Living in South Africa

Living in South Africa can offer expatriates a unique experience sampling a diverse and rich culture. South Africa is located on the southern tip of Africa and is bordered by Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. It has nine provinces; Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Natal, Northern Cape, the North West and Western Cape. It’s most well known cities are Pretoria (the executive capital), Cape Town (the legislative capital), Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein and East London.

While most people think of Safari and wild animals when they contemplate Africa, there is much more than this. The cities in South Africa are not unlike other cities around the world with sprawling skyscrapers, cosmopolitan dining and bar areas and shopping malls to suit all budgets. However, those who are moving to South Africa and are in search of a taste of the wild will not have to venture to far to find it. Just an hour’s drive from places such as Johannesburg, are natural reserves that are abundant with all manner of wildlife, including lions, elephants and zebra.

South Africa has a population of over 47-million people of diverse origins, cultures, languages and beliefs. Around 79% are black (or African), 9% white, 9% “coloured” (the local name given to people who are of mixed African, Asian and white descent), and 2.5% Indian or Asian.

South Africa as an expat destination

South Africa is a stunning place of natural beauty and many expats come here looking to enjoy an outdoor, relaxed lifestyle. There is an abundance of outdoor attractions, including white sandy beaches, surf, wildlife, vast winelands and mountains and trails.

South Africa is an extremely cosmopolitan area and people from all over the world live here. A high standard of living is on offer at a relatively low cost and expats in South Africa find that their money goes much further than it does in many western countries.

In some regards South Africa is still regarded as an unsafe area to visit and in some areas poverty and crime are still rife. However, provided you exercise due care and caution while living in South Africa, as you should anywhere else in the world, you will generally find that people are friendly and welcoming. If you are contemplating moving to South Africa, ensure that you do research in advance and identify the areas of the major cities that may pose a risk to you as a foreigner. See the relocation guide for more information.

Cost of living in South Africa

South Africa remains relatively cheap in comparison to many western countries. In the 2012 Mercer cost of living rankings Johannesburg (154) and Cape Town (179) fall 23 and 21 places respectively on the previous year, reflecting the considerable weakening the South African rand has suffered against the US dollar in the last year. Tunis, Tunisia (209), remains the least expensive city for expatriates in the region, down two places from last year.

The cheap cost of labor in South Africa entails that expats living here will have a high standard of living and will have domestic help as the norm if they so wish. Alcohol, eating at local restaurants and general service costs are also quite low. Thus life in South Africa is not so expensive.

If you’re considering relocating to South Africa then please check out our guide to living in Cape Town. It contains full and comprehensive details of the cost of living including sample prices of goods and services across different budget types. It will be an invaluable resource for planning your move to becoming digital nomads.


There are eleven official languages in South Africa; Afrikaans, English, IsiNdebele, IsiXhosa, IsiZulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Siswati, Tshivenda and Xitsonga.


South Africa is a large country with a climate that varies from region to region. The Western Cape has a Mediterranean type climate whilst the interior of the country has a semi-desert climate that is typified by cold, dry winters and summer rainfall.

Expat job and career opportunities

There is an Affirmative Action policy in place in South Africa, which gives females, people of color and people with disabilities preference for job opportunities. Such policies, coupled with South Africa’s high employment rate, can act as a severe impediment for foreigners living in South Africa who are searching for work, as they will often be passed over in favor of locals. However, there does remain a requirement for skilled employees in some areas, and those will skills that are in demand may find that they are able to secure employment opportunities.

Key facts every expat should know before moving to South Africa

  • If you are treated in a state hospital while living in South Africa you will be required to pay. While moving to South Africa you should know that fees are charged in accordance to your salary and the number of dependents you have.
  • You will come across “car guards” in many cities. The common practice is to tip them when you return to your car. You should ensure you only use the services of someone wearing an official badge or bib.
  • In South Africa there are robots on the corner of most streets. The term “robot” is the South Africanism for a traffic light.

Living in South African city guide

Expat Info Desk currently has a city guide available for living in Cape Town. This exhaustive guide contains everything you need to know about life in South African city and will assist you to:

  • relocate efficiently and effectively with minimum stress.
  • settle in to your new life quickly and easily and find the help and assistance you need, when you need it.
  • identify areas to live in that suit your lifestyle and budget.
  • find the right places to meet like-minded people.
  • find schools that are suitable for your children and their learning needs.
  • ensure that your family get the most of their experiences abroad.
  • prepare for the new culture in advance and avoid any cultural traps.
  • deal with any transition challenges.
  • cut through red tape and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.

Unlike a book, the guides are regularly reviewed and updated in order to ensure that the information is accurate and reliable and because the guides are written by real expats who live and work in Cape Town, you can be assured that you are accessing the information that you need as written by people who really are in the know.

Your only expat guide to living in South Africa; Feel at home abroad – Fast!

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