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Seeking work in South Africa

Securing a job in this fascinating and diverse country has its challenges.

The government has a policy of making sure employers seek out locals who have the relevant skills and experience first before offering a job to someone from overseas. Historically, this has made it difficult for some to land a position, but the authorities now acknowledge that in some areas at least, attracting talent from abroad is likely to lead to economic growth.

The work permit system can be complicated (please our guide to Finding your new position in South Africa), but there are some routes to pursue if you are keen on working and living in the country.

If you're an entrepreneur looking to set up business in South Africa, the country is ranked 82 out of 190 countries by the World Bank for ease of doing business (based on 2019 projections). One of the visa requirements is that you have a substantial amount of money to invest and live on, but it is a flexible way to get your foot in through the door using your ingenuity and business sense. There are some procedures to follow, and these can take over a month to process but, in terms of being thorough in your research of local methods and markets, and preparing for the unexpected, it's not unlike setting up a business anywhere else in the world.

One of the best ways of relocating to South Africa remains intra-company transfer. There are restrictions on doing things this way (for example, you need to have been working for the company for more than six months before moving), but it does take the stress out of securing the relevant paperwork, and you're likely to find more support when you arrive in your new home.

For those who have something special to offer South Africa, from time to time the government release a critical skills list. To fill particular skill gaps, in fields such as architecture, engineering and scientific research, the country will actively seek out professionals from abroad to come in to complement the workforce and generate new opportunities for training, development and investment.

If you would like to do your legwork and find opportunities, the best place to start is one of the many online portals. Created specifically for people looking to relocate to a different country, sites like and may be helpful. Alternatively, try somewhere like or, and there are also some recruitment agencies that can assist like or It’s a matter of doing your research and gathering as much information as possible.

If you have contacts in the country or your industry that can help, word of mouth is always a good way of finding out about opportunities, particularly if they can give you a relevant reference.

A word of caution: unemployment in South Africa is a big problem. A recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report (OECD) highlighted the challenges faced by South Africans. With over 25% of adults of employable age out of work, and of those over 50% long-term unemployed, it’s no wonder that the government has put policies in place to protect jobs for local people. Of particular concern is the future of young people (aged 15-29), 1 in 3 of which are neither in full-time education, training, nor a job.

Like many countries around the world, the right skills, qualifications, and experience in the right kind of profession will open up opportunities.

Applying for a job

If you've already done your online research, the next step is to prepare two types of CV. Of course, for many jobs, the application process takes place online, but for those who still require your details and the skills you have to offer on paper, or by email, you’ll need to create a brief profile and a comprehensive CV.

The short profile should be just one page and tailored to the position you are pursuing. Listing your education, your personal information, and your employment history to date, you should also mention that a full CV is also available. Whether you are sending this electronically or by mail, accompany it with a covering letter and follow it up with a courtesy phone call.

The comprehensive CV is your opportunity to stand out. Covering the details of your education, like industry relevant courses you have attended, exam grades, and details of your university education, you can also add more information about your employment, like the responsibilities you've handled and the projects you’ve worked on. Expanding on this, give more details about what you do outside the workplace, to give a prospective employer a more rounded view of you and what your particular skills are.

As with applying for any job, do your homework first. If you land an interview, make sure you clue yourself up on what the company does, including their market and ethos. Since it’s not possible to enter South Africa to work without first securing a job, it’s likely that your interview will be conducted by phone or Skype. If you meet with a representative of the company in your country or fly out for an interview, the usual rules of smart and engaging presentation apply.

Securing a job is just the start of your new adventure in South Africa. And it’s just as important to ensure you have comprehensive international health insurance; we have an expert team available to help you find the right level of cover so that you can concentrate on your new life as an expat.

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