Pretoria, South Africa Report of what it's like to live there - 03/07/23
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?
Not my first expat experience. Have previously lived in Europe and Asia.
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?
Home is Northeast USA. It is relatively straightforward to get there, but a very long journey. May be around 20-24 hours door to door.
3. What years did you live here?
2022 - 2024.
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?
We live in a large standalone house in Pretoria East. The house is relatively huge (to us). It needs some updating but is very comfortable. We live in a "boomed off" neighborhood where it feels safe to walk around during the day. Our backyard (garden) is huge and has fruit trees and many flowers. Commute time is approximately 15 minutes but can be longer during load shedding.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
There are high-quality supermarkets everywhere. The amount of shopping available is unbelievable, and very high quality. You can easily buy something comparable to anything you would buy in the US (but South African quality may be higher). Food items from better stores have less additives/preservatives, so better ingredient list, but won't last as long. There is also an abundance of stunning farmers markets with fresh food and produce. It is possible to save money on groceries, but we find we spend about as much given the places we shop (higher end).
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
None, really. I find the quality of products available to be generally higher than what I could/would buy back home.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Restaurants are affordable. The food scene in Pretoria is more pedestrian than in places like Joburg or Cape Town. Lots of chain restaurants, lots of "family-friendly." Lots of Afrikaans-type food that gets dull after a while (grilled bread, fried bread, mince, sausages, etc., etc.). Food delivery is easy. Uber Eats and a local app are common. There are good ethnic food options (including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern, Mexican, etc.), but these are usually South African-ized (similar to what you would consider Americanized). There are the most wonderful outdoor cafes/restaurants.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Nothing out of the ordinary.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Embassy pouch. We rarely need to order anything, unless it's something very specific. Local postal service has completely collapsed and is almost non-functioning. Local orders are filled by courier companies.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Going rate seems to be about $20-25 per day for a housekeeper and $30-35 per day for a gardener. US Embassy personnel frequently advertise these types of services in the newsletter.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Virgin Active, Planet Fitness, etc., are available. I have never used a local gym.
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 ubiquitous and safe to use. Occasionally, one of my US credit cards will not work at a particular machine, and I will use a different one. A little quirk is that U.S. credit cards do not work at tollbooths. A local bank account is useful for electronic payments, for example, if you were paying for a service to an individual.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Evangelical, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, etc.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Everyone speaks English. People often speak to me in Afrikaans but will revert to English when they realize I do not. Afrikaners are the largest ethnic group in much of Pretoria. South Africa is multicultural, and people are very welcoming. I have gotten frosty reactions from some Afrikaners who seem skeptical of outsiders.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are broken sidewalks and broken elevators, etc. However, if you are driving around, I generally notice that shopping centers and places people visit are very accommodating to strollers, and so wheelchairs, too.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Uber is widely available, but I don't find it particularly cheap. Public transportation is inconsistent and may not be totally safe. Pretoria is a driving city, and you need a car to get around.
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?
It is useful to have a car with clearance, as some roads may be poorly maintained, have potholes. It is also useful for exploring the country. Car parts and car maintenance is widely available. There are strict import restrictions on cars, so buy a car locally. Every car brand is represented here.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
High-speed internet is available all over Pretoria. It can be difficult (slow) to set up.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You need a local phone number for my service-related things. I researched getting a local phone/SIM before arrival, but I end up not needing one at all. I use my work mobile phone for the local number, and use my U.S. phone/number (GoogleFI) for everything else.
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?
No pets, but I have heard numerous colleagues comment on the quality of pet stores, veterinary care, animal hospitals, etc.
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?
Some EFMs work in the Embassy. I am not sure about others. Local salaries are low compared to the U.S.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
There are many organizations, orphanages, etc., especially in areas outside of the city.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business casual in most of the Embassy. I sometimes wear a suit/tie, but I am then overdressed when I meet people from outside. South Africa is generally a casual/low-key culture. "Formal dress" is rarely seen.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Pretoria (and South Africa generally) is a high-crime post. I have not yet encountered any incidents, and I usually feel safe. I am more aware of what is visible in my car, locking it, looking over my shoulder, etc., than I would be at home. My experience so far is that the widely reported crime problems are highly localized and don't usually affect areas that foreign diplomats would frequent. Our house is like a fortress with electric fence, alarms, barred windows, grates., etc., but I have never felt unsafe at home or in our neighborhood.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Medical care on the local economy is high-quality, and you can find your own providers.
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?
Some smoggy days, but air quality is generally good.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
There are a lot of plants everywhere. As far as food, you can buy all kinds of diet-oriented products at the supermarket (gluten-free, dairy-free, etc.).
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
I have heard some people complain that Pretoria is isolating. I think part of this is due to the high-security apparatus. It also seems hard to break in with local people.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Seasons are opposite to the US. Summer is hot and wet (glorious thunderstorms). Winter is dry and temperate during the day, chilly at night.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
We do not have school-age children, so cannot comment on the school experience. I know there is an American school, as well as British, French, German, and Japanese (in Joburg). I'm sure there are some others. There are wonderful local private schools that don't follow the U.S. school calendar (schoolyear here is by calendar year).
2. 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?
I also can't speak to this, but I do see daycares all over the city.
3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Every activity imaginable is available here. Horseback riding, music lessons, organized sports, martial arts, you name it.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Expats blend in to local society, so this is hard to say. I find people have diverse opinions about life here, but I find it exceedingly comfortable. South Africa has its problems, but the private sector/market/community keeps things functioning, and its lifestyle provides a holy grail of high-quality plus affordability. You will not find this combination (as it is here) anyplace else. As mentioned above, South Africans are warm and friendly but seem stand-offish to developing closer relationships with outsiders. I have had numerous people express to me that I am only staying here a short time.
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?
As mentioned in other answers, everything is available here, and it is easy to blend in to local society, be that through activities, clubs, sports, church, etc.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Many singles say that life here is isolating, I think because things are geared toward families with children. You have to make your own life here.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not easy, see above. Yes, there are huge inequalities here and historic prejudices, but I find there to be a warmth and civility here (across racial groups, economic groups) that is sorely lacking in most of the developed world.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Society here is very unequal. It is the most unequal society in the world. You have lots of very rich people (mostly white) and lots of very poor people (mostly black). This disparity is often difficult to see, although it is usually hidden from view. I think people of any ethnic group or background would blend in easily here.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Glorious travel, wonderful, high-quality shopping, beautiful scenery, outdoor activities.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Pretoria Boeremark, Irene Farm, Blos Cafe.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, there is wonderful art available here for reasonable prices. Lots of high-quality products of all kinds. I am always in awe at the amount of things produced and sold here.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
High-quality of life, comfortable, easy to adjust to.
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
I could not have imagined how much I would love it here. I already feel sad that I will need to leave, even though its months away.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?