South Africa

Working in South Africa?

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Working in South Africa

Operating in South Africa has not only been a favorite option for multinational companies for a number of years now — the country also holds great opportunities for expats, provided they have the qualifications it takes! Get a glimpse of what to expect of working in South Africa on InterNations.
South Africa is not only leading the continent in terms of GDP, but also has the most reputable financial sector.

At a Glance:

  • South Africa has the second-best economy in terms of GDP per capita in Africa — making up 20 percent of the entire continent’s GDP. 
  • The Department of Home Affairs has a list of occupations in which there is a lack of qualified personnel. Expats are directly invited to fill these positions, which often include executive roles.
  • South African immigration law offers a wide variety of temporary residence visas that make living, studying, and working in South Africa possible for expats.
  • Both residents and non-residents must make social security contributions when working in South Africa. Contributions are quite low at one percent of the employee’s earnings, currently capped at about 148 ZAR per month.
  • All South African residents have to pay income tax, this includes expats who have spent at least 91 days in a specific tax year within South Africa.

A Glimpse into the Economy

Although South Africa has been overtaken by Nigeria in recent years in terms of gross domestic profit (GDP) per capita, the country works hard to keep its economy growing.

Since the abolition of apartheid, the nation has been strengthening and mending its international ties, leading to many countries’ and multinational corporations’ heightened interest in trading with, or working in South Africa.

In the past, South Africa’s economy was mainly dominated by the primary sectors due to the country having a considerable wealth of natural resources. Agriculture now plays only a marginal role; yet, the South African vineyards continue to bless wine-lovers across the globe. New emerging sectors are becoming more knowledge-based, focusing on disciplines such as the automotive industry, banking, as well as IT and communications.

The nation’s economy is heavily localized to a few large areas, which is also the reason for the ongoing rural depopulation. Today, the vast majority of residents are working in South Africa’s economic hubs in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban, and the Pretoria-Johannesburg area.

The Economic Issues of South Africa

While the economy in the abovementioned areas rivals that of most industrialized countries, the economic state of the countryside is far less advanced. Often, South Africans’ leave their rural hometown to move to one of the major cities once they are of working age, meaning that only the very young, or very old remain. Consequently, the number of people fit for working in South Africa’s countryside continues to decrease.

Moreover, unemployment in the country is extremely high. As of September 2018 just over a quarter of the population is out of a job (27.5%), and the majority of unemployed people live on the threshold for extreme poverty.

Opportunities for Expats

There is a steady demand for foreigners and expats who are willing and qualified to work in South Africa. The country has been experiencing widespread “brain drain” during the past two decades; meaning highly skilled experts and university graduates are opting against taking up employment in South Africa and going abroad instead. This unfortunate fact opens up many opportunities for expats, and sometimes in lucrative positions. Often, gathering experience — and quite a bit of cosmopolitanism — through working in South Africa has given expats quite the career boost!

The Road to Legal Employment

South African immigration law offers a wide variety of temporary residence permits that make living, studying, and working in South Africa possible for expats. There are also special permits for retirees who would like to spend their golden years in the country. In this regard, South Africa is a very open and welcoming country.

In general terms, your dream of relocating to South Africa begins with a successful application for a job opening there which cannot be filled by a local. Furthermore, the Department of Home Affairs issues a list with occupations in which there is a lack of qualified personnel, directly inviting expats to fill positions in South Africa’s key economic sectors, often in executive roles. Another option is the intra-company transfer for overseas employees working for South Africa-based subsidiaries or affiliates of their company. Read our article on moving to South Africa for further info on work and residence permits.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

If there’s something you’re still not sure about, check out the InterNations Forum.

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