Expats FAQ in South Africa

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Q: Is it easy for exalts to open a credit account in South Africa?

A: It will only be difficult if the applicant has no existing credit record in South Africa. This is why most foreigners come to the country only after opening an international bank account back home. If their bank has branches in South Africa (for example, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays, etc.), it would be easy to make internal arrangements.

Q: What are the biggest and most trusted local banks in South Africa?

A: There are four: the Barclays-owned ABSA, Standard Bank, Nedbank, and First National Bank.

Q: Are there currency control restrictions in South Africa in terms of expat banking?

A: Yes. South Africa does have currency control restrictions, and expat banks must explain these. Note that all money moved into the country may be repatriated, so it’s a must to keep all transactions on record.


Q: What are the general prospects for doing business in South Africa?

A: South Africa enjoys a reputation for being among the world’s most promising emerging markets. The World Bank gives it a rank of 43rd out of 189 countries in its Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2015.

Q: How long does it usually take to finish paperwork for opening a business in South Africa?

A: It depends on the specific requirements and whether or not there are issues with paperwork. In any case, the process involves five stages and usually does not exceed a month to complete.

Q: Are South African corporate environments conscious about punctuality?

A: Yes, corporate environments in South Africa are very conscious about punctuality (although it’s the opposite of everyday life for common folks). Expats are particularly expected by other expats to be very aware of time.


Q: What's a good native game that expat kids in South Africa can learn to play?

A: A unique game played by South African kids - and even adults - is called mankala. It’s a counting game played with stones or seeds, and two rows of about 12 cups.

Q: What sport do most kids play in South Africa?

A: South Africa’s biggest and most important sport is football - especially after it became the first country in Africa to host FIFA World Cup tournament in 2010 - kids play football the most.

Q: What are some of South Africa’s most exciting wild animals that expat kids should see?

A: Wildlife in South Africa is very rich, which means there are countless species that all expat kids should have the chance to see. These include kudu, wildebeest, Oryx and many, many more. Of course, the more popular animals that can be enjoyed on safari are lions, giraffes, monkeys, and elephants.

Cost of living

Q: Is it expensive to own a car in South Africa?

A: In terms of petrol, yes, especially for those who will be driving a lot. Petrol prices can increase significantly over a relatively short period. For example, in 2009, a liter cost about 6 ZAR. In 2014, it shot up to about 13 ZAR per liter.

Q: How much do utilities cost monthly in South Africa?

A: Electricity, refuse, and water will probably set an expat back about ZAR 1,800 monthly. Internet charges are around ZAR 639 a month on average (cable or uncapped ADSL) and mobile to mobile calls cost about ZAR 1.80 per minute.

Q: How is the general cost of living in South Africa?

A: South Africa's cost of living is generally high as a result of the rand's weakness against the euro and the US dollar. When earning in the local currency, expats often find that their salaries do not stretch very generously (though often enough to live a comfortable life). Nonetheless, living in key cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg is still way cheaper than in New York, London, or Tokyo.


Q: What are the health emergency numbers in South Africa?

A: To call an ambulance from a landline, the number is 10177; from a cellphone, its 122; and to get Netcare 911 (a private medical rescue service), the number to call from a landline is 082 911.

Q: How is the standard of healthcare in South Africa?

A: The standard of health care in South Africa is the highest in all of the continent and is often regarded as equal to that in Europe. In fact, the country’s medical tourism industry is rapidly and consistently growing, with a lot of foreigners being noted to fly in for dental work or plastic surgery.


Q: Which parts of South Africa offer the most attractive housing options?

A: Properties in Cape Town's more expensive suburbs, as well as those along the Atlantic Seaboard, are particularly attractive to foreigners because of their high resale value. It’s also worth noting that compared to properties in Johannesburg, those in Cape Town are smaller. In terms of affordability, properties are cheaper the farther they are from the city center. But in the cases of both Cape Town and Johannesburg, suburban properties remain expensive yet still attractive to expats.

Q: Are there restrictions on non-residents owning properties in South Africa?

A: There are no restrictions on non-residents owning properties in South Africa. However, there is a cap on how much financing non-residents can get. Non-locals may only borrow up to half of the property value. The good news is expats on work permits are considered as residents and thus not covered by this restriction.

Q: Is home security really a problem in South Africa?

A: Yes, it is a problem but not to a paralyzing extent. South Africa is a country with pronounced social inequality, and violent crimes do happen. However, as long as basic precautions are taken regularly, there is nothing for expats to be worried about.


