- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals South Africa Guide (PDF)
Despite losing popularity in recent years, South Africa remains one of the top expat destinations. Many expats flock to this African country for its relatively low cost of living, beautiful weather and friendly locals. On the other hand, though, South Africa has become marred by high crime rates and bureaucratic hoops that expats need to jump through. However, many expats will agree that 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, more often than not, 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 South Africa being a popular tourist destination, many foreigners invest in properties in cities like Cape Town which drives monthly rental fees even higher. Expats could end up spending over a third of their income on rent every month.
Lifestyle in South Africa
+ PRO: Lovely weather
With the coldest town in South Africa experiencing an annual minimum temperature of 35,6°F (2°C), it’s safe to say that winters are mild in this sunny country. The warm 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. This will make it easy for expats to make friends and get 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 or running clubs.
- CON: Very laidback approach to time
Sometimes the lifestyle in South Africa can be too laid back. The famous South African saying “now-now” is a way of measuring time which can range from something happening immediately or to some time more in the distant future. This could frustrate expats as things may not happen as quickly as they are used to.
Safety in South Africa
+ PRO: Safe for LGBT community
South Africa has enshrined equal treatment of the LGBT community in its constitution and recognises same-sex marriage. Cape Town is frequently voted one of the top LGBT destinations in the world. All of this has made South Africa a safe destination for queer travellers. Of course, there will always be exceptions in any country; however, LGBT 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. Violent crimes like robbery, carjacking and murder are a stark reality for many living here. Expats are advised to avoid walking around at night and to always be aware of their surroundings.
Working in South Africa
+ PRO: Relaxed work culture
Work culture in South Africa tends to be more relaxed than in Western countries. South Africans have a “work to live” mindset rather than “live to work”. Though certain industries can be stressful to work in, working in South Africa is low stress. Companies are also reasonable about sick leave as long as one provides a sick note from a doctor.
- CON: Visas can take long
It isn’t possible to get a job in South Africa without a visa. Paperwork also moves really slowly. Getting a visa approved can take extremely long. Many employers won’t wait for visas to get processed opting to rather find someone local. That said, expats with critical skills will have an easier time with this.
- CON: Low wages and limited perks
Wages are low if one earns in the local currency. Holiday allowances may also not be on the standard that Western expats are used to. Many companies don’t offer standard perks like 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, however, it isn’t up to the standards that most expats are used to. Public hospitals are understaffed and often don’t have the proper medical equipment and supplies. Hospitals also have long waiting times and can be overcrowded.
+ 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
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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