Hannah is a UK expat living in Johannesburg. Inspired by her experiences, she became the founder of Translating Me, and the Identity Project, an online personal branding course that helps expats to reinvent their careers and personal ambitions since moving abroad. New expats to Joburg or those thinking about moving can get in touch with her through her blog, or learn more about South Africa through Hannah's free email series.
Q: Where are you originally from?
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Joburg, South Africa
Q: When did you move to Johannesburg?
Q: Did you move to Johannesburg alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved as a spouse.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: We moved with my husband’s job. It was initially a two-year contract, but we have since gained a dog and 3 children.
Living in Johannesburg
Q: What do you enjoy most about Joburg? How would you rate the quality of life compared to the UK?
A: The colours – pink cherry blossom, purple jacarandas, orange and purple bird of paradise, pink proteas, orange clivia miniata, and always a bright blue sky. The whole city turns purple in October, and you cannot but smile as you drive around on your normal daily commute. There are beautiful parks with incredible views overlooking the city, perfect for early morning runs or bike rides, walking the dog or just going for a stroll. All these beautiful natural elements make it so much easier to live a life outside, to have people round for a BBQ, for your children to run and play outside. Joburg is also pretty small, so getting to see international sport on your doorstep or eating out at incredible restaurants is very accessible.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: If you choose to listen to the media or a South African who is living abroad, you will have heard about the crime, unemployment, water or electricity shortages and corruption. Sadly, there are a multitude of challenges for people living in Johannesburg and South Africa as a whole, but it is also a vibrant welcoming city that opens its arms to invite you in, love it or hate it. Some research I came across said for every skilled person that moves to South Africa, 11 jobs are created, so there is a real opportunity to truly make a difference here, it’s up to you if you take it.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Joburg? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: The complex alarm system! Lack of public transports limits how spontaneous you can be, because you have to pre-plan how you are getting home. The traffic is also a bit hectic, and the pace of life is much slower – you soon adapt to “Africa Time”.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to the UK? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: It costs about the same to eat out as to eat in – there is a huge range of accessible restaurants (particularly steak and wine are very reasonable). But anything imported, like books, electronic goods, global brands and clothes are all much more expensive.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in South Africa? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: As I mentioned above, sadly not great. You need to own a car, and due to South Africa being so far away from countries that make cars, they are incredibly expensive.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Johannesburg? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: If you have medical aid, healthcare is fantastic. However, sadly all the doctors and specialists tend to work in isolation, and there is quite an old-school mentality, lack of continuous professional development, and a “well, that’s the way things are done here” approach. But generally, it’s fantastic.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Johannesburg? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I really hate focusing on the crime. I run in the parks most days, and walk around Joburg. We don’t have burglar bars on the windows of our home, nor do we live in a security golf estate. So it depends what you want to focus your time and attention on. Do people get mugged, and do things get stolen? Yes. There are a number of problems here. But the vast majority of expats who live here do so happily and without any experience of crime.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Joburg? What different options are available for expats?
A: Where you live will depend on where your children go to school. If they go to one of the international schools, then you will probably live in Fourways or Dainfern estates. If they go to South African private schools, or you don’t want to live in an estate, then most expats tend to live in and around an area called “the Parks” – Parkhurst, Hyde Park, and Parkview being the most popular – in either cluster homes or free-standing houses.
Q: Any areas/suburbs in Joburg you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: I love Parkhurst, but the gardens are smaller. Parkview or Parkwood have slightly bigger plots.
Meeting people and making friends in Joburg
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women, etc.?
A: Clearly there is a big history of discrimination, between all race classifications, but in my own experience I have found all South Africans to be incredibly welcoming.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: I did struggle at first, but I soon found a lovely group of friends, through puppy training, other expat friends, and more recently, the kids’ school.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: I have found it easier making South African friends through the kids’ school, but it is quite hard to meet local people, who are often busy with their own lives and have a clear friendship group. This is one of the reasons why I have set up Translating Joburg, which is a monthly meetup for expats and locals to discover a new part of the city.
Working in South Africa
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for South Africa? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I managed to get a work permit, but then when the laws changed, I didn’t renew it. I now work remotely through business in the UK. The visa process is incredibly frustrating. I would advise anyone seeking to work here to apply for a Critical Skills visa back in the home country, rather than submitting here.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in South Africa? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: Sadly, the level of unemployment is incredibly high here, and so finding a job here is hard. You either have to start your own company or be transferred by a global company.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in Joburg?
A: Going from my husband’s experience in the corporate sector here, things happen at a much slower pace, and people tend to start much earlier in the morning and finish at 3 to 4pm or at 2pm on a Friday! There are lots of public holidays, and the whole country shuts down from the first week in December through to mid-January.
Family and children in South Africa
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: I didn’t really know what I was signing up to! Thankfully, we both really enjoy our life here, but it is hard to build a support network, particularly if you don’t have children. It’s probably easier here, since most people speak English and eating out and travel are both reasonably cheap, so you can have a great quality of life. But you have to be kind to yourself, know there will be times of loneliness and know it will get easier. These challenges are the very reason why I set up the Identity Project, which is an online course to help partners adjust and recreate their own personal brand through a six-week programme.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: We had our children here.
Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?
A: I have a whole blog post on schools on my blog. But basically, the international schools are great, particularly the American one. We have chosen the South African private schools, which are all outstanding but very hard to get into.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: 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. Day trips, weekends away, learning about wine, history, culture, there is so much on offer, you need to choose to embrace it. Finally – come join us at a monthly meetup. We would love to meet you in person.
~Interviewed July 2017