Moving to Johannesburg
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What to know if you're moving to Johannesburg
Maybe even more so than relocations to other expat hotspots, a move to Johannesburg takes preparation and planning. Our Relocation Guide to Johannesburg introduces you to the city’s main expat magnets and lists relevant residency permits and their requirements.
All about South Africa
Relocating to Johannesburg
A City of Extremes
Johannesburg, located in the northeastern part of South Africa, is a city of extremes: South Africa’s largest city is also the largest contributor to the GDP of the nation’s most prosperous — and at the same time, smallest — province, Gauteng. Due to the immense urban sprawl of the city and the size of its metropolitan area, Johannesburg and its immediate surroundings cover most of Gauteng’s area. Other notable cities in the province include, for example, Pretoria, one of South Africa’s three capital cities.
A Different Type of Suburb
When first moving to Johannesburg, the local nomenclature might be somewhat confusing to the uninitiated. In South Africa, the term “suburb” does not necessarily denote a residential are on the outskirts of town, but in fact all neighborhoods of the city. With that said, there are only a few suburbs expats moving to Johannesburg frequently choose as their new homes — many others are “out of bounds” for safety reasons or the lack of desirable housing.
The city’s Central Business District (CBD) has been one of those out of bounds areas for many years. The years directly following the abolishment of Apartheid have left much of that area in decay, and crime was rampant. Although it is still far from being a really attractive neighborhood, the CBD is slowly but surely shedding its skin and rejuvenating bit by bit. New businesses and housing options might prove to attract a larger number of expats and locals into Johannesburg’s city center.
Among the more notorious parts of town, Soweto definitely has earned a reputation for itself. While this was definitely not without a reason, the former township has made big steps toward a better future. Still, it is probably one of the less desirable suburbs for expats moving to Johannesburg and still not entirely safe. However, Soweto should not be viewed as a huge dark spot that is to be avoided at all cost, as this would be unjustified.
The Places to Be as an Expat
One of the most prestigious clusters of suburbs is located around the Sandton area to the north of the city. As Sandton has developed into the center of the city’s economy and commerce, many well-to-do residents and expats have been moving to Johannesburg’s prime location, as well as neighboring communities such as Hyde Park, Hurlington, or Rivonia. All amenities of metropolitan life can be found within the area, from luxurious shopping opportunities and restaurants to recreational areas and parks. If you are moving to Johannesburg with your kids, the Sandton area might also be one of the best choices, as the schooling options are fit to cater to the expat community. For further details on Sandton and its powerful economy, please see our article on working in Johannesburg.
A bit farther outside of town, but almost equally popular with expats are the suburbs of Fourways, Midrand, and Randburg. These suburbs are also a bit less pricey to live in, if your housing budget is a factor. All of the above areas also have their own hospitals and clinics in case of emergency or small ailments.
When choosing a suburb, please include your daily commute in your considerations: as we have detailed in our guide to living in Johannesburg, the situation on the streets is rather dire, and alternatives to driving, though existent, are often insufficient or unreliable.
Finding Accommodation in Johannesburg
It is a rare expat that will buy a place to live straight away when first moving to Johannesburg. Luckily, there is no lack of furnished apartments and houses up for rent in the popular expat areas. You can expect to pay anything between 3,000 and 20,000 ZAR, depending not only on obvious factors such as your standards and the number of rooms — security is an aspect that is of utmost importance for expats in Joburg, due to the city’s infamy as a dangerous, crime-ridden place. Thus, you will see many gated compounds and small communities with fences and walls. Security cameras and personnel are also among the frequent sights in those areas. If you decide that you would like an added layer of security, such communities might be a valid choice for you.
Visas and Permits for Johannesburg Expats
Getting a First Impression — Visitor’s Visa
Many an expat story begins with a visitor’s visa — it is not uncommon for people to decide they’d like to spend time working and living abroad after visiting Johannesburg. Visiting the city to get a good first idea of what to expect is also a popular option. Luckily there is a good chance you might be able to just pack your things and head to Johannesburg without any hassle or red tape: A fairly large number of countries are exempt from the need to acquire a visitor’s visa. Please check the above link to find out whether or not this applies to you. If you are indeed exempt, you will be able to visit Johannesburg without a visa for 30 to 90 days.
Temporary Residence Permits
So you have made your choice and are going to relocate to Johannesburg? Congratulations! However, moving to the city is obviously not as simple as visiting it. The South African government has established a total of 12 temporary residence permits tailored to fit the needs of various groups of people interested in spending a prolonged stretch of time in Johannesburg and the rest of the country. The groups include, for example, retirees, students, medical tourists, and, of course, expatriates. Please note that you cannot apply for any of these permits from within South Africa — you need to direct your applications (and any open questions) to the South African representation in your home country. Below, we have listed the expat-relevant residence permit categories.
Expat Relevant Work and Business Permits
- Business Permit: You are headed towards Johannesburg in hopes of establishing your own business there? This is the category for you. You are required to have a detailed business plan addressing all the specifics of your new business, in which you need to invest at least 2.5 million ZAR. The employment of at least five citizens or permanent residents in your new enterprise is another requirement, as is registration both with the South African Revenue Service and the board or council of the trade you plan on working in.
- General Work Permit: While the General Work Permit is a viable option if you were not able to secure a Quota Work Permit, it involves a lot more red tape. Apart from a signed work contract, documentation on the duration and purpose of your stay, as well as translated and confirmed credentials (please contact the Qualifications Authority), you need to supply proof that no South African citizen was qualified to fill the position in which you will be employed.
- Critical Skills Work Permit: It is not hard to guess what the main prerequisite here is: you need to possess special skills that are rare in South Africa. Proof should come in the form of testimonials of previous employers and/or testimonials from respected and acknowledged South African institutions, be they academic or cultural.
- Intra-Company Transfer Permit: Just like the category above, this one is rather self-explanatory. If you are interested in working in a Johannesburg-based subsidiary or branch of your current employer, this is the permit you want. Please include your original employment contract and a written confirmation of your transfer and future position in Johannesburg from both parties with your application.
General Permit Requirements
All of the permit categories we have detailed above share these common requirements, apart from the special ones we have already mentioned:
- at least two blank pages in your passport (the passport has to be valid for at least 30 days after your intended return date from South Africa)
- application form DHA-1738
- medical report BI-811
- radiological report BI-806
- proof of financial means, usually in the form of bank statements
- birth certificate
- police clearance certificate
- valid round-trip ticket or a deposit for a return ticket