The expat community in South Africa is fairly big. Due to the lack of local skills in several areas, most firms prefer to hire the requisite people from overseas. As a result, the country, especially Johannesburg, is a cultural melting pot. It is fairly common to hear several different languages being spoken at one restaurant in one night!
Given the large population of South African Indians here, Indians moving to work and live in South Africa, find it very easy to settle in. However, there are several inhibitions and questions that one has, when contemplating such a move. Hence, I decided to answer a few ‘frequently asked questions’, tailored more specifically for Indians moving to South Africa.
1) Is Johannesburg safe?
A: The question foremost on everyone’s mind. Having lived here for more than two years now, the answer is YES. You need to be alert and aware, as you would be in any new place in the world. I have written a lot about this and you can read it here.
2) How is the climate?
A: South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere and so winter months fall between May to August. The days are warm and sunny but can get very windy. Nights are clear and cold. So warm clothes are required.
Summer months are October to February. It can get very hot if you are outside but nothing compared to North India! The maximum temperature is usually around 33-34 degrees Celsius in Johannesburg. Summer months also experience spectacular thunderstorms – nothing like I have ever seen before.
3) Are there air-conditioners and heaters in houses?
A: Yes, they are available but the majority of the houses come without. Underfloor heating is available in newer complexes but most people just use oil heaters at home. These can be bought easily in local stores. Houses usually come equipped with fans but air conditioners can be bought from stores as well. However, I have not seen the need for air cons so far.
4) What kind of houses are available for rent?
A: Depending on your budget, all kinds of accommodation is available here. Apartments, town houses, golf estate villas – you can rent anything.
Fully-furnished houses are also available, should you choose not to get your own stuff.
I have found this website really helpful: http://www.property24.com. Some of the big property agencies that you can also contact are Pam Golding, Remax, Jawitz, Hall, etc.
5) What are the rents like?
A: It’s difficult to say because rents depend on the area you choose to live in. On an average however, a two-bedroom apartment, in a nice, secure complex may be available for R9000-10000 per month (2014). Individual houses or villas with a garden, private pool, etc are obviously more expensive. Anything from R30000 upwards.
6) What equipments do houses come with?
A: All houses come fitted with a stove. Almost all of these are electric as cooking gas is difficult to come by. So you would need to get used to cooking without fire.
Some houses may also come with a dishwasher, washing machine and/or a refrigerator; but more often than not, you need to get your own.
7) Which are the expat neighbourhoods?
A: Most expats tend to live in Sandton and Fourways. However, some of the other really nice areas are Bedfordview, Edenvale, Houghton, Lonehill, Rivonia, Boksburg, etc. Peak time traffic on the motorways can get really heavy and so living close to work is a good idea.
Most of the South African Indians live in areas such as Lenasia, Fordsburg and Boksburg.
8) What is the public transport situation?
A: Public transport is next to non-existent. Hence, driving and owning a car is essential here. However, since the last year (2013) there has been a proliferation of secure radio taxi services. The travel service,Uber, also operates in Joburg.
9) Can you drive on an Indian license?
A: Yes. As per the AA, any foreign drivers’ license is valid in South Africa as long as it is in English and has not expired. However, I would also suggest getting a letter from the Indian Embassy that states that your Indian license is original and was issued by the Government of India. It is also wise to keep police certified photo copies of your passport and license in the car.
10) Can you hire help? Are they expensive?
A: Yes, help is easily available in South Africa. Most people with children usually hire live-in nannies/help. But the majority of couples with no children hire people to come and clean either once or twice a week. They come in the morning and leave around 3-4pm. they can be paid a daily wage or a monthly fixed amount – depends on what both parties agree upon. They usually take a break mid-morning where they either make or are offered some tea/coffee and food.
As compared to India, hiring help is a little expensive but it’s not as prohibitive as in the West.
11) Do you get the Indian spices and other Indian groceries?
A: Yes. Indian influence in food is strong here and you get all the Indian spices used in normal cooking. I am lucky to have found a Moroccan store close to my house that sells all these spices. But otherwise, there are tons of shops in Fordsburg selling Indian and Pakistani ingredients including frozen paneer, mustard oil and pani puri.
There are a lot of good Indian restaurants as well where you can have anything from dosas to chaat and butter chicken!
12) Should I get any particular ingredients/utensils from India?
A: Other than home-made pickles and chutneys, nothing really needs to be carried from India, unless of course your company is paying for the shipping of an entire container! Then you can carry everything and you won’t need to buy the utensils, pressure cookers, etc. here. Otherwise the Fordsburg area in Johannesburg sells everything you will need.
13) How are the healthcare facilities?
A: Healthcare services are very good but very expensive in South Africa. So it is important to have a good comprehensive medical cover from office that covers the entire family.
14) Are medicines available over-the-counter?
A: The common medicines such as pain relief, fever, flu etc are available over the counter. For most others, you would need a prescription.
15) Are there malls in Johannesburg?
A: Johannesburg is a city of malls. For almost all your needs – be it milk, bread, other groceries, clothes, appliances, etc – you would need to drive to a mall or a small shopping centre.
16) Where can I get emergency supplies of food?
