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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Relaxed & Friendly Come at a Cost in South Africa

An unstable political environment and safety concerns cause hardship among expats in South Africa, though most are content with the pleasant climate and easy friendships.
  • 92% are satisfied with the weather and climate.
  • Safety and security remain a concern.
  • Paying without cash is easy according to 91% of respondents.
  • 64% are generally happy with the cost of living.

Among Highest Rated for Leisure, Worst for Safety & Security

From Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa is a country renowned for its sunny climate and scenic landscapes. A majority of expats in the country (83%) say it is a favorable destination for leisure, and over two-fifths (41%) would consider staying permanently. More than nine in ten expats (92%) rate the South African climate as generally good, and 82% say they considered the climate and weather as potential benefits before moving, helping place South Africa at 7th out of 68 countries in the Leisure Options subcategory. “The climate is one of the best in the world,” according to a Dutch expat, “and nature is beautiful and easily accessible.”

The climate is one of the best in the world, and nature is beautiful and easily accessible.

Safety and transportation, on the other hand, are not so highly regarded. More than half the expats (54%) are less than satisfied with the transportation infrastructure, and 55% report feeling unsafe. A Zimbabwean respondent agrees: “The safety of citizens is questionable. The crime rate in Johannesburg is quite high!” Concerns over safety may be due, in part, to a poor political climate: although three in ten remain neutral in their opinion, nearly half (48%) view the current political situation negatively, perhaps due to recent drastic changes in leadership.

Despite these wavering findings for the overall quality of life, South Africa’s digital life ratings are promising. More than eight in ten expats (84%) describe access to online services as quite good, and 91% say that paying without cash is easy.

Friends and Language Cause Minimal Concern

What can make a move to South Africa difficult are the slightly less than average ratings in attitudes towards foreign residents: close to a quarter of respondents (23%) rate these negatively. Nevertheless, nearly six in ten expats (59%) say that making local friends in South Africa is generally pretty easy, compared to just 45% of respondents worldwide.

South Africa comes in at 28th out of 68 countries in terms of language. Nearly three-quarters of expats (74%) say that they can speak the local language at least fairly well, though it is worth pointing out that the survey was conducted in English, one of South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Poor Economy and Low Job Market Expectations

In terms of economy and job security, South Africa is near the bottom at 62nd out of 68 countries. Very few expats (31% compared to a global average of 47%) say they considered the South African economy a potential benefit prior to relocating. Upon arrival and integration, 52% say that the economy is quite bad.

Expats report high unemployment rates, a poor current economic state, and overall instability. Working hours are not considered bad, with an above-average 65% of expats rating them positively, and the work-life balance is satisfactory according to 63%, which is mostly on par with the global average of 61%.

Varying Opinions on Education but Excellent Childcare

In the Family Life Index, South Africa has fallen in the ranks from 19th in 2017 to 32nd in 2018. Although many expat parents in South Africa (40%) are dissatisfied to some degree with the availability of education options, childcare options appear to be extensive. Slightly more than six in ten expat parents (62%) say the latter are numerous and easy to get, compared to just 47% of expats with dependent children worldwide. Another 43% say childcare is affordable, which meets the global average.

I don’t like the low educational standards in rural areas.

Education, conversely, has more mixed reviews. More than half the expat parents in South Africa (51%) do not agree that education is easy to afford, though this could be correlated to the fact that 55% send their children to a local private school, compared to only 21% worldwide. Close to two-thirds (66%) at least consider the quality of the education good. An Austrian expat, however, points out “the low educational standards in rural areas”.

More than eight in ten (83%) rate attitudes towards families as generally good, and only 5% report any fears regarding their children’s health. However, expat parents are generally dissatisfied with child safety: 38% rate this factor negatively, compared to a global average of 10%.

Finances Not a Major Concern with Favorable Cost of Living

Many expats thought about the financial situation of the country before moving, with 59% considering the cost of living in South Africa a potential benefit of relocating. Once in the country, 64% rate costs favorably. A British expat, for example, shares how the “cost of living on the lifestyle items I enjoy is great”.

Two-thirds are generally satisfied with their financial situation, and 77% report having enough or even more than enough income to cover everything for daily living. The average annual income per household is generally lower than that of other countries, though, with over a third (35%) reporting an annual gross household income of less than 25,000 USD, compared to 27% of respondents worldwide.

Further Reading