South Africa Travel Tips and Expat Guide

This page is the most comprehensive guide on the web for planning your trip or move to South Africa.

Whether you are a backpacker, regular tourist, business traveler, luxury traveler, or expatriate, look no further than the information I have written for you below, which is based on hundreds of hours of research. The recommended websites are the ones that I have found most useful when planning a complete journey to this country.

Cape Town, South Africa

The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa

Click on any of the options below in order to go to that section.

1. Visa Information
2. General Information
3. Flights
4. Accommodation
5. Ground Transportation
6. Travel Insurance
7. Things to Do
8. Places to Eat
9. Books and Courses
10. Learn the Language
11. Expatriate Resources
12. Moving Help
13. Expat Insurance
14. Make Money
15. Find Love
16. Follow Some Good South Africa Blogs and Forums

1
Find out if you need a visa

Visa Hunter

Go to my South Africa visa page in order to find out if you need to get a visa for South Africa and to learn about the different types of visas for this country.

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2
Learn the General Information for South Africa

Language

    • There are 11 official languages of South Africa.  They are as follows: Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Xhosa, Zulu, Sepedi, Sesotho, Setswana, Swati, Tshivenda, Xitsonga.
    • I remember flipping through stations on the radio while I was in Johannesburg during the 2010 Soccer World Cup and finding a different station for each language.
    • Check out the video below to learn some introductory words and phrases for Xhosa (the language of Nelson Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.)

  • English will be spoken and understood by some in major cities and tourist areas.

Major Cities

  • My favorite city is Cape Town.
  • Wikitravel has good, brief write-ups on travel to each city.
  • The awesome videos in this You Tube channel show a good rundown of a lot of the cool sites in South Africa.

Time Zone

  • UTC + 2
  • Find the exact time for any city in South Africa by going to Timeanddate.com.

National Holidays 

  • Check this page here at Timeanddate.com for national holidays. Many places are closed on these days, so be advised.

Country Dialing Code

  • +27

Mobile Phone

  • Click here to see a list of South Africa’s largest mobile network operators.

Weather

  • If you are looking for a weather forecast for your trip, go to the official website of the South African Weather Service.
  • As a former Meteorologist (completed an M.S. in Meteorology), I can tell you authoritatively that non-South African websites do a lousy job at forecasting weather for South Africa.

Electricity

South Africa Power Cord

South Africa Power Cord

The graphic above shows the main type of plug used in South Africa.

  • Voltage is 220-240V/50HZ.

Currency

  • South African Rand (ZAR)

Currency Exchange Rate

Tipping

  • Hotels and restaurants: 10% is standard.
  • Taxis: 10% is the usual amount.
  • For additional information on tipping customs, check out I Hate Taxis website.

Cost of Living

  • Numbeo and Expatistan are two excellent tools for checking out and comparing the cost of living worldwide between different cities and countries. I’m a big fan of the clean and simple Expatisan interface.

Safety

  • Having lived in South Africa, I can tell you firsthand, there is a lot of crime. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go though.
  • South Africa has a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots. This is clearly evident in cities like Johannesburg where you see large, beautiful gated subdivisions and homes in Sandton and then shantytowns only a short 15-minute drive away. This division is one of the reasons why I believe South Africa is and will remain dangerous for the traveler who doesn’t use proper precautions and common sense.

History and Culture of South Africa

Stay Healthy

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3
Book your flight
South African Airways Jet

South African Airways jet (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Booking a flight for me is a 5 step process.  I like to save money, so I always shop around before spending my hard-earned money on a flight.

Step 1: Go to a Travel Search Engine like Kayak.com 

  • There are a lot of websites that you can use in order to search for the cheapest flights, but I always use Kayak.com to begin my flight searches. Think of Kayak as an online travel search engine.  It scours hundreds of sites across the web to find the cheapest prices for flights, hotels, rental cars, vacation packages, etc.
  • While at Kayak.com, take note of the airlines with the cheapest flights.
  • Four other websites similar to Kayak.com are as follows:
    1. Skyscanner: An excellent site for Europe-based travelers but has expanded to other regions of the world
    2. Hipmunk: Displays flights by price, schedule, and “agony” (an estimate of how tough the flight route will be for you should you decide to book)
    3. Bing: Has a decent airfare predictor to predict the best time to fly.
    4. Google Flights: As with pretty much everything made by Google, this is super fast.

