What to Expect From Living in Cape Town

Why would anyone go and live in Cape Town? Simply because Cape Town has it all: beaches, mountains, gardens, adventure trips, wildlife, wine, awesome braai, and an amazing nightlife. In this post, I’m going to try to answer most of the questions that friends have asked me for tips on living in Cape Town. Most of these are related to maintaining the quality of life one enjoys in their homeland.

What to Expect From Living in Cape Town

Tips on Living in Cape Town

Is Cape Town safe?

As you might already be expecting, my answer to this question is: “ABSOLUTELY!”. However, many potential visitors give up on traveling around South Africa even before discovering the amazing things to do out there due to the stereotypical idea that the place is dangerous.

Why is this the case? For one thing, popular areas are often protected by security guards. However, you shouldn’t be scared to simply walk around town. Before the World Cup in 2010, security increased enormously.

READ MORE: What to Know Before Moving to the Netherlands

Cultural differences in South Africa

I think a lot of tourists aren’t aware of certain cultural differences in South Africa and this can often cause needless fear. For instance, when parking your car on the street you’ll probably meet a lot of poor men asking you for money in exchange for looking after your car. A lot of tourists freak out without understanding that these people are completely harmless and you’re not obligated to give them any money.CT park

Public Transportation in Cape Town

If you’re willing to take the minibus you need to have 2 things in mind:

  • You can never be sure that the bus is going where it claims it’s going.
  • When the bus comes, you simply have to wave to make it stop for you. Even if you’re on the other side of the street the bus might jump in the middle of traffic and stop so that you can safely walk across the street.

Once you set your mind to it, you can actually have a lot of fun riding Capetonian minibusses. The minibusses even have a TV screen inside (I was amazed by that!) and despite the crowded environment, everyone seems to be pretty happy.CT bus

South African minibusses remind me a lot of Mexico City buses because the rules are pretty much the same in both. However, in Cape Town there is a special procedure if you’re sitting in the front seat of the minibus. The driver is busy driving and therefore needs help to collect the money. The person sitting in the front seat collects the money from every passenger, counts it, and manages the whole ride. My advice: if you’re not good at math, don’t sit there!

Remember that drivers are super nice, a few times I was actually dropped off literally in front of my doorstep because the bus driver had a good day and dropped all of the remaining passengers at their final destinations.

Apart from the minibusses, Cape Town has a number of new red buses. In order to get on board, you need to purchase a special card available at every bigger supermarket.

Cost of living in Cape Town

The costs of living in Cape Town is considered to be 65% cheaper than in London/UK and 62% cheaper than in New York/USA. Renting an apartment is definitely the most expensive (and hardest) part of the Cape Town experience. I was lucky enough to get a long-term deal at a guesthouse, but for a simple room in a shared house you might end up paying between R4000 and R5500.

On the other hand, eating out is cheaper than cooking at home, so I was doing this pretty much every second day.

Just $18!
Just $18!

Working in Cape Town as an expat

Before I moved to Cape Town I was searching for expats’ opinions on how the life was and I found this piece:

“The downside is doing business here or working here.The pace is slooooooooooooow. The attitude to sticking to deadlines, answering emails is the equivalent of a hippy looking at you through a dope haze, shrugging and saying: “Meh” before taking another puff.”

The funny thing is that he’s actually right. The downtown area is full of people during their lunch break (a very long break) and people seem quite relaxed about it.

READ MORE: Living in Russia as an Expat

Does every household in South Africa have a maid?

In Cape Town, most working households have at least one maid. No, it’s not a person paid per hour that comes with a long list of things they won’t do (like in England). In Cape Town, a lot of middle-class houses have a person all day every day.

You can also easily get a nanny, gardener or handyman without breaking the bank. Some of the maids live with their employers as well, much like in Mexico.living in Cape Town

Visas to South Africa

Most people from Western countries don’t need a tourist visa to visit for up to 3 months. However, that’s the only easy part of going to South Africa. I’m not going to lie and say that organizing a work visa, student visa, or simply an extension of a tourist visa is easy because it’s not.

Back in 2012, as a Polish citizen, I was allowed to stay just 30 days as a tourist and I needed more time. I tried to organize a 3-month tourist visa at the South African consulate, but the qualifications were too ridiculous to fulfill. Apart from standard documents such as a plane ticket and bank statement, I had to give them a proof of address and since I was staying with my former boyfriend, so I had no proof that I was the co-tenant.

