should not be underestimated.


Fast facts

Official name: eSwatini

Population: Just under 1.4 million

Capital city: Mbabane (administrative), Lobamba (royal)

Neighbouring countries: South Africa, Mozambique

Geography: The landscape is made up of mountains and hills, interspersed with sloping plains. The country is landlocked and therefore has no coastline, while the climate varies between temperate and tropical.

Political system: Absolute monarchy

Major religions: Christianity, African Zionism, Islam

Main languages: Swazi, English

Currency: The official currency is the Swazi lilangeni (SZL), but the South African Rand (ZAR) is also accepted.

Time: GMT+2

Electricity: 230 volts, 50 Hz.  

Internet domain: .sz

International dialling code: +268

Emergency contacts: Dial 999 for police emergency and 933 for a fire emergency

Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left-hand side of the road. Public transport is limited and most expats have their own vehicle.

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