Every city has perks and drawbacks, but Cape Town undoubtedly has more of the former than the latter. The city is known for its beautiful beaches, spectacular mountain hikes, world-class wineries, vibey nightlife, breathtaking natural beauty and the laid-back lifestyle its residents enjoy. Still, it's important for expats to be aware of the city's downsides along with its upsides in order to make an informed decision before relocating.
Here is a brief look at the pros and cons of living in Cape Town.
Accommodation in Cape Town
+ PRO: Lots of choice
Whether expats aspire to have a home right on the seashore or prefer the idea of living the high life in the foothills of a mountain, there are plenty of options in Cape Town's varied areas and suburbs. Expats are sure to appreciate the variety of accommodation options available, ranging from luxury apartments and sprawling villas to cosy cottages and comfortable houses.
- CON: High prices
Real estate prices are notoriously high in certain parts of the city, and expats who want to live right on the doorstep of one of Cape Town's two major assets – the mountain and the sea – will have to pay handsomely for the privilege.
- CON: Rotational blackouts
Beginning in 2007, there has been a shortage of electricity supply in South Africa which has led to the implementation of 'load shedding', a system of rotational blackouts. The intensity of load shedding can fluctuate quickly, causing varying degrees of disruption to daily life. Some residents use generators, solar power and batteries to buffer themselves from the worst of it. With the help of a pumped-storage scheme, the City of Cape Town is able to protect municipal customers from one or two stages of load shedding.
Lifestyle in Cape Town
+ PRO: Variety of outdoor activities
Whether a fitness addict or a nature lover, expats are sure to find plenty to see and do in Cape Town. Popular outdoor activities include hiking, surfing, running and playing rugby, cricket or soccer.
+ PRO: Lovely weather
With long, hot summers and mild winters, Cape Town's climate makes it easy to enjoy the wealth of outdoor activities on offer. Expats should take note of the famous 'Cape Doctor', though, a strong south-easterly gale that blows for a few weeks of the year.
+ PRO: Great nightlife and shopping
Capetonians take leisure time seriously and the city has a thriving nightlife to show for it, not to mention the fact that Cape Town is the unequivocal gay capital of South Africa. Whether expats are keen for a big night out or just a few cocktails with some friends, there are loads of excellent bars and restaurants to choose from.
The city's thriving wine industry means that it's always easy to access good wine at an affordable price, and going wine tasting in Constantia, Durbanville or Stellenbosch is a great way to spend an afternoon.
For expats in search of retail therapy, there are boundless options in the form of one of Cape Town's many sprawling shopping malls. The city also has several regular, well-loved markets.
Transport in Cape Town
- CON: Limited public transport
Aside from the MyCiTi bus system, there aren't many other viable options when it comes to public transport in the city. In addition, the current routes followed by the MyCiTi buses are limited to certain areas only. Fortunately, Cape Town is quite compact and walkable, and taxis or ride-hailing services aren't expensive thanks to short distances.
- CON: Minibus taxis
Minibus taxis seem to be a uniquely South African problem, and their erratic and often outright dangerous driving is a constant hindrance to many of the city's drivers.
+ PRO: Easy to navigate by car
Although Capetonians are quick to complain about the traffic, the city as a whole is relatively compact and the highway network is comprehensive, making it fairly quick and easy to get from one place to another by car.
Working in Cape Town
+ PRO: Thriving creative industries
Popular with both the local and international film industry, Cape Town has become a haven for creative types. Artists, writers and designers of all kinds are sure to meet plenty of like-minded people here. Although there is a lot of competition for creative jobs, expats who are able to measure up to the local standard are sure to find myriad opportunities in the Mother City.
- CON: Salaries are lower than in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is South Africa's economic centre, and jobs there will generally offer higher salaries than for the same position in Cape Town. In addition, accommodation is pricier in Cape Town than in Johannesburg. This can be a challenging balancing act, but if expats are able to budget well or can land a high-up position, it is certainly still possible to live comfortably on a Cape Town salary.
Cost of living in Cape Town
+ PRO: More bang for your buck
Out of the world's major cities, Cape Town has a relatively low cost of living, so even if expats aren't taking home a massive salary, they should still find that their money goes further than it would elsewhere. This is especially true if one is earning in dollars rather than the local currency, as the South African rand tends to be quite weak against the dollar.
Safety in Cape Town
- CON: High crime rate relative to European cities
South Africa's high crime rate is largely a result of the country's unequal social conditions. These conditions are one of the first things many expats notice upon arrival, as they are likely to fly over some of the city's townships before landing at the plush facilities of Cape Town International Airport.
However, by taking reasonable precautions, following safety tips and investing in good security, expats can avoid becoming victims of crime.
A lot of the high crime statistics of Cape Town are also a result of gang-related violence, which is unlikely to affect expats at all.
Schools and education in Cape Town
+ PRO: Lots of good schools
There are lots of options for schooling in Cape Town. While many expat parents send their children to one of the city's international schools, there are also a number of excellent (and less expensive) private schools.
Healthcare in Cape Town
- CON: Public system is inadequate
In general, the public healthcare system in South Africa will not be up to the standards that most expats are used to. Doctors and medical staff are highly trained and world-class, but the facilities themselves and waiting times often cause expats to choose private healthcare instead.
+ PRO: Excellent private healthcare
Luckily, good quality private healthcare is readily available to make up for the lack of good public healthcare facilities. Visits to a private General Practitioner are reasonably priced, and there are various health insurance schemes for expats to choose from.
►For an overview of life in the Mother City, see Moving to Cape Town
"Life in Cape Town is amazing. It has so much to offer. The most important thing to me and my family is the pace and quality of life." Read more about Londoner Annabelle's expat experience in Cape Town.
"Cape Town is a unique city, where unsurpassed natural beauty and a cosmopolitan metropolis blend into one. Having accessible, punctual public transportation is definitely something I miss though." Hailing from Taiwan, Lisa shares her expat experience in Cape Town.
Are you an expat living in Cape Town?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Cape Town. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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