- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals South Africa Guide (PDF)
Expats moving to South Africa can look forward to finding an abundance of reasonably priced, comfortable housing options. Whether relocating to Johannesburg, Cape Town or anywhere else in the country, the range, quality and affordability of accommodation will make adjusting to life on the African continent that much smoother.
Most expats rent accommodation at least initially while they get to know the various areas and suburbs of their new city. Expats looking to settle down for good will be able to purchase property fairly easily as there are no property-ownership restrictions for foreigners in South Africa.
Types of accommodation in South Africa
The country has a vast selection of rental accommodation. The standard of accommodation in South Africa varies in direct proportion to income but is generally quite high.
On the whole, houses are more spacious than in most European countries, and finding relatively inexpensive properties with big gardens and swimming pools isn't uncommon. The South African institution of braaiing (barbecuing) ensures that most properties have some kind of outdoor entertainment area.
In South Africa, apartment buildings are known as blocks of flats. Individual apartments can be multi-roomed or may take the form of bachelor or studio apartments with one main room acting as a living area, bedroom and kitchenette.
Mostly found in the suburbs, freestanding houses are favoured by families for the indoor and outdoor space they afford. Though pricier than other types of accommodation, freestanding houses offer space, comfort and privacy.
Townhouses, rowhouses, and semi-detached houses are all terms used to refer to compact multi-storey homes that are joined to an adjacent house on either one or both sides. These usually have small gardens and are more affordable than large freestanding houses.
Security complexes, also known as gated communities, are secure housing developments with controlled entry. Complexes typically have a variety of housing types, ranging from apartments to townhouses to standalone family homes. There are also often shared facilities such as communal pools, outdoor braai areas, parks and clubhouses.
Also known as granny flats, these small homes can be found on the properties of larger freestanding houses. They typically have a studio-style open-plan layout, sometimes with the addition of a separate bedroom.
Finding accommodation in South Africa
When looking for accommodation in South Africa, many make use of local estate agents. This is a useful approach for expats especially, as estate agents can guide them through the rental process. Much of the legwork of renting accommodation is done by real estate agents, including picking out listings, arranging viewings and setting up a contract.
For those who prefer to go it alone, there are also listings in a number of local newspapers and on various online property portals.
Renting accommodation in South Africa
Once a potential tenant finds a place they wish to rent, they will need to fill out an application form. They will also be asked to submit proof of identity (such as a passport) and proof of income.
If the application is successful, the next step is that the tenant will be required to pay the first month of rent upfront, along with a deposit of one or two months' rent. At the end of the rental period, the tenant will receive the deposit back in full as long as the property is returned without any damages.
Leases are typically signed on a one-year renewable basis. It may be possible to rent for a shorter period, but this is generally more expensive and can be limiting in terms of what's available.
Utilities like electricity and water are not usually included in the rental price, so expats should ensure that they plan for this extra expense in their monthly budget.
Home security in South Africa is a concern; however, it often isn't as paralysing a preoccupation as some might imagine it to be. While opportunistic and sometimes violent crime occurs in South Africa, taking consistent common-sense precautions lowers the chance of being an easy target.
When viewing a potential new home, expats should ensure there are adequate security measures including burglar bars, security gates and an alarm system. Glass sliding doors are particularly vulnerable points of entry so it's important that they are properly secured with a gate.
Buying property in South Africa
Attracted by competitive property rates and enormous investment potential, many expats – especially those planning to stay for a few years – end up buying property in South Africa.
The good news is that there are no restrictions on non-residents owning property in South Africa. However, there is a restriction on the amount of financing non-South African residents can apply for. Foreign citizens are only granted up to 50 percent of a house's value and have to provide the balance themselves. Expats in South Africa on a work permit, however, may be granted more funding, subject to the bank's decision.
►Transport and Driving in South Africa gives information about getting around the country
"You’ll probably end up in a house much larger and nicer than you’re used to. To give you a little more peace of mind, I’d highly recommend finding a house in a security estate. Most of these have boom gates and security guards." Read more of Phil's thoughts on expat life in South Africa.
Are you an expat living in South Africa?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to South Africa. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
Expat Health Insurance
Cigna Global can tailor an international health insurance plan to perfectly fit the needs of you and your family. With 86 million customers in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.
Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.