Moving to a new country and settling in is not an easy task, even for expats who may have spent a major part of their lives in foreign lands. No amount of research, reading, visits or networking can prepare you fully for the real thing. Its kinda like a marriage – you think you know the person, but do you really?!
Having moved from India, settling in South Africa was not very difficult given the similarities between the two countries and the large number of Indians settled here. Despite this, here are a few things I wish someone had told me.
1) Work permit
Unless you already have a job because of which you are moving to SA, do not assume you can get one easily once you get here.The process of getting a work permit is very very convoluted and can easily take 8 months to a year, provided you have an offer of job. And getting an offer o job is no mean feat because most companies balk at the idea of having to sponsor a work permit and going through all the administrative hassles with the Home Office. So weigh your options.
2) Budget for a car/make sure you drive
The public transport system is almost non-existent in most of SA and especially so in Joburg. If you don’t want to be stuck at home or depend on others to chauffeur you around, you need to buy a car as soon as you get here. Most expats end up buying their cars outright instead of opting for finance because if you are on a temporary visa, the interest rate might be very steep. So budget accordingly.
3)Traffic registration number (TRN)
Before you buy a car, you need to get something called a TRN from your local transport office. Its quite a simple process although it may take a few hours of your time. Try & do it yourself instead of hiring the services of so-called agents as they can charge you quite a sum for this piece of paper.
4) Getting a local SA mobile phone number
Try staying away from Vodacom if you can, unless you have a corporate number. If you still insist on getting Vodacom out of some sort of international loyalty towards them, please please go with a pay-as-you-go and NOT a post-paid plan. They will ask you for hundreds of documents and when you think you have them all, they will ask for a new one! Having sorted all out, in say 3/4 visits to their store (if you are lucky), you will ask them if international dialling is activated. That’s when you will be asked to make an additional deposit for it! Now, had you opted for a pay-as-you go SIM, you could just walk into a store with a proof of ID and residence, and voila, you walk out with an activated SIM which also allows you international dialling – at no extra costs.
5) Getting your internet & cable TV sorted
When I look back at what I had to go through to get my internet working, I breathe a sigh of relief that its done. Everyone will tell you that Telkom is the best provider but what no one tells you is that it will take you several visits to the Telkom office, at least 3 weeks of waiting and numerous calls to the customer service, before you have a working line. After I applied for a new connection, I was told that my ADSL line setup could take anything from 2 days to 21 days! I was aghast…in India, once you buy a new connection, its set-up within 24 hrs at max. Anyway, since options were limited as connectivity & speed with other providers are supposedly a problem, I waited till Telkom decided it was my turn. Took 15 days but only after a fair bit of screaming and threatening.
6) TV license
This is hilarious! No one actually knows when or why this rule came into being but anyone who wants to buy a TV, needs to purchase a TV license first! And once you do, it needs to be renewed every year. So I got one too, only to realise months later that most locals don’t buy this license, atleast not on their IDs.
7) Make a plan
Keep this phrase in mind! Every time you enter into a financial deal – say while renting a house, buying a car, etc – and want a better price or discount, just say – please make a plan! Message conveyed. Also remember, that bargaining or asking for a lower price is very acceptable in local markets and street shops all over SA.
8) Traffic cops
Yes, it is what you think. Being foreigners, you are more likely to be stopped by traffic cops. They will ask for the usual stuff – license, car papers, TRN, etc etc. Even if you have them all, they may try and intimidate you and ask you to pay a fine or follow them to the nearest police station (PS). This is your cue to say – lets make a plan! In other words, offer them some money to get out of the situation. But please don’t. Do not offer them money & encourage such corruption. Instead, say you are happy to go to the PS. You more likely to be let off without having to go anywhere or paying a cent. Also saves you from an awkward situation in case you happen to meet a cop who wasn’t looking for a bribe!
9) If you live in Jozi, you won’t be walking much
If you thought people were kidding when they said you cannot walk in Joburg – well, they weren’t. Joburg is not like London or New York where you can walk anywhere. While you maybe able to walk where you live, you will need to drive everywhere else. The roads are not designed for pedestrians, nor are the distances conducive to walking. And there is also the small matter of safety in certain areas.
10) Don’t believe everything you hear or read about Jo’burg
While much has been written & said about the crime rate & lack of safety in Jo’burg, much of it has been over-hyped by the media and sadly by us expats too. Yes, you will need to keep your eyes open & be a little more cautious if you are living here, but don’t live in constant fear. The city has so much to offer if you keep your mind open. Its beautiful, warm and full of life. Live it.