Interview: “How we Retired in South Africa”

Retirement in South Africa is a surprisingly hot topic on some expat forums. Brits in particular seem to have a fondness for the former colony. You can’t blame them, really, when you compare the average days of sunshine in London versus Johannesburg. 

But how to actually make it work? Making the decision is just one part of it, but then you’ve got to figure out a way to pay for it, apply for visas, and get all other paperwork in order. It involves quite a bit of knowledge of “the system,” and it helps tremendously to know someone who’s done it before you.
The perfect photograph for this blog post (taken in the Drakensberg), don’t you think? An official
“no entry” sign but a helpful arrow pointing the way if you’re undeterred.

Since I know just such a person, I decided ...  Continue Reading

How Can I Get a Job as an Expat in South Africa?

I always get a lot of questions from future expats, i.e. the people sitting in England and Bulgaria and Ghana and China and the Ukraine with a moving date to Johannesburg lined up in 5 months. Or the ones where the company has just broached the possibility of a South African assignment, leaving them ...  Continue Reading

Applying for a South African Visa

If you’re an expat sent to South Africa by your multinational company, in all likelihood your visa is being sourced for you by the company lawyer, and all you have to do is gather the documents they tell you to gather (which, trust me, is painful enough). However, you might just decide to move to South Africa on a whim. Or join your fiance, who is South African (this seems to happen quite a bit, at least to the group of people who contact me for advice). Or join your expat spouse and decide you also want to work. Let’s get some terminology out of the way first. The piece of paper or rather the stamp you need in your passport to enter the country is called a visa. That’s just to get in. If you want to work, you need a work permit. However, the new visa regulations issued this year apparently have changed the word work permit to work visa, although the Home Affairs webpage doesn’t seem to be updated to that effect. I am therefore using both terms interchangeably.

Types of Visa

Basically, there are three different ways a foreigner can legally reside in South Africa: As a visitor, a temporary resident, or a permanent resident. 


If you’re a visitor, most likely you won’t require a visa because you are =&0=&. Most Western countries are on that list. In that case you will receive your visa stamp in your passport upon arrival. It is, however, important that your passport be =&1=&, and that you have at least one =&2=& in it where the visa can be stamped. If not, this is what can happen.  Please also note that starting June 2015, the new regulation =&3=& accompanying them will go into effect. It was introduced in 2014 but put on hold due to huge backlogs in issuing such birth certificates for South African children. Foreign birth certificates are typically already unabridged. In addition, if the child is not traveling with both parents, you also need a=&4=& from the missing parent(s). *** As a visitor to South Africa, you’re allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. After that, or if you want to study or work in South Africa, you need to apply for temporary residence. 

Temporary Residence

This is the category most expats will (at least initially) fall into. To live, work, and study in South Africa, you and your dependents will need a temporary residence permit of some form (one exception I have come across: teachers at international schools are allowed to work on a visitor’s visa). As mentioned above, as of this year (2014), there are =&5=&(for a brief summary click here). The big change is that expats can no longer enter the country on a visitor’s visa and then apply for the work permit, which is exactly what we did, because it was quicker that way. Nowadays, you have to =&6=& and wait for it to be granted before you (or your family) can enter South Africa. I know it’s not great news, but the good part is that apparently South African embassies in foreign countries are a ton more efficient than Home Affairs. The types of temporary residence permits are:
  • Business permit
  • Work permit
  • Study permit
  • Exchange permit
  • Retired Persons’ permit
  • Relatives’ permit
  • Medical treatment permit
Most of these permit categories are self-explanatory. A =&7=& requires that you have a ton of money, like ZAR 2.5 million, and most likely isn’t feasible for most expats. As an expat, the subcategory you most likely will fall into is as =&8=&, see more on the different types of work permits below.  Another permit worth pursuing is the =&9=&, more on that also below.

