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When I recently came across the Guide to Johannesburg by Expat-Living.info, my first thought was “wait a minute, that’s what my blog is all about!” I had to find out more, so a few weeks later I was chatting over coffee with Barbara Bruhwiler, one of the founders of Expat-Living.
It turns out Barbara and I share many of the same expat experiences, even have kids in the same class, and have similar ideas about improving future expats’ experiences by gathering information about living in South Africa. “When we first came here, there was no place to go for this type of information, so I decided to do something about it” says Barbara. Exactly my thoughts. And the type of information you DID find on the myriad expat forum websites out there was absolutely gloomy and depressing. If it was only for them, we would never have come to this beautiful and exciting country. What a loss that would have been.
Having read my advance copy of the Guide to Johannesburg, I can highly recommend it to you, whether you’re a newly-arrived expat or still in the early planning stages in your home country. If you’re planning your move, there are so many things you’ll want to know about: housing, schools, healthcare, safety, visas, and buying a car, just to name a few. If you’re already here, you’ll be trying to set up your traffic register number, bank account, phone line, internet, or employment contract for your domestic help, all while figuring out where for crying out loud to find chili powder, applesauce, a new toaster, converter plugs for those pesky outlets, and a new shoe rack because South African houses have no coat closets or anything of the sort near the front door. Oh, and you’re probably already searching for a handyman and an electrician to fix things that have stopped working.
All of the above are addressed in the pages of your Guide to Johannesburg, and much more. I like how it gives very practical tips on topics you might not think about, i.e a picture of what a South African electrical outlet looks like, how to involve your children in the move (the very first thing happening at our new house was a big fight among our kids – tired as they were – over who got which room, because we hadn’t ever bothered to broach this subject beforehand) or to remember to install Skype on your parents’ computer before leaving. The chapter on pool maintenance is probably the only thing out there even more detailed than the blog post I wrote about it some time back (I take great pride in that particular post), including an FAQ section for things that could go wrong, and what to do about fountains and Koi ponds. I must admit I would not have thought of Koi ponds had I written a guide!
I found the very detailed moving checklist particularly useful, allowing you to check off your move-related items with references to the specific chapters containing more information about each of them. The explanation of visa issues is also very valuable – as you might remember, we are currently renewing our visa and still don’t know much more about the process than on the day we arrived – shedding light on the morass of terms like work visa, work permit, temporary residence, etc, and how you go about applying for any one of them.
Overall, I enjoyed the upbeat and humorous tone of the guide, making what might be considered a dry topic an enjoyable and fast-paced read, and giving you a glimpse of some of the quirks of life in South Africa. After reading it, you will want to move to South Africa sooner than later, to tackle your new life and start enjoying yourself.
One question I get very often, and have difficulty answering, is the one about the cost of living in South Africa. That is why I find Chapter 14 – Prices of particular interest, as it lists average prices and price ranges for just about anything, down to a pound of pasta and nine rolls of 2-ply toilet paper, including links to websites that offer more information. For that one chapter alone, the guide is worth its money. Many companies sending expats abroad don’t have any set packages but rather negotiate each individual case. Imagine how much money you can save by knowing ahead of time what your exact cost of living increases will be and what to negotiate for.
What’s also nice about the Guide to Johannesburg is that it is written by one of us, or rather a team of expats who still very much live here, experiencing the same issues we all do, who are constantly testing and updating the links in this e-book. You might argue that you’re getting the same information from your relocations agent, in case your company provides one, but judging from the myriad of questions I get on this blog, I think there is much that’s left to be desired. We did have a relocations agent for our move, and while they were very helpful when looking for houses, they didn’t answer many of my questions once we were here, or simply didn’t know the answers. The binder I got for them boasted plenty of contact information, but upon closer inspection much of that was either outdated, or not helpful at all (I remember with dread the electrician I found in said book, charging me R6,000 for flipping an earth leakage switch back on). I think this is due to the fact that most of these services are not run by expats but rather South Africans, who don’t understand all of the problems you might run into. Like the need for a traffic register number to register your car if you’re a foreigner, something South Africans do not need.
You might bristle at the price for the Guide to Johannesburg (US$147), like I did initially, but when you think about it, it’s a fair deal. Not only will you get the guide itself with very detailed answers to all your move-related questions, interviews with other expats, and common pitfalls to avoid, but you will also get your personalized relocation service where any question you might have will be answered by one of Expat-Info’s experts in a timely fashion. If you now compare the price to what your company might be paying for a traditional relocation service, it’s a no-brainer. And chances are you’ll be able to claim it as a moving expense.
My recommendation: If you’re in the process of planning a move to South Africa, or even if you’ve already arrived but still find yourself with many questions, buy the Guide to Johannesburg. You will not regret it! I wish I had had it earlier and still find it useful now, after two years. I wouldn’t just recommend any guide, but I read through this one in its entirety and often found myself nodding vigorously in agreement on the advice given, or clicking on a link because I was actually looking for that particular service.
When you place your order, just make sure you enter “Joburg Expat” in the “referred by” field. Thanks!