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Living in Johannesburg

Have you ever considered making the move to Johannesburg? First, you should learn about everything the city has to offer! In this InterNations Expat Guide we discuss a variety of topics such as transportation, healthcare, and leisure options.
Johannesburg and its province Gauteng are among the most densely populated areas in South Africa.

At a Glance:

  • Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with just over five million people living there.
  • Due to the city’s high altitude (around 1750 m), the climate is far cooler than many other South African cities, with temperatures averaging at around 25°C in the summertime.
  • Despite the crime rates dropping in recent years, criminal activity is still a serious issue in Johannesburg.
  • Congestion within the city is notoriously bad, with most major roads passing through the center. Expats planning to relocate to Johannesburg should take commuting times into consideration when finding their new home.

There is a lot that can be said about life in Johannesburg, but the most fitting way to describe it is metropolitan life pushed to the extremes. Despite being the largest city in South Africa — with urbanization sprawling for miles — Johannesburg has the friendliness of a town. Expats will not feel out of place in this highly diverse metropolis, with a great multitude of different ethnicities and cultures coexisting there.

Some of the city’s extreme traits, however, are not so favorable: the divide between rich and poor is much more pronounced than in most other places, and the city struggles with health and crime issues to a much larger extent than most other expat destinations. With that said, Johannesburg is unique and colorful —the city offers a multitude of opportunities and you will have a fascinating time as an expat abroad.

The People of Johannesburg

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with just over five million people living there as of 2018. It is not only expats that is causing the population to keep rising, but also people coming to Johannesburg from other provinces in search of a better future.

In terms of ethnicity, roughly three quarters of the population in 2018 identified as black African. A further 12.3% identified as white, and a respective 5.6% as colored. Johannesburg also has a fairly large Indian community, meaning it is unsurprising that the final five percent of the population identified as Asian. Should you want further information on the ethnic make-up of the country as a whole, please visit our living in South Africa article.

A Multilingual City

Expats living in Johannesburg can expect to hear a variety of languages — a fairly unsurprising fact given the ethnic and cultural diversity of Johannesburg’s population, and South Africa as a whole! You will meet speakers of all of the nation’s eleven official languages in Johannesburg, although in wildly varying numbers. While the most important and significant language, at least for business and corporate life, is undoubtedly English, it is by far not the most widespread first language.

As of 2016, the most widespread mother tongues in the Gauteng region were IsiZulu, Sesotho and Sepedi languages, with just under half of the population of the city between them. English came in fourth, with about eleven percent of the population considering it their first language. It is, however, entirely possible to get by with good command of the English language alone. You will only very rarely, if ever, get into situations in which you will not be understood. This holds especially true for the expat-heavy and professional circles, meaning you shouldn’t have a problem when it comes to communication.

What to Do in Your Spare Time

One thing is certain: no matter what your interests are, there are many ways to spend your free time in Johannesburg. Sports buff? Go enjoy soccer, rugby, or cricket matches in some of Africa’s most modern arenas. Interested in the nation’s past? There are museums commemorating the gold rush that led to the founding of the city as well as several dealing specifically with the nation’s troubled Apartheid past, notably the Mandela Museum in Soweto.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site nicknamed “cradle of humankind” is also just a short journey out of the center — known worldwide for being the place where the oldest hominid skeletons were found. If you’re an art lover, you are also in for a treat: the city is home to the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which houses one of the biggest art collections in the country.

Life in Johannesburg does not stop at dusk, and the city has a bustling nightlife. Whether you are looking for a quiet pub for an after-work drink, or somewhere lively to dance the night away, Johannesburg has it all. Although it’s fine to enjoy an evening out, just ensure to be safe when venturing into certain parts of town — you wouldn’t want your night to end badly.

Joburg’s Climate

Johannesburg has a fairly mild climate with lots of sunshine and rain in the summer months from October to April. The rest of the year tends to be fairly dry. Due to the altitude of the city (elevated about 1750 m), living in Johannesburg is a viable option for expats who have trouble dealing with heat: temperatures average around 25°C in the summertime. Although it is a fairly uncommon sight in the city, expats should definitely make sure to pack warm clothes in case of snowfall.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

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Claude Maurin

"After I followed my wife to Johannesburg, InterNations and its expat circles helped me find free-lance work with South African clients. "

Rikke Johansen

"The InterNations community is just so large that you can easily find a like-minded expat sharing professional or personal interests."

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