A guide to work in South Africa (with shortage occupations)

Updated 31 July 2023

Moving to a different continent can expose you to a new culture and give you access to new work opportunities. If you want to relocate to a place with a warm climate where English is a leading language, then South Africa may be a good choice. Learning about the country's employment conditions and entry requirements may help you decide if it's a destination for you. In this article, we discuss what it's like to work in South Africa, explore the country's shortage occupations and look at entry requirements for British nationals.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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What it's like to work in South Africa

Here's some information on the possible benefits of working in South Africa:

Emerging job market

Many of the world's top tech leaders have offices in South Africa. This creates attractive work or relocation opportunities if you're a software developer or engineer. In addition, many view South African organisations as great employers. Even Forbes' 2022 ranking of the best companies to work for features several companies from South Africa, most of which operate within the banking and finance sector.

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Related: Emerging market: definition, types, risks and benefits

Annual leave

As of March 2023, the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 1997 is the document that regulates employment conditions, including annual leave, in South Africa. According to the act, South African employees have 21 days of annual leave for every 12 months commencing from the first day of their employment. After accumulating days in an annual leave cycle, the employee may take their leave on consecutive days. If they fail to use the entire leave during one cycle, the days they have left carry over to the next annual leave cycle.

Related: 13 types of employee leave to help your work-life balance

Employee benefits

According to the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, employees in South Africa are entitled to at least four months of maternity leave after giving birth. The leave may start as early as four weeks before the due date. In addition, employees may take family responsibility leave when their child is sick or in situations like the death of a family member. Other types of benefits that many South African employees receive include sick leave, parental leave, health insurance or a 13th-month bonus. They're also eligible for retirement funds and pension schemes.

Related: 20 common types of employee benefits (With examples)

Minimum wage and average salary

Since the beginning of March 2023, the minimum wage in South Africa is R25.42 per hour. On average, South African employees earn R24,574 per month, which roughly translates to £1,100 per month. The two key factors that have a strong impact on a South African employee's compensation are their experience and education level. Typically, employees with a university or college diploma earn more than the country's median monthly salary, which is R29,900 (£1,340).

Related: What is the minimum wage yearly salary in the UK? (Q&A)

Unemployment rate

South Africa's unemployment rate was 32.7% in the final quarter of 2022. This is relatively high in comparison with the UK's unemployment rate of only 3.7% during the same period. Many South African nationals find it challenging to find employment due to city planning, which causes people from rural areas to live far away from job centres. Expats considering relocating to South Africa may increase their chances of securing a job if they decide to work in one of the country's shortage occupations.

Related: Common effects of unemployment (and how to counteract them)

Location and nature

South Africa is the southernmost country in Africa, known for its diverse topography and natural beauty. The country has access to the Atlantic Ocean in the southwest and the Indian Ocean in the southeast. With over 2,500 kilometres of coastline, South Africa has picturesque beaches and hosts some of the world's leading surf competitions. If you enjoy spending time outdoors, you may enjoy the country's hiking trails or participate in cave explorations.

Related: 13 jobs in nature (with salaries and responsibilities)

Culture and cuisine

South Africa has a vibrant and diverse culture, for which the country's known as the Rainbow Nation. There are four major ethnic groups: Nguni, Sotho, Shangaan-Tsonga and Venda. The variety of cultures impacts the nation's cuisine and food options available in the country. Traditional South African cuisine consists of many vegetables and starches, where maize, or corn, is a stable ingredient. There are also a lot of traditional dishes with meat. In addition, it's easy to notice other countries' inspirations in South African cuisine, for example, Indian food influences.

Skill and occupation shortages

ManpowerGroup in their 2022 report discusses the talent shortage in South Africa. According to the organisation, these shortages have been growing since 2013, and in 2022, 78% of employers from industries like manufacturing, marketing or transportation found it challenging to find and attract talent. The top in-demand roles in South Africa are in the following areas:

  • information technology (IT)

  • operations and logistics

  • sales and marketing

  • manufacturing and production

  • administration and office support

BusinessTech supports this data, specifying that in South Africa there are two causes of these shortages, expensive tertiary education and low compensation in some sectors, which cause many South African nationals to look for better opportunities abroad. BusinessTech also emphasises that many in-demand roles are in IT and finance. According to BusinessTech and Intergate Immigration, the Department of Home Affairs listed the following as shortage occupations in South Africa in 2022:

  • software developer

  • developer programmer

  • data scientist

  • ICT system analyst

  • market research analyst

  • actuary

  • investment analyst

  • external auditor

  • registered nurse

  • multimedia specialist or designer

  • business development officer

  • civil engineer

  • policy and planning manager

  • geologist

  • climate change scientist

  • zoologist

  • oceanographer

  • forensic accountant

  • biomedical engineer

Related: What is the skills shortage in the UK? (With solutions)

Language requirements

There are 11 official languages in South Africa, including Sepedi, Sesotho and Setswana. In addition, Afrikaans and English are two languages that most people in South Africa speak. Relocating to the country with just English is enough to understand mainstream media, like TV and magazines. This is because English is the fourth-largest language in that country. A basic understanding of Afrikaans may help expats socialise, and it's a plus during recruitment.

Related: Your guide to language proficiency levels (with examples)

Entry requirements

British citizens can stay in South Africa without a visa for up to 90 days. Upon arrival, South African border control officers stamp their passports and it's key that they don't overstay. It's also a requirement to fill out a health questionnaire, which confirms your personal details and gathers information about your previous travels and health history. If your plan is to relocate permanently and find a job in the country, you need to obtain a visa, which serves as a work and stay permit. Depending on your situation, here are some examples of visas for which you may apply:

  • General work visa: This is a visa for which an employer can apply on your behalf, proving that there's no one in South Africa qualified enough to fill a position. This visa has other strict requirements, and it's only possible to obtain it when you already have a valid job offer from a South African employer.

  • Intra-company transfer work visa: This visa allows you to travel to South Africa and work there if your employer has a branch in the country. It's also the employer's responsibility to apply for this visa on your behalf.

  • Exchange visa: People under the age of 25 can apply for an exchange visa, which allows them to work in the country for up to one year. This form of employment is great if you want to relocate temporarily and see if South Africa is the destination for you.

  • Critical skills work visa: You can apply for this visa if you're qualified in one of the professions from the critical skills list.

Related: How to apply for overseas jobs: a comprehensive guide

Explaining your qualifications

South African universities enable people to earn bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees. The system is similar to higher education systems in Europe or the USA, which means that South African employers are likely to automatically recognise and accept your British or European qualifications. If you want to work in a highly specialised profession, like medicine or engineering, you may contact the Department of Higher Education and Training to obtain more information about your diplomas and certificates.

Related: 7 South Africa jobs for foreigners (with salaries and tips)

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