Living in Johannesburg

Living in Johannesburg

Johannesburg is a vibrant city and a great place to live, allowing most expats more space and a higher standard of living than they’re used to (especially if relocating from the UK). However, if you are thinking of moving here, you will need to make sure that your work package will allow you to live in a safe area with all the security measures. You can get an idea of the cost of properties on the websites listed below.

Domestic Workers
When we first arrived in Johannesburg and I was shown houses with maids quarters I was horrified. The thought of becoming a white person with a black maid (I hate that word!) seemed like an awful outdated, colonial cliche. However, when I began to understand the level of unemployment in SA and the fact that if I didn’t employ someone they wouldn’t have a job or in some cases a home, I began to feel differently.

Having someone work for you in your home (whether they live-in or not) obviously means you have to trust them completely. There are agencies you can go to, but word of mouth is probably the best way to find someone trustworthy and reliable. The fact that ‘help’ is so reasonable and widely available in Johannesburg is one of the advantages of living here, but it also involves a duty of care and if you want your family and your property to be safe, please be aware of the different circumstances that your staff live in compared to their place of work. Be kind, offer lifts when needed, don’t throw things away that could be offered to your staff, e.g clothes and food etc.

As with any job it’s important to be clear from the start about hours, duties, holidays etc.  There are laws governing domestic workers just like all other workers here.  These cover things like minimum wage (ridiculously low), notice periods and most other information you would expect.

On top of monthly wages, there is a discretionary 13th month cheque (bonus) which is given at Christmas time which is an extra month’s salary.

Getting around Johannesburg & Sandton

The geography of Johannesburg can take some time to get used to. Everything used to be centered around the CBD, but since the end of apartheid this almost became a no-go area and lots of business’s have moved to Sandton, which is just north of the nice suburbs north of the CBD. (It’s important to note that Parktown is part of the CBD and not part of The Parks residential area unlike Parktown North.)

The result is that there are two business areas, downtown Johannesburg and Sandton, which is where most of the banks have moved to. There are lots of smaller neighbourhood’s divided between the major thoroughfares.

  • There are 2 main North-South roads that will help you fit everything together.  On the west side is Jan Smuts/William Nicol and on the east side is Rivonia/Oxford Road.
  • Directly north of CBD are Westcliff and Houghton, which have some stunning and huge houses and was home to Johannesburg’s rich and famous in the city’s early days, both have remained prime suburbs since then.
  • North from there you get to the Parks area (Parkview, Parkwood, Parktown & Parkhurst) – all close to Zoo lake, the Johannesburg Zoo and several other parks.
  • From there, the neighbourhood’s tend to group around different sized shopping malls (Rosebank; Dunkeld West; Hyde Park; Illovo) until you get to Sandton City and Grayston Drive.
  • North from there are areas such as Bryanston and Morningside eventually getting to Fourways, Dainfern and beyond.

Pros of Living in Johannesburg 

  • It has one of the best climates in the world. In winter you can enjoy clear blue skies and beautiful warm sunshine almost every day. It doesn’t rain for around 4 months of the year! However, evenings and mornings are cold in winter and there is no central heating or double glazing, so you will need to wear warm clothes, buy heaters/electric blankets and slippers….probably not what you expected from Africa!
  • Summer days are hot and generally create amazing thunder storms in the late afternoons.  It does get dark around 7pm in mid summer and by 6pm in winter.

  • People (both expats and locals) are mostly friendly and welcoming. Most people have come to Johannesburg for work reasons and are generally looking to make friends.
  • Travel opportunities are fantastic – South Africa is an incredibly beautiful country in itself and Johannesburg is close to amazing safari opportunities, the majestic Drakensberg mountains and Cape Town is only a 2 hour flight away.  Johannesburg is the gateway to the rest of Southern Africa.

  • The standard of living for expats is high – houses are spacious and many have pools and decks, eating and drinking out is not expensive.
  • Uber and Taxify are here and the same as everywhere else in the world.  You just need to download the apps and then wait for your ride.  All drivers undergo a screening process before their profile is activated on the service including criminal background checks.
  • A world class public transport system was launched just before the Football World Cup in 2010.  The Gautrain buses have routes around Santdton and the Gautrain routes go between the airport, Sandton and Pretoria.

Cons of living in Johannesburg

  • Security is an issue, but you can take precautions to maximise your safety as crime is an issue in all big cities.
  • Minibus taxis are not used by expats and a car is a necessity (and they’re expensive by UK standards), so if you’re coming from a place where you can walk everywhere, you may feel slightly restricted.

