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Expat Insider - The World Through Expat Eyes

Africa’s Expat Destinations: Friendly, but Not Always Safe

The countries in this cluster have few points in common: from very good healthcare in South Africa to very high working hours in Nigeria, a lot of factors need to be taken into consideration.
  • High cost of healthcare causes dissatisfaction among expats
  • Finding friends is easy, language barrier not a problem
  • Kenya & Nigeria: High job satisfaction despite poor economy and long work weeks
  • South Africa stands out for availability of childcare and education

Expat Statistics 2016

Expat Statistics for Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa — infographic


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Room for Improvement in the Quality of Life Index

The key African expat destinations are all listed in the bottom ten of the Quality of Life Index: South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria rank 52nd, 59th, and 67th out of 67 countries, respectively. However, the reasons for these low ratings are very different among the three countries.

For instance, the survey respondents in Kenya and South Africa are overwhelmingly happy with the climate, with 89% of expats saying they are satisfied. On the other hand, only 48% of Nigeria expats state the same; a likely reason would be the alternation between monsoonal and very dry climate as the only two seasons in the country.

Furthermore, while expats in Kenya are only slightly less happy than the global average when it comes to available leisure activities in general (66% vs. 72%), the other countries differ widely. In fact, in Nigeria only 2% of expats are very satisfied with local leisure options, compared to 54% in South Africa!

Satisfaction with healthcare is also very different among expats in these African destinations: in Nigeria not a single respondent is very satisfied with the quality of healthcare, and in Kenya only 6% express complete satisfaction. The only country performing better than the worldwide average (23%) is South Africa, with 32% of expats very satisfied and 77% who are generally happy with this factor (vs. 62% globally).

However, despite the below-average quality, medical care for expats still comes at a cost: fewer expats in these destinations are satisfied with the affordability of healthcare than the global average of 55%, with only 9% being overall satisfied in Nigeria, and 40% saying the same about Kenya. South Africa does best in this subcategory, too (50%), but it does not quite reach the global average of 55%.

Political instability and personal safety are a significant problem in these countries, and this is indeed a major reason why they do not perform well in the Quality of Life Index. In fact, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa are all ranked in the bottom 5 out of 67 in the Safety & Security subcategory.

A Warm Welcome — In English

In the Ease of Settling In Index, the three destinations do noticeably better: ranking 19th, Kenya features in the global top 20 while South Africa and Nigeria are placed 28th and 39th out of 67, respectively.

The Kenyan population in particular stands out for its friendliness, according to 77% of the survey respondents, while expats in Nigeria and South Africa find the local residents just a tad less friendly than the global average. However, when it comes to making new friends, expats in all three countries responded more positively than the global average, with as much as 78% overall satisfied in Kenya as opposed to 60% globally.

Only 5% and 6% of expats in Nigeria and Kenya, respectively, say it is very easy to learn the local language(s), compared to 11% worldwide. However, this doesn’t translate into a language barrier for expats in daily life, as English is among the official languages and widely spoken in these countries. It is not that surprising then that Kenya ranks 1st out of 67 in the Language subcategory: in fact, only one in nine expats in Kenya says it is not easy to live in the country without speaking the local language(s), compared to 40% worldwide. South Africa and Nigeria also perform well here, with 21% and 14% of respondents sharing this opinion.

Various Sectors, Long Hours

In the Working Abroad Index, Kenya is the best-ranking country of the cluster, at place 35 out of 67, while South Africa (53rd) and Nigeria (60th) are in the bottom 15 again. Just like in the Quality of Life Index, the potential reasons for these ratings vary from country to country.

In fact, while South Africa and Kenya expats are about as satisfied as the global average of 60% when it comes to work-life balance, only 41% say the same in Nigeria. And this is perfectly understandable — expats in full-time jobs work on average close to 49 hours per week!

However, this lack of work-life balance is not enough to make the respondents dissatisfied with their work per se. Expats in these destinations are overall more satisfied with their job than the worldwide average: 75% and 69% of expats in Kenya and Nigeria, respectively, say they are satisfied with their job, compared to a 64% global average. In fact, the most likely reasons for expats to move to these destinations are work related, apart from South Africa, where nearly one-fifth of the respondents (18%) say they moved for love.

A significant downside, according to expats, is the state of the economy, though. Whereas 17% of respondents worldwide say the state of the economy is very good, not a single one in South Africa would agree! In Nigeria and Kenya, things are not looking much brighter: only 1% and 6% of respondents, respectively, give the local economy a very good rating.

In Kenya, survey respondents shouldn’t be affected too much by the economic climate, though: more than 20% of expats work for NGOs, which makes it the most important sector for expat employment in the country, whereas another 10% are employed in public sector positions, for example in the diplomatic service.

In Nigeria, the most important industries are manufacturing and consumer goods, as well as the primary sector (most likely oil). Among the expats working there, two-thirds are employees or managers, compared to a worldwide average of 41%. Many of them indeed work in highly qualified positions as senior staff, experts, or management. Last but not least, expat employment in South Africa is mostly characterized by technological and service sectors, such as business, consulting, and IT.

Best for Kids: South Africa

Only South Africa and Kenya are featured in the Family Life Index, since the number of respondents with families in Nigeria was too small to be statistically significant. South Africa performs well in this index, ranking 15th, while Kenya comes 35th out of 45 destinations for expats with families.

Where South Africa stands out (and not only among the African countries, but in the world) is the availability of childcare and education. In fact, the country ranks 2nd out of 45 in this subcategory while Kenya is lagging behind on 23rd place. In South Africa, two-thirds of the respondents are satisfied with the childcare options and say they are numerous and easy to get. Still, Kenya also fares slightly better than the global average of 46%, with 49% of expats voicing their overall satisfaction.

While childcare is deemed easy to afford by 42% of respondents in Kenya, 59% say the same in South Africa. Moreover, South Africa performs a lot better than Kenya with regard to the cost of education: 48% of expat parents say that an education is easy to afford in South Africa, while only 11% in Kenya share this opinion. It’s interesting to note though that nearly half of the expat parents in Kenya (47%) send their kids to an international school — often the more expensive option when it comes to children’s education.

Finally, 55% of expat families in Kenya are happy with their children’s overall health, compared to 79% in South Africa, and 74% worldwide.

Further Reading