Moreover, we had no specific plans where we’d stay during our travels and the Embassy required a detailed plan of where we’d stay, therefore my application wasn’t accepted. I ended up entering the country on my 30 days visa and overstaying.

There was no hassle with my overstay and I only had to pay a fine of R1000 (approx. 100 euros) which basically cost the same as getting a complicated extended tourist visa. To my surprise, the people working at the immigration office at the airport advised me to stay much longer next time, because the fine for an overstay is always the same.

Changes of 2014:

Unfortunately, in May 2014 the rules changed and a person caught overstaying their visa is banned from the country for at least a year. Extensions of visitor visas are only granted for a maximum of 7 days on a 90-day visa and 30 days on a 30-day visa. ‘Border hopping’ is also not possible anymore (for example going in and out of Namibia) to receive another 90-day extension for people from visa-exempt countries as was usually granted before.

Suggested books for moving to Mexico City:

The Rough Guide to Cape Town

The Expat Guide to Living and Working in Cape Town

– 111 Places you cannot miss in Cape Town

Don’t forget to arrange a health insurance before heading to Cape Town as you never know when something bad might happen to you. In case you don’t have a proper insurance you might end up spending way too much money that could destroy your plans. Which insurance should you get? The easiest and the most reliable insurance is World Nomads Travel Insurance and I’d highly recommend them.

44 thoughts on “What to Expect From Living in Cape Town”

  1. South Africa and Cape Town are still waiting for me 🙂 And I would love to try out the public transport, cause wherever I go it’s so fun to see how specific it is! 🙂

      • Dear Anna,
        Love you website.
        I would, however, not classify Cape Town as safe. Especially not absolutely. We, who live here, don’t see it as safe. You can’t even leave your phone on the table while eating. You have to vigilant all the time. You definetely can’t do night trips anywhere. Don’t be fooled by visiting the so-called townships for a cultural experience. There are lots of gang operations and lots of racial hate. Poverty is strive and people really and truly don’t value the lives of another. The murder rate is one of the highest in the world, especially compared to the population size. I feel you should change the comment to something else, but not ‘safe’. It really and truly is not safe. We lock ourselves in our houses as if we are prisoners. We can’t leave a window open, because of hi-jacking and stealing. Our kids are being grabbed for human trafficking. Even our young adult women. It is not safe here.

        • Hello John, you tell that you have to lock the windows etc, do you live in a gated community with protection? I’m asking this because we maybe have to move there with my young son and looking for options in gated/protected houses. Hope to hear from you. Regards priscilla

    • Your lying you just want to discourage people who want to go white people are just fearful of black people for some stupid reason

        • that’s absolutely true ,we Asians are laughing when people consider themselves as white and black although those colours doesn’t exist on them and also hate themselves like babies.

    • Just met a person from Capetown and she said only the rich are protected Its not safe at all like tourism promotes . Just an opinion but i think ill hang of visiting.

      • I was a tourist in Cape Town, from Seattle, US. We were newbies to Africa so let our travel agent do all the planning. She booked us 5 star all the way for 12 days. This ment that our 3 Cape Town days we had a full time guide who was an Afrikaner (African of Dutch descent). He had been a former cop. His position was that some people in Cape Town over react re: safety. We (two women) did walk around “downtown” one day without guide, visited shops, had lunch, dinner. I never had a feeling that it was unsafe until I got in the taxi and it was driven by a person who had been labeled “colored” during apartide. OMG, did he rail against Africans (he was African/Indian from India). I was actually intimidated by his hatred and had it not been so far to our B&B would have walked home. The black Africans we met were well behaved, polite, friendly. Cape Town is a large city, it’s urban, it has gritty parts, it has poor people who are desperate, just as an
        y city.

          • I have no idea who you are, you are taking my words out of context. The subject was whether or not Cape Town/Africa was a safe place. Of course you won’t say WHY you think that is a WOW comment just trolling. Leave me alone and use more “I” words, not “you words.

