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How You Can Get a Work Visa for South Africa

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With this continent as the 2nd fastest growing region for tourism, it's no wonder many people are coming to explore the countries of Africa. With such diverse landscapes, incredible culture, animals that don't exist anywhere else, and delicious food, if you haven't yet visited any of the unique countries in Africa yet, what are you waiting on?

My first trip out of the United States was actually here in Eastern Africa, Tanzania. Since then I've traveled to many countries but something has always called me back to this continent. I revisited in 2018, this time traveling to Cape Town, South Africa. I quickly fell in love with this vibrant city, so much so, that I decided to move here 9 months later. If you dream of living in Cape Town, too, here's how you can secure a visa, too.

While obtaining my visa wasn't the most well thought out plan, I am now a three-year temporary resident here in Cape Town. So what many people thought was a wild plan, really turned out to be my best one yet.

I'm here to walk you through my steps of getting a South African visa and how, hopefully, you can do the same. I want to be clear though in stating that my story isn't the typical visa process. Work visas for South Africa aren't as easy to come by as you might think. You'll need some pretty specific skills, or in my case, a company willing to stick their neck out for you.

Looking for a more straightforward visa process? Consider Working Holiday Visas to live for a year in Australia, New Zealand or Japan.

expat living in Cape Town enjoying the views of the ocean
Enjoying the stunning views of my home abroad

South Africa wasn't the first country I've ever gotten a visa for but it was the most atypical. And with so many beautiful places to visit in South Africa, I'm so glad it worked out like it did.

Usually, when deciding to move to a new country, I first find a job to sponsor me, save up some money, and apply for the correct visa from my home country before I set off. These are all the responsible things I did before moving to Thailand and Malaysia. However, this time around I decided to take a chance and hope for the best.

With my lucky stars and the universe on my side, I just happened to be in the right place at the right. 

A few months into my stay in Cape Town, with my tourist visa winding down to the end, I met a recruiter from a modeling agency at a day party. From there things happened pretty quickly. I was signed on to the agency, had to return to the US to apply for my work visa at the South African embassy and was granted the visa in about a week’s time.

Now, while I can't say I wouldn't have figured out another way to obtain a visa, having a model recruiter hire me nearly on the spot (when I've never before modeled) was not was I was expecting to happen. Sometimes you need to go by the book to make things happen and other times it really does just all work out.

While time was on my side and the visa process was far faster than I thought it would be, the costs hit hard. This is why it’s better to apply for any visa before leaving your home country. While my adventure might sound like a fun one, it's not the typical process I would recommend to anyone. The stress of needing to find a job and also the expense of having to fly back to the US and right back to South Africa was not something I'd like to go through again.

Keep in mind, Americans get 90 days visa-on-arrival in South Africa and there are options to extend this visa within the country. 

Quick Moving Abroad Tips

If you're planning to move abroad, whether to South Africa, or you decide to choose another country, there are some basic tips I'd recommend you keep in mind. I could go a lot more in-depth on how to move abroad but I'll let these 4 summarize a few of what I consider to be the most important tips:

  • Based on the country’s average salary or monthly upkeep, you should save at least 4 months before taking off on your trip.
  • Finding a job before you leave will always make things easier .
  • Research your visa options before you leave your home country: Each nationality will have its own set of requirements. 
  • Be clear on where you want to move and what job you'd like to do before you start doing too much research. These answers will probably sway your decision.

Now, let's dive right in on how to get a South African Work Visa as a US citizen.

South African General Work Visa Requirements:

  • Radiology Report (X-Ray for TB)Medical Certificate
  • FBI Background Check (state isn’t sufficient)
  • Application fee in cashiers check for $37 USD to: Consulate General of South Africa
  • Print the last 3 months bank statements
  • Prepaid UPS next day air postage (Essentially they’ll send out your paperwork then send your passport back to your home address with your visa)
  • A copy of your flight itinerary (must have a return trip ticket)
  • 3 Up to date passport photos to submit with your application
  • Fill out all the DHA - 1738 paperwork

Keep in mind that these requirements are subject to change based on your nationality. If you are not an American, I highly recommend you research the requirements based on your nationality. It also was a key component that I was being sponsored by a South African company.

a group of penguins in South Africa on the beach
Hard to beat these guys as neighbors

Other Types of South African Visas

I’d also like to note that there are a few other types of visas possible for those aiming to work in South Africa. These visas might be easier for you to obtain, based on your skillset and circumstance.

Critical Skills Visa

There are visas for those with “critical skills,” meaning applicants who work in an industry that the South African government deems as “scarce” within the country. For this visa, you do not have to land with a job offer but instead are given a year to get hired. This is a great visa option for someone who is highly marketable and has a lot of unique work experience.

Company Transfer Work Visa

Another common visas is for an “intra-company transfer,” meaning your current company is transferring you to a South African branch of your same company or a partner company. This visa is pretty straight forward and your company should handle it for you. This is the idea situation to be in since you won't have to deal with much, or any, of the visa process.

Business Visa / Independent Financial Permit

Lastly, there is an opportunity to gain a visa if you decide to start a business in South Africa. The business idea will need to be approved prior and you will need to have sufficient funds to start your company. This visa can have the most hoops to jump through. I would only suggest this route if you're absolutely certain you want to settle in South Africa.

While these three visas require pretty strict requirements, the general work visa is more lenient and open to a wider range of candidates, in comparison. With each of these visas, you'll be rewarded a Temporary Residence Visa. After a few years you'd be able to apply for permanent residency. Then, once you've been a permanent resident for 5 years, you'll be able to apply for South African citizenship if you'd like to become a South African citizen.

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What it's like living as an expat in Cape Town

Cape Town is one of the most stunning places in the world. With so many things to do and see in Cape Town, you'll need more than just a quick visit to really let this magical city soak in.

I know it gets a bad rep around the world as far as safety issues but I'm here to tell you at no point in time have I felt unsafe in this country. Although, there are always some good tips to keep in mind when you're traveling alone. It's better to err on the cautious side when you're new in a foreign country. When you're new somewhere you don't understand cultural norms, the social cues might be different, and you probably look, act, or dress differently than the locals do, causing you to stand out from the crowd.

The lighthouse at Cape Point, South Africa with girl posing in front of it
Exploring the lighthouse at Cape Point

Cape Town is a city for everyone, meaning whatever you're into, there is a group for you. If you love surfing and being in nature there are plenty of beaches and so many trails to hike in this town. If you are a self-proclaimed wine connoisseur, you’ve lucked up, as there are over 140 wine farms in just one part of Cape Town. If you're into the arts and love dancing, theatre shows and stand-up comedy, there are plenty of venues that cater just for your crowd.  

The sunsets here are unbelievable and you can catch them on mountain tops, near the beach, from the rooftops and I'll tell you, it never gets old.

I decided to start this chapter in Cape Town because it reminded me so much of the two cities that I lived in in Asia. It is a nice fusion between Kuala Lumpur and Phuket.

Kuala Lumpur is a big cosmopolitan city whereas Phuket is beach life. Here in Cape Town I get the best of both worlds.

My advice is to ignore the things that you have heard about the city and come experience it for yourself. If you want to be in shorts and flip-flops, this town is perfect for you. If you want to dress up, wear high heels and eat at a five-star restaurant, this town is equally perfect for you. I genuinely love living abroad in South Africa and hope you can find the magic in it, too.

Cape Town is a gem that should be experienced by many more people.

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