Permanent Residence

If you’re neither a prohibited or undesirable person (like when you’ve overstayed a visa previously, though you can be rehabilitated again), you may become a permanent resident. The advantage is that you automatically are allowed to work in South Africa without an employer sponsoring you (much the same as it is for the American Green Card).  There are two avenues to obtain permanent resident status in South Africa: First, you can apply for permanent residence once you’ve lived in South Africa as a temporary resident for 5 years, or if you’re a dependent of a permanent resident. It’s called a =&10=&.  The other, lesser-known avenue is a so-called =&11=&. You can qualify, if you:
  • are in possession of a permanent work offer in South Africa, or
  • have exceptional skills and qualifications
  • intend to establish a business in South Africa
  • qualify as refugee
  • qualify as retired person
  • are financially independent
  • are relatives of a South African citizen/permanent residence permit holder
Some of these overlap with the temporary residence categories above. From what I gather, this means that you can hold one of those temporary residence permits and use them as “other grounds” to apply for permanent residence without waiting the full 5 years. I’m not sure where exactly the so-called Life Partner visa falls, as I couldn’t find it listed, but would assume it’s in one of these two permanent residence categories. The terminology keeps changing, so please forgive me. More details on permanent residence status can be obtained here

Visa Application

To apply for a temporary residence visa, you will need:
  • Two passport photographs 
  • Passport valid for 30 days or more after the date of intended departure from South Africa (elsewhere, 6 months are mentioned, so make that your minimum)
  • Medical report (this is a form your doctor has to sign, mainly stating that you are not insane)
  • Chest X-ray dated within one year of application proving the applicant does not have tuberculosis (for anyone 12 years of age and over)
  • Full birth certificate 
  • Police clearance certificates for applicants 18 years and older in all countries where they resided for one year or longer (I doubt they will go back and check every place you lived, so for simplicity I’d say it’s sufficient to provide this for the place you currently reside, if that’s also your country of birth; in our case, we were born in Germany, coming from the U.S., and one of our children was born in Singapore, so we felt we had to get police clearances from all three countries – a major pain!
  • Completed application form 
You may also need a Yellow Fever certificate if coming from an at-risk country. And other documents may be needed for other types of visas, i.e. bank statements and financial documents. Check out all visa requirements here.

Visa Renewal

Visa renewals can still be handled from within South Africa, even  under the new visa regulations. But I think you now have to wait until the renewal is granted before you can leave the country, whereas before you could simply prove that you had applied and that was enough. Not anymore. Enter the Department of Home Affairs and a long (and probably frustrating) wait. Start early with your renewals!

Work Permit

A work permit is what you need to be allowed to work in South Africa if you are NOT a permanent resident. The types of work permits include:
  • Intra-company-transfer work permit
  • General work permit
  • Critical skills work permit

If you’re being moved to South Africa by a multinational company, the subcategory you most likely will fall into is an Intra-company transfer work permit. In this case your company will have taken care of the permit by getting a lawyer working on it, and it might simply be annoying because ...  Continue Reading

How Do I Obtain or Renew a Study Permit for a South African School?

I was astounded how much discussion my recent blog post about the scarcity of space at Johannesburg private schools spurred. While I was aware that this was beginning to pose a problem for expats in South Africa, I didn’t know how dire the situation had already become.

 But it also prompted questions of a more technical nature concerning attendance at South African schools, and I’d like to highlight one such question from my Facebook Page and some answers here. The QUESTION:

Does anyone have any experience ...  Continue Reading

Retiring in South Africa

No, I’m not quite talking about retirement yet. We still have four kids to shepherd through college, so the prospect of us retiring anytime soon is about as unlikely as completing a customer service call with Telkom without being hung up on at least once.

Unless I turn this blog into a book that ...  Continue Reading

Just Two Flimsy Pieces of Paper, Yet All that Could Stand Between You and a Prison Cell

For all those of you moving to South Africa or simply taking a trip here, I thought I would share this cautionary tale. It’s actually a gem of a story I just happened to stumble upon last night, and ever on the hunt for writing material, I was practically already writing it while I heard it told.

We were all at a “girl’s night out” dinner, and the food by the way was fabulous. Then our hostess made us all play a game, in return for the fabulous food, and the game was “write something no one knows about you on a piece of paper and pull someone else’s paper from ...  Continue Reading

I’m REALLY pissed!

Just about a week ago, when musing about our upcoming South African visa renewals, I was joking – JOKING! – that maybe the Department of Home Affairs would make us go through the whole circus of police clearances and medical certificates again. But of course I was very secure in  my assumption ...  Continue Reading