Moving to South Africa: Ultimate Guide

Did you know that the South African economy is growing by 4.9% annually while the average country in Europe or North America is growing at less than 3% per year? This growth, combined with lowering rates of inflation and a national budget that just tied with New Zealand for being the most transparent in the world, paints a bright picture for the future of South Africa.

With a thriving export market and a strong stock market and credit system, countless entrepreneurs and high net worth individuals have been moving to South Africa in recent years.

It’s easy to see why ex-pats from every corner of the world are keen to relocate to this emerging hotspot, but what’s it really like moving to South Africa? From visas to taxes to education, let’s take an in-depth look at life in the richest country on the African continent.

Living / Lifestyle

What Is South Africa Like?

With Hindu, Zulu, Tswana, Xhosa, Pedi, Ndebele, Khoisan, Muslim, and Afrikaner people speaking 11 official languages (and a dizzying array of unofficial ones), this dynamic country is fondly called the Rainbow Nation. When it comes to cosmopolitan countries, few places have the level of diversity that South Africa now truly prides itself on.

The luxurious beaches, dramatic mountain peaks, striking desert-scapes, dense forests, and sweeping grasslands also make this a country geographically diverse. With a beautiful array of ecosystems, it’s one of just 17 places on the planet that is officially classified as “megadiverse” by scientists. If you want to go on a safari, lounge at a beach resort, tour vineyards, or scuba dive, this is the place to do it.

Whether you want to live in the quaint countryside or in a thriving cosmopolitan metro area, you are spoilt for choice in South Africa.

Moving to South Africa - Sunset over South African vineyards with red wine grapes in late summer

What’s the Best Place to Live in South Africa?

South Africa has nine provinces: Northern Cape, Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Natal, and the North West. The core cities are Cape Town, its legislative capital; Pretoria, its executive capital; Johannesburg, the largest city in the country; Port Elizabeth; Durban; Bloemfontein; and East London.

For more information read our article The best cities to live in South Africa.

Is South Africa a Safe Place to Live?

South Africa has gained a bad reputation for its crime rate. While it is indeed high compared to what you might find in Europe, it is not a country where you will find danger at every turn. In fact, the vast majority of crime is highly centralised to certain run-down neighbourhoods. 

Despite having dangerous districts, South Africa remains a travel hotspot as the average tourist will simply never encounter these areas of town. This is because it is a country of extremes. One minute, you can be in a space that feels as modern and shiny as Dubai, the next you could be on a dusty country road lined with shacks. For most international travellers and ex-pats, there is little reason to enter these dangerous spaces.

Cost of Living

What Is the Cost of Living in South Africa?

The currency of South Africa is the South African rand. Like most countries, the strength of the currency plays a major role in the cost of living. Recently, the South African rand has been exceptionally strong and, for this reason, the costs might be slightly higher than you would expect for a city in Africa.

That said, the cost of living is low when compared to international cities across Asia, Europe, and North America. Compared to Dubai, for example, consumer prices in Cape Town are about 40% lower on average. The average price of rent, meanwhile, is about 56% lower than you’d find as an ex-pat living in the UAE. In Pretoria or Johannesburg, you will pay 70% less in rent than you would in Dubai while still seeing about a 40% decrease in consumer prices.

It is worth noting, however, that types of pricing do indeed vary. If you look at the cost of going out for a meal or spending a night on the town, you will find the costs to be quite low compared to most locations around the globe. Meanwhile, when you are buying something imported like electronics or clothes, you won’t see a significant price different from what you would pay anywhere in the world. 

For a more in-depth look, take a look at this survey done locally that examined the average house prices, annual salary, and rent costs to look at which South African city offers the best opportunities.

South Africa cost of living

Moving to South Africa

What Moving Documents are Needed For Moving to South Africa?

