Living in South Africa: Pros and Cons

Living in South Africa: Pros, Cons and Things to Know

There are many pros and cons of living in South Africa? SA has a ton to offer expats. But, being a local or digital nomad in South Africa comes with a few challenges.

Navigating life in South Africa can be hard at first but many expats in South Africa will argue that the challenges are entirely worthwhile!

For the most part, you just have to be smart about what you do and where you go (as you would with anywhere you travel!).

You probably have a million questions like the most common one “Is South Africa safe for expats?”, What is everyday life like in South Africa?, how much money do I need to live comfortably in South Africa” or Is South Africa a good place to live?

This post aims to answer all these questions. For those who don’t know me… I was born in South Africa, left after university to work abroad (Turkey, US, Ireland and Bali), and came back to visit but ended up spending a whole year and half at home – due to the pandemic and uncertainty about where to go to next.

Here are my thoughts about the Pros and Cons of Living in SA as a local:

South Africa At a Glance

South Africa is a country that never sleeps, which means things are always changing! Take a glance at some recent stats to stay informed about the current conditions of the country:

  • Population: 60 million (2021) – keep in mind there are millions of undocumented immigrants too.
  • Cost of living: A lot – read my break down of my cost of living in South Africa (monthly and yearly expenses)
  • Languages: 11
  • National Minimum Wage: R21. 69 per hour | 1.50 USD | 1.28 EUR

Living in South Africa Pros and Cons

Living in South Africa is not without its challenges. There are safety concerns, electricity disruptions and a lack of reliable public services.

However, the digital nomad scene is on the rise in South Africa, and if you choose to work and travel in South Africa, you’ll be joining a thriving digital nomad scene, with growing options for co-living and co-working.

Living in South Africa: Pros and Cons

Con: The government

They ruin everything! That’s it…

Missing funds, corruption, failure to maintain and fix infrastructure.

Their failures are the reason things are bad. More and more people are starting to realise this and will hopefully make better decisions next time we vote.

Pro: Abundance of Nature and Wildlife

South Africa is home of the big 7 – Cape buffalo, African elephant, leopard, lion, rhinoceros, southern right whale and great white shark.

We have amazing national parks in South Africa– from the biggest one in Africa: Kruger National Park to breathtaking wetlands in South Africa.

Con: Load Shedding

Load shedding is used to relieve stress on a primary energy source when demand for electricity is greater than the primary power source can supply.

Power cuts are common in South Africa, not every single day, sometimes we have a few months of electricity then a few weeks of 2-6 hour power cuts daily, very common in winter months (June-August).

You can purchase a generator or simply just sit in the dark like the rest of us during those few hours of power cuts.

Pro: Low cost of living if you’re earning in foreign currency

If you are earning in another currency life in SA might be cheaper for you than it is for locals. At the moment 1 USD = 14 ZAR. With 14 ZAR you can’t buy much, maybe a loaf of bread (depending on where you go, because it ranges from 14-30, depending on the type of bread).

You can live comfortably and access most than the average person

Con: Crime

South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world. Not just petty crimes but violent crimes which include rape and murder.

So you’re probably wondering why should I move to South Africa and why do you live there? Most people (locals) don’t really have the means (monetary) to move. With a South African passport, it’s not easy to just pack up and move so people have learned to navigate living in South Africa despite our challenges.

Why do I live in South Africa? I didn’t really choose to be born here. My whole family is here, I might live abroad but I still come back to visit and see loved ones. Believe it or not, there are amazing reasons to live in South Africa.

Pro: Food

South African food quality is top tier! The only country where I’ve lived where the meat was great as South Africa is Ireland but apart from that SA has amazing fresh fruit, vegetables, fish and meat options.

This is a great explanation of why we export so much! I’ve seen our flag and produced in South Africa stickers on things like avocados and oranges in US, China and Ireland.

Con: Public Transport

Depending on where you choose to live in South Africa. This can either be an advantage or disadvantage. Public transport in South Africa is okayish in metropolitan cities like Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.

