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Moving to South Africa is simple if you know how, and the benefits of living here makes it worth it!
General tip 1: Always take a black and a blue pen with you wherever you go for signing forms. Sometimes colours are specified and a pen is often not provided!
General tip 2: Memorise your passport number, you’ll need it constantly! Take your passport with you every time you need to do something related to admin. It’s your only accepted form of identification.
General tip 3: Get a South African phone number as soon as possible and memorise it – you’ll need it constantly!
General tip 4: Unfortunately theft is common here. Back-up your laptop!
Mobile Phone Sim Card
There are a few different phone networks in South Africa. Vodacom and MTN have the greatest coverage. CellC and Telcom are the other two options, both with poor coverage outside the cities. MTN has the fastest download/upload speed on average, followed by Vodacom, Telcom, then CellC trailing in last place. If you’re going to eSwatini (Swaziland), MTN offers a roaming service, though you have to get new and more expensive credit. MTN and Vodacom (though Vodacom has some great deals, see below) are the most expensive, Telcom and CellC cheaper. Unless you’re strapped for cash, MTN and Vodacom are the better options. I use Vodacom.
It’s easiest to get a pre-paid SIM from the MTN/Vodacom shop at the airport, however it’s a bit more expensive than elsewhere. If you buy a SIM from elsewhere, you might be asked for proof of your address as well as your passport, which can be more complicated.
Data and airtime are bought separately. You can choose different amounts of data, for different lengths of time. 30 days is the longest time period, and the most common period to choose. After 30 days, your unused data will disappear. Airtime includes voice and text. You often have to call people on the phone here, which will take up your airtime. Topping up with R50 should be ok for now. 1GB for a month will cost around R99 (unless you get a special deal, see below).
You can top up later either in person at a MTN/Vodacom store, or by downloading the app. The apps are both very convenient, and you sometimes get special deals.
If the bank you choose gives you a MasterCard (rather than Visa) debit card, you can use Masterpass to top up on the Vodacom app. You often get great deals, up to 70% off the price you would pay using a debit card that isn’t MasterCard. This can make choosing a bank that does MasterCard a good idea.
Opening a Bank Account
This can take anywhere between 24h and several weeks to set up, depending on where you go and who you speak to.
Documents to take with you:
- Passport and visa (and copies of both)
- Job offer letter stating wage and proof you’ve commenced the position (e.g. letter from your boss, signed contract, university registration confirmation)
- Proof of address (this is the most difficult and is what could hold you up). Ideally they want a signed lease but you probably don’t have one yet. Airbnb or hotel confirmation isn’t always good enough (see next point).
- At some branches of some banks, they will provisionally accept your Airbnb address, and will later send someone around
- to check.
- Banks branches that often deal with foreigners are more likely to make this arrangement. For example, the nearest branches to universities are a good place to check, rather than a bank in the middle of nowhere.
- If you are staying with someone, they can sign an affidavit stating that you live with them. You will also have to proved a copy of the friend’s ID and a utility bill they paid with their name and the address on.
- Some banks have their own affidavit form, so worth googling to check if it’s available online for your chosen bank.
Most banks in South Africa charge a fee per month, around $5 to $10. There is often a small fee to withdraw cash from ATMs of other banks. Most banks also have savings accounts with high interest, sometimes reaching 5%, so it’s definitely worth putting your savings into these.
Transferring Money to South Africa from Abroad
To transfer money from my UK bank to my South African bank account I used Wise* (formally TransferWise). They also transfer money from the rest of Europe, USA, etc. to all over the world. They charge a small (~1%) fee, but their exchange rate is significantly better than international bank-to-bank transfers so it’s a much better deal.
I also have a Wise* bank card. This card is amazing if you travel frequently, and very simple. You can open balances in different currencies directly from your home bank account currency. You get a great conversion rate, minus a small fee. Then you can use the card in the foreign currency without paying any additional fees. It’s like having a card of the country you’re in, so very convenient. You don’t need to keep getting out cash to avoid foreign transaction fees.
When I first moved to South Africa, before I’d opened a bank account, I added UK pounds from my UK bank account to my Wise (TransferWise) card. I then converted a few hundred pounds to ZAR (South African Rand). The exchange rate was good, the extra fees very low. Then I could use the card everywhere as if it were a South African card. If you’re moving to South Africa for a short time and don’t need to open a bank account, you could use your Wise (TransferWise) card permanently.