Used Household Goods and Personal Effects

  • Original passport (including page with entry stamp)
  • Original bill of lading (OBL) / express or telex release / (copy of) air waybill (AWB)
  • Detailed inventory
  • Permanent residence documents / temporary residence permit / work permit
  • Affidavit (returning citizens only)
  • Customs form DA 304 and P.1.160
  • Diplomatic clearance (diplomats)
  • Certificate from Embassy signed by South African Department of Foreign Affairs (diplomats)

Motor Vehicle

  • Customs form DA 304/A (only needed for automobiles / motorcycles)
  • Vehicle registration (only needed for automobiles / motorcycles)
  • Original bill of lading (OBL) / express or telex release / (copy of) air waybill (AWB) (only needed for automobiles / motorcycles)
  • Document showing that vehicle has been in the owner of the goods’ use and possessions abroad for more than 12 months prior to the importation of the vehicle (e.g., original purchase invoice, insurance certificate, etc.).
  • Valuation certificate (3 copies)
  • Import permit
  • Letter of authority (LOA) issued by the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) in Pretoria (must be submitted at the time of clearance)

Pets

  • Rabies vaccination certificate
  • Veterinary health certificate
  • Import permit
  • An import permit may be granted after the owner of the goods has made arrangements for the period of quarantine required for pets travelling from most, but not all countries; check with an agent.

For more information on restricted and prohibited items and a more in-depth look at documentation please check the International Association of Movers.

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Legal / Visas

What Are the Options for Work Visas in South Africa?

If you are moving to South Africa to work, you are going to choose from a handful of work visa options. There are the following visas: General Work Visa, Inter-Company Transfer, Highly Skilled Migrant, and Business Entrepreneur.

How to Get a Work Visa in South Africa

The majority of ex-pats in South Africa have a General Work Permit visa. This is the type of visa you apply for after receiving an offer of employment from a company based in South Africa. This visa allows you to bring along your family to the country and is typically processed within one month.

There is only one prerequisite for employees and employers looking to request a General Work Permit visa: the job must have been advertised to locals and the company must prove the role can’t be filled by a South African citizen.

The official government website has a list of all of the documents required for a General Work Permit visa in South Africa. You can find the DHA-947 form required for the application on the government website.

Moving to South Africa - South African Visa Application

How to Find the Best Visa Option

Are you thinking about starting a business in South Africa? Do you work for a company that already has locations in South Africa? You can see all of the details for the Inter-Company Transfer, Highly Skilled Migrant, and Business Entrepreneur visas as well as a complete list of your other options on the South African complete government visa page.

Money & Taxes

How Do Taxes Work in South Africa?

If you live and work in South Africa for more than 183 days in any given year, you will need to pay income tax on your income. Depending on your income, you will be looking at anywhere from 18% to 45% in taxes.

If you live and work in South Africa for more than 183 days in any given year, you will need to pay income tax on your income. Depending on your income, you will be looking at anywhere from 18% to 45% in taxes.

Are you thinking about starting a business in South Africa? Do you work for a company that already has locations in South Africa? You can see all of the details for the Inter-Company Transfer, Highly Skilled Migrant, and Business Entrepreneur visas as well as a complete list of your other options on the South African complete government visa page.

How Do Taxes Work in South Africa?

Total Income Tax Rate
0 to 205,900 ZAR
18% of taxable portion income (after exemptions)
205,901 to 321,600 ZAR
37,062 + 26% of taxable income above 205,900
321,601 to 445,100 ZAR
67,144 + 31% of taxable income above 321,600
445,101 to 584,200 ZAR
105,429 + 36% of taxable income above 445,100
584,201 to 744,800 ZAR
155,505 + 39% of taxable income above 584,200
744,801 to 1,577,300 ZAR
218,139 + 41% of taxable income above 744,800
1,577,301 ZAR and above
559,464 + 45% of taxable income above 1,577,300

How Banking Works in South Africa

There are a wide variety of banks throughout the country. Within the network of small and large banks, you will find the four most popular picks: Absa Bank, First National, Nedbank, and Standard Bank. 

Rather than seeing Visa and MasterCard, you will see CIRRUS and NYCE. CIRRUS is part of the same network as Mastercard and Maestro. Meanwhile, NYCE is of the New York Cash Exchange which, though no longer widely used in the United States, has become popular in various regions across Africa.

Opening a Bank Account as a Foreigner

If you have your residency visa already, you can open a bank account as a resident. If not, you will find options for non-resident bank accounts.

When you are opening a resident’s account, you will need the following documents:

  • Passport or birth certificate
  • Work permit
  • Proof of address in South Africa
  • Three months of bank statements


If you want to open an account before your residency visa has been processed, you will need the following documents:

  • Passport or birth certificate
  • Proof of address in your current country of residence
  • Three months of bank statements
  • Certificate of Introduction from your home country’s bank*

 

* Note that there is no international definition of a Certificate of Introduction so clarify what exactly this letter must say with your chosen bank.

