Cape Town, South Africa Report of what it's like to live there - 08/03/21
Personal Experiences from Cape Town, South Africa
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. I have also lived in several cities in Asia.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
USA. The trip is long and usually involves flying to the EU or Dubai then down to Cape Town. United Airlines started a direct flight from Newark to Cape Town but the pandemic affected that route.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
I lived in a single-family house in a gated community. It had a backyard with turf instead of grass, which was a "water-wise" setup that was good for the drought. The backyard also had a swimming pool. It was four bedrooms. The location was walking distance to my workplace. I sometimes rode a bicycle or drove. Typical commutes for expats are generally within 45 minutes.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Relative to the US, groceries were a little cheaper. Woolworths groceries can approach US. prices depending on the item. Woolworths is almost like a Whole Foods.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Can't think of any. Most things I needed were available locally.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
I used Uber Eats, mostly. Popular other apps there included Mr. D Foods.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch, mostly. I also used Postnet sometimes for local stuff. Postnet is a local express courier service and they usually get stuff across the country within a day or two for a pretty cheap price.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is affordable and available. People hire nannies and housekeepers and gardeners. The gardeners also generally wash your car.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Virgin Active gyms seem the most prevalent in terms of membership gyms. The mountains and the outdoors provide ample active resources for exercise.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, credit cards are widely accepted and pretty safe to use locally. Just keep in mind that if you pay by credit card at a restaurant, they usually bring the card reader to your table then you need to tell them how much to charge in total, which includes the tip. That takes away the relative anonymity of the tip amount. So, that's just an adjustment from U.S. practices where you write in the tip amount after your card has already been charged for the meal and the server does not see the tip amount until you've already left. ATMs are common. You just need to be extra cautious about using them because petty theft and crimes of opportunity are also common. Using an ATM signals to anyone watching that you have cash, so just keep that in mind.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is widely spoken.
6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Maybe a little bit.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
I avoided these due to safety and security cautions.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
I bought a car from my predecessor. It blended in well with the cars that are common locally. The roads are in good condition, so no need to get anything special that can handle tough roads unless you are planning on off-roading at game reserves in their roads that are designated "4x4" only.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
It is available, but it can take a long time to set up. It took a month before the company was able to install my fibre internet service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
I got a local SIM card and local number. I came with an unlocked Android phone. I did not keep a U.S. plan, but I kept my Google Voice number which allowed me to make calls from my laptop or via the app in my phone.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Relatively informal dress in public spaces. Even in nice restaurants, people might be in shorts and regular shirts. This is possibly an influence of the beach culture/beach vibes. Formal dress would only be required in formal events. Some workplaces may require a suit and tie, but that is not the norm.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. "Smash and grab" car jackings are a real concern. Same with pickpocketing. I've heard some people are robbed at knife point or gunpoint. Give up your wallet, phone, or whatever they want. It's not worth your life.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
COVID-19. Apart from COVID, the medical care is very good at the private hospitals. South Africa is a medevac destination for other countries in the region for this reason.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Pollen can get to you in the spring months.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is good most of the year. Summer does not get sweltering hot and the winter is not really a winter to speak of for anyone who actually comes from a cold climate area that gets snow. Winter is just chilly and rainy. Sometimes periods of rain last an entire week.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
The American International School of Cape Town is in the Southern Suburbs. I have met some of the faculty there. Colleagues with kids there seem satisfied.
2. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes. My child was at a local private PreK-12 school. It was kind of expensive and I think it came to about US $500 per month for the half-day program. The school was Reddam House Constantia, and it was very convenient because it was walking distance from home and work. My experience with them was good overall, but they did leave a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. They required tuition fees for my child for a semester that he was not planning to attend, as he was out of the country due to a family medical emergency. He left three months before the next semester was to start, but due to the fact that his departure was after the "notice period" (the first day of the prior semester), they wanted the full tuition. It was a surprising back-and-forth to resolve. I heard that another school had similar issues, but with families who departed or were locked outside of the country due to COVID.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Pretty large expat community. Overall morale is good and happy, especially for those who enjoy outdoor pursuits and the food and wine scene. The restaurants are great.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Hiking, happy hours, sports (playing and watching).
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, it's a good city for all of those demographics. There is a lot to do. For families with small kids, Cape Town has quite a few restaurants that serve good food but also have playgrounds. You don't need to sacrifice food quality for playground space.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I did not find it particularly easy to make local friends in Cape Town. It was easy enough to meet cool, interesting people who may even make good friends, but there seemed to be a major jump required from both sides to put in the effort to build the friendship. And most local people have their own deep-rooted network. It's hard to fit into that. The same goes for my neighbors.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Ethnic/racial discrimination and inequality still remains strong. The Apartheid legacy is still quite visible literally in black and white. Gender equality still has a long way to go as well. Gender-based violence is shocking here. Hopefully, the gender-based violence national conversations from the last year and a half move the needle toward eliminating that.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Seeing many different parts of the beautiful country--Table Mountain, the Garden Route, Durban, the Stellenbosh and Franscheok winelands, etc. Too many places to see in a short two or three year tour.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Elephant Eye Mountain is a simple hike for non-hikers, even toddlers.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes. Local artwork, carvings, clothing.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It's among the few most beautiful cities in the world.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes. I want to go back.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your: