How long will you be staying in South Africa?

This question has popped up more than a few times in recent days. It takes me back to the beginning of last year, when we moved to South Africa. Everyone we met, usually began the conversation with – “So what brings you here?”; followed by “how long is your stay here going to be?” At that time, the answer usually was a very enthusiastic  – “Currently the visa is for two years, but we may extend it, depending on the work and how we settle in.”

But now, when the same question is posed, the answer is more uncertain, bordering a little on the negative. This is not because we don’t like living here – WE LOVE IT. But the fact that I have been unable to secure a work visa and hence a job (or vice versa, since you cannot get a work permit without an offer of employment, and no one wants to employ you because you don’t have a permit), has been a huge dampener.

With around 10 months to go, I realised how pertinent this question has suddenly become. I am sure most expats go through this phase every few years and some may actually have become quite the expert, but this being the very first time for us – is freaking me out. With more questions than answers, I decided to carry out my own SWOT analysis (a very important strategy tool in business to figure out the viability of an option/idea or to choose between alternatives) to help decide if staying on in Joburg is viable.

S-trengths: What has made living in Joburg easy?

– similar to India in culture and people, hence don’t really stick out as ‘foreigners’.

– no language barrier as English is widely spoken.

– people are warm and welcoming.

– a comfortable and beautiful city to live in with all modern amenities.

W-eaknesses: What difficulties have been faced whilst living here?

– stringent labour laws due to high rate of local unemployment making it difficult to get a work permit.

– widespread corruption within state agencies leading to frustration when dealing with them (not something that we are not used to in India, but it makes things difficult in a foreign country).

– notion of being unsafe perpetrated by the gated communities and electric fences we are forced to live within.

O-pportunities: What makes it worthwhile to live in Joburg?

– offers a great opportunity to meet and work with people from all over the world; a truly global experience. Few other cities can match the diversity.

– perfect place to live and explore the African sub-continent.

– city living with a chance to escape into the wild (literally) as often as we want, in under two hours. Which other city would offer this life?

T-hreats: What are the obstacles that prevent us from continuing to live here?

– a career-break of more than two years (unless I manage to find a job) and the loss of remuneration thereof.

-more lucrative opportunities elsewhere.

– the time and process of  renewing the visas.

Even though this is the most basic of analyses, just jotting down these points has helped put things in perspective. Now the difficult part – the decision!

Have any of you been in similar situations? If so, how did you decide?

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