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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

South Africa Climbs Out of the Bottom 10

Expats’ happiness with their life in South Africa may have improved by 15 ranks in 2024, but they still face several issues.

Ranking 29th out of 53 countries in the Expat Insider 2024 survey, South Africa does best in the Personal Finances Index (18th) as well as the Housing (9th) and Leisure Options (10th) Subcategories. Compared to 2023, the country gained 19 spots in the overall ranking, climbing out of the bottom 10 after spending 4 years in a row there. This gain was spurred on by improvements across all five indices. However, major challenges remain in terms of Safety & Security (53rd) and Travel & Transit (52nd).

How Expats Rate Life in South Africa

Safety Is Still a Concern

South Africa’s 43rd ranking in the Quality of Life Index may not appear promising on the surface, but it’s out of the bottom 10 by a hair after ranking 49th in 2023.

The most concerning aspect is Safety & Security, where South Africa lands in the bottom spot (53rd). The ranking is pulled down by personal safety and political stability, both of which are also dead last (53rd). Justifiably so, as more than half of expats (54%) in the country rate personal safety as poor, compared to just 8% globally. And for political stability, a much higher share than the global average rate it negatively (47% vs. 16% globally).

“The unequal and fragmented society is very upsetting and hard to get used to. I live in a first world bubble inside a very unequal and divided country.” – Argentinian expat

The Travel & Transit Subcategory is also in the bottom 3 (52nd) due to poor affordability (53rd) and availability (52nd) of public transportation. And nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) agree that it is not easy nor safe to get around on foot or by bicycle (vs. 13% globally).

Despite these challenges, South Africa nabs a top-10 placement for Leisure Options (10th). The country boasts plenty of opportunities for recreational sports (6th) and a satisfying culinary landscape (12th).

The Environment & Climate (16th) and Healthcare (23rd) Subcategories also fare well. The natural environment (3rd) and climate & weather (5th) see top-5 placements — unsurprisingly, as more than nine in ten respondents (95%) positively rate South Africa’s nature and wildlife (vs. 82% globally), and 85% are happy with the weather (vs. 58%).

“I like the economic opportunities, the multicultural population, and the availability of quality healthcare, education, and consumer services in the metropolitan areas.” – US American expat

Healthcare availability is above average (22nd) and of good quality (13th), but it could be more affordable (32nd) with better equal access to healthcare services (38th). Nearly a third of expats (32%) rate the current access negatively (vs. 21% globally).

Shaky Job Security but Excellent Working Hours

Another index seeing improvement is the Working Abroad Index. Despite South Africa ranking 40th for this index, it jumped 10 spots from 50th place in 2023. The Salary & Job Security Subcategory (51st) is partly responsible for the still low ranking. Expats are not satisfied with their job security (26% negative ratings vs. 22% globally) nor the state of the economy (51st): a staggering 61% of expats rate this factor negatively (vs. 19% globally).

The Career Prospects Subcategory (35th) is a mixed bag. Although personal career opportunities (26th) and improved career prospects due to relocation (19th) are promising, expats are not impressed with the local job market (52nd): less than a quarter (23%) view it favorably (vs. 41% globally).

Nevertheless, South Africa delivers in the Work & Leisure (13th) and Work Culture & Satisfaction (22nd) Subcategories. The country even sees another top-3 placement for working hours (2nd) — only 5% of respondents are not satisfied with their hours (vs. 17% globally). Overall job satisfaction is slightly above average in 21st place, with a similar share to the global average reporting that they’re happy with their jobs (61% vs. 60% globally).

Wallets Are Getting Fuller

In terms of the Personal Finance Index, South Africa is in 18th place — its best performance in an index. The general cost of living (15th) and disposable household incomes being enough to lead a comfortable life (19th) see above-average placements. In fact, over seven in ten expats (73%) say their disposable income is about or more than enough (vs. 70% globally). However, South Africa ranks a mediocre 31st place for expats’ satisfaction with their financial situation.  

Which of the Eleven Official Languages to Learn?

South Africa’s improvement extends to the Expat Essentials Index (22nd), which climbed 14 places from 36th in 2023. Still, the country lags behind in Admin Topics (48th) and Digital Life (30th). More than two-thirds of expats (68%) find it difficult to deal with the local bureaucracy (vs. 42% globally). And getting a visa to move to South Africa is no easy task: 47% found it difficult, 21 percentage points higher than the global average of 26%!

In the Digital Life Subcategory, two factors jumped to the top 10: ease of making cashless payments (7th) and unrestricted access to online services such as social media (9th). Access to high-speed internet at home is in a moderate 27th place. And double the global average negatively rate the availability of administrative services online (44% vs. 22% globally).

When it comes to the Language Subcategory (28th), 41% of expats find it difficult to live in South Africa without speaking the local language(s) (vs. 33% globally). And depending on which of the eleven official languages1 expats end up learning, 43% of them find it easy (vs. 38% globally).

The star subcategory is Housing, where South Africa secures the 9th spot. Expats find it both affordable (9th) and available (7th). Over seven in ten expats (71%) agree that it’s easy to find accommodation in South Africa, a stark comparison to the global average of 45%.

Hanging Out with the Locals

In 23rd place is the Ease of Settling In. The Finding Friends Subcategory (13th) shines: expats have a personal support network (11th) and don’t have much issues with making local friends (14th). In fact, almost three in ten expats (29%) say they’re mostly friends with other locals (vs. 17% globally).  

“I appreciate the warmth and friendliness of the people, the relaxed atmosphere, and the opportunity to engage in local activities. I also love the vibrant and chatty local community, the beautiful scenery, and the way of life here.”  – Russian expat

Culture & Welcome (24th) is above average, with close to two-thirds of expats (63%) saying they feel at home in South Africa (vs. 58% globally). But not all is spotless: 22% say they don’t feel welcome (vs. 17% globally). Overall, 61% of respondents find it easy to get used to the local culture (vs. 59% globally).

The Typical Expat in South Africa

Further Reading

External References

  1. Constitution of South Africa: Chapter 65 (accessed 1 Jul 2024)