Three Easy Steps for Quickly Settling in Johannesburg

The following is a guest post by Barbara Bruhwiler.

Baby steps. Teeny tiny baby steps. That’s what they always recommend in self-help books. “As long as you move in the right direction, it doesn’t matter how fast you move” is one of the mantras in this field.

Well, when you move abroad, things are a bit different. While baby steps are not completely wrong, giant leaps are much better. Because according to international research on expats, the faster one settles into the foreign place, the better.

Why, you may ask. Why do I have to hurry instead of taking my time?

I believe it has to do with our feelings. Before we are settled into our new life, we are in limbo, we haven’t arrived yet. Homesickness, frustration, sadness, even desperation are the feelings that go with this place, and they leave us drained of energy. But when we feel settled in, we experience excitement, interest and pleasure – feelings that lift us up and give us power.

moving boxes in front of house in johannesburg
Settling in: Not only the act of getting past THIS, but also a mindset.

Which means exactly one thing: the sooner you get results, the sooner and the more often you feel excited about your international transfer, the happier you are, and the more energy you have for the next steps. You’ll find yourself in a positive, uplifting cycle.

Now what can you do to settle quickly in Johannesburg?

I recommend 3 essential steps:

The first step is to get the best and most comprehensive information available about Johannesburg.

And get it as early as possible. You will need time to study the documentation and mull over what is applicable for you and what steps to take. You will be able to make plans about what to take with you and what to leave behind, what to buy, and where to turn to for organising everything you will need in Johannesburg.

What kind of information do fellow expats feel is important? South Africa’s shipping restrictions, for instance; how to set up utilities; where to find computer tech support or local handyman services; connections to social groups of people; where to go for medical treatments; lists of speciality shops and how to find them; South Africa’s history and culture; and so on.

The second step is actually using this information.

Huh, you may say, what else am I supposed to do with it? Well, what do most people do with their self-help books? Read a few pages, then put them away and slowly let them sink to the bottom of their pile of reading material. 

Only this will not help you with moving to Johannesburg. You have to study and use the information you get, to be prepared before you move. And learn what you will need for your assignment in Johannesburg to work. Because research has shown that those who use the support they receive are more settled and feel happier.

This is especially important for singles who find it generally more difficult to settle in their host city or country. A fact that is easy to understand, considering that they can’t count on a partner who takes care of at least half of the settling in tasks.

The third step is doing the right things first.

The thing is, when you finally arrive in Johannesburg, there will be a lot of work waiting for you. Your fridge will be empty (and unplugged), you won’t be able to go anywhere in Joburg before you have a car, your home will have to be connected to electricity and water, and so on. There will be a to-do-list for you, that’s for sure, and a long one, too.

Tidy kitchen in Johannesburg house
From chaos to serenity: For some expats, this will feel like having settled.

Interestingly enough, researchers found that certain tasks should be your first priority. Because if you tackle these quickly you will settle in more quickly.

Start with these tasks:

Buy basic food staples, prepare a meal, and arrange your kitchen. Fill in and complete all your documents.

Then unpack your pictures and display family photos, before unpacking all of your boxes. *

After this, explore your environment to meet at least one new neighbour and to find a place to pursue your favourite leisure activity (sports, music, etc.), a medical provider for your family and a place to worship.

And finally it is time to start a social life again, by inviting local friends, co-workers or neighbours to your home, having family or friends from home visiting you, and celebrating a holiday in your new home. 

Good luck, and I hope you have a great time in Joburg!

* Note by editor: Somewhere between unpacking the first boxes and hanging up pictures, you absolutely, positively, have to go on a safari. Nothing will make you fall in love with South Africa as much as being in the bush, and preferably being pampered in the bush, while seeing the most amazing animals. And it will help put the daunting to-do list still awaiting you in perspective, giving you new energy to tackle it.



Barbara Bruhwiler lives in Johannesburg with her husband and two children. She is an internationally successful author of five books. One of them is the Guide to Johannesburg, a handy reference guide full of practical, useful information and advice for expats moving to or living in Johannesburg.


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