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Expats moving to South Africa will find a world of wonders within the borders of a single country. From its incredibly diverse topography to its 11 official languages, there is much to be enjoyed in the range and rhythm of life in Africa’s southernmost country.
Retirees, ambitious young adults and established professionals are drawn by the wonderful climate, the relatively low living costs and the easy access to a luxurious lifestyle, all against an immensely scenic African backdrop. From bustling cities and quaint rural villages to sweeping game reserves with world-class lodges and pristine beaches all around its coast, South Africa offers expats a high quality of life and plenty to see and do. What’s more, adapting to the culture is fairly easy and enjoying the South African lifestyle is effortless.
While there is plenty to be enjoyed about life in South Africa, the country does battle with high unemployment, deeply rooted inequality and inefficient governance.
Despite problems in the respective public sectors, private healthcare in South Africa is world class and several of its universities are internationally ranked. The country’s private schools offer a level of education comparable to the best schools around the world, and there are even some public schools that should meet the expectations of expats.
As a result of skill shortages in sectors such as engineering, education, executive management and information technology, expats with the right skills and experience shouldn’t struggle to find employment.
Unfortunately, there is still some way to go in addressing the disparities entrenched by the apartheid era, and crime in South Africa continues to be a problem that affects many citizens and businesses. Private security is a necessary precaution and, with a booming security industry, can easily be contracted for affordable rates.
The most popular cities for expats moving to South Africa are Cape Town and Johannesburg. Joburg, as locals call it, is inland and has the constant bustle of a cosmopolitan business centre, while Cape Town offers windswept beaches, mountain-framed vistas and a more laid-back lifestyle.
Expats who move to South Africa often find that its idiosyncratic mixture of first- and third-world elements makes for an irresistible combination in spite of the challenges.
Official name: Republic of South Africa
Population: Over 59 million
Capital cities: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial)
Neighbouring countries: Along South Africa's northern border from west to east are Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Swaziland. Lesotho is situated in the eastern side of South Africa, and is entirely surrounded by the Republic.
Geography: South Africa has a long coastline of 1,600 miles (2,500 kms) that hugs the country from east to west. The inland area of the country is characterised by a vast plateau, while a large portion of the south is occupied by a semi-desert shrubland called the Karoo.
Political system: Constitutional parliamentary republic
Major religions: Freedom of religion is enshrined in the South African constitution. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism are the most prominent religions.
Main languages: South Africa has 11 official languages, though English is the standard form of communication. Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho are also widely spoken and vary in prevalence depending on geographic location.
Money: The South African Rand (ZAR) is divided into 100 cents. Opening a bank account is usually easy and possible with identification and proof of address. ATMs are widespread but might be scarcer in some rural areas. Internet banking is widely available.
Tipping: 10 percent (or more for good service) is common.
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Typically, three-pin round plugs are standard.
Internet domain: .za
International dialling code: +27
Emergency contacts: 10111
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left. Despite the introduction of rapid transport systems in some areas, public transport is generally of a low standard and most expats purchase a vehicle. Roads are generally of good quality, but certain rural roads may be in disrepair.
►Check out some of our articles about South Africa written by expats
"My personal quality of life is a lot higher than at home but I realise I am one of the lucky ones." Cuban-born Clara shares her experiences of life in Pretoria here.
"It’s hard to pinpoint what I love most about Cape Town. There’s so much exciting and innovative stuff going on in this city." Cherry, an American expat, tells us about life in Cape Town.
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.
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