Is it safe to live in Johannesburg?
As long as you are sensible and take care about where you go and being aware of what is going on around you, life is pretty comfortable. Bad things do happen here, like everywhere, but it isn’t anywhere near as scary as the press would like you to think..
How does healthcare work in SA?
Most expats have private health insurance here. This should be integral to any expat package that you are on as it is pretty much essential. There is government provision but this is patchy at best. We have experienced government hospitals and they are not for the faint hearted!!
The main hospitals in the northern suburbs are:
- Park Lane – www.netcare.co.za
- Fourways Life – www.lifehealthcare.co.za
GPs are private and you can go to any you choose as and when you need them. Access to specialists is also pretty easy and for most things you don’t need any form of referral. Most good pharmacists have free or very cheap clinics, which in many cases are a good alternative to a GP or even an A&E visit. They can do inoculations, small injuries and other minor bits and bobs. The largest chains of pharmacies here are Dischem & Clicks. There are many other good smaller chains and independents.
Will I be able to drive?
Yes. Technically you are required to have an international driving license to hire a car here. However many car hire firms don’t require one and you can drive on a foreign license as long as it’s “issued in an official language of South Africa”, and has a photograph on the license. As a temporary resident you can drive on your home country license. If you become a permanent resident you would need to convert your license to a South African one!
Is it safe to drive?
Like many things here, driving is an exercise in common sense. Thankfully South Africans drive on the lefthand side of the road (apart from taxi drivers who drive where ever they want!) You are safe if you stick to the safer areas, and don’t take any risks. Driving at night is reasonably safe as long as you don’t go into the centre of town, or any of the other notorious areas. It is pretty common here for people to lock their doors while driving and keep their windows shut. At many traffic lights (known as robots here) there are hawkers and beggars. This can be unnerving but most are completely harmless. It’s advisable to ensure that valuables are not on display. Handbags on the passenger seat can be a bit too tempting!!
One of the biggest hazards with driving is that taxi drivers can be (will be) erratic and you need to keep your eyes open at all times for them as they can come from nowhere! You will more than likely come across cars that in other countries would not be allowed on the roads at all but some things here you must just put down to AFRICA!! Also a lot of vehicles will be overloaded with people!
What is the weather like?
Johannesburg arguably has the best climate in the world. Winters have cold mornings and evenings but most days reach around 20 degrees Celsius.
There is almost no rain in the winter. Summers see temperatures rising from mid to high 30 degrees Celsius. Most days there are dramatic thunderstorms which come and go very quickly. A lot of houses are unprepared for the winter with no insulation or heating so it can be bitterly cold in the home.
What should I bring with me?
Imported goods here can be expensive.
If your company is shipping your goods its probably a good idea to bring your household appliances and furniture with you! There is no Ikea here and furniture can be expensive. There are plenty of furnished and unfurnished houses to rent. If you need to kit out your home there are some fabulous shops and quirky ones too. I love Amatuli, www.amatuli.co.za and Block & Chisel, www.blockandchisel.co.za
Cars are expensive depending on the model but the costs of bringing them in can involve a lot of admin is so its important to make the right decision before you come.
Things like baby milk formula is very different and you may find your brand is not available, or if it is it will be quite expensive. Over the years that I have been here more and more Baby equipment and car seat brands are coming in so there is a lot more choice. Mamas and Papas arrived in South Africa a couple of years ago and there is a branch in Sandton City.
These are significantly more expensive here and its worth stocking up before you come. There are local brands such as Regima and Environ that are just as good.
What is food shopping like?
Food is reasonably priced here with a great variety of produce. The main supermarkets are:
Pick n pay – Pitched like Tesco’s.Checkers – Equivalent to Asda.
Spar – There are many stores and standards can vary at each one. It has a good range of international products including some British treats like Hula Hoops, Penguins and Marmite ricecakes!
Woolworths – Pretty much like a Marks & Spencers – you can even get Percy pigs here!!!
How do I get a mobile phone?
