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Moving to South Africa

Your guide to expat life in South Africa

Want to move to South Africa?

South Africa’s fantastic climate, spectacular natural beauty and outdoor lifestyle attract expats from all corners of the world. With a vast diversity of landscapes and topography, ‘Mzansi’, as the country is affectionately known, is breathtakingly beautiful. There are countless outdoors experiences to entertain expat families.

South Africans are known for their friendliness, and you’ll be made to feel welcome and at home. Although the country has 11 official languages, most locals speak English fluently. Most expats live in Johannesburg, Pretoria or Cape Town – the country’s financial and political centres.

When you first arrive, you may be taken aback by the poverty that exists alongside a first-world infrastructure. This combination of first and third world makes South Africa a fascinating place to live, but can also be frustrating. Bureaucracy and inefficiency often result in delays, and there’s no escaping the politics of race. But the country’s spirit is unbreakable and contagious, and expats should have little trouble settling in.

Basic info about South Africa

  • Population: 60 million

  • Capital cities: Cape Town (legislative), Pretoria (executive), Bloemfontein (judicial)

  • Largest city: Johannesburg

  • Main languages: South Africa has 11 official languages. English is the most commonly used. Afrikaans, Xhosa and Zulu are also widely spoken

  • Main religions: Christianity. Other religions include Islam, Hinduism and Judaism

  • Political system: Constitutional parliamentary republic

  • Time: GMT+2

  • Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two or three round pins are used

  • Currency: South African rand (ZAR)

  • International dialling code: +27

  • Internet domain: .za

  • Emergency numbers: 10111 (police), 10177 (ambulance)

  • Road traffic: Drives on the left

Weather in South Africa

South Africa is known for its warm weather and sunshine – the average summer temperatures are 30°C (86°F). But with the Indian Ocean to the east and the Atlantic on the west, there’s dramatic variation in weather patterns. Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters. Durban is subtropical. Johannesburg has warm rainy summers and dry, frosty winters. Snow falls on the mountainous regions of the Cape provinces and KwaZulu-Natal during the winter.

Key phrases in Zulu

  • Hello Sawubona
  • Good evening Sawubona
  • Goodbye Sala kahle
  • How are you? Unjani?
  • Thank you Ngiyabonga
  • Yes Yebo
  • No Cha
  • Do you speak English? Ukhuluma isiNgisi na?
  • Can you help me? Ungangisiza?
  • Sorry Ngiyaxolisa

Shipping to South Africa

Given South Africa’s distance from Europe, North America and Australasia, shipping costs are usually high. Air freight is quicker than sea, but it’s much more expensive. And you may have to pay duties on certain items.

Medicines

You can only take a three-month supply of medication to South Africa, and you’ll need a letter from a doctor in your home country.

Pets

To bring a pet to South Africa, you need a health certificate from a vet. You also need to apply for an import permit and make sure that your pets are microchipped and vaccinated. Dogs from some countries are quarantined for 2 weeks automatically. Any pet not meeting entry requirements can also be quarantined.

Top tips for South Africa

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in South Africa.

Most important to rent accommodation in a security complex in a medium or low density area. The cultural differences and way of life are starkly different and take a while to get used to. Also of importance is to secure a place in school as early as possible. Places in public schools are limited.
South Africa is one of the most beautiful countries in the world but make sure you have a good financial plan to allow you to do what you want to do in South Africa before expating.
Ensure you have the right relocation support for setting up bank accounts, utilities etc. This is quite complex in South Africa.
There are brilliant opportunities for adventure and exploring - diving, bungee jumping, swimming with sharks and going on safari. Take all of these opportunities. Southern Africa offers an amazing variety of landscapes, climates, and wildlife that you won't easily find anywhere else.
South Africa is a beautiful country, go up Table Mountain, swim in the clear seas, visit Kruger National Park. There are different climates for different parts of South Africa.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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