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Living In South Africa, A Guide For Expats

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

South Africa is a beautiful, diverse country with landscapes ranging from big game reserves, sun-kissed beaches and a celebrated wine country. Living standards are high, and low costs mean many expats can live a relaxed, more lavish lifestyle than they would be able to on the same income in the UK.

There is more to South Africa than safaris and the Big Five, with sprawling cosmopolitan cities packed with fine dining and enormous shopping malls, international employment opportunities and a culture that features no less than eleven languages.

However, the expat opportunity is tempered by high crime rates and a lack of infrastructure in some areas.

South Africa – Quick Facts

  • The flag of South Africa represents the sky, land, black and white people, and gold
  • Population: 59.39 million
  • UK expat population: 200,000
  • Capital: Pretoria (administrative capital), Cape Town (legislative capital), and Bloemfontein (judicial capital)
  • Main cities: Johannesburg, Durban, Soweto and Port Elizabeth

Visas And Residency

The South African immigration system offers Temporary Residence Visas, TRVs, and Permanent Resident Permits called PRPs. Visa costs, eligibility criteria and terms depend on your nationality, the reason for moving, and your financial position.

Work visas are also varied, from the General Work Visa and Corporate Work Visa to Critical Skills Work Visas, designed for foreign national applicants with a specific profession or qualification that means they can fill a role in a high-demand sector.

Skills unavailable from the local South African labour market include IT security specialists, nurses, financial advisors and business analysts. Full visa lists are available from the South African Department of Home Affairs.

Understand the difference between residence and domicile.

Proof of vaccination

All restrictions, such as providing proof of vaccination or a negative test result, have been lifted.

Passport validity

Travellers arriving in South Africa for a short-term visit must have a validity date of at least 30 days after their intended departure date. Some immigration officials will require at least six months validity to grant entry.

Visa holders or UK expats arriving with a work permit should have all their documentation ready for inspection.

Taking medicines to South Africa

Visitors are permitted to bring medications to South Africa, up to a maximum one-month supply, and only where the medicine is for personal use. You should get a prescription, original packaging, and a letter from your doctor if the drug is controlled.

Medical care standards are high, and you can register with a GP or private clinic and arrange to transfer a repeat prescription, although specific brands and treatment types may vary.

Expats can find an English-speaking doctor before they travel, and most pharmacies will accept a valid UK prescription, called a script in South Africa.

Police certificates

Visa applicants will be asked to provide a police check before being granted a permit, and individuals with a criminal record will normally not be eligible.

Immigration processes also require expats to provide a South African police clearance certificate (PCC) before being eligible for a residency application.

Safety And Security

Crime rates in some parts of South Africa are high, including petty theft and serious acts of violence. Sexual assault cases are also higher than in the UK.

Larger cities have more instances of crime, often within overcrowded urbanisation projects and areas with high poverty levels, where muggings and violent robberies are more common.

South Africa has a high unemployment rate, and much of the population lives in extreme poverty, so it is important to check the conditions and safety of any area you plan to move to if you are unfamiliar with the country. Most expats live in gated communities.


UK nationals can use a British driving licence for up to one year. Any licence in a language other than English should be exchanged for an International Driving Permit or South African licence immediately.

To exchange your licence, you must have a letter of authenticity from your nearest embassy and apply no later than 12 months after your arrival date. Some car insurance providers will only cover your vehicle if you have a South African licence.

The roads in South Africa are generally of a good standard, but driving styles are more aggressive than you may be used to, with road deaths double the international average.

Rural roads often have poor lighting, and foreign drivers should be cautious when driving towards stop signs at junctions. There are many four-way stop signs, and right of way applies to whichever vehicle reaches the intersection first, not the direction they are travelling.

Cost Of Living

Living costs in South Africa are low compared to the UK, and even the largest cities are considerably cheaper than London. However, utilities and grocery prices are rising. The strength of the South African Rand against the Euro impacts consumer costs.

Local produce is more affordable than imported brands, and fuel is expensive. Still, costs remain lower than in many western countries, with other items such as restaurant dining and alcohol comparably cheap.

Because living costs are much lower, particularly for expats with an income in GBP, their lifestyle is also more luxurious than in Britain, with many employing staff such as cleaners, cooks and nannies.

On average:

  • Living costs are 43 per cent lower than in the UK.
  • Rental prices are 57.7 per cent less expensive.

A family of four requires a monthly budget of around R32,547 (£1,483) and a single person R9,344 (£426), excluding accommodation costs.

Buying Or Renting A Home

Expats are free to purchase a property in South Africa, although the system works somewhat differently from that in Britain. Housing varies from apartments in the cities to family properties in the suburbs and more rural farmhouses.

You can buy a property if you have a valid residency permit or long-stay visa and comply with the requirements. However, you cannot buy property if you have a criminal record.

Most people in South Africa rent, with homeownership rates around 30 per cent, and the most expensive property market is in Cape Town, followed by Johannesburg.

To apply for a mortgage, you will need proof of your address and ID, copies of your bank statements and evidence of employment and income. You will also need to apply to the South African Reserve Bank for a certificate that states you are eligible for a loan.

Renters and buyers can search for properties through several sites, including Private Property, Property24 and My Property.

Cost of renting and buying a home

Property TypeAverage Monthly Rent
One-bedroom city centre apartmentR7,660 / £349

One-bedroom apartment elsewhereR6,355 / £290
Three-bedroom city centre apartmentR14,211 / £648
Three-bedroom apartment elsewhereR12,678 / £578
Property TypeAverage Purchase Cost Per Square Metre
City centre apartmentR17,056 / £777
Apartment elsewhereR12,914 / £588

Where Do British Expats Live In South Africa?