  • Education is at a cost here too whether you send your children to a private or government school you will have to pay fees.  A lot of expat work packages cover these.
  • If you are coming here with your partners/husbands work, and you also want to work, it is wise to check if you qualify for a work visa before you arrive. It can be hard to get a work visa unless you have a specialist skill. It is possible to get one eventually after a lot of paperwork especially  if you are married to a South African!!
  • Much of Johannesburg’s social scene is centered around big shopping malls, which can feel a bit soulless. There are areas with restaurants/ bars outside of the malls and more fabulous restaurants out of town.

Out And About

There are some great websites which list events and restaurants in Johannesburg and places in the CBD that have been regenerated and are safe to go to.

Eating out

Eating out is cheap and easy.  It really is often cheaper to eat out than in!!  As well as plentiful local restaurants, most malls have a good range of restaurants from your standard fast food places to some really high end restaurants!  South Africa has managed to hold back the onslaught of many of the international chains and so some of the names will be unfamiliar:

  • For coffee try Mugg & Bean or Vida Cafe.  This is the main South African equivalent to those world dominating American names although Starbucks arrived April 2016 which was a big thing for South Africans!!  There are lots of great small independent coffee shops.
  • For Burgers the main names here are Steers, Wimpy, Macdonalds and Burger King being the latest to arrive.
  • Family restaurant Spur does burgers, steak and ribs etc and is very child friendly.
  • The main names in pizza are Col cacchio (more of a sit in place but they do take aways),  Debonairs, Pizza Perfect & many other good small operators.

  • Tasha’s is a chain of restaurants which is a real institution in Johannesburg for ladies that lunch, business breakfasts and general hanging out with good food.  You’ll find one in many of the more high end malls.

For more information on restaurants

Pubs or as close as!

  • The Baron (various places)  –
  • Parkhurst/ Greenside and Melville also have central streets with bars and restaurants
    FYI – You can buy wine in some supermarkets, but no other alcohol, although some supermarkets do have separate liquor stores attached to them. You can’t buy alcohol after 3pm on a public holiday!

Sports & Clubs

Johannesburg has one of the most amazing climates in the world making it a fabulous place to exercise with everything on offer that you would find in any country.


Both mountain biking and road biking are very popular in South Africa.  The Cape Argus is the largest mass participation road biking event in the world and takes place every March.  Johannesburg has its own annual cycling event, the Momentum 94.7 which happens every November.

People tend to join cycling clubs rather that riding on their own as it is much safer to be in a group.  Be aware, you will be expected to start cycling before the sun comes up!

  •  Rock Hoppers members meet once a month at different off-road tracks on the outskirts of the city, usually to race laps on a 7-8km course. You can visit for more details
  •  Johannesburg Mountain Bike Club has weekly rides of up to 45km at various locations.  You can get all the details from the website . If you need to hire a bike – the best place is Linden Cycles, you can contact them on 011 782 7313.
  •  There are many road biking clubs. One reasonably large road club is Club 100.


South Africa is the premier golfing destination in the world, there are some fabulous golf courses in and around Johannesburg and the prices are very reasonable.  Here are a few….


There are two major gym groups in Johannesburg; Virgin Active and Planet Fitness They both have fabulous facilities and are dotted around the suburbs.   Gym culture in South Africa is huge and you will find during peak hours most of the gyms are packed.  As an expat when joining a gym you will need to produce your passport and address verification.


Rugby is one of South Africa’s big three sports, alongside football and cricket.  For many South African fans  rugby is a serious matter, a source of bursting pride and joy or shattering disappointment.  There are many school boy rugby clubs around the country.  I have to mention Pirates as I have spent so much time there over the past six years.  The club caters for boys from the ages of 7-13

Emirates Airline Park in Johannesburg is the home of the local Xerox Golden Lions Rugby Union, the local team.

Other rugby clubs in the Johannesburg area:

Another rugby initiative is The Titans which is aimed at providing a platform for players that are not quite making provincial or selection rugby.  Titans assist in the development of these players and provide coaching and an insight at a level to which they are trying to evolve. Contact: 


I run on the roads and always run with the dog as well as having my wits about me.  Just be careful as you would in any country.  One of the best websites to go to if you want information on running clubs, races, fun runs, marathons etc is

Trail running is a huge sport here and becoming more and more popular.  Trail running events take place in a variety of breath-taking and often wild locations. They range from one-day to three-day events, catering for the adventurous sports enthusiast.  All events are family friendly and cater for families with KidZone facilities.