To get one, you need to be a resident of UK/Europe/USA/New Zealand/Australia/Singapore/Japan. You should sign up for one at least a few weeks before you leave to South Africa, so that you receive your card on time.
Finding a Place to Rent
If you’re moving to South Africa, your choices of where to stay are:
- Apartment in an apartment block
- These are common in limited areas of the cities, often by the beach
- They are very secure, as most have a security guard at the desk at the bottom
- Apartments often come with a parking spot in the basement
- Some apartment blocks also have a pool, and even gym
- A disadvantage is having no personal outdoor space
- Often utilities are not included in the stated rent
- These are often rented through agencies
- ‘Granny Flat’ in the garden of a bigger house
- Many larger houses in the cities have a much smaller apartment/flat/cottage in their garden. It can either be attached to the main house, but with a separate outside door, or an entirely separate building.
- You will probably get some outside area to yourself, to enjoy al fresco dining
- Sometimes you will be allowed to share the pool with the owner
- Most houses have security, such as electric fences, alarms etc., but there are often break-ins anyway.
- Often utilities are included in the price
- These are almost always rented through the owner
- A shared room in a larger house
- This can be a good way to meet like-minded people
- Rent is often very cheap
- An entire house
- Sometimes entire houses are put up for rent, both small and large
- In South Africa, people don’t like to leave their homes unoccupied for too long, so if the owners are spending a significant time abroad, they may want people to rent it out while they are gone
Which Websites to Search
Probably the most common place to find an apartment, with the most options. It’s free for anyone to advertise on here. You get a mix of agencies and owners looking to rent. There are many filters to narrow down your search, including agency/owner and furnished/unfurnished. I personally prefer to rent directly from the owner, as you don’t have so much paperwork to deal with, nor any agency fees. You can also try to negotiate a little with the owner, in terms of rent and duration of contract.
The Huis Huis Facebook group is another good place to check for rentals and flat shares.
If you stay for a long time, the monthly discount on Airbnb prices can be up to 50%. This makes the rent comparable to apartments found on Gumtree. I stayed in an Airbnb the first month, while I was looking for other places.
Most ads on the two websites above are posted by real estate agencies. This means you deal with the agency instead of directly with the owner.
Criteria to Think About
- Secure parking spot: In some neighbourhoods, parking on the street is absolutely fine, in others it’s best to have a secure space.
- Wifi: Many places now have fast fibre internet, outside of cities it can be more hit and miss.
- Washing machine: If this is important to you, make sure to check.
- Dishwasher: These are not super common, and probably you don’t need one anyway
- Furnished/unfurnished: Most commonly, apartments offered are unfurnished, though there are still enough furnished ones on offer to have a large choice.
- Safe area: I wanted to be able to walk by myself around my neighbourhood without feeling threatened. Many areas in South African cities do not meet this criteria.
- Walking distance to a food shop: I like to get fresh bread everyday, and enjoy strolling not so far to the local grocery store.
Nice areas in Cape Town (I don’t know about other cities!)
- City Bowl: This includes Gardens, Tamboerskloof, Oranjezicht, Vredehoek.
- These suburbs stretch from near the city centre, up the lower slopes of Table Mountain.
- Towards the city centre, e.g. on Kloof Street in lower Gardens, there are many hipster eateries, cafes, shops and a buzzing vibe.
- Towards the mountains, there are beautiful views over both Table Mountain itself, and across the city out to the ocean.
- I think this is the best place in the city to live, as you’re close to the mountain for hiking/running, and yet also very close to the city centre
- It’s many Granny Flats you’ll find here
- These suburbs stretch from near the city centre, up the lower slopes of Table Mountain.
- Sea Point and Green Point
- The main benefit of these areas if the promenade running along the sea front. It’s safe to walk/run/bike here anytime, and right next to the ocean.
- Behind the promenade, there’s a busy road, and the area does tend to have quite a lot of traffic. It’s also a bit further away from the mountains.
- It’s mainly apartment blocks here
- Camps Bay
- Just over the hill, and out of sight from the city centre, yet surprisingly close
- A lovely beach, though the water is cold and the beach can get windy
- A chilled out vibe, with plenty of restaurants and bars
- Mainly Granny Flats and entire houses for rent, though there are often not many options
- Beautiful views, secluded feel, but still not far from city centre
- Expect high prices
- Less posh than the areas mentioned above, but with an energetic student vibe
- There are many eateries, cafes, bars, cheaper but still cool shops
- It’s convenient for the University of Cape Town, and Groote Schuur hospital
- The streets are slightly less safe than the other two areas. You have to remain alert, and don’t walk in at night.
