Moving to South Africa
Last updated on Feb 03, 2023
Summary: Many expats and digital nomads move to South Africa for its diverse culture, beautiful landscapes, and relatively low cost of living. The most popular cities for expats and digital nomads in South Africa are Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban. People looking for a place to live in South Africa can search online for rental properties, contact real estate agents, or look for shared housing options.
What do I need to know before moving to South Africa?
When we asked people what advice they would give someone preparing to move to South Africa, they said:
"Before moving to South Africa, it is important to become familiar with the local culture, understand the official language (which is Afrikaans), familiarize yourself with the different neighborhoods and cities, research the local currency and employments options, explore the cultural and recreational activities, find out about any regulations concerning pets, learn about the country’s healthcare system and make sure you have the necessary visas and permits for long-term residence. Additionally, it is essential to be aware of the country's security situation and plan accordingly," commented one expat who made the move to South Africa.
"Choose a home with very good security and hire a security company. Choose a house with mostly north facing windows for maximum benefit from the Sun in winter. Reconsider moving if your family has respitory problems. The pollution is very bad in Johannesburg. Visit http://www.earthlife.org.za/campaigns/toxics/air.htm for more information," remarked another expat in Johannesburg, South Africa.
How do I find a place to live in South Africa?
We asked expats how they chose their neighborhood and found a place to live. They answered:
"The best way to find a place to live in South Africa is to search online and to ask people who already live there. There are a variety of websites, such as Gumtree and Property24, that list available housing options with description, photos and contact details. It is also a good idea to search on social media such asFacebook and Twitter for housing groups or online forums. Additionally, many newspapers, both local and national, have sections for classified ads that can provide more information about housing opportunities. It is also useful to look for student accommodation if you are studying in South Africa. Finally, you may also want to consider contacting real estate agencies who can help you to find the perfect home," added another expat who made the move to South Africa.
"Wanted somewhere that was close to the beach (5 mins away) somewhere not too close to the city but not too far (15min drive away from city central) and somewhere that felt safe. Table View has all that going for it and I really love it here," explained one expat living in Cape Town, South Africa.
What is a typical expat home or apartment like in South Africa?
"Expat homes in South Africa typically feature large, open-plan living spaces with modern furnishings, stylish decor, and natural light. High speed internet access, satellite TV and air conditioning are often included. Kitchens are usually equipped with modern amenities, while bedrooms and bathrooms may be ensuite. Many expat homes are located near malls and other shopping areas, as well as cafes, bars, and restaurants. Expat apartments, which are typically found in more urban areas, tend to be compact and stylishly decorated, and boast balconies with views of the city. These apartments often come with all the necessary amenities for comfortable living," said another expat in South Africa.
"I don't know any expats here in South Africa at all - only been here 4 months and not so easy to meet people. Its a free standing house with a big yard and a pool - lovely!," added another expat who made the move to Cape Town.
What is the average cost of housing in South Africa?
If you are thinking about moving to South Africa, cost of living in probably a key consideration. Expats commented about the cost of housing:
"The average cost of housing in South Africa varies greatly depending on the area and type of housing. Generally, housing costs in South Africa are higher in urban areas and tend to be lower in rural areas. Prices range from low-end property typically costing around R400 000 (approximately US $26 400) to high-end properties costing millions of Rand," remarked another expat who made the move to South Africa.
"Lower, but so is the quality of the house. No, central heating and very large single pane windows to give examples," explained one expat living in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Should I buy or rent a home in South Africa?
If you have not spent a lot of time in South Africa, you should rent before even thinking about buying. We asked expats there about the buy vs. rent decision:
"Ultimately, whether to buy or rent a home in South Africa is a decision that depends on the individual's situation. Buying a house may be beneficial if someone has the financial means and is looking for long-term security, a reliable investment and to build equity. Conversely, renting could be attractive if someone prefers the flexibility of being able to move, doesn't want the commitment of a long-term purchase, or if they don't have the means to purchase. Ultimately, it is best to weigh the pros and cons to decide which option makes more sense for your individual circumstances," remarked another expat in South Africa.
What should I pack when moving to South Africa?
We asked people living in South Africa to list three things they wish they had brought and three they wish they had left behind. They responded:
"Essentials to pack when moving to South Africa include items like clothes suitable for warm weather, sturdy and comfortable footwear, medication and medical supplies, important documents such as passport and visas, electrical adapters/converters, toiletries, insect repellent, sunscreen/sun protection, a first aid kit, personal items such as books, music, a laptop/computer, a camera, cell phone and charger, and some cash (South African Rand). Other items that may be useful are items to furnish your new space such as dishes, pots, pans, furniture and appliances, kitchen items such as utensils, cleaners and garbage bags, batteries, flashlights, and tools for repairs," added another expat who made the move to South Africa.
"My family, More photos, Native forest I could have left my winter clothes behind and made my suitcase lighter - doesnt really get cold here. I really only moved here with a backpack and a bag so I need everything I brought with me," explained one expat living in Cape Town, South Africa.
What cultural faux pas should I try to avoid making in South Africa?
We asked people in South Africa if they could share any humorous cultural blunders they commited. For new expats, keep in mind that these incidents are an inevitable part of expat life. Learning to laugh about them is the key!:
"In South Africa, it is important to be conscious of the different cultures present in the country and to avoid making any cultural faux pas. Some of the most important points to keep in mind are to respect the various cultures and not to engage in any derogatory speech or inappropriate behaviour. Additionally, it is advised not to comment on someone's colour and/or race, touch or handle art without permission, and/or point with your feet as this can be considered highly offensive. Lastly, it is important to dress modestly when visiting holy places and show proper respect," added another expat who made the move to South Africa.
How are healthcare services South Africa?
When we asked expats and global nomads about the quality of medical care in South Africa, they replied:
"I have insurance that covers hospital stays and some surgery. I also pay for "gap insurance", which pays most all of the shortfall in coverage for surgery. Result is that almost 100% of the costs were paid for the five major surgeries that we have had in the post 10 years," replied one expat when asked about moving to Cape Town.
About the Author
Betsy Burlingame is the Founder and President of Expat Exchange and is one of the Founders of Digital Nomad Exchange. She launched Expat Exchange in 1997 as her Master's thesis project at NYU. Prior to Expat Exchange, Betsy worked at AT&T in International and Mass Market Marketing. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in International Business and German.
Some of Betsy's articles include 12 Best Places to Live in Portugal, 7 Best Places to Live in Panama and 12 Things to Know Before Moving to the Dominican Republic. Betsy loves to travel and spend time with her family. Connect with Betsy on LinkedIn.
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- 2023 Guide to Living in South Africa