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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.
Living in South Africa as an expat
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 an excellent 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.
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.
Cost of living in South Africa
The cost of living in South Africa is low compared to many destinations overseas, and roughly on par with the other more developed African countries. Expats with foreign-currency incomes will be in an excellent position, while those who earn South African rand may find local salaries not as competitive as they are used to.
The cost of accommodation in the population centres like Cape Town and Johannesburg can be high, but South Africa's property prices are mainly quite reasonable. Petrol is cheap relative to European prices; a blessing, because driving cars is the main form of transport. Local groceries are good quality and well-priced, but imported items (including electronics and cars) are costly. Most expat parents go for private education and healthcare, and these costs vary depending on quality. Expats typically opt for health insurance.
Expat families and children in South Africa
Despite issues in the respective public sectors, private healthcare in South Africa is world-class. Expat parents will also be glad to know that 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.
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.
Climate in South Africa
South Africa's sunny weather attracts expats and tourists from colder countries every year. It's a large country with coastal areas, plateaus, deserts and forests, and each area has its own climate.
The coastal regions are given to milder summers and winters. The west coast's Atlantic brings a Mediterranean feel to Cape Town, while the east coast's Indian Ocean makes Durban and Port Elizabeth more tropical. Winters are wet, and summers generally dry.
Inland, the inverse is true. Summers bring afternoon thunderstorms to Johannesburg, while winters are dry. Temperatures in the inland are also given to higher highs and lower lows – highs of up to or exceeding 104°F (40°C) are possible in the summer, and frost in the winter is not unheard of.
While life in the southernmost African country is far from perfect, South Africa's wonderful weather, reasonable cost of living, friendly population and high quality of life often lure many an expat to stay far longer than they intended.
Official name: Republic of South Africa
Population: 58 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, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) and Mozambique. 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 south of 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 semidesert 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 and the Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho languages 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
"Like most British expats, I’m chasing the sun. I just love the warm weather and outdoor lifestyle. I think the quality of life here is better because there is more of a work-life balance. The pace is much slower and it feels like you have more time to really LIVE." British expat Keiley shares her experiences of life in Cape Town here.
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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