- There are many cute Victoria houses here, either rented out as houses, or as house-shares.
- It’s cheaper than the areas mentioned above, and lots of artsy/hipster people and students can be found here
- Southern Suburbs
- A large residential area on the east side of Table Mountain, from south of Observatory to north of Muizenberg
- Mainly larger houses, many families live here
- Less good for young couples/single people as less going on
- Generally safe neighbourhoods with lots of trees
- Bad traffic heading to central Cape Town in the morning, and back again in the evenings
- On the edge of False Bay, with much warmer water than the Cape Town side
- A beach town, with a large sandy beach, good for surfing
- Quite far from central Cape Town, and bad traffic heading there in the mornings and back in the evenings
- Hout Bay
- In its own valley, with a nice sandy beach, surrounded by mountains
- Half an hour to Cape Town city centre
- Many gated communities, each with their own security at the gates
- Mainly individual houses, often with decent sized gardens
- I don’t know about every suburb, so this list is not complete.
Apartment Viewing and Application Process
Summer (southern hemisphere summer) is the most competitive season to rent a flat, though there is still some competition in winter. As soon as you see something you like, contact the agent or owner immediately.
Directly from the Owner
The owner will get in touch, and probably organize a viewing. Visit as soon as possible, and if you’re interested, tell the owner straightaway. It will differ from owner to owner, but they will probably write up a lease agreement themselves. Check what’s included e.g. internet/electricity, and the length of the contract. If you want the place, sign the form, send it back, and you’ll be asked for a deposit (of 1-2 months rent). Pay this, and then you’re done.
Via an Agency
If you go for an agency, it’s more complicated than renting directly from the owner. Once you contact them, they will email you their own application form to fill out. You will also need to submit supporting documents (passport and visa copies, proof of employment and wage, proof of current address).
Then when you go to view the apartment, if you like it you can already give them your pre-prepared application and supporting documents. Check to make sure that your application is non-binding if you think you might change your mind. If you don’t have all your documents prepared, someone else may beat you to it.
You can negotiate some conditions e.g. via email, and see if the owner approves. Then your application will be reviewed, and you’ll be sent a lease agreement. You then sign the lease, as well as a FICA (Financial Intelligence Centre Act) form to send back.
You will have to pay (probably via bank transfer) a deposit of 1-2 months, plus a once-off agency fee (R500-1500). Then you should send proof of payment to the agency.
Getting Wi-Fi in the Apartment
Granny Flats, and (shared) houses will often have this set up already. In apartment buildings, the fibre will probably be already installed, but you need to get it connected to the apartment. The connection and router are often free if the contract is not cancelled in the first 12 months. The agency you rent from can help you setting this up.
There are different options you can go with, almost always uncapped data is one of them, and this is the most common. 10Mps uncapped data might be around R450-700 per month. The company that provides the fibre to the building, e.g. Octotel, is different from the service provider, e.g. RSAweb.
Once you sign up with the service provider, if it’s not there already, the fibre provider will have to come to install the fibre. Call your service provider so they send you the router, and the fibre company will give you a code to use on the router.
Buying a Car
Gumtree is a great place to find a car, and where I bought and sold mine. There are also many car dealerships. If you ask around amongst your new friends, often people have an old car that they are willing to sell.
If you are going to travel out of cities, you may encounter dirt roads. It’s good to have a sturdy car with fairly high clearance and good tires. It doesn’t have to be fancy, an old VW Golf (common here) will be ok for most roads.
If you plan on a lot of travelling to remoter regions, a 4×4 might be recommended.
How to Buy and Register the Car in Your Name
- Foreigners need to apply for a TRN (Traffic Register Number).
- It’s best to do this as soon as possible, as it can take a few weeks to be approved, and you need it before buying a car.
- You need to physically go to a Vehicle License Department.
- Queues can be very long, 3+hours is not unusual. Get there well before opening time to ensure you’re at the front. In Cape Town, a quieter place to do this is the Pinelands Municipality at 15 St Stephens Rd, Pineland, Cape Town, 7405.
- You need to take your passport and visa, drivers license, two passport sized photographs and proof of address (see info about this in Bank Account above).
- If you’re living with someone who can write you an affidavit, the owner of the house needs to take it to a police station to verify the signature. The police will then stamp the affidavit.
- Fill in the white form: ‘Application and notice in respect of traffic register number.’ You can pick up this form (and all the other forms) there.
- Queue up, and take your filled in form and documents to the counter
- You don’t have to pay, it will take 1-2 weeks for your TRN certificate to be ready.
- They will call you when it’s ready. If you haven’t heard in three weeks, try calling them.
- You have to go to collect your certificate. While there, pick up a yellow and blue form too (for buying/selling a car). Take two copies to be safe.
- On the day you pick up your car, make sure the owner gives you the car’s Certificate of Registration. (Otherwise they could claim you stole the car.) It’s just an A4 sized certificate.
- When you pick up the car, you and the owner must also both fill out a yellow ‘Notification of Change of Ownership/Sale of Motor Vehicle’ form.
- This is to notify the authorities that ownership of the car is changing. It’s the owner’s responsibility to hand in this form. However, you can’t proceed with the other steps until they’ve handed it in so it might be best to offer to hand it in yourself. If they insist on doing it themselves, ask them to fill out a second version of the form for you to keep so you can hand it in if they forget.
- Once the yellow form is handed in, you have two weeks to perform the roadworthiness test and submit the blue form (see below). However, if you (not the owner) is handing in the yellow form, you can do it at the same time as the blue form.
- On the day you pick up the car, make sure you have car insurance (see below).
- If you have a bank account you can already buy it
- You can also agree with the owner that they will not cancel their insurance for the rest of the month. They might then add this additional cost onto the price of the car. This is what I did.
- The car needs a COR (Certificate of Roadworthiness).
- They check things like brakes, lights, horn etc.
- This can be done at DEKRA.
- The seller might do this before you buy the car, else you have to do it (within two weeks of buying of the car).
- Don’t buy a car that you think might fail this test.
- You don’t need to make an appointment, you can just go there and ask for a vehicle roadworthy certification: https://www.dekraauto.co.za/roadworthy.
- If there’s nobody else in the queue, it takes less than 30 minutes
- It costs R500-600.
- They will give you the certificate on the spot if everything is ok
- Fill out the blue ‘Application for Registration and Licensing of Motor Vehicle.’
- Mark an X next to ‘Registration of motor vehicle by title holder.’ This form registers the car to your name.
- Take the yellow form, blue form, Certificate of Registration and Certificate of Roadworthiness (as well as your passport, visa, drivers license and proof of address again) back to the Municipality/Vehicle License office (see step 1).
- Hand in all of the above forms.
- They will give you (i) your new Certificate of Registration for the car (they’ll keep the old one the previous owner gave you) and (ii) Your motor vehicle licence and license disc.
- It’ll cost you around R 500-1500, depending on the weight of the car.
- Ask them for a sticker to affix your disc to the windscreen
- While you’re there, pick up a white and pink ‘Notification of change of address or particulars of person or organisation’ form.
- In case you need to change the address the car is registered to later.
- Take the old license disc off the windscreen of the car and affix your new one.
- Keep your Certificate of Registration somewhere safe at home. Never leave this certificate in the car or you won’t be able to prove it’s been stolen.
- Get car insurance if you haven’t already. (See below).
- Yay, now you own a car!
- You can compare quotes from different companies using www.hippo.co.za. Once you pick the ones you’re interested in, they will all call you, constantly!
- Per month premiums can be anywhere R300-1000+, depending mainly on the value of your car and where you park it during the day and night
- I used to have Budget Insurance, but now I have Outsurance, which actually isn’t on the hippo comparison site.
- I had no problems with Budget. I had to have my car towed three times (the maximum for free per year), and all these tows were organized fairly quickly. It was also fairly cheap.
- I switched to Outsurance when I got a new car and wanted to drive outside of South Africa. Outsurance lets you do this, and you can even upgrade to a special OUT-in-Africa package.
- They cover you for off-road driving, in southern Africa, and eastern Africa all the way up to Kenya. They also cover some electrical and mechanical breakdown problems. You are limited to only 3 consecutive months outside of South Africa, and up to 6 months per calendar year.
- So far Outsurance seems good. It was easy and free to fix a chip in my windscreen, and when I needed a tow it was free and efficient.
- If you are leaving your car in South Africa for a long time without driving, they also have a much cheaper premium that excludes accidental damage but keeps things like theft.
- Any car insurance company will ask you for information like where your car is kept during the day, and at night time. You need the car registration number, a phone number and passport. Once you accept the quote, they’ll ask for banking details and direct debit out of your account every month.
- Then will then ask you to take your car somewhere to verify that it actually exists, and check for pre-existing damage. These checks are free, and can be done at places like Glasfit, or Easyway, depending on your insurance.
- You don’t need an appointment, just turn up. It will take about 15 minutes. They will take of photo of your driving license, and car registration disc on the windscreen. You’ll get a confirmation email within a few minutes.
- Now you’re done with car insurance
If you live here ‘officially’, you can get local health insurance. If you don’t, you’ll have to arrange it via an international insurance company for expat insurance.
Living and Working in South Africa Officially
You can get local Health Insurance (called Medical Aid), and this may indeed be a requirement of your visa.
- You can use www.hippo.co.za to compare Medical Aid quotes
- Momentum and Discovery are two of the biggest
- They both have fun benefit schemes (Multiply and Vitality) where you get points for being healthy, and then can get great deals.
- Often you need a GPS/heart rate watch to record how active you’ve been
- Sometimes entering (and completing) running races gives you points
- With your points, you can get everything from a free cup of coffee to up to 75% off flights (discount before tax and fees). If you fly often, it’s definitely worth checking this out.
- If you’re a student (including postdocs), Momentum Ingwe is a very cheap student health insurance scheme. It’s about R400 per month. But you don’t get any of the deals mentioned above.
Living in South Africa Unofficially
If you’re living in South Africa unofficially, you should get some other form of health insurance.
- One option is standard travel insurance, which also covers things like accidents.
- If you want more complete health insurance, a second option is specific health insurance for living abroad. This is similar to normal health insurance that you would have in your own country, but you’re covered for living almost anywhere in the world!
- I have insurance through SafetyWing*, which offers insurance specially designed for remote workers and nomads. I found it cheaper, and way more simple, than other similar companies.
- I have their basic Nomad Insurance*, which covers both travel and accidents. It costs me $40 per month, and I’m covered worldwide. It’s very simple and had everything I need. It still works even if your government recommends against travel, and it also works in COVID times.
- They also have Remote Health*, which covers way more medical problems and some existing conditions, though doesn’t cover travel-related problems, and is more expensive (from $153 per month). If I got a sudden medical condition, I’m flexible enough to fly back to the UK, my home country, for treatment there.
Importing personal goods
- To import personal goods, you need to go to SARS Customs and LBC Offices to get forms DA304 and P1.160 attested by customs.
- You need three original signed versions of each form. Two for the moving company, and one for customs to keep. They must be filled in capital letters and black pen with two witnesses of the signatures.
- You also need to show your packing list of what’s in the boxes, passport and visa. You do not need an affidavit. If they ask for one, tell them you’re a foreigner and show them your visa and entry stamp.
- They will then stamp your copies of DA304. You then send these to your shipping company/importers.
Useful Apps to Download
- SnapScan: For cashless and cardless payments. Very commonly used around Cape Town
- Mobile Banking app: Can buy instant phone credit/data and pre-paid electricity through this app
- Phone network app: Can top-up phone conveniently, often with good deals
- Hello Doctor or DrConnect: Free calls and chats with doctors, if you have medical insurance with Momentum or Discovery (two of the largest providers)
- Maps.me: Similar to Google Maps, but entirely offline (once you download the region). It also shows paths, and some extra routes that aren’t in google maps. Can be a great backup in a remote area with no signal. For extra backup and more information about road conditions, check out our article on Best Road Map for South Africa.
- Uber: if you don’t already have it, Uber is extremely useful for living in South Africa. It’s cheap, safe, and very convenient.
- Wise* (formally TransferWise): for managing your account, converting foreign currency, and approving transactions
- Car insurance app: with the Outsurance app, if you need assistance, calling through the app means that they already know your location.
- EskomSePush: this app lets you know the load-shedding schedule. If you didn’t know, South Africa sometimes has rolling power cuts. The schedule is very complicated, so this app is very helpful.
Living in South Africa: Other Expat Info
There are some very useful groups on Facebook, where you can ask questions and get fast responses. For most of these, you have to request membership.
- British Nationals in SA: www.facebook.com/groups/3965106330173646
- Expat Cape Town: www.facebook.com/groups/expatcapetown
- Nederlanders in Kaapstad: www.facebook.com/groups/113414342051694
- Pretoria Expats: www.facebook.com/groups/101824880171900
Facebook groups are also a great way to find new friends. There are hiking groups, trail running groups etc. etc. that you can join. These often have events that are free to join, you just turn up. Meetup.com is also used quite a lot in South Africa. Here you can also find similar events.
Additionally, check out our ideas for hikes and trips to explore South Africa, for when you’re living here.