There are many options to get around if you choose not to drive in South Africa. From public buses to the Gautrain to Uber and minibus taxis – you won’t have a problem reaching your destination no matter what your budget is.

The other factor to this is that in remote areas you might struggle to access public transport as it doesn’t go as frequent due to the town/village being to far.

For example, my late grandparents lived in a small remote village – about 3 hours from Pretoria and there is no access to public transport there. There is a bus that come on Mondays – Friday at 5am to take people into the nearest town and returns at 6pm. There are no trains, taxis or other means to travel there unless you have a car.

Pro: The People

Although there are always exceptions to this, but most South Africans are warm and welcoming

As I’m typing this, I actually went to the shop to buy bread this morning but their card machine wasn’t working and the lady behind me had cash and she paid for my bread. You get random acts of kindness like this every now and then.

There is a sense of community that you will experience in South Africa that is a refreshing compared to other countries.

South Africans also have a wonderfully understated and self-deprecating sense of humour blending irony, gentle satire and parody.

Con: High Unemployment

Getting a job in South Africa is difficult, it doesn’t matter how qualified you are. There aren’t enough jobs for our growing population.

Most people graduate then stay home for years with student loan bills and no source of income.

Lately most opt to teach English abroad or work as an Aupair, despite having qualifications in other fields.

High unemployment rates fuels the crime in South Africa.

Pro: Great Weather

While living in South Africa you will get to experience four seasons – summer, autumn (Fall), winter, and spring.

Our winters are cold but not NYC cold. It also rarely snows or rains anywhere outside of the Western Cape and Drakensberg regions during winter.

Con: Protests

There is always a protest about something in SA. It’s a norm and most people don’t really care until it affects them.

Why are people protesting in South Africa? In simple terms, the government is misusing public funds, cost of living keeps increasing, most people don’t have an income and young kids and females are being raped and murdered at a concerning rate. Protests are always related to those issues.

South African protests are often violent and sometimes it leads to people being killed by police who shoot at them or, buildings being burned down.

Usually when there is a protest in your city, it’s best to stay home.

Pro: No open wars with anyone in the world

Thankfully we never have wars, terrorism or issues with other countries. It’s relatively safe from attacks.

Con: South African Attitude Toward Immigrants

This is one of those things we can’t ignore!

Most African countries know South Africa for the vicious xenophobic attacks. People always ask me about this when I’m abroad and I never know what to say to them. Yes, not all South Africans dislike African foreigners…

But you can’t ignore the reality of people being attacked, accused of stealing jobs and murdered because they aren’t from here. Another thing to add is this usually happens to black people – which is mind boggling.

Pro: Freedom of Speech

You don’t really realise how important this is till you live in a country where you can’t express yourself or tweet the President and ask him questions.

There are many reasons to consider living in South Africa but this is definitely one of the top ones.

Con: Bureaucracy around some basic processes

Trying to get anything done here can be frustrating. Most of the processes and systems are outdated, but after living in 4 different countries, I must say that there are certain things that a bit more efficient at home – {side eyes Turkey}.

Applying for most things requires your national ID and proof of residence. Why can’t they add our address on our ID like in the US?

Choosing to living in South Africa means accepting that you will be printing and filing paperwork for many things and going to the police station to get documents certified. This country ain’t about sustainability and saving trees!

Some things require you to go and wait in a queue vs. getting this handled online.

Pro: Clean Air and Water

South African has amazing quality of water and air.

Living in country where you can open the tap and drink the water is a blessing you won’t understand till you live in a place where this isn’t an option.

Con: Corruption

I hate how we have normalised corruption!

From the everyday people to Presidents. I read the other day that we went from having an ex convict as a President (Nelson Mandela), to having a President in jail (Jacob Zuma) – currently facing over 700 charges.

We really need to change this culture and hold people accountable.

Pro: Public Holidays

We have a day off every now and then and I love it. South Africa has a total of 12 holidays while Ireland has 9 bank holiday and the US has 11 national holidays.

