Country Facts - Living and working in South Africa Sign up to our mailing list
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Country Facts – South Africa

This information is provided to offer guidance to those seeking to live and work overseas. For more information we recommend that you speak with your national government Foreign Office (or equivalent).

Living and working in South Africa

An extremely diverse country, ranging from the wild savannahs of Kruger National Park, to the vast cities of Pretoria, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa is a beautiful and intriguing destination, offering plenty of opportunities for expatriates settling here.

Whether you’re moving to South Africa to work in a busy metropolis, study nature in the expansive open spaces or take a university course, there’s plenty to learn about the country before you pack up your bags and board the airplane.

Local laws and customs

South Africa offers many benefits for those moving to the country. Unfortunately, it also suffers from a high level of crime, particularly violent crime, and most cases tend to occur in the townships. Vehicle hi-jacking and robberies are common and officials suggest that drivers remain vigilant of the risks, particularly if driving after dark. It’s also recommended that you keep to main roads and park in well-lit areas.

UK driving licences can be used in South Africa for up to 12 months and the standard of driving in the country can vary greatly. Overtaking can occur in any lane and drivers can often be found on the hard shoulder.

Drug-related activities, such as taking illegal substances and smuggling, can carry severe penalties.


Like many countries, South Africa has a large public sector healthcare system, while a small, but fast-growing private sector also exists, which offers specialised treatments and high-tech equipment.

The public system offers all patients basic primary care, but it is also extremely stretched and under-resourced. This is not helped by the burden placed on the system by the serious challenges of an HIV epidemic and tuberculosis (and visitors and expatriates should take precautions to avoid communicating these diseases themselves). In addition, there’s a shortage of key medical personnel across the country, particularly in more rural areas.

In response to the country’s public healthcare issues, the government is working to restructure the system and revitalise it. Plans include implementing a National Health Insurance scheme, as well as upping the fight against diseases, injury and violence and improving human-resource management. In addition, healthcare teams will be deployed to underserviced areas and schools, while costs will become more regulated.

Although the country is taking some big steps to improve its system, it’s generally recommended that those who travel to South Africa or move there permanently take out international healthcare insurance, as this will help to mitigate the costs, and ensure an excellent level of care.

Schooling for kids

The country has a three-tier education system: primary school, secondary school and tertiary education.

In recent years, South Africa has made some excellent advances towards improving education across the country – such as by introducing technology and creating schools that specialise in academic areas like business, commerce, engineering, arts and culture.

Typically, school lasts for 12 years and the first nine are compulsory. Grades 10, 11 and 12 are optional and for entrance to university, a student must receive matriculation endorsement.

Many of South Africa’s universities are recognised as world-class institutions and a number of them are on the cutting edge of research in their areas of expertise.


For anyone relocating abroad and considering buying a property in South Africa, the process is usually fairly simple. Foreigners are allowed to buy real estate without needing any special permission – except in unusual circumstances, such as buying a very large amount of property or land that is protected by the government.

In terms of financing, the simplest way is generally to get a mortgage through a local company. However, interest rates can be much higher than in Europe and it’s important to know that most European and American banks will not offer loans to out-of-country buyers.

Of course, before you make any decision, it’s best to get independent legal and financial advice from a specialist in the field. This will help to ensure there are no unpleasant surprises later on.

Local language

There are eleven official languages in South Africa. Most predominant among these are Afrikaans and English, while others include Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu. The majority of people in South Africa speak multiple languages

In the government, English is the main language that’s used, while Afrikaans is often used in commerce. The latter originates from 17th century Dutch, and is still closely related to its parent language. However, it has developed independently over the last 400 years, so there are many differences as well as some similarities, and there is some degree of mutual intelligibility between the two.


For more information on moving abroad visit

Of course, if you’re planning on travelling to South Africa please ensure you have adequate expat travel insurance.

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