The Republic of South Africa is located at the southern tip of the African continent, encompassing a variety of cultures, languages, and religions. With major cities like Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Durban, the country is a frequent relocation destination for international assignees. Our latest Cartus Emerging Market Watch on South Africa discusses the key challenges associated with living and working there, including regional differences, security, transportation, and cultural issues.
With more than 1.22 million square kilometers, South Africa is a large country. The distances between cities can be vast—not just geographically, but culturally, too. Johannesburg is the country’s most populous city and the most westernized, with high-end shopping malls and restaurants. Found in the northeast, Johannesburg also has high crime rates and heavy rainstorms in the summer months.
Known as the ‘Mother City,’ Cape Town is much smaller than Johannesburg. With nearby beaches and mountains, outdoor activities are very popular amongst residents. On the east coast, Durban is the busiest port in South Africa with a large population from the Indian subcontinent, which is reflected in the local cuisine and culture.
Driving in South Africa
With no reliable public transport, it is essential that assignees be able to drive. They will not be able to take a driving test in South Africa, so they must have a valid home country license accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit, prior to arrival. Another potential issue is car leasing. Leases are nearly always issued over a three-year term, which can be an issue for short-term moves. With this in mind, consider setting up a corporate lease with a local car rental firm so that cars may be used on a rolling basis by assignees.
Once on the road, motorways and toll roads are in excellent condition, but secondary roads can be poorly maintained, not well signed or lit, and heavily congested during peak traffic. Assignees should also be mindful that many local drivers adopt quite an aggressive style of driving, especially in major cities.
Assignees and their families are often alarmed by the level of security required for expatriates living in South Africa (e.g., standalone houses typically have high walls, electric fences, or guards). While expatriates should pay attention to the security information provided, it is not meant to be alarmist. Indeed, most safety measures taken are precautionary, with the majority of crime isolated to areas and suburbs away from expatriate neighborhoods. A pre-move visit can often allay security perceptions and concerns.
Compared to security and driving conditions, cultural differences are more subtle, but can lead to frustrations amongst assignees if they are not made aware of them:
• When meeting with business associates for the first time, it is important that participants get to know one another. Business negotiations will not be conducted at an initial meeting.
• Some South Africans have a relaxed attitude toward timescales and deadlines, both in business and in their personal lives. Deadlines are seen more as guidelines than actual deadlines.
• Final decisions are usually made by one person, but the decision-making process often incorporates everyone and will take as long as it needs to. It is important to be patient during this process, as pushing for an answer can be counter-productive.
• Emphasis is placed on developing good working relationships amongst business contacts and colleagues, so make sure that you dedicate time to doing so.
For a detailed review of relocating to South Africa, read our South Africa Market Watch, watch our Cartus On the Ground video on South Africa, and view our Resource Page and On the Ground video series for additional information on moving to other Emerging Market locations.