South Africa - what to expect

Advice to help you settle smoothly

South Africa - what to expect

In South Africa, one can experience a multitude of environments all in one country - from beaches for sunbathing, swimming and surfing; to bushveld, a sub-tropical woodland unique to South Africa, for tracking the Big Five; to tropical wetlands; and ranges of mountains for hiking.

When faced with the prospect of relocating to South Africa, foreigners often wonder what to expect and resort to the Internet for information.They often wonder whether South Africans have proper medical care or if drinking the water is safe. The good news is that we do have all of the above and, usually, more than what an average European is used to as a standard of life.

Key facts

Area: 1,221,037sq metres (the size of Germany, France and Italy together)
Coastline: 3,000 kms long
Biggest cities: Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban
Population: 45 million
Most common languages: English, Xhosa and Zulu
Most common religion: Christianity
Provinces: Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Free State, North-West, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Kwa-Zulu Natal
President: Jacob Zuma
Main economic sectors: Mining, manufacturing, financial services, motor industry and tourism
Climate: Moderate. Summer rainfall area, except in Western Cape
Summer: October to April
Winter: May to August
Best time to visit: Sept/Oct and Apr/May
Currency: Rand. 100 cents = R1.00
Time: GMT + 2


  • Home rental prices do not include: water, electricity, gas, garden and pool, service, domestic help, Internet or telephone, security fee (this can be negotiated depending on the flexibility of the home owner).
  • Home owners expect a rental escalation of 10% after 1-year lease, and each year thereafter unless specifically negotiated.
  • Houses in South Africa are generally rented and advertised as unfurnished. Prices of properties you might see on the Internet will be, for that reason, cheaper. Air conditioning is not standard at all. The landlord may agree to installation, but it is subject to negotiation.
  • Underfloor heating is not standard and there is no central heating of any sort in South Africa.
  • A fire place is not standard, but some houses have gas or wood burning fireplaces.
  • Repainting and replacing of carpets for the landlord’s account is not standard for new tenants.
  • Most houses are double storey, not single level.
  • Pools will not be lap-sized and usually are 5 x 3 m². It is recommended you request pool and garden service to ensure all is kept in order. It is standard to have a gardener take care of the garden and pool in South Africa.
  • Although the climate is moderate, your house will be freezing in winter (due to houses being built to stay cool in summer, and not warm in winter). North facing houses are much warmer in winter, and cooler in summer. Try and look for that if possible.
  • Expect houses to be open plan, meaning: one big open room with the dining, kitchen, TV and lounge all in one room. Also, a lot of the time houses are advertised as having a dining room and lounge, and you later discover that it is all one space.
  • There is no double glazing on the windows.
  • If something should go wrong with the house/apartment, please be advised that services to get things repaired/replaced is very slow (at least a couple of weeks).

Domestic worker

  • A domestic worker is a cleaning lady who can double up as a nanny and will sometimes cook as well. It is standard to employ domestic help in South Africa. It is expected the occupant of the house will provide the domestic worker with refreshments and lunch.
  • Usually the employer of the domestic worker will provide an annual bonus. Therefore, if the landlord is employing the domestic worker, they will be responsible for the annual salary increase and bonus. However, the occupant will be expected to present a small gift for Christmas.
  • If you employ or have the landlord employ a domestic worker, it is important to adhere to the Labor Law regulations to avoid any lawsuits for unfair labor practices.


  • It is standard to have two TVs in a fully furnished family house to rent and one in an apartment. Bedrooms are usually carpeted.
  • Houses do not come equipped with tumble driers or a dish washing machine.
  • Kitchen stoves will be mostly electrical, not gas.
  • Internet connection is MUCH slower than in the US and Europe; so forget about streaming or downloading movies.
  • Telephone lines take a minimum of 21 working days to install, and do not come standard with houses to rent.


  • Public transport is almost non-existent, so it is important to be able to drive.
  • The air is very dry in the winter – so you will need to use a humidifier.
  • The sun is very strong – always use sunblock and sunglasses.
  • Tap water is safe to drink in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
  • The local school year follows the Southern hemisphere curriculum, and starts in January and ends in December.
  • Organic food and health products are freely available. In fact, you can find almost any product in shops or order it online.

This article has been submitted by Marussia van der Merwe, Stepping South Relocation and Immigration Services

Further reading

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