Cape Town is really getting its name out into the world. Gigantic events such as the FIFA World Cup 2010 and the city’s recent nomination as World Design Capital 2014 have not only created buzz for the city, but they have also contributed to making Cape Town an attractive option for large numbers of expats. Apart from relocating to the city’s eternal competition — Johannesburg — working in Cape Town is probably what most people have in mind when they think of being an expat in South Africa.
Working in the Western Cape is almost synonymous to working in Cape Town, the undisputed economic powerhouse of the region. The vast majority of non-agricultural business is concentrated in the Mother City, as Capetonians often call their hometown.
As in most other major cities in developed countries, being employed in Cape Town mostly means having an office job. Finance, insurance, real estate and office services are the most important contributors to the city’s economy. These growth sectors, along with construction and communication/ICT, amongst others, are leading factors for the good reputation the city — and those working in it — enjoy.
On a smaller scale, the city has also profited from the rising globalization and the outsourcing of company departments such as call centers. Many support lines from large global players are now answered by people working in Cape Town.
Founded in order to establish a seaport in Southern Africa, the city still makes a large share of its profits from foreign trade. If you have ever enjoyed a glass of the world famous wines from the Western Cape region, you can be sure that the vintage has been handled by companies from Cape Town. Needless to say that the servicing and upkeep of ships is also an important aspect of the seaport.
Tourism is another major economic pillar for the city and its province, giving thousands employed at Cape Town’s hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions a secure workplace.
International film crews love working in Cape Town. The efforts of the Cape Film Commission have made the city a popular backdrop for various large foreign film and TV productions, proving time and again that shooting in Cape Town meets even the highest standards. The film industry’s contribution to the city’s economy was about 5.5 billion ZAR in 2012, a more than respectable share. Another side effect which is more than welcome was, due to the heightened interest in the city as a filming location, well over 10,000 people have found jobs working in Cape Town’s film industry or related sectors.
A very worrisome side effect of the great attractiveness of the city and the prospects finding work there right away is widespread unemployment. South Africa is experiencing a population shift; more and more people leave the rural countryside behind and follow their hopes of a better life into the large cities. However, the dream of working in Cape Town or any of the other magnets goes unfulfilled for many, further aggravating the dire situation in the poorer parts of town. Being unemployed here often means living in extreme poverty — with a daily budget of less than 1.25 USD.
With the Western Cape being back on track economically and showing signs of growth in many sectors, there is great demand for highly qualified expats in Cape Town. This is due to widespread brain drain, both in the region and the entire country: to many highly skilled locals, getting a job in Cape Town does not sound as appealing as going overseas in hopes of better pay.
Some of the nation’s most pressing and obvious issues, such as widespread crime and health issues like HIV/AIDS, are further factors contributing to brain drain, and sometimes also intimidating expats interested in working in Cape Town. Often, the fear is unfounded: as we have pointed out in our articles on Cape Town and South Africa in general, things are not as bad as they may appear to be, and being an expat in Cape Town might just turn out to be the time of your life!
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