Con: Public Health Care

Public clinics and hospitals are understaffed and overworked.

Too many people need these services and the government isn’t really doing their best to improve things.

Pro: Private Health Care

South Africa has one of the world’s best private healthcare systems – very expensive for locals but if you can afford it, it’s worth having!

Con: Flights are expensive

My least favorite things about living in South Africa is how far it is. When you have to travel to other countries it’s always expensive and takes hours.

Best Cities to Live in South Africa

So, where is the best place to live for digital nomads in South Africa? Where is it best for an expat in South Africa? Here are some of the top neighborhoods to consider in some of the popular provinces.

Cape Town

There are many fun and unusual things to do in Cape Town, this makes it a tourist hub and popular South African city for digital nomads.

Pretoria (Tshwane)

Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa. This vibrant city attracts many expats in South Africa as its home to the most embassies in the world outside Washington DC and it’s also home to most local governments departments of South Africa.

You’ll find many diplomats in the city and Pretoria is relatively close to Johannesburg (about 45 minutes by car), less congested, and slightly cheaper (housing and cost of living).

Pretoria is a great place to move to in South Africa with kids as there are a variety of both public and private schools including some of the best tertiary institutions in the country like the University of Pretoria, Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), and University of South Africa (UNISA). Several large companies are based in the city, including Ford South Africa, Aerosud, and Exxaro.

Some of the best places to live in Pretoria include Faerie Glen, Waterkloof, Mooikloof, Brooklyn, Centurion (a little closer to Johannesburg).

Johannesburg

Joburg also known as the city of Gold is the city that never sleeps! Home to two international airports: OR Tambo and Lanseria, Johannesburg is a popular layover for foreigners traveling to South Africa

The city has many historic buildings, monuments, museums, as well as its beautiful botanical gardens and nature reserves. There are many things to do and an abundance of day trips from Johannesburg.


South Africa Living Tips

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8 thoughts on “Living in South Africa: Pros, Cons and Things to Know”

  1. Great post! I love that you are so honest and highlight not only the pros but also the cons. I think its always important to consider both before traveling or moving to another. One of the biggest draws for me to visiting South Africa is to see the wildlife and go on a safari. I have heard many concerns from others about safety when visiting, but you have provided some great reasons to visit.

  2. Hi,
    Thank you for the insights. I’ve been planning to visit South Africa for some time now, the problem is that covid19 happened so here I’m stuck in Europe for now. However, I always appreciate the honest opinion of someone who actually lives there. I guess my biggest issue would be the electricity cuts-as a digital nomad that would be a big obstacle. I would not mind it as a tourist though. We get power cuts in my country of origin too (although they don’t last for that long).

  3. I really love how you organized all of this content, especially the at a glance section. I love how honest and open you are as well! Super helpful!

  4. really love this very honest look at life in SA. i live in Mexico, so we share a lot of the “cons” you list for SA, but i totally agree that the wonderful Mexican people make up for so many of the cons. i hope to visit SA one day 🇿🇦

  5. @Megan, Lol we’ve have no electricity since Saturday now. 5 days in total. The longest period we haven’t had electricity ever. I don’t know if I should cry or laugh at this point. Currently sitting in the car while charging my phone and typing this

  6. This is such a great overall picture of what it’s like living in South Africa. I think power cuts would take some getting use to, but I’m sure you DO get use to it! Great list of pros and cons

  7. Hi Brenda, thanks so much for this comment. This month has been so horrible but we are trying to stay positive. Thank you again.

  8. I’m originally from Zimbabwe & went to Rhodes Uni (now living in the UK) and I absolutely agree about the “people”. So incredible big-hearted and welcoming, whereas I found it to be the total opposite here when I moved. Everyone keeps themself to themself. And the food – I miss the food! I try and cook it here – like sadza and nyama with chakalaka but it’s just not the same!
    On a side note, my heart has been breaking watching what’s happing in SA at the moment and I hope you are your family are safe and well xx

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