Step 2: Go to a Travel Booking Site like Travelocity.com

  • After going to Kayak.com above, I then go to a booking website like Travelocity in order to check out flight prices. The difference between Travelocity and the flight search engines I mentioned above is that you can make a reservation directly with the website.
  • Expedia, Orbitz, and Priceline are Travelocity’s top three competitors.  I tested hundreds of flight combinations for cities around the world and found that the difference in flights between the sites is not enough for me to spend my valuable time entering the same information into each website.  Just choose one site and stick with it.

Step 3: Go to the websites of the cheapest airlines

  • Go directly to the websites of the airlines that had the cheapest flights in Steps 1 and 2 to see if you can find something cheaper.  Often airlines do not disclose their cheapest airfares to the travel search engines and booking websites.
  • South Africa has a good mix of discount airlines that might have domestic fares that are ridiculously cheap. Check that link in the bullet point above to get the list of discount airlines.

Step 4: Check the websites of regional booking websites

  • FlightSite.co.za is a good search engine for domestic flights within South Africa. You can also see search results of some of the major discount airlines that service the big cities of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Step 5: Choose a comfortable seat and book your flight

  • Having found the cheapest airfare, you can go ahead and book your flight, but first check out a website like Seat Guru (the one I’ve used for years) or Seat Expert in order to find a comfortable seat.

That’s it! Below are some things that you can do after you book your flight.

Track your flight status:

  • I also go directly to the website of the airline that I will be flying (often has the most accurate information).

Learn about the airports:

  • If you want super in-depth information on South African airports, I recommend going to iFly.com, which is a website I like to use as it has good information on just about every major airport in the world (ground transportation, parking, airport hotels, etc.)

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4
Book your accommodation
White Lions in South Africa

Me at the Lion Park just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa

Where you stay once you are inside South Africa will depend on what kind of traveler you are.  To make things simple, I have defined three (3) different types of travelers:

  1. Backpackers or students (those traveling on a budget)
  2. Business or leisure travelers (the average traveler)
  3. Expatriates (foreigners considering moving to South Africa)

TYPE 1: BACKPACKERS AND STUDENTS

Couchsurfing 

  • This is undoubtedly going to be your cheapest lodging option.  With millions of members worldwide, Couchsurfing is a social networking site founded in 2004 that will allow you to connect with people in your destination willing to allow you to stay on their couch or inside their guest room.

Hostels

  • Hostels are a good option if you are looking for budget accommodation and the opportunity to connect with other travelers. Typically, you can rent a bed (often a bunk bed) and a shared or private bathroom.

STA travel

  • STA Travel is a good site to check out if you are a student or teacher.  It is a discount travel agency where you can find some amazing deals on flights, hotels, and hostels that are special for people in school.

Travel Blogs

  • Shannon, a fellow travel blogger at A Little Adrift, has an excellent travel planning resource for backpackers. Definitely check it out before your trip.

TYPE 2: BUSINESS OR LEISURE TRAVELERS

  • The bulk of foreigners going to South Africa will be going there for business or pleasure.  If you fit into this group, keep reading below on accommodation options.

Hotels

TripAdvisor

  • I start every hotel search by going to TripAdvisor to check out reviews on the best hotels.  TripAdvisor is the most popular hotel review site on the web. Be sure to read the reviews carefully.  There can often be fake and suspicious reviews, so be sure to consider the quality of the reviewer in order to identify this sort of thing.
  • If you find a hotel you like, you can book directly through TripAdvisor.

Sites like Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline, etc.

  • After going to TripAdvisor, I often go to Travelocity to do more hotel searching.  You can also use other big boys in this space like Expedia, Orbitz, or Priceline, but I usually don’t find it worth my time to go to each site.

Booking.com

  • SA-Venues.com is another accommodation booking website that you can check out. It has a large following in South Africa.

In my research on hotel prices for hundreds of cities around the world, I found that prices between each site are so close to each other that it was not worthwhile to spend my time entering the same information over and over again into each site.

