Living in South Africa?
Transportation and Safety in South Africa
Keeping Your Foreign Driving License: Is It Worth It?
Provided your driver’s license is issued in English or another one of the eleven official languages of South Africa, you may use it abroad for a duration of up to twelve months. If the license is not in any of the eleven official languages of South Africa, you have two options: you can either apply for an international driver’s license before you depart for South Africa or exchange your current license for a South African one.
In order to take the latter option, your driver’s license must be valid and include your signature and picture. You will also need a letter of authenticity, and — if necessary — a translation into English. Home embassies should be able to help you with this.
If you plan on staying for more than twelve months, it is advisable that you exchange your license. Not only does this simplify things in case of road controls, but it is also helpful for insurance purposes: some companies might require proof of a valid South African license in the case of a pay out, even if you originally were able to buy insurance without one.
Staying Safe on the Roads
South African roads are generally in a very good condition and are fairly safe. However, it is not the road quality you often need to worry about; the risky — and sometimes not very sober — driving style of many motorists is the cause of many road incidents, with the country statistically having twice as many traffic deaths as the global average. Poor lighting on some country roads and insufficient upkeep of vehicles can also pose further risks.
Be particularly alert when approaching stop signs at junctions — South African traffic regulations make ample use of four-way stop signs. Right of way is given in order of arrival: the first vehicle to arrive is the first to have right of way, and so on.
In South Africa cars drive on the left. Depending on your country of origin, this might be new for you, so please make sure you keep this in mind at all times; for you, and also your car’s sake.
Crime and Safety — Well Known Problems
A very unfortunate fact about everyday life in South Africa is that the crime rate is exceptionally high, both in regard to petty crimes, such as theft, and more serious felonies, including acts of violence and sexual assault.
Some of the causes and roots of this problem in South African society are more straightforward than others. For one, the country inherited many unsolved issues at the end of Apartheid, some of which (such as income inequality) pose large challenges to this day. Sprawling urbanization brought many impoverished families to the large cities in hopes of getting jobs that were not available, or at least not in sufficient numbers. The alarming ratio of unemployed people and those living in extreme poverty surely are important factors, among many others.
If you become a victim of robbery, please comply with the demands. Resorting to violence has almost become normalcy within some circles of South African society, and robbers might not think twice about it.
The commonness and sheer number of cases of sexual assault in South Africa is also cause for continued concern. Reportedly, one in four South African males have sexually assaulted a woman. There is no special or elevated threat for expat women, but it is advised that you always stay alert.
Many expats and members of the upper and middle classes to move to gated communities for all these reasons. That being said, there is no need to think that you will enter chaos every time you leave the house. The South African government is very aware of this problem, and various countermeasures have been taken to ensure the safety of citizens and expats alike. It is quite likely that the large majority of areas of your future daily life as an expat professional in the large megacities of South Africa will be as safe as other international expat destinations.
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