  2. Public transport sounds exactly like in Georgia (Caucasus). Which my South African friend who I met in Georgia confirmed.
    I heardt different opinions about SA both from travelers and citizens of that country. Yet it’s a place I’d like to visit one day. Then I will come abck to this blog post and re-read it for more details and tips 😉

  3. I’ve never been to South Africa but it’s on my list! Good to hear your point of view. I think the question of security is the same anywhere in the world. Bad things can happen to you. And if you focus too much on them, you will never leave your own house. Cheers 🙂

  4. I’ve never been to South Africa but it’s on my list! Good to hear your point of view. I think the question of security is the same anywhere in the world. Bad things can happen to you. And if you focus too much on them, you will never leave your own house. Cheers! 🙂

  5. Jak to jest z tymi tv w busikach? Po Sri Lance nie nawidzę tej opcji. Czy w Cape Town tez grają marnej jakości muzykę na cały regulator?
    Spodobała mi sie wzmianka o matmie. Juz czuje, ze podobało by mi sie to miejsce. Z drugiej strony juz widze ile z tego zostałoby kierowcy w Polsce 😉
    A jak jest z bezpieczeństwem poza miastem?

    • Muzyki nie ma w tych busikach (w Meksyku z kolei jest haha). Bezpiecznie jest wedlug mnie… pojechalam sama z kolega do podobno (o czym sie potem dowiedzielismy) najbardziej niebezpiecznego township i nigdy nie czula sie niebezpiecznie, wrecz przeciwnie, cudowni ludzie uraczyli nas jak krolow 😉

  6. I lived outside of Cape Town in 1996. It was a very exciting time to be there so close to the fall of apartheid.

    Great article. I’d love to go back again.

  7. Nice tips Anna.

    In Dec 2015 I visited family and friends again but this time for one month and got a much better feel to how it would be to actually live there (although I’m only really interested in maybe 1 month to 2 months a year there.
    I’m originally from South Africa but not from Capetown although it is now my yearly retreat away from the depressing cold and rain in London during December and January.

    My Top tips (based on 2015 exp) for getting around or public transport in Capetown would be:

    In the City -> Don’t use MiniBus Taxi’s … instead use Uber for the night out or myCityBus if you’re commuting

    The taxi system was always really good for the black segment of the population but the white middle class people always felt really scared of using those mini-busses because of the amount of horror stories and accidents they’ve seen personally on the road (over stuffing people into the mini-busses and horror stories i don’t care to retell).

    Night out or Commuting?
    Take the myCity buses in Capetown, or if you can’t wait take an Uber… it’s “uber cheap” – hehe, seriously if you arrive with foreign currency it’s like magic and a great way to get to the Cricket Stadium or meetings. A Good friend of mine down in Capetown running an awesome Web Dev Company (WeAreMonsters) sold his car and ONLY takes Uber… EVERYWHERE…

    Going to the SubUrbs? – use Longer distance Bus (Golden Arrow) or car Hire
    Car hire makes sense if you’re going out of the city for drives, but inside Capetown stick to Uber – If you’re a few people together it’s ridiculously cheap … no more reason for anyone to drink and drive in Capetown
    (I read you like travel “solo” – but sure you always meet people/accomplices in the first few days)

    I made a small video of my experience of taking the 40minute or so journey on a Golden Arrow bus service into CapeTown from the Strand (to show my mom it’s safe to use..)

    Also Capetown’s public bus transport system, safety and security has improved so much it felt similar to my first time visiting London (in 2004) except without the huge queues or expensive fees (in London it is now £2 a single journey… doesn’t matter how much dosh you have thats still ripping off).

    Food -> Oh that picture of the seafood platter makes me want to fly there for the weekend if I could (You just CANNOT find as good a fish platter in London – no matter how much you’re willing to pay -the fish just are happier under that beautiful South African sun)

    Keep having fun! (I’m going to reply to the post of disappointments in travelling too – have learnt my own trick to avoid being disappointed… living in London for probably too long… really really helped with that…)

  8. This is so refreshing to read. So many people have such a negative opinion of SA and as a girl brought up in the UK countryside I absolutely adored Cape Town and my whole visit to South Africa. The people are lovely, the food is amazing and I never once felt like my safety was in jeopardy and I did whatever the hell I wanted at all times. In fact I am planning a big move out to Cape Town next year for at least a year or so.! I feel like SA has a bad reputation but as you’ve stated there are places in every big city that you need to be cautious of. Thank you for writing this.!

    • Hi there,
      I’m from the UK too and hoping to move to Cape Town after Christmas. Did you make it out there in the end? I’d be really grateful for some tips about visas/job sites.

