Connect with Like-Minded Expatriates

Discover our welcoming community of expats! You'll find many ways to network, socialize, and make new friends. Attend online and in-person events that bring global mind together.

Start here

Living in South Africa

10 Things to Know Before Moving to South Africa

South Africa is one of the most diverse and stunning countries on the planet. There are few other places where nature plays such a big role in a nation’s culture, or where you can see so many wonders (both man-made and natural) in one place. These are ten things you should know before moving to South Africa.

Need to Relocate?

Make It Easy with Our Home-Finding, Moving, Settling-In, and Other Essential Services.

Get started

1. Everyone Speaks English? Think Again!

South Africa has no less than eleven official languages, which puts it in the world’s top three countries for number of languages. The most frequently spoken language is Zulu, closely followed by Xhosa and Afrikaans (a variant of Dutch spoken in South Africa, as well as in Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe). In fact, English is the fourth most spoken language in South Africa, despite the government encouraging its use legislatively and administratively. In reality you won’t have much trouble finding someone who speaks English in the big cities, but in more rural areas don’t expect to be able to easily chat with the locals!  Most South Africans only speak one of the eleven languages, but are very proud of their Individual tongue and are keen to use it as much as possible.

2. Find the Capital

South Africa is a big country, but it is also a little greedy when it comes to the selection of a capital city. Rather than just settling on the one, South Africa has three capitals — Pretoria, Cape Town, and Bloemfontein. Cape Town is the “legislative capital” and the seat of parliament, Pretoria is the “administrative capital” and home to the President, whereas Bloemfontein is the “judicial capital” and is where the supreme court is based. Some people think that South Africa should just decide on one capital (the extra costs of having three are mounting), but the even distribution of power means all three cities are important to the running of the country. Just remember this for your next geography quiz — you’ll be top of the class!

3. Surf’s Up

One of surfing’s best kept secrets, South Africa is a paradise for longboarding and probably matches up with Australia and Portugal in its quality.  Durban and the eastern coast (Indian Ocean) offers incredibly swell spots suited to all abilities, while Cape Town on the Atlantic hosts professional world championships — Jeffery’s Bay is regularly hailed as one of the best beaches in the world. Lessons can be found quite inexpensively (steer clear of the hotspots), and although in some places you might find territorial surfers, the locals are usually more than happy to introduce newcomers to South Africa’s spellbinding waves. Grab your wetsuit and give it a go with a friendly InterNations expat group!

4. Nature at Its Best

There are few other countries as blessed as South Africa when it comes to natural highlights. It is home to four of the seven fastest mammals on Earth (lion, wildebeest, cheetah, and springbok), as well as 10% of all species of birds. From the stunning Blyde River Canyon to the breath-taking Table Mountain (one of the oldest in the world), there is plenty to shout out about in the Rainbow Nation. Join one of our many groups in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, or Pretoria and explore this truly beautiful country with other expats.

5. Inventive Fast Food

As we’ve already mentioned, South Africa is extremely diverse. Aside from making it tricky to know which language to speak, it also means that the variety of food on offer is exceptional. One of the stranger offerings can be found in Durban. The “bunny chow” is essentially a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with delicious curry. It originates from the Indian community in Durban. In addition, you could give the humble vetkoek a try — a fried dough bread filled with either savoury mince or sweet syrup. A walk through the streets of any South African city will reveal several culinary delights from different cultures and cuisines.

6. Sport is King

This one will not come as a surprise, but South Africans are a very proud nation — especially when it comes to sport. Interestingly, it is the only country outside of the UK to have hosted the football, rugby, and cricket world cups (it’s won the rugby variant a couple of times). To play for the Springboks (the South African rugby team) or the Proteas (the cricket team) is one of the highest honours for a South African, and both teams attract big crowds whenever they play. There are plenty of ways to get into sports in South Africa, but InterNations has lots of groups all over the country to get you started on anything from trampolining to triathlons!

7. The Beer Capital of Africa

SAB Miller was founded in 1888 as the Castle Brewery, and was created to serve the growing number of miners flocking to Johannesburg during the so-called “gold rush”. It enjoyed the title of second biggest brewery in the world.. The knock-on effect of this is the number of small craft breweries that are popping up all over South Africa, making it the beer capital of the African continent. Beer gardens dominate the cities in the summer months, so why not grab a couple of expat friends and relax with a local brew (such as Cape Town’s Triggerfish) and while the hours away?

8. Greetings Can be Tricky

Greetings are a frequent problem for any traveller or expat since they differ so much from country to country (and even within a country, see Belgium!). In South Africa they are fairly simple, but there are a few rules to follow. Men shake hands, so that is easy. A Man might kiss a woman who they know well on the cheek (an air kiss, not a proper one), but some women prefer not to kiss or shake hands with men, but simply nod their head instead. As with anywhere, it is always best to follow the lead of your native hosts, and adapt quickly to avoid making a faux pas. You should also bear in mind that greetings include some chatter and small talk before an appointment starts — the weather will of course always do as a topic.

9.  The Rainbow Nation

South Africa is widely regarded as one of the most diverse nations on earth. Several different ethnicities make up the majority of the South African population. Not only that though, South Africa is diverse in other ways: unfortunately, it has quite a large gap between the rich and poor, but it also still has a large proportion of its residents living in rural environments. The melting pot created by all of these factors means that South Africa has had its troubles in recent years, but nevertheless it is still a fascinating country to explore and get to know in detail.

10. Join InterNations

Don’t be shocked, you knew the shameless plug was coming! Moving abroad is tricky for anyone, so seeing a few familiar faces who speak your language can be both comforting and useful. We have no doubt that you’ll fly through life in South Africa in no time, but why not join us and attend some of  InterNations events and smooth the process? Here you can meet expats from all over the world who will have that little bit more experience and might give you that crucial bit of advice. You can also explore more of your new hometown too, as we have plenty of groups which go about seeing the best sites in Cape Town and Pretoria, as well as other major cities. Make life easier for yourself, and join InterNations to get settled in South Africa.

Updated on: March 03, 2020

Connect with Fellow Expats