Moving to Cape Town | Everything you need to know

Are you thinking of moving to Cape Town? The coastal city is regularly voted among the most beautiful cities in the world. It has a vibrant, vital art scene, a melting-pot mix of cultures, a landscape like no other.

Cape Town is also a lot cheaper to live in than many international cities and has a climate many Northerners can only dream of. South Africans, too, have good reason to make the move. For adventure activities and culture, work opportunities, world-class education, and a good bit more. Of course, there are some cons along with the pros, which are vital to know when making such a big decision.

I’ve put together everything you need to consider in deciding whether or not to move to Cape Town, from education and work to safety and lifestyle. Along with the best neighbourhoods to move to!

Pros & cons of moving to South Africa

Moving to Cape Town certainly has its pros and cons. As someone with a German and a South African passport, I’ve given it a lot of thought, whether to live here or leave. So I’ve put together a deeply thought-through list that applies to the whole country and doesn’t hold back punches, so that you can make a well-informed decision.

Pros:

  • It’s fantastically beautiful for nature lovers
  • We have mountains for climbing and hiking within the city
  • And oceans for swimming, snorkelling, and world-class surfing
  • The Western Cape alone has as much plant variety as the whole of Eurasia!
  • Our marine life is exquisite
  • South Africans are hospitable, with a sense of humour sharpened by difficulty
  • Property prices are very affordable by international standards
  • Rental prices are also comparatively good
  • Local vineyards, breweries and gin distilleries are world-class
  • We have really good farmers, including ethical, pesticide-free and free-range farming, so you have access to fresh produce that doesn’t travel far and can be trusted
  • Restaurants and cafes are super varied and of fantastic quality
  • Locals are often involved in community improvement, with regular beach cleanups, marches, and initiatives
  • There is relatively little governmental involvement in personal freedoms

Cons:

  • The city is relatively unsafe, although most threats are limited to certain spaces
  • There’s a massive wealth disparity
  • Corruption is present in all levels of government
  • We have regular power outages, euphemistically called ‘loadshedding’
  • The city is large and sprawling, with an incomplete public transport system
  • We have far less visual history than Europe, so no ‘Old Town’ from centuries or millennia back
  • Economic opportunities are limited and often feel stagnant, leading to young educated professionals leaving to seek work outside the country – called the ‘brain drain’
  • Frustration with poverty and corruption, compounded by misinformation and racial tensions, can lead to rioting and looting, like the July 2021 riots

Moving to Cape Town, South Africa

Views of Cape Town from a Waterfront cruise

Now that you have the short of it, let’s go into the long! These are some of the factors you need to consider when making the move.

Of course, these considerations will look very different if you’re a broke student looking to study here for a few years, or a millionaire interested in settling down somewhere beautiful. But I’ve been both poor and well off in Cape Town, so I’ve done my best to provide handy information for everyone.

Cost of living

The cost of living in Cape Town very much depends on your habits and preferences. We’ve managed on R12 000 (760$) for two including rent. But for a more lavish lifestyle, a reasonable estimation is about R25 000 (1260$) for two.

Rent for one person ranges between R4 500 and R12 000, while for a family of four you can expect to pay R10 000 to R30 000.

A week’s worth of shopping for one costs up to R700 (although during my student days I could make R100 stretch two weeks, so it’s all relative!). A meal at an inexpensive restaurant costs about R150 for two people, while a mid-range restaurant will put you back around R600. You can check out Numbeo for a pretty good estimation of the various costs.

Transport options

Cape Town is mostly geared towards cars, with wide roads and easy to navigate routes. Because of the focus on private transport, there can be pretty heavy traffic at peak times. But the city has been working with businesses to stagger work hours so that people are travelling at different times.

Unfortunately, the infrastructure for electric cars hasn’t picked up yet, and petrol prices are consistently going up. So what are your public transport alternatives?

We have Uber, a reliable and reasonably priced way to get around when it’s too far to walk. We have taxis, which are very cheap but whose drivers take risks on the road and are famously dangerous drivers. Much of the city (but not the south-western coast) is crisscrossed by trains, but these are unreliable and can be genuinely unsafe, particularly in the evenings. And then our best option is the MyCiti bus, a safe, reliable and well-maintained method of transportation. These buses don’t go to the Southern Suburbs, but much of the city is easily within reach with them.

Lifestyle

The lifestyle in Cape Town is fantastic. There are so many outdoor activities to enjoy, whether you have money or not. We also have a pretty big focus on exercise and socialising, so you can find running groups, climbing communities, mountain clubs, etc. to introduce you to the city and build friendships.

Cape Town’s restaurants and cafes are incredible, with a wealth of healthy options all over the city.  We also have craft markets, exciting nightlife, and regular musical, ballet, comedy, and theatre performances. It’s a fantastically beautiful city – a factor increasingly thought to have a big impact on quality of life.

Safety

Safety is one of the main concerns in Cape Town, and South Africa in general. We have bad statistics for violence, murder, sexual abuse, and theft.

So that’s the bad news. However, these crimes are mostly confined to gang crime, primarily within the overcrowded, under-policed communities on the outskirts of Cape Town. So while crime remains a big problem, it’s not one that affects most Capetonians to the extent you’d expect.

That being said, you will need to be a lot more conscious of danger in Cape Town than you would in much of the world. It’s not safe to walk alone at night, and even during the day you’ll want to avoid quiet streets or dingy areas if you’re not in a group. Homes are pretty universally set up with alarms and electric fences – or barbed wire if that’s over budget. Communities also have whatsapp groups to share news on break ins and loitering characters.

You can check out my post on safety in Cape Town for a more in-depth look.

