Pretoria, South Africa Report of what it's like to live there - 06/24/22
Personal Experiences from Pretoria, South Africa
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
No. Previous expat experiences: Chennai, Dar es Salaam, Maputo, San Salvador.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington, D.C. 19 hours of flying. Some direct flights; or connect through Europe. It's a long flight, but many flights are available and cost about $1200-1500 round trip if you're paying for your own ticket. Could be worse. South African Airlines is no longer flying internationally, which is too bad.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Stand-alone house in a small compound. I think most people have at least 3-4 bedrooms. Extremely secure (think minimum security facility). 8-foot walls; electrified wire; 24-hour guarded gate to compound, plus guarded entrance to neighborhood + locally-provided mobile armed response. Typical housing is pretty big, small or medium-sized gardens, mostly in compounds though also stand alone housing, 15-20 minute commute to work for most. Traffic is not too bad.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There's a grocery store on every corner, and they're good. Cost of groceries is comparable to DC, perhaps lower. Tons of fresh vegetables and meat and breads and packaged goods and toiletries. They have a few stores that are like CVS.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
If there are any liquids of a specific brand that you cannot live without, put them in your HHE. You can only ship 16 ounces of liquids through the mail. We shipped: maple syrup (much more expensive here), a few salad dressings we like (not as good here), things like Frank's hot sauce, corn syrup if you use it.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There are tons and tons of restaurants here, and eating out is significantly cheaper than in the US. Many food delivery services- Uber eats- and take out. Ethnic food is not that great, but it is available.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
There are a lot of flies in November or so, but otherwise nothing unusual.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Diplomatic pouch. Local postal facilities are not adequate. Pouch has been very fast this year, one to two weeks to get here.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
House cleaners charge 300 Rand per day, which is currently about $20. I don't think they always stay ALL day so if you need childcare it may be a little more. Almost everyone hires a housecleaner 1-5 days per week; people with small children employ nannies; many people have a gardener come 1-2 days per week. A few people hire drivers to pick up kids from school.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Many gym options. They have great equipment, many offer classes as part of the membership, some have indoor pools, etc. Cost is not bad- $1000 for a year at the lower end facilities, if you do a multi-year contract. Nicer gyms cost more.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere and are safe to use. In fact, some places will only accept credit cards (to prevent corruption). ATMs outside the Embassy should be avoided. People with kids set up a local bank account in order to pay school activity fees. And many bills can be paid at a bank branch, via the ATM. But if you don't have kids in school, no real need to open a local bank account.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There are people of many religious backgrounds here (Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Christian/Catholic), and they all have a place to worship in English, I think.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
No local language needed (unless you want to apply for some of the jobs at the Embassy that require English + a local language).
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It would be possible to use a wheelchair and live here, though it would be challenging to be totally independent. There are ramps and elevators in many places, but not necessarily parking spaces that would allow disembarkation from a handicapped-accessible vehicle. Most of us don't walk on the streets anyway so that aspect is not an issue. I see a blind person walking to work sometimes in the morning and every now and then see someone in a wheelchair out at events/places.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
They are not safe, and you should not use them. Uber is fine. It's affordable and reliable (except when there was a strike for a few days).
