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What to Expect From Living in Cape Town

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 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.


Saturday 8th of August 2020

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..

Anna Karsten

Thursday 13th of August 2020

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!


Wednesday 25th of April 2018

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.


Monday 16th of April 2018

Thank you dear Anna for this great article. It is very informative and fun to read.

Rebekah Davis

Sunday 17th of December 2017

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!!!!!


Saturday 28th of October 2017

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"!!

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