Living in South Africa?
Transportation and Safety in South Africa
What to Do with Your Foreign Driving License
Provided your driver’s license is issued in English, you may use it in South Africa for a duration of up to twelve months. If the license is not in one of the eleven official languages of South Africa, you have two options: you can either apply for an international driver’s license before you depart for South Africa, or exchange your original license for a South African one.
In order to take the latter option, your driver’s license must be valid, include your picture, and be accompanied by a letter of authenticity and — if necessary — a translation into English. Your embassy should be able to help you with the last two requirements.
If you plan on staying for more than twelve months, it is advisable that you exchange your license. Not only does this simplify things in case of road controls, but it is also helpful for insurance purposes: some companies might require proof of a valid South African license, even if you originally were able to buy insurance without one.
Road Conditions and General Advice
South African roads are generally in a very good condition and fairly safe. However, the driving style prevalent among many drivers can make driving in South Africa still somewhat risky — the country has twice as many traffic deaths as the global average. Apart from aggressive — and sometimes not very sober — driving, poor lighting on some country roads and insufficient upkeep of vehicles can pose further risks.
Be particularly alert when approaching stop signs at junctions — South African traffic regulations make ample use of four-way stop signs. Right of way is given in order of arrival: the first vehicle to arrive is the first to have right of way, and so on.
In South Africa, motorists drive on the left side of the road. Please keep this in mind at all times; you would probably not be the first absent-minded expat getting into a calamitous situation right after driving out of the car dealership.
Crime and Safety — Well Known Problems
A very lamentable fact about everyday life in South Africa is that the crime rate is exceptionally high, both in regards to petty crimes, such as theft, and more serious felonies, including acts of violence and sexual assault.
Some of the causes and roots of this large burden for South African society are more straightforward than others. For one, the country inherited many burning, unsolved issues at the end of Apartheid, some of which (such as income inequality) pose large challenges to this day. Sprawling urbanization led many impoverished families to the large cities in hopes of getting jobs that were not available, or at least not in sufficient numbers. The alarming ratio of unemployed people and those living in extreme poverty surely are important factors, among many others.
If you become a victim of robbery, please comply with the demands. Resorting to violence has almost become normalcy within some circles of South African society, and robbers might not think twice about it.
The prevalence and sheer number of cases of sexual assault in South Africa is cause for continued concern. Reportedly, one in four South African males stated to have sexually assaulted a woman. There is no special or elevated threat for expat women, but it is advised that you always stay alert.
We have already pointed out the tendency of many expats and members of the upper and middle classes to move to gated communities for all these reasons.
That being said, there is no need to think that you will enter pandemonium every time you leave the house. The South African government is very aware of this problem, and various countermeasures have been taken to ensure the safety of citizens and expats alike. The large majority of areas of your future daily life as an expat professional in the large megacities of South Africa may be as safe as in comparable expat magnets.
We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.
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