Q: What is a favorite past time that is unique among South Africans?

A: South Africans like to have a braii, which is like a barbeque party where meat is grilled over hot coals, with salads and alcohol served on the side. Braiis are very common during sports events, especially rugby, cricket and soccer or football.

Q: How's the nightlife in South Africa?

A: South Africa is not all safari and wildlife. There is also nightlife and tons of bars everywhere, especially in the key cities. Some of the most popular are Cubaña Latino Caffe Port Elizabeth at Port Elizabeth, Tiger Tiger in Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, Club Galaxy in Western Cape and Taboo in Sandton.

Q: What is one signature food in South Africa that all expats ought to try?

A: A signature and staple food in South Africa that all expats should try is Pap or maize served with corn meal. It is often eaten with rice or noodles paired with meat or as stew. For breakfast, it can be cooked with sugar and milk.

Looking for a job

Q: Where in South Africa are most expats employed?

A: The capital, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban are the three South African cities where most expats end up working.

Q: Which industries offer the most job opportunities for foreigners in South Africa?

A: The trade sector is still the biggest job provider in the country, but skill shortages are mostly found in the medical, IT and engineering industries. Foreign language speakers, architects, as well as senior managers in the government sector, are also in demand. Because of an ongoing brain drain in South Africa, with local workers moving abroad to seek greener pasture, gaps have been created in a lot of sectors, causing companies to consider employing more foreigners.

Q: How many hours do employees have to put in each week when working in South Africa?

A: The typical 40-hour work week in the US and most of Europe applies to South Africa. Employees may take an average leave of 15 days yearly.


Q: Under what conditions are expats taxed on their worldwide income in South Africa?

A: Expats are taxed on their worldwide income depending on whether they have been in Africa for at least 91 days on aggregate within the assessment year, 915 days within the last five years from assessment, or 91 days on aggregate in each of the last five years.

Q: Is there a daily withdrawal limit for ATMs in South Africa?

A: Yes, but the actual limit depends on the bank - usually between 2,000 ZAR to 4,000 ZAR. It’s not advisable to carry around larger amounts.

Q: Is it necessary to break down ZAR notes when shopping in South Africa?

A: Not really, except when buying from small street stores or street hawkers. Bigger stores always have enough notes and coins for change.


Q: Is malaria a problem in South Africa?

A: Malaria is not a serious problem in South Africa contrary to popular belief. There are areas considered high risk, such as the border between Swaziland and Mozambique (excluding certain parts of Kruger National Park) but generally, people in the country are safe.

Q: How do expats usually transition into local life in South Africa?

A: Expats usually find South Africans to be warm and friendly, so that’s a plus right from the time they move. They also usually join expat clubs and groups that are truly helpful, especially in terms of social integration. In most cases, foreigners will find themselves in urban areas where there’s likely to be a familiar Western feel.

Q: What are some of the major adjustments expats go through when moving to South Africa?

A: One of the significant adjustments they have to make is the fact that there are 11 official languages in the country, as well as many different cultures coexisting. Another thing is dealing with the fear of criminals and wildlife roaming freely in neighborhoods and city streets. Of course, expats do realize this fear is nothing more than a product of media sensationalism. There’s wildlife in South Africa but not where there are people. There’s crime in the country but its more manageable than media claims it is.


Q: What are the microchip ID specifications required for pets imported to South Africa?

A: Any pet entering South Africa should have a 15-digit ISO 11784/11785 microchip for identification. Otherwise, the pet owner should bring his microchip scanner

Q: Are there particular airports in South Africa through which imported dogs are allowed or not allowed to enter the country?

A: Yes. Dogs subject for quarantine can only enter South Africa through the Johannesburg or Cape Town International Airport while those that need not be quarantined can enter through Johannesburg, Cape Town, or Durban International Airport.

Q: Are pets allowed to fly to South Africa in-cabin?

A: This depends on the airline. In any case, the pet will be considered as manifest cargo, meaning airline staff will take the pet upon landing for the processing of veterinary requirements.


Q: What are Model C schools in South Africa and are they a good option for expats with kids?

A: Model C schools are the best government schools in South Africa which are financially supported by parents and a governing body. The Model C name was used during Apartheid and has stuck well after the system was eliminated. Compared to all other public schools in the country, this bunch offers the best facilities and the highest academic standards.

Q: Are there alternative learning schools in South Africa?