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
This is a right-hand drive country (steering wheel is located on the right-hand side). They pretty much do not allow importation of vehicles so importing one from Japan is not an option. You can get by with a regular car/sedan, but it's also good sometimes to have high clearance and 4-wheel drive, if you plan to go on backroads at all. People either buy from other expats departing post or they buy new from the dealership or even used. There are all sorts of dealerships here, though sometimes parts take a while to arrive & cost more. Rentals are also widely available, though a little costly to use for more than a few weeks.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Good internet is widely available. Set up can be quick or it can take a month; it depends. Once you have your housing, try to get in touch with someone who lives nearby for advice on which service to use. They have a broker system here so you will not deal directly with the internet company. Consider installing a router upstairs and downstairs. It doesn't cost that much more and especially with remote work/school situations, it is helpful.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
T-Mobile works in South Africa; some others might also. Most people do use local phones, but keeping your US phone might also be an option and makes US two-factor authentication a lot easier.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
Many good vets available. Many shelters. I think dogs need to be quarantined for a week upon arrival. Pets must be shipped in and out via a pet shipper, which makes it quite expensive, normally at least $5000 per animal, though multiple pets may get a discount.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Spouses do all sorts of things here. Some are here on DETO (Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas); some work remote for a company in the US; a few work on local economy though not many; some do things like teach yoga or cook or give music lessons, etc.; some work at the Embassy. Embassy employment options are very competitive, meaning multiple applicants for most jobs. Since not all local Embassy positions require a local language, many EFMs work in those positions also.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Things here are pretty informal, in public places and at work. Some people wear suits to work, but many do not. Formal dress is rarely required.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Yes. Personal security is a big concern. Houses are heavily fortified: walls, electrified fences on top, 24-hour guards, etc. The streets are pretty empty after dark. Lock your doors when driving. Leave space between your car and other cars. Don't wear jewelry. The same things you'd do at many other African posts. Awareness of your surroundings is important.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care is excellent and affordable and widely available. This is a medevac destination for southern & eastern Africa.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Air quality is generally good. It gets very dry in the winter (May to August), but a humidifier helps.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
I don't think allergies would be too much of an issue. Pretoria is like many suburban areas of the US.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Not that I know of, though there have been a lot of curtailments in the past year which, I think, is reflective of people not being happy here.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The climate is pretty mild. This is the Southern Hemisphere so summer is roughly October to March; winter is April to September. They say there's a rainy seasons, but I feel like that just means that it rains sometimes. Pretoria is at 4,400 feet so even summer is not very hot; do an internet search. Winter gets chilly (for those used to the hotter countries), lows in the 30s and highs in the 60s/70s. Bring jackets & hats & house slippers, especially if you've been living in hot places for many years.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
I don't have school-age kids at Post, but it seems like people are pretty happy with AISJ.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
AISJ is able to meet the needs of a wide variety of students with special needs, although I don't have personal experience.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, preschools and day care are available. No experience with them, though.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
It is quite large. In my opinion, morale at the Embassy is not good. It is a split campus, with buildings in two locations. This really limits interactions with colleagues at work. We were also mostly remote until recently. I haven't met many other expats so not sure how morale is for them.There doesn't seem to be any cohesive expat community.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
There are several Embassy groups: Bunco, two book groups, a recently-formed dinner group, a women's group, a playgroup. There are also local hiking groups and biking groups, etc. You can find socialization if you want it. But in my experience, it's very segregated based on race. Life in general here seems very segregated based on race.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This seems to be a pretty good post for families with younger children and even the HS kids don't seem to mind it so much. For singles I think Pretoria is difficult; not much night life; people are spread out all over the city so no big compounds where tons of people are located. For couples it's not great either, I don't think, because everyone is pretty isolated. You really have to make an effort to get out and socialize. There are plenty of places to go out to eat, if that's your thing; and there are movie theaters; but not much live entertainment or events.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I wouldn't really know about making local friends. The neighborhoods we live in are almost 100% white and segregated. At work, black and white people work side by side, but then we all go home to our segregated neighborhoods and it's pretty difficult to bridge that divide. Racism is alive and well in South Africa. It's been very upsetting to come to understand that the white minority still owns pretty much everything of value in this country. It's really hard to get past it once you realize it.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Especially compared to other countries in Africa, South Africa is very accepting of LGBTQ+ diversity. SA has its own Pride Month (in October, I think). Gay marriage has been legal for 15 years. There is a pretty large LGBTQ+ community at the Embassy, for an African post.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
See above. There is a very real tension between the white and black populations, though you don't recognize it at first. It's subtle. The uneven distribution of wealth along racial lines is striking. Women seem to occupy all levels of society and perform all sorts of jobs.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Lots of good hiking available. Beautiful and accessible natural scenery- Golden Gate Highlands (stay in the mountain huts), Cape Town, Blyde River Canyon, Garden Route. Excellent and affordable safaris at Kruger. Buy a Wild Card if you think you'll go a lot.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
The Elephant & Monkey Sanctuary in Hartbeesport. The Aranda blanket factory store near Johannesburg. The Cradle of Humankind was quite good. (I found the Apartheid Museum to be too much reading & auditory inputs). Hector Peterson Museum & eating at the nearby local buffet restaurant in Soweto. Staying in a "matchbox" house. Driving through the country side.
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Lots of locally-produced items for sale, though some of them are locally produced, of imported (from China) materials. There's a good tailor that Embassy folks use.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Lots of outdoor and safari options nearby. Water is potable; electricity is good; medical care is great.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I wish I had understood the racial divide and dynamics. As a tourist you don't really recognize or understand it. Living and working here, you totally do. I also wish I had asked people how morale was at work. The volume of work is crushing, and in my experience, there is a very negative atmosphere at work.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Absolutely not. I will not set foot back in this country once we depart.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
4. But don't forget your: