9 Tips for settling into your new life in South Africa

Your visa is approved. You’ve booked your flights, and your bags are packed. You’re moving to South Africa in a couple of weeks!

Congratulations on embarking on this huge adventure. Moving countries is an experience that’s filled with excitement and new experiences. It also comes with a touch of anxiety and stress, though.

Here’s the good news – you can get through the uncomfortable parts! And here are nine tips for doing it:

1. Embrace the culture shock

Things are going to be different. You might feel lost. You might also have a hard time figuring out the South African way of doing things. Chances are you’ll ask yourself why you thought moving to South Africa was a good idea.

Here’s our advice – embrace it all! And if you’re unsure about something, ask! South Africans are known as some of the world’s friendliest people. If you’re too shy to ask, observe how others act and follow suit.

2. Get the basics sorted ASAP

What are the basic things you’ll need soon after you land?

Let’s assume you’ve already organised accommodation. Our guess is then that the next items on the list are a SIM card, access to money, transport, and food.

Get these sorted as soon as possible. You could even start your research before leaving South Africa to hit the ground running.

Here are some tips:

SIM card:

You’ll find SIM cards for sale at the airport, at convenience stores, supermarkets, mobile phone shops, or online directly from mobile phone operators.

To buy a SIM card, you’ll have to register it with RICA. RICA (Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication) regulates South African mobile phone companies.

For this registration, you’ll need proof of ID and address. If you don’t have an address yet but want a SIM card as soon as you land, you could purchase a pre-RICA travel SIM card.

Money:

You don’t have to draw cash to get around in South Africa. South African retailers accept all major debit and credit cards.

SnapScan and Zapper, local mobile payment apps, are also widely accepted and convenient. You’ll simply capture your personal and credit card details and be ready to make your first transaction.

Transport:

Unless you’ve hired a car, you’ll need to take a taxi from the airport to where you’re staying. Your options are airport transfers that you organise beforehand or Uber or meter taxis. You’ll find both Uber and taxis at South Africa’s international airports.

Food:

You can shop for basic groceries at the airport. Look out for Woolworths stores, where you’ll find high-quality produce, pantry basics, and ready-made meals.

You can also find Woolworths at shopping malls, Engen petrol stations, and some neighbourhoods. The other major grocery stores in South Africa are Pick n Pay, Spar, and Checkers.

Woolworths, Pick n Pay, and Checkers also have food delivery services. Once you’ve downloaded your chosen app and entered your details, you can start shopping. Your groceries will get delivered to your door.

Other priorities that aren’t as immediate but as important are access to hospitals, doctors, and pharmacies. You can join local Facebook groups to ask where to find the best medical facilities in your area or do a Google search to see suggestions.

Everything else you’ll need, from Zara to movie theatres, can be found in a mall near you.

3. Make your new place feel like home

You’re going to have challenging days. On those days, going home to a place that makes you happy will make a huge difference.

How do you create such a space?

Unpack your creature comforts first when your moving boxes arrive. Put up photos of family and friends and arrange your furniture as you had it at home.

Did you have to leave your plants behind? Buy some new ones as soon as possible. Just do whatever it takes to create a space that makes you feel safe and comfortable.

4. Explore your neighbourhood

Once you’ve slept off the jet lag, hop in your car. It’s time to get to know your neighbourhood! You’ll feel at home much faster knowing what’s around you.

Look out for places that will make life easier – supermarkets, coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, petrol stations, fast food outlets, hairdressers, parks, playgrounds, doctors, dentists, and pharmacies.

5. Be a weekend tourist in your city

Exploring your city like a tourist is a great way to get excited about your new life! Here are some South African attractions you can’t afford to miss:

Cape Town: Table Mountain; Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens; Cape Point; Constantia Wine Route; any of the city’s postcard-perfect beaches.

Johannesburg: Maboneng Precinct; Constitution Hill; Market Theatre; Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens; Neighbourgoods Market.

Pretoria: Union Buildings; Freedom Park; Pretoria National Botanical Gardens; Hazel Food Market; Hennops Hiking Trail.

Durban: uShaka Marine World; Indian Quarter; Durban Botanic Gardens; Moses Mabhida Stadium.

Once you’ve done and seen all that your city has to offer, head out on a highway to check out other towns and landmarks throughout the area.

6. Make new friends and connections

You’re going to need friends to make South Africa feel like home. So, get out and forge new friendships and connections! You can join a club or group, take a class, volunteer, or connect with other expats.

Here are some ideas:

  • Join Meetup, an online hub for clubs and groups of all sorts. It’s free to join, and you can get started immediately.
  • Join your local Run/Walk for Life club. As the name suggests, Run/Walk for Life offers an opportunity for runners and walkers to get together, get fit and have fun.
  • See if there is a Toastmasters in your area. It’s a great way to meet people and sharpen your public speaking skills.
  • Contact a local charity to ask if they need help. Many NGOs across South Africa need volunteers, including Cape Town and Johannesburg.
  • Connect with expats in your city by attending an Internations event. Internations is an expat community that “helps you feel at home around the world.”

When you start to meet people you’d like to have a friendship with, take the initiative when planning activities!

7. Keep in touch with friends and family

Chatting with your loved ones will instantly lift your mood, especially on difficult days.

Thankfully modern technology makes keeping in touch much easier these days! You can send photos of your South African adventures and have Whatsapp conversations for quick catch-ups.

Do also make time for calls, whether voice or video. Speaking in person is vital to keep connections strong.

8. Establish a routine

Establish a daily routine as soon as possible and keep it like back home if possible.

There are two reasons for this:

  • You’ll find the familiarity of your routine calming.
  • You’ll reduce your stress tremendously if you don’t have to think about every detail of your day.

Here’s the science behind it, according to Piedmont Healthcare:

“Not only can certain repetitive actions benefit your physical health (e.g. regular exercise, nightly flossing), they can also improve your mental health by reducing your stress levels. Every time you make a decision, you are adding stress to your life, and the more decisions you have to make, the less self-control you’ll have…While you can’t do away with decision-making completely, creating regular routines can take much of the guesswork out of your day.”

Doctor Indumathi Bendi, also from Piedmont, adds that “carrying out routine activities reduces stress by making the situation appear more controllable and predictable. Preparedness is a key way to prevent stress.”

9. Stay positive and be patient

Your new life in South Africa will not fall into place within a month. You’ll struggle, and it will take time to get used to the South African way of doing things.

Just be patient!

Give yourself enough time to adjust. There’s no need to rush things. Treat yourself with kindness, too. You’ve got this!

On hard days, when Home Affairs is driving you up the wall, remind yourself why you started this journey in the first place.

Are your nerves still frayed?

Go for a walk, taste some wine, drive to the beach, or visit your favourite market. You’ll soon remember why South Africa is one of the most incredible places to call home.

It’s all going to be worth it!