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A Comprehensive Guide on Moving to South Africa

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Relocating to South Africa

The Different Regions of South Africa

The Republic of South Africa, located at the southern tip of the Dark Continent, is divided into nine provinces extending over a total area of more than 1.2 million km². The nine provinces, namely Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, Northern Cape, and Western Cape, are highly diverse, so expats moving to South Africa will have to choose wisely where they want to relocate to.

Not only do the provinces differ in size and climatic characteristics, but also in terms of population and economic strength. Gauteng, the smallest of the provinces, is home to almost a quarter of the population and contributes a very respectable chunk of the nation’s GDP. Little wonder, as the province is home to the Pretoria-Johannesburg metro area, which is also one of the main magnets for expats.


With the country being surrounded by the Atlantic and Indian Oceans to the east, south, and west, expatriates moving to South Africa will enjoy a temperate climate in many regions of the country. Especially around the Cape and the western parts of the country in general, expats might think they’ve relocated straight to the Mediterranean. If you relocate to the eastern part of the country, your experience will probably be a closer match to your mental image of sub-Saharan Africa.

Expat Hotspots

Obviously, most expats have economic or career reasons in mind when going abroad to South Africa. As the nation’s economy is heavily localized, mainly in the areas in and around Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and the Pretoria/Johannesburg metro area, the majority of expats in South Africa opt for one of those cities. If moving to South Africa sounds like a feasible career step to you, get further info on the national economy in our article on working in South Africa.

Finding Your New Home

As anywhere in the world, prices for rental apartments and houses vary, depending on the city or region you move to. In general, most expats will probably be able to afford renting a middle- or upper-scale place in one of the many gated communities found throughout the nation. These communities are the preferred option of many well-to-do expats moving to South Africa, as they come with many added amenities such as a security service, shopping opportunities, and park areas.

Those are, however, not the only reasons for the popularity of gated communities, often called “estates”: many locals and foreigners see the estates as a way of escaping, or at least avoiding, the high crime rate that unfortunately plagues many parts of the country. For more on crime and safety, please see our article on living in South Africa.

Of course, moving into a gated estate is not for everyone, and it is not the only option. But make sure you get a good idea of a neighborhood, preferably both during the day and at night, before making any decisions. As in any large city, there are certain parts of the big expat hotspots that should be out of bounds, or “no-go-areas”, for expats. However, as in the case of the Cape Town city center, there are also some very safe neighborhoods. If you stay vigilant and behave as you would in other cities of comparable size, there should not be much to worry about in such areas.

Real Estate Agents

It is generally advisable not to try shopping around for apartments yourself. Hire an experienced, reputable real estate agent. Oftentimes, their services also include handling matters that make moving to South Africa less laborious; for example, arranging electricity and water connections. The Global Property Guide has a short list of respected realtors that might be a useful stepping stone for your upcoming move to South Africa. Another website you might want to visit is Only Rentals, an agency with franchises all over the country. Or simply ask your employer whether they know any reputable agents.

Alternatively, if you are still set on hunting for a home by yourself, you can for example start your search by looking through the numerous property listings at

Visas and Permits for South Africa

Paying a Visit — Visitor’s Visas

In case you would like to get a first glimpse of your future home country before relocating there, you might want to travel to South Africa on a visitor’s visa. The South African government has made travel and tourism into the country fairly simple for citizens of a large number of nations: the list of countries exempt from visa is fairly long. Please note that citizens of certain countries are only exempt if they hold a diplomatic, official, or service passport.

Temporary Residence Permits

Of course, you will not be able to settle and work in South Africa by virtue of a tourist visa: you need to apply for one of the various types of temporary residency permits listed below. Inquiries on any of these permits, as well as applications, should be directed to the South African mission in your home country. The Department of International Relations & Cooperation offers a complete list with links to the websites of the respective representations.

South Africa offers a total of twelve temporary residence permits catering to different groups of people, depending on factors such as their age, occupation, or the purpose and duration of their stay. Some of the available permits are, for example, tailored to retirees, exchange students, or people wishing to undergo medical treatment in South Africa. The permits relevant to expat interests are briefly explained below.

General Requirements for Your Permit

All of the following temporary residence permits share these common prerequisites (to be submitted at the time of your application):

  • 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

Everything about Work and Business Permits

  • Business Permit: If you would like to establish a new business in South Africa, this is the permit you want. Some of the prerequisites are a business plan detailing the specifics of your upcoming venture, an investment in excess of 2.5 million ZAR, and plans to hire and employ at least five citizens or permanent residents of South Africa. Furthermore, you have to be registered with the respective board or council of the trade you want to work in, and register with the South African Revenue Service.
  • General Work Permit: If you cannot secure a quota work permit for whatever reason, this permit category might be a viable option. Please note, however, that there is a lot of work to be done in advance. In addition to your translated and confirmed credentials (verified by the Qualifications Authority), you need to supply a signed work contract, documentation on the purpose and duration of your stay, and proof that no South African citizen could be found to fill your future position.
  • Critical Skills Work Permit: If you have exceptional skills or qualifications which are scarce in South Africa, you might want to give this permit a try. You need to provide proof of your skills in the form of letters from your former employers or testimonials from an acknowledged South African academic or cultural institution.
  • Intra-Company Transfer Permit: This rather self-explanatory permit is issued to employees of a foreign company who are transferred to a South Africa-based affiliate company. You need to include your original employment contract and written confirmation of your transfer and your future occupation from both parties.

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