A: Most grocery stores usually close around 6-7pm on a weekday and even earlier over the weekend. So if you need to but food late at night or after the stores have closed, a petrol pump (or garage as they are known as in SA) have shops that are open 24/7. You can buy basic stuff from there.
17) Where can I see Bollywood movies?
A: The Cine Centre in Killarney Mall and Ster-Kinekor at the Rosebank Zone in Johannesburg run popular Indian movies. The Killarney mall also has two nice Indian restaurants – Mumbai Masala serves more fast food style snacks like papdi chaat, gol gappas, kathi rools, etc while Swad is a more elaborate, sit down place.
DVDs and CDs of latest Bollywood movies and music can be easily bought in Fordsburg.
18) Are there open spaces in Johannesburg?
A: Johannesburg is very big and very green. There are parks of all sizes all over the city. Open spaces are hardly a problem here.
19) Is the water safe to drink?
A: Yes. In almost all of Joburg, water can be had straight from the tap. Unless you don’t like the taste of water for whatever reason, there is no need to buy drinking water, even in restaurants. The same is true for most of the country as well.
20) How are the mobile and internet services?
A: Mobile phone connectivity depends on the network provider. I have been using Vodacom and have not had any connectivity problems. However, applying for a connection and getting one was sheer nightmare. You can read about it here, under point 4. Other major players are MTN and Cell C.
Internet is provided largely by Telkom and they have a near mon0poly. There are other companies too that provide internet services but it is best to check who the dominant provider in your area is and go with them. Otherwise there are issues with speed and connectivity. Also be prepared for a long wait – they take anything from 7 to 21 days to install an ADSL line!
21) How do I get cable TV?
A: DSTV is the cable TV provider and you would need to locate a DSTV outlet closest to you and apply for a connection in-store. You will need to buy a de-coder and a dish (if your apartment/house does not already have one) from them and they will contact you to schedule an installation.
22) what are the documents required for getting all the above services?
A: For your cell phone, internet and DSTV connections, the documents required are:
– Address proof (your lease document)
– Passport and visa copy
– Application form
– Applicable fee
23) Will Indian appliances and electrical work in South Africa?
A: The sockets and plugs are much bigger here. Hence, to use Indian electric goods you need to get a large number of extension cords and three-pin plugs/converters to fit them all. The voltage is the same.
However, in order to use heaters specifically, I would advise you to buy them here. As using the big oil heaters through extension cords or converters may cause them to burn. They need to be plugged in directly.
24) Is it worth shipping all household goods from India or should I buy them in SA?
A: If your company is paying for the relocation, I would suggest bringing all your stuff. Furniture, especially wooden ones, are not only expensive but also not of great quality.
25) How long does it take for the containers to arrive?
A: It normally takes two months for the goods to be delivered to your doorstep. But may take longer due to unforeseen circumstances. So it is advisable to carry sufficient clothes and basic utilities with yourself when you fly to Joburg. Also, it may take a while to find a house and close the deal. So its best to be prepared.
26) How do I find a place to rent?
A: Your firm most likely would have hired some relocation agents to help you and your family to settle in and figure these things out. However, it is advisable to look for properties yourself. You can do this online as well as through local newspapers. Once you like a property, you would need to call the listed agent and schedule a viewing appointment with them.
27) What documents would I need to rent a property?
A: The landlord would want you to sign a lease agreement, which could be for a year or longer, and you would need to pay a deposit and an advance on rent. You would also need to give them a copy of your passport and visa. Make sure you read and understand all the lease conditions before you sign.
28) What are the main grocery stores?
A: Woolworths, Pick N Pay, Checkers, Spar and Food Lovers’ Market.
29) On what side of the road do you drive in SA?
A: Like all British colonies, we drive on the left here, which is the same as in India.
30) Is driving easy in Joburg?
A: Yes. if you have driven in India, driving here will be a breeze. Roads are wide and of great quality. People usually follow the rules and lane-driving is a must!
31) Is it important to buy a GPS?
A: Yes. Although roads are well marked, Joburg is a big city and it takes a while to get to know all the roads. You also cannot stop to ask for directions on the motorways and there are hardly any people walking on the streets! So its good to have a GPS for navigation.
32) What are the speed limits?
A: Be prepared to drive fast and enjoy driving. The speed limit on the motorways is 120 km/hr while on smaller roads its between 60-80 km/hr.
33) Do cops stop cars on the road?
A: Yes. There are routine road blocks in all areas from time to time, where cops may stop you to check your license and registration. Don’t get intimidated. Sometimes they insist that your Indian license is not valid in South Africa. In such a case just tell them that you have never had any problems so far and were advised by the AA that it is valid. If they still insist, just ask them to write you the requisite ticket. They will not do so because they know you are right. They are just looking to make a quick buck. But please do not bribe them.
You may also get fined/stopped for speeding and drunk driving. The latter is a serious offense.
34) Where can I find Hindu temples?
A: I know for a fact that there are several Hindu temples here but I have not looked! Since I do not believe in idol worship, I have had no need to visit a temple. For this you will have to check with Google and other sources.
I will keep adding to the FAQs as and when I think of more questions. In case you are looking for something that is not already answered here, feel free to ask me in the comments section.