Friendly South Africa remains a draw for expat families

expats1 It’s easy to make friends in South Africa’s culturally diverse population, which makes Mzansi a hit with expats.(Image credit: Andy Carter)

Sulaiman Philip

The 2014 edition of the HSBC Expat Explorer survey spins a really good story for South Africa. Expatriate workers looking for a balance between work and a decent family life rated South Africa the second best destination in the world, after New Zealand.

The annual survey measures four categories: earnings, lifestyle, raising children and the cost of living. Countries made it on to the list if, and only if, there were at least 100 respondents from each locale. South Africa did not fare that well in the economic measures, but it was close to the top in the social categories. Or as one respondent put it, in South Africa I “enjoy improved quality of life i.e. better weather and more social events. There’s more luxurious housing and better value for your income.”

The results are based on the subjective opinions of almost 3 000 expats. Switzerland was tops overall, South Africa 22nd, but the country outranked most others on social measures, like “great place to raise children”. South Africa’s cultural diversity also made it easier for expats to find their feet, and made it easier for them to find something to remind them of home.

The international bank measured four social categories: (1) ability to befriend locals, (2) success in learning the local language, (3) capacity for integrating themselves into the community and fitting into a new culture, and (4) raising children abroad. Like expat parents in New Zealand, expats living in South Africa felt their children enjoyed a better quality of life, and believed their children were more well-rounded as a result of being integrated into the local community.

Expat life has evolved to become about more than just a bigger pay cheque or better career prospects. While this does remain true for younger and newer entrants to the job market, for married expats and those with children especially, a more balanced and well-rounded experience for themselves and their children matter as much as salary.

As they did in the Land of the Long White Cloud, expats in South Africa claimed that the scenery, diversity of the landscape and good weather made their new homes the best place to raise children. The expats who voted New Zealand and South Africa as the top two places to raise children also mentioned that they felt their children were safer and healthier since they moved because children grew up more active, outdoorsy and healthy.

People in search of better job prospects headed to Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Kuwait, countries that scored very low on integration with the local community. Money matters of course. Switzerland was voted top but as an average, the Asian subcontinent – mostly South Africa’s Brics partners China and India – scored highest in the salary stakes. The global salary average is $92 000 (about R997 000), but in Asia you can pocket $120 000 although you have to contend with a higher cost of living.

In Mercers 2014 Cost of Living survey, Hong Kong (3), Singapore (4), Tokyo (7), Shanghai (10), Beijing (11), Seoul (14), and Shenzhen (17) were the Asian cities that made the top 20 most expensive cities in the world. Covering 211 cities across the globe, the Mercer survey measures the cost of 200 items in each location including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods and entertainment.

Companies and governments use the Mercer index to set compensation allowances for expat employees. There are four African cities on the list, with Luanda in Angola rated as the most expensive city in the world. N’Djamena in Chad (2), Victoria in the Seychelles (13), and Libreville in Gabon (19) are all more expensive than South Africa’s most expensive city, Cap Town, which came in at a value for money 205.

Economic opportunity in South Africa, generally, cannot match the prospects of the countries that make up the top 10 of HSBC’s list, but the friendliness of South Africans remains one of the country’s biggest assets. We face challenges, and sometimes we don’t get along with our neighbours, but the warm smiles and affection Mzansi shares with foreigners – guests or expats – is infectious.

expats2 Expats feel their children are safer and healthier and lived a more active, outdoorsy and spirited life.(Image credit: Sandra Mallinson)