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.
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.
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.
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.
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