Climate & Weather

What’s the Weather like In South Africa?

Unlike the countries near the Equator, South Africa enjoys four truly distinct seasons during the year. If you are coming from the Northern Hemisphere, it is important to note that the seasons are the opposite to what you’re used to having. The hottest season of the year runs from December to February then leads into mild autumn weather from March until May. You will have chilly weather in much of the country falls during the winter months from June to August. The time from September to October is a particularly nice time as flowers bloom and spring is in the air. 

While the seasons are somewhat consistent, you will find half a dozen different climate zones between the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, so it’s essential to take a closer look at your specific destination if you want to have a real sense of the weather before moving to South Africa.

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Buying & Renting a Home

Buying a Home in South Africa

South Africa has one of the highest rates of home-ownership in the world. Properties prices are lower than almost anywhere in the world and foreigners are allowed to buy property in the country. With a budget of 100,000 US dollars, you could take your pick of countless properties. 

Renting a Home in South Africa

Renting in South Africa is quite affordable as well. The majority of South Africans pay 30% of their income or less on housing, with the average price of rent nationwide falling between R 7,500 to R 10,000. It is worth noting that rent in the suburbs is far more affordable than living in the centre of the city. 

In order to legally rent a property in South Africa, you will need to have your residency visa. Once you have this, you will be able to house-hunt. When you find the perfect place, you will be expected to put down a holding deposit while your application details are checked and your background is verified. After this, you will be expected to pay four to six weeks of rent as your deposit. At this stage, you should ask for a formal written lease.

For more information read our article The best cities to live in South Africa.

Healthcare

How Does Healthcare Work in South Africa?

There is universal public healthcare in South Africa. The public healthcare system is managed by the Department of Health. Approximately, 80% of the population of the country uses the public system and it covers up to 40% of the cost of medical procedures.

Anyone in the country, with or without a visa, is legally entitled to access the public healthcare system. While it indeed does become stressed and wait times can be long, it is always available. When it comes to the costs associated with different care, doctors and hospitals rely on a sliding scale of charges that depends entirely on your income.

Those who can afford it, however, take out a policy for private healthcare. The average policy for private healthcare costs between R 1,100 and R 2,200 per month for a family of four. While this can be expensive for many South Africans, it entitles to you a private healthcare system that is second to none. Amongst ex-pats, the most common private health insurance providers include Allianz Care and Cigna Global.

Of course, before you take out private health insurance, it is crucial to read the policy carefully. Understand exactly what is covered and get a clear understanding of the cancellation policies. Certain plans reserve the right to cancel your plan if you get a grave illness or turn a certain age.

Education

What Is the Education System Like In South Africa?

If you are moving to South Africa with children, it is important to have a clear understanding of the education system. The country divides education into three categories: elementary, secondary and tertiary. The Department of Basic Education oversees elementary and secondary schooling while the Department of Higher Education and Training administers tertiary and vocational education.

Many ex-pats in South Africa opt for private schooling as it is more affordable than you would find elsewhere in the world. The vast majority of these schools teach in English, with the exception of bilingual schools which are often available to those looking to learn French or German.
While primary education is affordable in South Africa, the cost of university is higher than you would find in many European countries. There are only 23 public universities in the country and the cost of attendance ranges from R 51,000 to R 82,000 per year, in addition to a surcharge of R 37,800 for international students.

Moving to South Africa with Children

If you are moving to South Africa with young children, you will find a wide array of childcare options. Many ex-pat families hire a full-time nanny, which can run as little as R 5,500 per month or up to R 13,000, depending on your specific needs. You will also find a range of babysitter and night nurse that are well trained and affordable. 

Au pairs are also a popular option. Their rates start at R 50 per hour and you can often find an even better value by offering accommodation. These affordable rates are a key reason why you will see so many foreign families in South Africa with live-in au pairs.

Final Thoughts

Moving to a new country can be a little disconcerting, and left unchecked these feelings can develop into anxiety and stress. Moving to South Africa, as we have seen, brings with it both exciting opportunities with some potential challenges. However, embracing the changes and adopting a proactive approach through the advice, tips and links we have provided sets you firmly on course to a successful relocation to South Africa.

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