Apartments and Guesthomes

Airbnb 

  • If I don’t feel like staying in a hotel and want to stay in an apartment, spare room, or short term vacation rental, I go to Airbnb.  These guys have properties displayed for over 185 countries. You can often get some pretty good deals.

Property.co.za and Property24

  • You might be able to find something on Gumtree (sort of like the Craigslist for South Africa) as well.

HomeAway

  • HomeAway is a HUGE resource for vacation rentals worldwide and has a lot of options in South Africa and beyond.

TripAdvisor

  • TripAdvisor is not just useful for hotels…it is also a good site to look for vacation rentals and special types of lodging.  I always check TripAdvisor if I want to get the latest reviews on vacation rental options.

Bedandbreakfast.com

  • I’m not a big fan of the Bed and Breakfast model, but I know a lot of people who are. They are particularly good if you have a special someone and are looking for something more romantic.
  • If you are looking for a B&B option, look no further than BedandBreakfast.com who have an extensive list of B&Bs in countries around the world.

TYPE 3: EXPATRIATES

Apartments

If you are looking at moving to South Africa and want to stay in an apartment, three good sites to check out are (in order of usefulness based on my experience living down there) as follows:

  • Property.co.za (has a huge selection…I found my apartment on this website)
  • Property24 (Property.co.za’s biggest competitor)
  • Gumtree (a big classifieds site in South Africa)
  • The usual suspects like newspaper classifieds, etc. also will work, but I prefer sticking to the 3 sites above.

Houses and Real Estate

  • If you are looking for a house or real estate options, you can check any of the sites I listed above in the Apartments section.

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5
Research Ground Transportation Options
Scuba Diving in Cape Town

Me scuba diving in the aquarium in Cape Town, South Africa

Rental Car

  • I normally start my search at Kayak.com and then go to Expedia.com to check for the best deals on rental cars.  In some cases, I go directly to the website of the cheapest rental car company in order to make my booking direct…all depends on where I can find the best bargain.
  • Travelocity, Orbitz, and Priceline are Expedia’s top three competitors and also are places where you can check rental car prices.
  • If you are interested in long term car rental, I recommend you to use a company like Cabs Car Hire (I’ve used them before) as they have excellent prices.
  • South Africa drives on the left, so it took me a bit of getting used to (being an American). Information on driving in South Africa can be found here at Wikitravel.

Train

  • Johannesburg has a metro (called Gautrain) that is one of the most efficient ways to get from the O.R. Tambo International Airport to Sandton. This was constructed for the 2010 Soccer World Cup and is a lifesaver for those who don’t want to waste precious time in traffic.
  • For more information on South Africa’s railway network, check here at Wikitravel or here at AngloInfo.

Bus

  • Greyhound is a good option for long distance bus service.
  • Wikitravel and AngloInfo have provided a good one-stop resource for information on buses in South Africa.

Airport Pickup

  • While not the prettiest and most accurate of websites, I like to use To and From the Airport to find out general information on ground transportation options from the airport.  The prices that I checked aren’t accurate, but it provides a good overview.
  • I recommend to go with a reputable taxi company to minimize the chance that you get taken advantage of by a dishonest cab driver.
  • If you are looking for convenience and want someone waiting when you arrive, check Viator.com to see if they have airport pickup options.

Taxi

  • A good website for checking taxi prices in South Africa is Safari Now.

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6
Buy Travel Insurance

 

Penguins of Boulders Beach

Penguins of Boulders Beach, South Africa

 

  • I recommend World Nomads who is a giant in the travel insurance industry and is the company recommended by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides.
  • InsureMyTrip.com is a competitor of World Nomads…also good and been in the business for a long time.  I encourage you to check them both to see who gives you the best deal.

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7
Research Things to Do
Wine Tasting at Spier

My sister and I doing wine tasting at Spier Winery

Good lists

Cape Town in focus

Cape Town is my favorite place in South Africa. From going to the V&A waterfront to ascending Table Mountain via cable car to seeing Penguins at Boulders Beach to exploring the Cape of Good Hope to awesome seafood to excellent wineries, there just is no other city like it.

Check out this awesome video from Youtube below about Cape Town.

 Tour Guides

  • Viator.com has thousands of tours worldwide and is a pretty good place to look for guided tours of the major attractions in South Africa.

