Crime and safety in South Africa are major factors for expats considering moving to the country.

Much of the country's crime is linked to income inequality. On a day-to-day basis, theft-related crimes are likely to be the most cause for concern. Violent crimes, on the other hand, are typically linked to gang activity which is concentrated in particular areas. Expats are far less likely to come across this type of crime.

Burglaries, mugging, petty theft and hijackings are usually opportunistic, with perpetrators taking advantage of what they consider to be easy targets. Expats can reduce their chances of falling victim to these types of crimes by being aware of their surroundings, avoiding isolated areas and investing in home and vehicle security.

Residential safety in South Africa

While burglaries can be a problem in some areas, expats can increase their personal safety by contracting an armed response security provider and investing in an alarm system. Many suburban estates also have controlled access, while neighbourhoods without controlled access often have neighbourhood-watch patrols instead, which can also decrease the chance of crime.

There are a few more factors that can improve the residential safety of expats:

  • Be vigilant about locking front and back doors at all times, and make sure alarm systems are set before leaving the house

  • When choosing a home, it's a good idea to opt for enclosed neighbourhoods or security villages, apartments with gated security, or areas with effective neighbourhood watches

  • The vast majority of South African properties have burglar bars installed on windows and safety gates on external doors. Sliding doors are sometimes overlooked by property owners in this respect, but it's important that they are fitted with safety gates too, as they are particularly vulnerable potential entry points. Burglars have also been known to get through even the smallest of windows, so tiny, innocuous-looking windows should also have burglar bars.

  • Extra precautions such as perimeter walls, guard dogs and electric fencing can make the property more secure and are good to have, but aren't absolutely essential

  • A common complaint is that police response is too slow, so expats should consider using private security companies with armed response units capable of responding to emergencies

Public transport safety in South Africa

A lack of safe public transport in South Africa poses a frustrating challenge. Minibus taxis, trains and even certain buses are especially vulnerable to pickpocketing and muggings. Consulting trusted locals, such as friends or co-workers, on the safest mode of transport in the area is recommended.

There are no underground trains, but the speedy Gautrain operating between Johannesburg and Pretoria provides a safe and effective means of travel, although it is somewhat expensive. The MyCiTi bus services in Cape Town are also widely regarded as a safe option, but valuables should still be kept out of sight and caution is advisable at night, especially when travelling alone.

Road safety in South Africa

Road safety in South Africa is an ongoing concern. Reckless driving, especially by minibus taxis, is the cause of many accidents. Expats in South Africa should drive defensively and be sure to obey the rules of the road and constantly be aware of their surroundings, especially at night. Car doors should be locked and windows rolled up at all times. Drivers should also stick to main routes, park in well-lit areas, keep valuables out of sight, and never pick up hitchhikers.

In certain areas, smash-and-grab thefts and hijackings are threats too; hotspots include residential driveways and traffic lights, particularly those near motorway off-ramps. When in these two situations, it is important to keep a sharp eye out for any suspicious-looking figures trying to lurk in the car's blind spot. Drivers should also make sure they have an escape route available by leaving a gap between their car and the car in front of them at traffic lights, or by rolling slowly towards the traffic light. Coming to a total stop makes it easier for criminals to approach the car and smash a window.

When parking at night, expats should choose a security-patrolled or well-lit area. Informal and formal car guarding services are common in South Africa. Should a car guard offer their assistance in keeping watch over the car once it has been parked, it’s accepted practice to pay them some change when returning.

Scams in South Africa

ATM scams in South Africa are a possibility. Never engage a stranger in conversation while drawing money. Don't count money in public, and avoid drawing large amounts of cash if strangers are watching. If the ATM withholds a card, immediately call the helpline number displayed on the ATM, and do not allow a stranger to assist.

Political and social unrest in South Africa

Protests stemming from social inequalities and labour disputes are fairly common in South Africa. These can disrupt traffic and service delivery in the affected area, and violence has erupted on occasion. Large labour union strikes are usually reported on in advance, and there is normally a notable security presence surrounding such events. Expats should keep abreast of local developments and avoid any affected areas.

Emergency telephone numbers in South Africa

  • Emergency services: 10111

  • Emergency services (from a mobile telephone): 112

  • Ambulance: 10177

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