Living in South Africa: What You Need to Know

South African woman

Relocating to a new place is unnerving. It is even more daunting when you are moving to a country as big and culturally diverse as South Africa. But the large numbers of foreigners in the nation show that it is habitable to all kinds of visitors. An article by The Guardian in 2012 estimated that there were 200,000 expats in the country at the time – just from the United Kingdom. Sufficient information and early preparation will ease the transition and minimize awkward situations when you arrive. Here’s what you need to know about living in South Africa, from permits to finding an apartment!

See Also: Top 10 Employers in South Africa

1. Permits

The South African law requires that you go through their Department of Home Affairs for approval to visit, work or live in the country. The department can allow or prohibit your entry into the country, so it’s highly advisable that you find out whether or not you are eligible before making arrangements to move.

For entry into South Africa, you’ll need a valid passport for the length of your intended residence, a valid visa, and proof of financial sustenance during your stay. You will also need an onward or return ticket and a yellow fever vaccination certificate. If you plan to work, study, or be professionally involved in South Africa, you must have a work, study, or work seeker’s permit, respectively. You can apply for these permits from your country, in which case you do not need to apply for a visa separately.

These requirements vary in different countries, depending on their bilateral agreements with South Africa. Contact the Department of Home Affairs through your nearest South African embassy to verify your requirements.

2. Finding Work

Foreigners must have a job offer before applying for a work permit in South Africa. For this reason, you should begin your search online before arriving in the country if you are interested in finding a job. Most South Africans rely on recommendations and networking to find a job, but there are plenty of other avenues you can explore.

Use job websites and classifieds on online newspapers to stay updated on available vacancies. If your search is in a particular industry, subscribe to local periodicals that cover that industry. Another alternative to finding a job in South Africa is to contact specialized professional organizations such as the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants or the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineering, among others, depending on your profession.

While recruitment agencies are an excellent way to avoid the hustle of job seeking, be sure to check their credibility and legitimacy. You can find agencies through the country’s Yellow Pages or other online directories. After you find a job, the first thing to do is to register to pay taxes by filing for a tax number.

3. Where to Stay

While the most popular destinations for foreigners are Cape Town and Johannesburg, your money, the purpose of stay, and various other factors will determine where you live.

Expatica, an international media company, ranks Cape Town, the Garden Route, Port St. John’s, Cape St. Francis and the West Coast as the top five safest places in South Africa.

If you love the beach and water sports, Cape Town is endowed with beautiful shores, sea camps, and water spaces. If you are an animal lover and enjoy shopping, Pretoria is home to several zoological and botanical gardens, as well as nature reserves such as the Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary and the Wonderboom Nature Reserve. It’s also known for its many shopping malls.

If, however, adventure is your priority, Durban is often referred to as South Africa’s playground. The year-round warm weather makes it pleasant for outdoor activities. If you are looking to live in a luxurious neighborhood, Knight Frank’s Prime Global Cities Index ranked Cape Town at number 9 on the list of cities with the most luxurious homes in the world in the first quarter of 2012.

4. Cost of Living

The 2015 Cost of Living Rankings named Cape Town among the cheapest places to live for expatriates, having climbed five spots from the 2014 list – a sign that the cost of living is slowly rising.

South Africans use the South African rand (ZAR) – the official currency – but most traders in the main cities accept cards and other major currencies such as the U.S dollar.

Numbeo reveals that basic utilities such as water, garbage and electricity can cost you anywhere between 700 R and 1,700 R (about $54 and $132) for an 85 square meter apartment. An average fitness club will charge you an average 386.86 R (about $30) per month, while a regular cappuccino in an average restaurant will cost you an average 18.58 R (about $1.45).

5. Finding Casual Labor

Moving into South Africa with children or on a full-time job basis may necessitate a need to hire someone to help around. Part-time workers are readily available and affordable in South Africa, but employers must adhere to labor legislation. The law requires you give the employee a contract by the end of the first day. Any person hired for 24hours or more per month is entitled general labor protection laws such as paid leave. Be sure to understand the South African Labor Guide before hiring any temporary or permanent employee.

6. Health

Although South African authorities regard the country as one of the healthiest countries in the region due to good weather and access to fresh food, you are the one to handle your healthcare costs. Visit the Department of Health to understand immunization rules, qualification for subsidized healthcare insurance, and any possible reciprocal health agreements with your country. Most private insurance policies cover basic and specialized treatments and rapid response emergency services. If you already have health insurance in your country, the health regulations allow extending some of them to South Africa, thus eliminating the need to pay for a new policy.

7. Weather and Climate

South Africa is a relatively dry country with warm temperatures for the larger part of the year. Summer runs from mid-October to mid-February, fall comes in February to April, and winter takes over from May to July. While the nights can be heavily frosty during winter, the daytime weather is relatively bearable throughout the year.

8. Mobility and Communication

Typical modes of transport in South Africa include planes, trains, buses, and taxis. Driving will, however, save you from the often confusing public transport in this big country.

South African laws allow you to use your foreign driving license as long as it is still valid in your home country. To avoid unnecessary problems with officers that may not understand protocol when dealing with foreign driving licenses, however, it’s recommended you get an international driver’s permit. Buying or renting a car is a relatively easy process as there’s a vast number of vendors to choose from.

Communication is equally easy as you can buy a mobile phone and pay-as-you-use SIM card, and start using it right away. Choose your mobile service provider carefully as interconnection fees – which contributes to the biggest cost of calls – vary widely. Internet connections, however, can be more expensive and slower than most developed nations.

See Also: How to Find a Job in South Africa

Experts living in South Africa have varying views about the country. Some feel there are many socioeconomic threats such as xenophobia and security. Others opine that the challenges match those of other major cities across the globe. The key towards a stable transition is to know as much as you need beforehand.

Do you live in South Africa or have recently moved there? What advice would you give to people in the process of moving to the Rainbow Nation? Let us know in the comments section below!

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