- Download our Moving to South Africa Guide (PDF)
The working environment in South Africa hinges on the type of two-tiered economy generally associated with developing countries. One level is similar to a high-producing Western country, and the other is largely informal.
Despite this complex contrast, South Africa's diversified economy and highly developed infrastructure have helped to maintain optimism through continued job creation.
The 'brain drain' resulting from skilled South African workers moving overseas has created gaps in many sectors. This has encouraged companies in industries like finance, medicine, engineering and even some artisanal trades to consider employing foreigners.
Job market in South Africa
The Rainbow Nation's professional world has abundant opportunities for qualified and experienced expats. Those with a tertiary education will find that integrating into the economy won't be too difficult. South Africa is also a fertile ground for entrepreneurial activity, and expats looking to open a business in South Africa can potentially have great success.
South Africa's primary sectors include manufacturing, mining and agricultural services. The services sector remains the largest source of employment in the country, but expats will find that the greatest skills shortages in South Africa, and the most opportunities, are in fields such as engineering, IT and medicine. Temporary positions and low-income jobs are difficult to find, though, with an already high unemployment rate.
The most popular cities for expats in South Africa are Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Johannesburg is renowned for its 'work hard, play hard' culture, while the coastal cities are known for a more balanced, relaxed lifestyle.
Finding a job in South Africa
Expats looking to find a job in South Africa usually turn to the many online job portals. The local classifieds can also be a valuable resource, or expats can sign up with a recruitment agency. Being proactive and approaching companies directly to express interest can also go a long way.
To legally take up employment in the country, expats will need a South African work visa. They should also be aware that salaries negotiated in the weak South African rand may make for a comfortable lifestyle within local borders but is unlikely to go far outside the continent.
Work culture in South Africa
Expats may find the work culture in South Africa to be somewhat more relaxed than they are used to, although this will vary between different industries and cities. For example, just about everything in Cape Town is approached with a more laid-back attitude than it would be in Johannesburg, and this includes the atmosphere at work.
As far as dress code goes, expats are likely to encounter more formal dress codes in business or corporate settings, while smaller companies or creative industries may have fewer regulations when it comes to what to wear at work.
South Africans are generally friendly and welcoming people, so expats shouldn't be surprised if they are invited out for after-work drinks. This is a good way to get to know new colleagues in a relaxed setting.
►For information on working legally in the country, see Work Permits for South Africa
"The economic climate is pretty dire. I would not recommend coming here without a job, or with a skill that you know is needed here. Hopefully this will change but there is not enough work for the locals let alone expats." Read more of Clara's thoughts on expat life in South Africa.
"The term ‘work ethic’ has a very different meaning in Cape Town than it does in a place like Johannesburg or the US. Capetonians are known for enjoying life outside of work and tend to emphasize the values of enjoying your surroundings, your family, and social life." Find out more about Kate's experiences living 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.
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