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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Cape Town

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  • Pascal Tremblay

    Fortunately, I received lots of supportive tips from other InterNations members before moving to Cape Town.

Life in Cape Town

About the Capetonians

At the time of the last official census in 2011, the city had about 3.7 million inhabitants — on an area that included many suburbs that are not officially within city limits. This number is a lot higher than the last census, as there has been a steady flow of people from rural regions of South Africa opting for a new start in Cape Town. Seeing how the city is also highly attractive for expats from all around the world, they are surely another factor contributing to the fact that Cape Town is popular amongst all kinds of different people.

With almost half of the city’s residents, the majority of people living in Cape Town are coloured, an ethnic category that is a remnant from apartheid times. About a quarter was classified as being black African, and about 16% of residents living in the city at the time of the last census were white.

Communicating with the Locals

Three languages you are bound to come across in Cape Town are, ordered by the number of speakers, Afrikaans, Xhosa, and English. The last one is, for all intents and purposes, still the most dominant language of everyday life, and you will most certainly not run into any problems communicating only in English. Which language you hear most is partly also influenced by which neighborhood you live in, as the speakers tend to be rather localized due to various reasons past and present.

The Sad Reality: Crime in Cape Town

In our article on living in South Africa, we have discussed one of the country’s major issues: crime. Living in Cape Town, chances are that you will also witness criminal activity. However, the actual impact of crime on Cape Town remains somewhat controversial. While there are many voices proclaiming the city to be one of the murder capitals of the world and advise expats against going to Cape Town, many expats and locals maintain that, as long as you come prepared and stay vigilant, there is not much to worry about.

What cannot be denied, however, is the fact that murder, theft, burglary, robbery, and rape are very much part of everyday life for a large portion of the populace. In many parts of the city, crime is rampant. For the most part, these are the suburbs expats do not consider when looking for apartments — and with good cause. We have taken a detailed look on Cape Town’s neighborhoods in our article on moving to Cape Town.

There is, of course, a myriad of reasons which made crime a sad reality of life in the city. Many of the old divides that decades of apartheid rule have firmly instilled as a normal aspect of living in Cape Town and South Africa in general can still be felt today. The number of people living on less than 1 USD a day is still high in Cape Town. Countermeasures have long been taken and are showing effects, so there still is hope to get the problem under control and ensure a safe, dignified life, both for citizens and expats.

Health and Transportation in Cape Town

Taking a Look at the Health Infrastructure and Hospitals

Generally, the health infrastructure in South Africa is highly developed and respected, even attracting a considerable amount of medical tourism. Of course, Cape Town, one of the major cities of the country, also has some of the finest medical institutions around. Some well-known public and private clinics in the city include the Mediclinic Cape Town, the world-renowned Groote Schuur Hospital, and, right next door, the UCT Private Academic Hospital.

State-funded ambulance services and emergency response can often be overburdened. As a direct result, various private emergency services arose to fill the gap. The larger ones include companies such as Netcare, which, among many other services, operate their own emergency phone lines.

As South Africa does not have a national healthcare plan at the moment, expats in Cape Town are well advised to either buy comprehensive insurance with coverage in South Africa before relocating, or to discuss possible company health plans with their employer. Please note that, as the costs for healthcare in South Africa are steadily rising, some insurance companies might not offer full coverage. In this case, you are still liable to pay part of the cost yourself.

HIV/AIDS is still one of the most serious health issues the nation faces. Cape Town does not make an exception here. Although the rate of new infections appears to be declining, you should definitely still take all the usual preventive measures.

Making Use of Public Transportation

The public transportation system in Cape Town is fairly well-established. Apart from the tried and tested services of the Golden Arrow fleet of suburban buses, which serve the entire metropolitan area of Cape Town, another bus system, the MyCiti rapid bus, provides the backbone of public transportation in and around the city. Both websites offer details on the systems’ respective schedules and routes.

The South African Metrorail system, which also serves large parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, operates four routes to and from Cape Town into other parts of the Western Cape province. Of course, Cape Town is also well connected to many other parts of South Africa via long-distance buses and a railroad network.

Accounts on how recommendable cycling in Cape Town actually is vary. While some maintain that the city is a great place to ride your bike, others have noted that the local driving style can often pose a threat to cyclists. It might be a good idea to rent a bike and see whether or not you feel comfortable riding it around town.

Rules on Driving Your Car

We have taken a detailed look at the general framework for driving in South Africa in our previous article on living in South Africa. Obviously, all the information included there also applies to Cape Town. Please note that if you plan on buying a car in Cape Town, you have to make sure it is registered and licensed by the city. The Motor Vehicle Registration and Licensing (MVR) website offers details on the legal framework and locations of their offices.

A Fancy Way to Discover Cape Town — The Blue Train

A very famous and popular mode of “transportation”, which is more of a luxurious tour through most of the country, is the Blue Train. Probably the fanciest way to see South Africa, the Blue Train operates on a route between Cape Town and Pretoria several times a month. Exact dates can be found on the official website. Seeing how luxury always comes as a price, the rates for the Blue Train might not be a great surprise, but still very hefty. If you happen to either be exceedingly well-heeled or just would like to travel South Africa in a unique way, this might be for you.

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  • Pascal Tremblay

    Fortunately, I received lots of supportive tips from other InterNations members before moving to Cape Town.

  • Nora Godfrey

    Here in Cape Town, InterNations consists of a great crowd of expats. Not just anyone can join the site, and I am happy about that.

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