Accommodation

My view in Mowbray, one of the cheaper student neighbourhoods

Property prices are wide-ranging depending on where you want to live in Cape Town. The city is comparatively well-priced, but if you’re looking for a central house near the sea or on the mountain, you’ll pay international prices. If you’re looking for a space a little out of the city, like in Hermanus or Stellenbosch, prices are substantially lower.

Prices are also lower in areas like Muizenberg and Blouberg – both on the ocean, but they’re not central.

Because the city is so sprawling, you can easily find property with a large garden and plenty of space. However, if you intend to live near the city center, you’ll have a choice of apartments and houses with small, compact gardens.

The city’s apartments often have the best views because of the elevation. If you’re moving to Cape Town, I’d recommend renting a central apartment for six months, and using that time to check out neighbourhoods before you consider buying a house. Our neighbourhoods are very different from one another!

Healthcare

Cape Town has both private and public healthcare available. Many services at public sector clinics and community health centres are free for everyone. At hospitals, most services are only free for households that earn under R100,000.

The main complaint about public healthcare is long wait times. I’ve always had to wait a few hours, even when arriving early. Other complaints are unavailable medicines and inconvenient opening times – and, in some cases, inadequately clean facilities.

Private healthcare is also available everywhere. This is a relatively well-priced option with usually no waiting times and great facilities. You can also get medical aid which covers private healthcare.

Schools and education

Cape Town’s schooling options are excellent. We have a number of international schools, but a good portion of the national public schools, like Westerford, Rondebosch High and Camps Bay High are also great options. They’re also substantially cheaper than the international ones.

The city has quite a few Montessori schools, and even a few more experimental styles of schooling. So you’ve got options!

And then with universities, we have the University of Cape Town. This is my alma mater, and it’s long held the position of best university on the continent. Further out of the city sits one of the country’s other top universities, Stellenbosch. Also very much worth checking out!

Working in Cape Town

Glenn tutoring from home in our Gardens apartment

Cape Town has a solid business sector, with plenty of jobs in the engineering and education fields and a strong entrepreneur drive. BBBEE (Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment) is a national initiative that favours people of colour and previously disadvantaged individuals for employment, so it can be difficult for foreigners to find a position. You’ll also earn less than you would in much of Europe and America – but you’ll spend less too.

Our creative industries are thriving, with small-scale slow fashion brands, writers, artists and creators of all kinds finding strong support from the community. So competition is also high, but if you have something unique to contribute in the creative fields, you’re likely to find your niche!

Where to live in Cape Town

When you’re living in Cape Town, you’ll find that some neighbourhoods are safer than others, and living on the coast means you’ll have an extra hour of sunlight as compared to the other side of Table Mountain.

So with that little note in mind, what are the best neighbourhoods to live in Cape Town?

Gardens

For a central stay and good prices

Our old Gardens apartment view of Table Mountain

We lived in Gardens for two years and it was a wonderful place to stay. You’re right in the city center, with easy walks to the Company’s Gardens, museums, and Long Street. It’s not safe to walk around at night (although you should take caution in general). But you have easy access to every part of the city! You could also get a view like the above picture, as you’re looking straight-on at Table Mountain.

Sea Point

For a young, vibrant culture and coastal views

Our current Sea Point apartment’s sunset views

I live in Sea Point, and it is such a beautiful, busy area! You have Signal Hill behind you, perfect for walking the dogs or going for a run. And Sea Point Promenade lines the coast, where you can spend over an hour strolling along, surrounded by cyclists, walkers, doggies, and good vibes. There are dozens of fantastic cafes with strong coffee, and plenty of restaurants, including some great vegan ones.

Apartment prices are relatively high here, but not excessive, and you’re a lot more likely to find an apartment in a block than a house with a garden. So it’s definitely best for young professionals and new families.

Hout Bay

For families and nature lovers

Hout Bay is such a beautiful neighbourhood, nice and isolated so that it feels like its own little village. It’s a mountainous area, so you’ll be surrounded by greenery, and you can get perfect views of the ocean and mountains.

This neighbourhood is accessible by public transport with the MyCiti bus. It’s also right next to Constantia, the wine region! And on the other side, the surfing paradise of Llandudno. There’s also some great hiking!

Newlands

For greenery and student vibes

Newlands is a fantastic place for hikers and nature lovers to live. Newlands Park is right there, with the starting point of multiple Table Mountain hiking trails to be found here. It’s an area mostly zoned for single-family homes, so you can find a spot with lots of space. Because of UCTs proximity, it’s also a popular student neighbourhood. So it’s also a great place to get a room in a shared home if you’re looking for some community and low prices.

The sun goes down pretty early here, as Newlands sits right at the base of the mountain – so do expect slightly chillier weather and very little sunset views.

Camps Bay

For luxury apartments and beach days

Camps Bay is famous in Cape Town for its beautiful beach and busy coastal hub. The main road overlooking the ocean is lined with stylish restaurants and bars, always full. It’s a very fashionable area, so prices are very high, but if you’re keen to be in the center of things and surrounded by luxury, this is the spot.

Muizenberg

For well-priced homes and good surf

Muizenberg is Cape Town’s main beach neighbourhood. It’s a great place to learn to surf because of the long beach and the various surfing schools here. You can even rent out a board here if you’re not ready to invest in a board yet!

Muizenberg has a solid number of affordable homes, with apartments, rooms in shared houses, and a few houses available. It’s got a laid-back atmosphere and plenty of restaurants and cafes around.

Making the move to Cape Town

So, now you have just about all the information you need to make your choice! This post has been primarily geared towards international expats, simply because South Africans will know a lot more about the city and its pros and cons. I hope you’ve found it as interesting to read as I found it to put together.

Have I missed anything out? And have you recently made the move to Cape Town? I would love to hear what you think!

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