Have a look at the following websites. and

The Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge 2017 – E…

Feeling on top of the world at the Old Mutual Wild Series Mont-Aux-Sources Challenge…Beautiful conditions, spectacular setting and adventurous runners, this event had it all – and is certainly not for the faint-hearted with climbing up chain ladders and scrambling down the Gully. "This is an awesome experience, my first one and I really didn't see this coming. This is a challenge for sure." #MAS2017 runner.Come on a visual journey with us as we take a look at this stunning clip of highlights from the event, by Danegerous Pictures.For results race results, visit: WorkwearEzemvelo KZN WildlifeTime FreightKZN Trail RunningRunner's World Magazine South Africa

Posted by WildSeriesTrail on Sunday, 10 September 2017


It is so important, absolutely critical that any child moving to or living in Johannesburg must learn to swim as soon as possible.  Most houses have swimming pools and are usually covered or have fencing around them but it is not worth unnecessary risks.


Carla Farina has been coaching for 11 years and this year in August 2017 she opened her own tennis academy.  Game Set Match Tennis Academy which was an absolute dream come true for her.

Carla writes “I have so much passion that I want to share and would love to give you the option to try out one of the many offerings I have and test it out for your self.  I am an avid trail runner and am in the process of raising funds for Wildlands Conservation Trust and am completely crazy but in a good way.

I am absolutely passionate about children and honestly believe there is so much to learn through sport that goes far beyond the court.  I see myself as a mentor and leader to the children I coach and hope that I can, even if in the smallest way possible add value to their lives.

Game Set Match Tennis Academy: 33 Abercorn Avenue, Craighall, Johannesburg, Gauteng

Some of the gyms have yoga classes but for more specialised classes such as pilates, a good friend of mine has a fully equipped studio, offering both private, one on one and group classes, it is conveniently situated just five minutes from the Sandton CBD, Bryanston, and surrounding areas.  A lot of her clients are expats!

Urban Flow Pilates Studio, 145 Ballyclare Drive, Morningside Sandton.  Contact Sharon Masson (Harris) Mobile: 082 499 2262 | Email:


Everyone has them and they can be very frustrating…

  • Tradespeople are not great at giving you a day or time that they can come round and even when they do specify, it doesn’t actually mean they will turn up then! Try and remember that patience is a virtue and you are now on African time!
  • Admin seems to work the other way, instead of the relaxed attitude, most official bodies will require almost every piece of paper you have ever owned!! Try and make sure you know what is needed before applying for a phone/ getting your car registered etc and then take even more proof just in case!
  • As a woman on a dependent visa, you have very few rights here –  you won’t be able to own your own phone, you have to give your husbands details when going to doctor/dentist etc.
  • Usually when you park your car on the street, a car guard will tell you that he will watch it for you. Give them a tip when you get back to the car (not when you park it), otherwise there’s no incentive for them to make sure it’s safe. They will also help you find parking spaces and guide you out when you leave. There is no set amount that you should give them, usually whatever small change you have.
  • A few shops have ‘stampers’ when you leave the store – they look at your shopping and your receipt and make sure they match, then the receipt will be stamped, its a job..
  • One of the TIA perks is that someone fills your car with petrol for you, so you need never exit your car at a garage again.  You also pay the person at the car who has filled up your tank.  They will ask you if you want them to check your oil and water and tyre pressure. It is usual to give a tip of R5/ R10.

There are 11 official languages in South Africa but most people can speak English.

Two phrases you may not have heard before you arrive are “Now, now” and “Just Now” – originally I thought now, now must mean something will happen urgently and Just now was in a few minutes – wrong! In theory, Now, now means shortly and Just now means sometime in the future…in reality, both mean at some point in the future…who knows when!!

A few words that come up a lot over here…….

Braai – BBQ

Lekker – Nice

Yebo – Yes

Babbelas – Hangover

Biltong – Seasoned strips of dried meat

Potjie – Pot of food/stew cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire

Bliksem – To hit

Bitter Koud – Very cold

Boet – Brother

Robot – Traffic Light

Turning circle – Round-about (These are usually treated as 4 way stops rather than round-abouts!)

Globe – Bulb

Gumboots – Wellington boots (They even have a gumboot dance!)

Cell – Mobile Phone

Shame – This covers most things! Anything from someone’s hurt to dead!

GPS – Sat Nav

Heozit/Howzit – How is it going? How are you?

Shebeen – An unlicensed bar


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