Living in Johannesburg – an expat’s guide

For most expatriates considering a move to South Africa, Johannesburg is the destination of choice. This vibrant, metropolitan city is changing rapidly, with new developments and a growing economy fuelling an increasing number of expats calling it home. South Africa is known for its friendly natives and a more relaxed way of life, which coupled with a near-perfect climate – not too hot, but with plenty of sunshine – is an attractive proposition.

Business and finances

South Africa is an emerging market with a stable economy, which makes it particularly attractive to UK expatriates looking for career progression and opportunities. While there is a high level of unemployment at the moment, there are also skills shortages as local professionals emigrate themselves to seek opportunities around the world. This means that foreign workers with the right attributes are likely to find work in the region with relative ease.
Johannesburg is at the centre of South African economy, located in the Gauteng province (meaning ‘Place of Gold’ after its gold-mining heritage), which is the smallest province of the nine in South Africa, but also the most populous. Industries that are particularly prominent include finance, IT, media and broadcasting, manufacturing, mining and the heavy industries.
There are some differences in the way that businesses operate that will take some adapting to as the country tries to keep up with its rapidly expanding market. English is widely spoken, so there is unlikely to be too much of a language barrier.

Lifestyle and culture

Johannesburg is an attractive expat option because of its good work/life balance. It’s a green city, with plenty of open spaces. There is a strong local love of sport, with rugby and cricket high on the agenda. Watching a match is a great way to get involved in the community, as well as seeing some world-quality games. With such a wonderfully mild climate, there is a lot of sunshine but no oppressive heat, so weekends and downtime can be spent exploring outside.
There is a real mix of cultures in the city, with many different languages to be heard around the streets. While there is plenty of English spoken, expect to also hear dialects like Sotho and Nguni. One thing that does take some getting used to is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor, which is visually obvious. Apartheid has left its mark, and there are still divides between races and classes, although things are improving. Crime levels are high in some of the poorer areas, so it pays to remain vigilant at all times.

Family matters

When moving with family, education is a prime concern. Most expats will use the private or international schools. Private schools are excellent, though waiting lists can be long and the fees high. Johannesburg has a good choice of British curriculum schools too, which are a popular option.
Finding the right district to live in is another key area to consider. Many expats choose to live in secure or gated estates, where there is a strong community, including other expats, and increased safety. Unlike other popular expat destinations, it’s not uncommon to choose to buy rather than rent when moving to Johannesburg long term, as property is a good-value investment.
Healthcare is one area where there is a big gap between the best and the worst of what is available. The public healthcare system is currently suffering due to a lack of resources and finances, so a relocation package that includes private healthcare is certainly high on the agenda. There are some real first-class facilities in the private sector, so a good health insurance policy for the whole family is worth investing in.
Information correct at the time of publication.