A: Yes. Waldorf and Montessori, in particular, are becoming very popular with expat families. These schools are well distributed in all the key cities of the country and are usually easier to get into compared to international or private schools.

Q: Is homeschooling an option for expat families in South Africa?

A: Yes. There are many expats homeschooling their children in South Africa. To homeschool a child, a parent must apply to the provincial Department of Education. Lessons must be conducted along Department guidelines and the enrollee’s coursework should be recorded.


Q: What supermarket chains offer the cheapest groceries in South Africa?

A: All of the big supermarkets in Southern Africa offer affordable groceries, with Pick n Pay being one of the most popular chains that stock a whole array of both local and imported goods. As expected, imported items are more expensive. There are stores that sell all imported groceries, like UK Emporium, but expect prices to be much higher.

Q: Are there good malls worth checking out in South Africa?

A: Yes, absolutely! Shopping malls in South Africa are comparable to Western malls, although the range of clothing and haute couture might not be as extensive as in Singapore, New York, or London. Those looking for high-end boutiques will only find them in Johannesburg or Cape Town.

Q: Do shops in South Africa open on weekends?

A: Most malls and shopping centers are open every day of the week and weekend, usually from 9am to 5pm. On Sundays, shopping hours close earlier at 2pm while on Sundays, smaller shops are closed.


Q: How well-connected is South African in terms of the Internet?

A: South Africa’s broadband capabilities are close to international standards, but its fixed line speeds are still way behind Europe and the US. On the lighter side, wireless 4G LTE data network has been introduced, offering an average speed of about 15mbps and possibly faster. Though coverage is not very wide, people do get access to 3G or HSPA.

Q: What types of mobile phone plans are available in South Africa?

A: Those who will be around for a short time can get a pay-as-you-go plan. Expats should be careful signing extended contracts as huge fees are collected for early termination. The big three mobile service providers are Vodacom (of Vodafone), Cell C, and MTN while smaller ones include Virgin Mobile and Telkom Mobile.

Q: Are there special requirements for expats who want to apply for a landline in South Africa?

A: There are no special requirements. Expats only have to submit a passport and proof of residence. However, the challenge lies in getting the landline installed. It could take months for a technician to come by and set things up.


Q: Is it cost-effective for expats to buy their own cars in South Africa?

A: It depends on how much they need a car. Generally, vehicles are expensive to buy in the country though gas prices are low in comparison to those in Europe. Diesel is popular and, of course, cheaper. A 4x4 vehicle is good for expats planning to go on self-drive safaris.

Q: How do most expats travel to different cities in South Africa?

A: Car rentals are a good option for expats traveling intercity in South Africa. Most international franchises are stationed in airports and practically everywhere in key destinations like Johannesburg and Cape Town. Local companies are also a good choice and often have more affordable rates, especially for long-term arrangements.

Q: What exactly are minibus taxis in South Africa and how do they work?

A: Minibus taxis are like bus and taxi hybrids which are very popular with locals. Queues can be insanely long though, and the roads are often cramped and accident-prone. Expats almost never use this mode of transport.


Q: What's the best way for travelers to get around South Africa?

A: The easiest way to travel within and around South Africa is by air. Flying from Johannesburg to Cape Town only takes 2 hours as opposed to 15 hours by road and 24 hours by rail. OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is a key hub for the entire continent. Lanseria is a smaller airport, which services flights to different destinations daily. Durban and Cape Town also have their airports.

Q: Is there an emergency number tourists can call in South Africa?

A: Yes. Travelers in South Africa can file a crisis incident report at 0861 874 911.

Q: Is it safe to travel to South Africa?

A: There are risks worth taking note of, considering the crime rate in the country is high. Foreigners in particular, happen to be a favorite target of thugs posing as tour guides, so travelers must ensure they’re hiring legit touring services.


Q: Can expats apply for permanent residence in South Africa without leaving the country?

A: Yes, but it’s also possible to apply from the applicant's home country. In any case, expats should get advice from immigration experts since there’s a possibility they might overstay on their current visas.

Q: What are the consequences of overstaying in South Africa?

A: The most serious consequence is being declared an undesirable person for a maximum of five years. A lot of expats who have moved to South Africa could not come back even while waiting for their visas to be renewed. The best thing to do is to stay in South Africa until one's visa has actually been extended or renewed.

Q: How helpful is hiring an immigration practitioner when applying for South African immigration?

A: It is often important to hire an immigration agent when applying for South African immigration simply because approvals are not point-based. That means there’s a huge grey area that only an expert can navigate in favor of the applicant.