Most UK nationals live in one of the cities, including Pretoria, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Expat communities are in

  • Durban – eastern South Africa
  • St Helena Bay, Churchhaven and Yzerfontein on the west coast
  • Port St Johns
  • Along the Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town


Expats tend to have private healthcare insurance and use clinics and hospitals in the private sector, as there is a considerable gap in the standards and provisions available through the public system.

Medical staff in South African public hospitals are highly skilled, but outdated facilities and underfunding lead to long waiting times, with healthcare charged for on a means-tested basis.

However, private hospitals and clinics are considered some of the best in the world, and pharmacies are available next to medical facilities and shopping malls. The South African healthcare infrastructure also has world-class specialist heart disease and eye clinics.

Ambulance services can be slow in rural areas, so many opt for private insurance that covers the cost of calling a private ambulance in an emergency.

Prescriptions are expensive if not covered by the healthcare system or medical insurance.

Working In South Africa

South African work visas are issued by the Department of Home Affairs, with immigration requirements stating that you must have a confirmed job offer before applying. Skilled professionals can also apply for a visa if they fulfil the criteria of the Critical Skills Visa.

In-demand professions include roles in earth and life sciences, IT, engineering, manufacturing, and agriculture. Updated qualifying employment areas are published in the Government Gazette.

If you believe you are eligible to apply through the route of the critical skills, you must verify a professional body confirming your qualifications or accreditations.

There are also two other work visa categories: the General Work Visa and the Intra-Company Transfer Work Visa.


Expats living in South Africa as residents are liable to pay taxes on their worldwide income, and non-residents only pay tax on income within South Africa.

The tax system is similar to that in the UK, where tax levies include income and capital gains tax, social security contributions, inheritance taxes, capital gains, Value-Added Tax and fuel duty surcharges.

Social security contributions are managed by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA). New residents must register with the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for a tax code before starting employment.

Income tax rates for the 2024 tax year, from March 2023 until February 2024, are as follows:

IncomeTax Rate
Up to R237,10018 per cent
R237,101 – R370,500R42,678 plus 26 per cent of taxable income above R237,100
R370,501 – R512,800R7,362 plus 31 per cent of taxable income above R370,500
R512,801 – R673,000R121,475 plus 36 per cent of taxable income above R512,800
R673,001 – R857,900R179,147 plus 39 per cent of taxable income above R673,000
R857,901 – R1.817 millionR251,258 plus 41 per cent of taxable income above R857,900
Over R1,817 millionR644,489 plus 45 per cent of taxable income above R1.817 million


British nationals moving to South Africa can claim their UK State Pension. However, they will not receive an annual payment increase.

There are no HMRC-approved Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes (ROPS) in South Africa, so expats are advised to seek financial advice to select the right way to structure their pension assets and retirement funds.

Local Laws And Customs

  • Car guards are common in the cities and protect vehicles from robberies and theft – you should tip when collecting your car, but only use guards with an official bib or badge.
  • You should always carry a copy of your passport, including your residence permit, and must present it to an official on demand.
  • Cannabis is legal for private use, but selling or using it in public remains illegal.
  • Buying, selling or capturing any wild animal or product derived from an animal without a permit is strictly prohibited.
  • Homosexuality is legal, and legislation banning discrimination has been introduced.

Education And Schooling

Public schools in South Africa vary in quality, although many private schools, primarily catering to affluent families and international expats, are located in the suburbs.

Private schools have very high standards, but competition for limited spaces can be steep, and fees are high. There are around 30,000 schools in the country, with 26,000 government-funded and roughly 1,600 private schools found primarily in the Western Cape and Gauteng.

Most international schools are in Cape Town and Johannesburg and usually follow the American or English curriculum or the International Baccalaureate.

Most parents must pay school fees, and even in government-funded schools, they will be expected to contribute towards education costs, uniforms and resources. However, those on lower incomes may be entitled to government support to pay for their children’s education.

Education is mandatory from age seven, when children start grade one, through to age 15, when they complete grade nine. Parents can opt to pay for a nursery space or reception placement, called grade zero.

Further college education continues until grade 12, although this is optional. Colleges are community, private or technical colleges, offering an exam called the Matric when the student completes their course.

State school places cost from R8,000 to R20,000 a year (£365 – £911), and private schools can charge anywhere from R30,000 to R70,000 (£1,367 – £3,189) every 12 months, with additional boarding fees.

Living In South Africa FAQ

What is the South African currency?

The currency is the South African Rand, shortened to R before the value, or ZAR in foreign exchange. One ZAR is currently equivalent to around £0.045.

Do people in South Africa speak English?

Most people in South Africa speak English, but this is one of eleven official languages. South Africans also speak Afrikaans and dialects such as Siswati, Sepedi and Setswana.

What’s the weather like in South Africa?

The South African climate is diverse, from hot, semi-desert climates in the country’s centre, away from the coastline, to rainy seasons in the summer and cold, drier winters. The weather in the Western Cape is closer to a typical Mediterranean climate.

Is it safe for foreign nationals to live in South Africa?

Crime rates in South Africa can be high, particularly in more dangerous areas of the cities. Theft is common, but violent crimes, including kidnapping and sexual assaults, are also prevalent. Many expats choose to live in safe gated communities if they are in a higher crime region.

Can UK expats live in South Africa?

British nationals can relocate to South Africa under various visa schemes, and around 200,000 UK expats live there.

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