      • Hey Melisa

        I’m also looking foward to relicating sometime early next year…I also ant to look for a job that side…maybe we can hook up together.

  9. Good information. I just arrived in Cape Town on a 4 year visa. Finding a flat was a rollercoaster, but I chalk that up to the tie of the year. Much easiergoing into Winter rather than Summer I’m told.
    I’m curious about the social scene. Any good expat groups to connect with? I would like to meet other internationals here.

  10. Hi anna! Great to read this post. Im going to Cape Town in November for 3 months and I got a little worried of finding accommodation. Where would you suggest looking? Do you think are there guesthouses like the one you found to offer long term stay? Also which area you consider nice to live in? Thank you 🙂

    • Hi! I’d definitely contact a few guesthouses. There are also some facebook groups where people post rooms to rent – Expats Cape Town. The area depends on where to you need to go, if you want to be closer to the beach or downtown etc.

  11. HI Anna, I love your blog was wondering how is it to get a job for an expat in Cape Town, as far as I know there is over 20% unemployment rate…so seems almost impossible?
    what do you think?
    any ideas appreciated?

  12. hey, thanks for sharing your experience! i’m planning to move to Cape Town, I wonder if it is essential to do vaccination from certain diseases? Have you done that? And how long you you have been living there? Could you suggest any websites to search for accommodation?

    • I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to search for accommodation that much. There are a few facebook groups for expats and people announcing rooms and apartments to rent.
      I didn’t get any extra vaccinations.

  13. I’m so happy to have moved to South Africa! Yes it’s different but after quite some time here, I can honestly say it is like a first love you cannot stay away from!! Only major issue is work permit, they really want to give jobs to locals…which is understandable but holds the place back a bit….but if you can…try Cape Town and you will (as they say here locally…”make a plan”!!

  14. I lived in South Africa in 1996 ad then went back again in 2010 what a wonderful country, the people, the food, everyone always had a smile on their face whatever their situation, the scenery is absolutely mindblowing, the beaches. As you mentioned Anna I think people have this perspective that they are going to be robbed the only thing I experienced was a few of the men asking for money to carry my suitcases. I thought the South African people were great lots of fun big personalties, friendly not like the English sometimes. Anyway my personal experiences of the country were fantastic and I would quite happily live out there, even if it were just for the quality of the seafood! Yum Yum!!!!!

  15. Great article! However, I have to disagree with your part on safety in Cape Town. Cape Town is not safe, at least not in the way England is. You will almost certainly be pick-pocketed if not mugged here at some point of living here.

    It’s not Johannesburg danger levels, but in my five years in Cape Town I have often felt far from safe. I live in one of the nicer suburbs in a nice neighbourhood, where down the road people have frequently been kidnapped for their iphones, mugged at knife point etc.

    I foolishly walk around often at night by myself because dammit, I want to go where I want to when I want to, but as I say, it is foolish because every time I do I am trying my luck.

    Let’s not forget the gang wars in some suburbs and the people who get caught in the crossfires.

    Sorry, Cape Town is great, I don’t want to undermine your article. It’s beautiful and there’s lots to do and see. People are progressive and smart. But not so safe.
    And with the extreme racial tension, corrupt government and economic inequality, it’s also kinda fucked up.

  16. I grew up in SA and recently lived in Cape Town for 5.5 years too (I usually live in Australia now) – it’s awesome. The gangs are not around the areas that visitors will be staying – they tend to be out on the Cape Flats etc. But there are a lot of poorer people of course (probably like Mexico, but I’ve never been there), and that breeds desperation. So stay awake and aware of who is around you and don’t take chances (like walking around at night haha or wearing loads of bling and carrying fancy cameras). If you keep this in the front of your mind, then Cape Town is a great place to be. I have never been the victim of any crime there and I’ve ended up in some scary situations by mistake (like the car breaking down late at night when I was on my own). I only met friendly and helpful people, white, black, Coloured, Indian and everything else in between 🙂

  17. Some comments here are dated November, 2014! This article is four and a half years old. How can it be relevant today?

  18. Why recommend world nomads insurance? You tried and tested them with a claim? I read lots of negative feedback online. Yes they are easy to get insured but how easy is a claim?
    Also what about work opportunities in capetown for a white person?
    Otherwise good article..

    • Yes, I’ve had it a few times actually 🙂
      In terms of work opportunities, it really depends on the field and skills. The most difficult part is scoring a work visa though!


Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: