- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals South Africa Guide (PDF)
As with any expat destination, life in South Africa comes with its own unique set of perks and challenges. Still, many expats will agree that in this case, the pros outweigh the cons, and they end up staying in the country long term. Below are some of the pros and cons of living in South Africa.
Accommodation in South Africa
+ PRO: Spacious options are available
In cities like Pretoria and Johannesburg, expats can easily rent sizeable freestanding houses in the suburbs with large gardens and often private swimming pools. Townhouses are also popular options for expats looking for something smaller, as they also usually have a small garden to relax in. Even apartment blocks often come with communal spaces that include swimming pools and braai (barbecue) areas.
- CON: Renting in major cities can be expensive
As in many countries, renting accommodation in major cities in South Africa can be expensive. With Cape Town, in particular, being a popular tourist destination, many investors buy up properties, which drives monthly rental fees even higher. Expats could end up spending over a third of their income on rent every month. The good news for expats heading to Johannesburg is that, although it doesn't have Cape Town's oceans or mountains, money goes a lot further here in terms of rent.
- CON: Rotational blackouts
Since 2007, South Africa has experienced electricity supply shortages, and the national electricity supplier, Eskom, has implemented a system of rotational blackouts known as 'load shedding'. The level of load shedding applied can change on a weekly or daily basis and varies from making daily life inconvenient to making it nearly impossible.
Lifestyle in South Africa
+ PRO: Lovely weather
With plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures throughout most of the year, South Africa's pleasant climate makes the country perfect for expats who enjoy being outdoors.
+ PRO: Easy to make friends
South Africans are known to be some of the friendliest people in the world, so expats should have no problem making friends and finding help when they are lost in their new city. Many South Africans also enjoy being active, meaning there are tons of opportunities for expats to join local hiking, running or sports clubs.
- CON: Very laid-back approach to time
Sometimes the lifestyle in South Africa can be a little too laid back. The famous South African term 'now-now' is a vague and ambiguous way of measuring time. If someone says they'll do something 'now-now', that could mean immediately, in a few minutes or a few hours. This could frustrate expats as things may not happen as quickly as they are used to.
Safety in South Africa
+ PRO: Safe for LGBTQ+ community
South Africa has enshrined equal treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in its constitution and recognises same-sex marriage. Cape Town, in particular, has a thriving LGBTQ+ culture and is often referred to as the 'gay capital of Africa'. All of this has made South Africa a safe destination for queer travellers. Of course, there will always be exceptions in any country, and some areas are more conservative than others – however, in general, LGBTQ+ expats shouldn’t experience serious homophobia here.
- CON: High crime rates
Expats do need to be aware that South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. It is important to take sensible safety precautions to reduce the chance of being seen as an 'easy target' to crimes such as robbery, muggings, smash-and-grabs and hijackings.
Working in South Africa
+ PRO: Relaxed work culture
In keeping with the generally laid-back attitude of the country, work culture in South Africa tends to be relaxed and informal. South Africans have a 'work to live' mindset rather than 'live to work' – they're hard workers while on the job, but personal time is generally respected once the workday ends.
- CON: Visas can take long
It isn’t possible for expats to get a job in South Africa without a visa. Unfortunately, paperwork in the country is notorious for moving slowly, and it can be difficult to predict how long a visa approval will take. Many employers prefer to avoid this complex and frustrating process, rather opting to hire someone local if possible. That said, expats with critical skills will have a much easier time with this.
- CON: Low wages and limited perks
Wages are low if one earns in the local currency. Employers are only required to give 15 days of annual leave a year, which may come as a shock to expats from countries with more generous leave policies. Many companies don’t offer standard perks like a pension or medical aid assistance, which means workers have added stress to cover these needs on their own.
Healthcare in South Africa
- CON: Inadequate public healthcare
Public healthcare in South Africa may be inexpensive, but it is generally not up to the standards that most expats are used to. Public hospitals are understaffed, under-resourced and overcrowded. This makes for a long and arduous process, regardless of whether one is there for something as innocuous as a medication pick-up or for more serious situations such as surgeries and emergencies. Creature comforts are few and privacy is lacking.
+ PRO: Excellent private healthcare
Fortunately, high-quality private healthcare is readily available. This makes up for the lack of public healthcare facilities. Visits to a private general practitioner are reasonably priced. South Africa also has various health insurance schemes for expats to choose from.
► To learn about adjusting to life in the country, read Culture Shock in South Africa
"Be excited, seek out the positive things available here, try not to compare backwards to a country you have left, rather look forward and create a bucket list of things you want to do, then book them in. There is so much on offer, you need to choose to embrace it." Hannah shares some tips about being an expat in South Africa.
"Cape Town is a great city. Sure, life here has its downsides and things have been awfully frustrating at times. It takes a while to get settled here but once you find your feet, the city offers you an amazing lifestyle." For more, read Shantalie's interview about expat 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.
Expat Health Insurance
If you’re thinking about taking out private health insurance, our trusted partner Cigna Global is very aware of all the difficulties that expats can face when it comes to healthcare in a new location, so they have created a range of international health insurance plans specifically designed for expats, which you can tailor exactly to the needs and ensure access to quality care for you and your family.
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