Cape Town, South Africa Report of what it's like to live there - 10/28/07
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?
First expat experience.
2. How long have you lived here?
3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
Direct flights to Europe going to London, Amsterdam, Frankfort. Connecting flights to USA via Johannesburg go to Dulles, JFK (South African Airlines), and Atlanta (Delta). Direct flights to/from JFK to Cape Town beginning 2008 on Delta. Also new non-stops to Dubai on Emirates beginning 2008.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
NGO Regional Director.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Wide range of affordable housing from small flats to giant mansions. I own a small house in Cape Town - 3 bed/2 bath - and paid approximately US$135,000. Rent on a house this size would range from R4000-R7000 depending on location and suburb.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available, just not the brands or selections an American would be used to. Big chains are Pick n Pay, Checkers, and Spar, and Woolworth's has a great specialty/high-end food shop chain. Typical week of shopping for an ex-pat might be in the R700 (US$100) range for a week for a couple. You could easily get by on half.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing - it is far cheaper to buy here than to ship from USA.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
McD's and KFC are the only USA brands of fast food, but Nando's (a local chain) is better by far. Wonderful local restaurants at very cheap prices compared to major Western cities.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Rent a PO Box or have mail delivered to your home address. A letter could take 7 days from USA or 4 weeks.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Unemployment is high, so there is lots of domestic help available if you go that route. A housekeeper that works five days a week but does not live-in would cost around $400-$500 per month.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Local banks can be tedious and inefficient, but safe to use. ATMS are everywhere, credit cards accepted in all large venues.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
All denominations and religious groups are here and English services are the norm in certain parts of town.
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Two local dailies, several weekly national papers, all magazines, many English TV stations (local and international with satellite). Sat TV is pricey (US$80-$100 per month), but some is free over air and newspapers are less than a dollar.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
English is fine for daily living. Afrikaans or isiXhosa recommended to really know the culture and the friends you will make.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Again, Cape Town is (along with Joburg) the most developed city in Africa, so while there is no equivilent to the ADA, one with physical disabilities would be better off here than anywhere else on the continent.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Very affordable and safe if you know where you are going. Travel with locals for a while before venturing out on minibus taxis or buses alone - the train from Cape Town to Simon's Town is cheap, easy, and a beautiful ride.
3. 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?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
ADSL is available, but very pricey for slower than US speeds and limited bandwidth. Expect to pay upwards of US$130/month for all costs and not be satisfied!
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local phone plans are expensive - I use pre-paid, which works well for my work. Coverage is good. Prices are too high, but not insane.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No - job protection is in effect due to high unemployment, so it is very difficult to get a working visa in most occupations.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Work is smart casual. Public is very casual - think Southern California.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Pollution is fine compared to other cities of comparable size due to strong winds frequently blowing from offshore. Winter (with less wind) can be hazy and more polluted. Water quality is great - among the best in the world!
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Crime continues to be an issue in South Africa, but with reasonable precautions, one can be safe. It helps to integrate into society and build friendships with locals in order to learn the best places to visit and those places one shouldn't visit alone.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
HIV/AIDS is rampant, so unprotected sex is a massive risk. World class health care for those few (such as expats) with the means to pay for it or a quality medical insurance program. We use private doctors under our insurance and have received better care than we would have in the USA.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Mediterranean climate with cool, wet winters and warm, dry summers. Stong SE winds pick up in late spring and carry through the early summer months. Wind can always be locally strong, but you might not see a cloud for three months during perfect summer days!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. 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?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Fair to large. I agree with a previous writer who said expats (non-diplomatic) tend to integrate well and
2. Morale among expats:
Very high. They live in Cape Town!
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
We have lots of local friends (and did within a couple of months) and a few expat friends, and entertaining is generally dinner at someone's house or a big braai (cookout/BBQ).
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
If one is willing to make friends and experience the local culture, I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't love Cape Town! We have family/single/couples friends and all love this city.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Certainly the most gay-friendly city in Africa. De Waterkant between the Cape Town CBD and the Waterfront is the
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Racial tensions still exist, but the main tension is between rich and poor, which largely falls along racial lines. Housing (and entertainment, shopping, etc.) is still largely divided along racial lines.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Everything outdoors - hiking, biking, boating, surfing, kite boarding, etc. Great restaurants, world class shopping, Africa's biggest wine-growing region a half hour away, and loads of interesting people to meet.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Fair-trade crafts, local fashion designers, weekend getaways.
9. Can you save money?
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
In a second.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Bathing suit and hiking boots.