Cruises

  • If you are considering a cruise vacation to South Africa, check out Cruise Critic who is a giant in this field and is the most comprehensive and informative website on cruises.  Think of it as the Google of the cruise industry.

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8
Research Places to Eat

 

Moyo at Spier Winery

Excellent African cuisine at Moyo Restaurant at the Spier Winery.


  • TripAdvisor is my favorite place to go to check out restaurant choices in South Africa.
  • Here is a list on Buzzle of the traditional South Africa dishes.

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9
Find Great Books and Courses

(Click on any of the images below to go make a purchase.)

Collins Zulu Phrasebook: Zulu is one of the most common languages in South Africa. The Zulu phrasebook below is the one I recommend.  Easy-to-use and durable.

Lonely Planet: I got banned from their Thorn Tree Forum, they still have some of the best guide books for independent travelers, including  a well-researched guide for South Africa.

If you want to have a quick language reference for your trip, check out Lonely Planet’s handy African Languages Phrasebook. I own it, and it is particularly useful if you will be either traveling around South Africa or going to other parts of Africa. They have included phrases of the top African languages.

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10
Learn the Local Language

I like to learn languages independently since I can go at my own pace. If you want to learn any of the local languages, check out the method I normally use below to quickly learn any language.

1. Audio: I normally always start off a language by doing a quick introductory audio course to get my ears used to the sounds of the language. For example, you can try this Zulu resource if you are interested in learning Zulu.

2. BykiByki (Before you know it) is my favorite flashcard program and an excellent tool to get a lot of vocabulary under your belt in as short a time period as possible. When you finish Byki, use the free tool Anki to make your own flashcards. Byki even has Zulu!

3. Zulu Podclass: Check out these helpful Zulu podclasses to get yourself speaking as soon as possible.

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11
Read Some Useful Expatriate Guides
Me at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Me at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

My 6 most favorite expatriate guides for South Africa are as follows (starting with my most favorite):

  • AngloInfo: Extremely comprehensive guide, covering everything you need to know about moving to South Africa.
  • JustLanded: Not as thorough as AngloInfo but has a wide scope. This site covers jobs, housing and rentals, opening bank accounts, schools, doing business in South Africa, and more.
  • InterNations: A gigantic expatriate community with a lot of helpful information for expatriates in South Africa.
  • ExpatArrivals: I liked their write-up on health insurance options.
  • Expat Info Desk has a great checklist of things to do before you make your move overseas.
  • Expat Intelligence has a brief rundown of general information on South Africa.

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12
Research Moving Help
  • Expat Focus has a very useful website that allows you to compare moving quotes for various international relocation companies.

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13
Research Expat Insurance
  • BrokerFish is a good resource that allows you to compare quotes of various companies that provide health insurance for expatriates. I have never used it personally but know people who have had success with it.
  • ExpatFocus shows options for other types of insurance such as auto and property insurance.

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14
Research Ways to Make Money

South Africa is a really hard place to get a job in as a foreigner. As they say, it is often not “what you know” but “who you know” that will get you a job in this country. If you manage to get a job through a South African employer, the hard part is pretty much over. You then have to gather the correct paperwork and apply for a South African work permit in your country of residence. The process is not that bad, and I’ve done it before.  With that said, if your dream is to live and work in South Africa, you need to know that getting a job as a foreigner is not impossible. I’m going to give you the best resources on the web below so that you can get started with your South Africa job search.

Below are my favorite resources for searching for employment opportunities as a foreigner in South Africa.

General Job Search Engines

I like to start my search by going through the major job search engines where you can find a massive number of opportunities. I’m not going to lie, you are going to have to work your tail off and send out hundreds of applications to even get one response. And, of course, 99.9% of these jobs will be tough to get unless you are South African. At best, you can expect to get a 0.5 to 1.0% response rate (people who will respond back to you to whom you sent your application/CV.) I’m stubborn though and believe that you should leave no stone unturned. I encourage you to give these websites a shot as you never know what you will come up with.

  • Indeed: One of my two most favorite job search engines.
  • CareerJet: My other favorite job search engine. Good for searching for jobs in pretty much anywhere in the world.
  • Jobs.co.za: Giants in the South Africa job search space.
  • Careers24Another good South African site.
  • CareerJunction: Been around a long time. Not the best website though for South African jobs but worth a look.
  • Gumtree: A giant classifieds site that also has a lot of job listings. You have to do a lot of digging though as some of the postings on there are of low quality. You might be able to find some hidden gems though.

Overseas and Expat Job Portals

  • Overseas Jobs:  I find that there is significant overlap between the postings on this site and that of other sites. Nevertheless this site has been around for a while and has a pretty decent selection.
  • Go Abroad: I’ve always been a fan of Goabroad. In fact, on the visa information portion of my website, you will find where I have linked to their global embassies directory. They have a good job portal too.
  • Guardian Jobs: Not the largest selection, but a few gems can be found here.
  • Linkedin: Last but not least, this huge professional social network is a great resource for building contacts in the field and location of your interest.

There you have it. The best places to find jobs in South Africa as a foreigner.

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15
Find Love

Due to its history, South Africa is known as a “Rainbow Nation.” You will find beautiful black people, white people, Indian people, and coloured people. And while South Africa definitely can’t compete with Brazil when it comes to beautiful people, you might be able to find some diamonds in the rough, especially in the big cities of Johannesburg and Cape Town where the hotties tend to hang out.

You can always check out the normal places to meet people (bars, clubs, church, mutual friends, supermarket, organizations, etc.). However, the best and most efficient way to meet new single people is to do online dating. The benefit of doing online dating is that you will find large numbers of available single men and women who are ready to date and find love. You can also check out their interests and profile before making a connection.

Candice Swanepoel

South African Victoria Secret Supermodel Candice Swanepoel (source:  Wikimedia Commons)

Below are my thoughts and reviews on the best online dating sites in South Africa.

Afrointroductions.com: When you are a foreigner in a new country, it can be really tough to meet members of the opposite sex.  A buddy of mine told me about a website called Afrointroductions.com, so I signed up for a subscription and used it with a lot of success during the year that I lived in Johannesburg. I also used their Brazilian-based site, Brazilcupid.com, when I was in Brazil.

Just like the real world, there will be women or men who you will not click with or who don’t respond to your messages (or just disappear).  That is life.  Just keep sending out messages and reach out until you find the person you are looking for. That is what I did.  Just don’t give up.  Dating can often be a numbers game where you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding your prince or princess. Depending on how good your profile is, you should expect to get around a 1-10% response rate (people who will respond back to you to whom you sent an introduction message).

For the best results, sign up for a Gold or Platinum Membership at Afrointroductions.com (like I did) so that you can appear at the top of the search results for people who are looking for someone with your profile. Make sure you have a complete profile with your best photos. Check out this article on Gizmodo for some useful tips on how to create the perfect online dating profile.

To sign up, just click on this image below.

 

SouthAfricanCupid.com: SouthAfricanCupid.com is under the same Cupid Media family as Afrointroductions.com I described above. SouthAfricanCupid doesn’t have near the user base that Afrointroductions has, but it is still worth setting up a profile. If I was limited on money and had to chose between this site and the one above, I’d go with Afrointroductions.com all day everyday.

Matchmaker.co.za: I’ve used this website in the past, but, frankly, I had to spend a lot of time messaging a lot of women to get any response. I had dates through there, but it was only after A LOT of effort. Sign up for this one only if you have lots of time.

OKcupid.com: A nice well known site with a pretty decent user base in South Africa. I like the easy sign up process and the match locator tool.

DatingBuzz: I’ve never used these guys and am not sure if they were around at the time I was living in Johannesburg, but they get a lot of fanfare and have a large South African userbase like the other sites above.

For a more detailed discussion of online dating in South Africa, check out my post, “The Best Online Dating Sites in South Africa.”

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16
Follow Some Good South Africa Blogs and Forums

I’ve listed below some good blogs and forums to check out if you want to learn more about South Africa.

  • 2 Summers: Heather runs an interesting South African adventure blog with some truly amazing photos.


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About Addison Sears-Collins

Hey! I'm Addison Sears-Collins, the founder of Visa Hunter. You can learn more about me here. Join me in the movement by liking my fan page on Facebook, connecting with me on Twitter, or adding me to your circle on Google+.

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