It is very easy to get hold of a sim here. For a pay as you go sim all you need is some photo ID and proof of address (a rental agreement will suffice). For non South Africans this should be your passport as the phone shops often don’t recognize a foreign drivers licence.
Mobile phone calls are expensive here. Data costs are still very high but are gradually coming down. Data packages are available for prepaid customers as well as contract users, which can make data more affordable.
Mobile phones are called “cell phones” here and when you top up your prepaid phone ask for “airtime”!
The main operators are Vodacom, MTN, Cell C & Telkom mobile. It’s worth shopping around as there are usually some good deals. Telkom mobile & Cell C tend to be the cheapest.
As an expat you can get a contract but you would need to go through a longer registration process and provide more documentation including proof of address, passport & visa etc.
Landlines & Internet
The only provider of residential landlines in South Africa is Telkom. They are a typically bureaucratic organization and the process of getting a landline can be slow and frustrating. However, with much better internet options available it is easy to manage all your communications via mobile (“cell”) and international calls using Skype, Whats App or FaceTime.
To get a landline you will need to visit a Telkom shop with original ID (a passport with visa for foreign nationals), a copy of a lease and whatever else the lady behind the desk decides to ask you for that day! The connection fee is approximately R800. A landline costs approximately R150 per month with call costs on top, though there are calls inclusive packages available.
For internet, there really is quite a lot of choice and the market is really competitive now. You just need to contact one of the many ISP’s who will provide you with all the infrastructure, choice of line speed and data bundle. Some of the more well known ISP’s are Webafrica, MWeb, Vox Telecom, Internet Solutions & Afrihost but there are many more available.
Fibre is now here and rolling out across South Africa. There are a number of service providers (as listed above) who can help you get connected to Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH). This market is fiercely competitive, so make sure you shop around to get the best deals. You do not have to lock yourself into a long term contract as most of the service providers offer a month-to-month service, with 30 days notice to terminate, should you wish.
If you are on a spouse’s visa here, you probably won’t be able to have your own bank account. Most wives operate on a secondary card to their husband’s accounts, or on a joint credit card. Beware though as most accounts have SMS notification of any transactions. Useful if its your own account, but can cause some interesting marital moments if your husband is receiving notification of your every spend!! If you are married to a South African over time with residency or working visas you should be able to get your own bank account.
Some of the main banks out here are ABSA, Standard Bank, FNB, Nedbank, Investec & Capitec.
The main provider or satellite television is DSTV. Great if you are a sports lover as they have most major events from football, rugby, golf, cricket etc etc. For series they are not too far behind the UK and US. They have most of the major international news packages. Bizarrely the country seems hooked on sky news – which you will see in the gym keeping you up to date with the minutiae of UK news!!
Radio is pretty varied. There are a number of music stations, all of which play a reasonably large proportion of South African music as well as the main international tunes. Highveld 94.7 is one of the main radio stations.
For less mainstream music you will struggle!! There is a Classic FM, and a few talk stations. Talk 702 and Power FM but now with fibre arriving you can just stream any radio station in the world and TV too so you don’t have to feel as if you are missing out on your favorite radio or TV shows from home.
All the utilities here are run by single providers. There is no choice in the market and service etc generally reflects this! Some leases will leave the utilities in the name of the landlord and you will be billed by them in arrears. This can be simpler but could come with its own frustrations if there are any problems.
There is basically not enough electricity to go round all the people and businesses in South Africa. As a result power outages are not uncommon. There is often much talk of load shedding in the winter months when people are using their heating, though for the last few years this hasn’t been happening as much.
The electricity company is called Eskom. For Johannesburg users you’ll encounter them as “City Power”. Electricity prices are high and tariffs seem to be going up endlessly! There is also pay as you go electricity available.
There is very very limited residential gas here. Most homes with any gas use bottled gas suppliers who will deliver to your door. It may be a good idea to have gas cooking facilities since power outages can leave you with no way to cook otherwise!! A lot of South Africans use the good old fashioned gas heaters in the winter!
Water is provided by Johannesburg water. It is reasonably good quality and drinking tap water is safe and widely done!