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Employment in South Africa

Taking a Look into the Economy

The combined efforts of the South African workforce place it firmly at the top rank in Africa in terms of GDP per capita. South Africa accounts for almost a quarter of the continent’s GDP. Since the abolition of apartheid, the nation has been strengthening and mending its international ties, leading to many countries’ and multinational corporations’ heightened interest in trading with or working in South Africa.

Today, some of the most important economic sectors include industry, particularly the automotive and the emerging IT and communications sectors, mining (the nation has considerable wealth in natural resources), as well as the banking and services sectors in general. While agriculture plays only a marginal role, those South Africa’s vineyards bless gourmands across the globe with world-class wines.

The nation’s economy is heavily localized in a few large areas, which is also the reason for the ongoing rural depopulation. Today, the vast majority of residents are working in South Africa’s economic hubs in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and the Pretoria-Johannesburg area.

FIFA World Cup 2010

Both nationally and internationally, the FIFA World Cup 2010, the largest event ever to take place on the African continent, raised hopes for a considerable economic upturn for the country. The signs were positive, with the creation of many jobs leading to employment opportunities in South Africa’s tourism and construction sectors. However, while the event itself was a large success, the positive economic side effects did not last long, leaving the country with considerable debt. Nevertheless, it was considered an asset for the nation as a whole, since South Africa was able to present itself positively in the global spotlight.

The Economic Issues of South Africa

While the economy in the abovementioned areas rivals that of most industrialized countries, the economic state of the countryside is far less advanced. Often, those hoping to find a job in South Africa’s main hubs leave only the very young or very old behind. Thus, the number of those fit for working in South Africa’s countryside diminishes continuously.

Unemployment in South Africa is extremely high. About a quarter of the population is out of a job, and the majority of unemployed people live on less than 1.25 USD a day, the threshold for extreme poverty.

Opportunities for Expats

There is a steady demand for foreigners and expats who are willing and qualified to work in South Africa. The country has been experiencing widespread brain drain during the past two decades, i.e. highly skilled experts and university graduates opting against taking up employment in South Africa and going abroad instead. This unfortunate fact opens up many opportunities for expats, often in lucrative positions. Oftentimes, gathering experience — and quite a bit of cosmopolitanism — through an attractive opportunity of working in South Africa has given expats quite the career boost!

The Road to Legal Employment

South African immigration law offers a wide variety of temporary residence permits that make living, studying, and working in South Africa possible for foreigners and expats. There are also special permits for retirees who would like to spend their golden years in the country. In this regard, South Africa is a very open and welcoming country.

In general terms, your dream of relocating to South Africa begins with a successful application for a job opening in the country which cannot be filled locally. Furthermore, the department of Home Affairs issues an annually updated list with occupations in which there is a lack of qualified personnel, directly inviting expats to fill positions in South Africa’s key economic sectors, often in executive roles. Another option is the intra-company transfer for overseas employees working for South Africa-based subsidiaries or affiliates of their company.

With the right set of skills, you can also take the initiative and get a work permit for South Africa without having to score a job offer. Highly qualified experts and individuals with particular expertise in their field are always welcome to start working in South Africa! Read our article on moving to South Africa for further info on work and residence permits.

Expat Business Info South Africa

The Big Quest for a Job

If you are not in the fortunate position of being transferred to a South African subsidiary or affiliate of your company, you have to tackle the task of finding a suitable job yourself. Obviously, your first stop should be Internet job portals. South Africa has quite the selection when it comes to these portals. Good starting points may include Career Junction and Job is Job.

In contrast to countries such as the USA, having an existing network of contacts to get access to the most lucrative and best employment offers is not necessary in South Africa. As the nation is actively trying to attract highly qualified personnel from abroad, the most decisive factors when looking for a job in South Africa are your work experience and qualifications.

Some of the temporary residence permits for expats allow you to enter the country and look for employment in your field of expertise directly, freeing you of the hassle of finding a job from another country. See our article on moving to South Africa for details.

The Social Security System

Both residents and non-residents have to make social security contributions when working in South Africa. These contributions are subtracted from their monthly paycheck by their employer. As most social security services and programs are funded by either the employer or the South African government, the only fund employees contribute to directly is the unemployment fund. Contributions are quite low at 1% of the employee’s earnings, currently capped at about 148.72 ZAR per month.

Social security services are generally only available to citizens and permanent residents of South Africa. If you have entered the country on one of the temporary residence permits we have discussed in our article on moving to South Africa, you are not eligible to receive any social security services. Unfortunately, there are only very few social security agreements between South Africa and other states, so chances are that most expats will not be seeing much of their contributions. However, they should be negligible to most expats, as the contributions will probably not amount to a breathtaking sum.

Taxation in South Africa

All South African residents have to pay income tax. Expats are treated as residents for the purpose of taxation if they have spent at least 91 days in a specific tax year within South Africa.

Any income below 181,900 ZAR per year is taxed at a flat rate of 18%. Salaries exceeding this limit are taxed based on six income levels. The sum of taxes to be paid for each level consists of a fixed sum plus a certain percentage of the amount you earn in excess of the lower threshold for the level.

For example, if you earn 400,000 ZAR a year, you fall into the category for incomes exceeding 393,201 ZAR but below 550,100 ZAR. You will have to pay the fixed sum of 93,135 ZAR plus 36% of the amount above 393,201 ZAR.

For further, more detailed information on the tax system, see the website of YourTax.

How to Communicate with Your Business Partners

Greetings are an important part of daily life and, of course, conversations in particular. This is also true at the workplace. Before starting to discuss any kind of business or, in fact, starting any conversation on any topic whatsoever, take the time to greet your counterparts and inquire about their personal and their family’s wellbeing.

It might seem almost needless to say, but please abstain from discussing or even mentioning any controversial topics such as the problems the nation has to endure. Also, do not discuss topics such as religion or politics in a business environment. In this regard, South Africa is no different from any other industrialized country.

While punctuality is held in high regard in South Africa, it is often somewhat hard to get everyone assembled on time. This is obviously not caused by a laid back approach to appointments, but by transportation and traffic issues. Try not to schedule back-to-back appointments, as chances are slim you are going to make more than one or two.

Get advice on working abroad in South Africa

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  • Sandro Pedace

    With InterNations, you'll meet interesting expats wherever you go - both online and offline.

  • Stephanie Gainsbourg

    InterNations provided me with an "entrance" to the expat circles of Pretoria, so to speak, and helped me get to know other French expatriates.

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