February 2, 2020 — For Europeans and residents of the British Commonwealth, the answer to that question might be yes, it is a great choice for an expatriate retirement. The area around Cape Town at the southern end of the Continent is particularly appealing. This article, based on our recent trip to the country, will explore what it might be like to retire in South Africa, list some possible retirement towns, and provide the pros and cons of retiring here. Our visit was brief, so the impressions we formed on our own and from our guides are not comprehensive. We welcome those with more experience to chime in in the Comments section.
South Africa has long had the most prosperous economy in Africa. Much of that wealth came from gold, diamonds, and agriculture. Business is strong as well. Since apartheid was eliminated in 1994 the economy has softened, but still strong. Some people believe the Rand, the National currency, is undervalued by as much as 60%.
The southern part of the country around Cape Town is where people from Europe and Africa are moving to. This region is seen by many as better run than other parts of the country.
Cape Town is a very pretty city at the southern edge of the continent, not far from the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. The city flows to the sea beneath majestic Table Mountain. While you could live in many parts of the city, the area going east along the coast has beautiful apartments overlooking white beaches and the blue sea.
The city and surrounding neighborhoods and suburbs attract retirees and swallows, the European term for snowbirds. They come for the ocean, the climate, and the outdoor lifestyle. While two bedroom apartments with the best views in top areas sell for millions, the average property price in Cape Town is far less, about $100,000. Some of the most attractive places to retire or be a swallow are Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Chapman’s Bay, Kommetjie, and Scarborough. The farther from the city the more affordable. Llandudno has no street lights or stores, and is quite private. Traffic can be a problem to many of these towns because there is only road Running between the ocean and Table Mountain. But the beauty of the sea and white sandy coves underneath majestic mountains is as scenic as it gets.
The Cape of Good Hope is a long peninsula that forms the western end of False Bay. The northern and eastern parts of that Bay can be accessed by a good highway, the N2. The towns in that area offer another interesting range of retirement possibilities.
Our guide described Somerset West this way: if you put a roof over the town it would be the largest retirement home in the world (he probably hasn’t heard of the Villages in Florida). Somerset West has a famous vineyard, Verdelegen, which is set on the grounds of a former Dutch colonial estate.
Towns in the area east of Cape Town enjoy the best of many worlds. They either have beautiful beaches or are near them, they lie underneath beautiful mountains, and vineyards, wineries, and golf courses abound. There are any number of other nice towns in the area, such as Gordon’s Bay. All of them are close enough to enjoy the big city attractions of Cape Town.
Stellenbosch, slightly to the north, is the most appealing town in this area. It has a famous university of the same name. Restaurants and interesting shops go on for blocks. This town in the heart of South Africa’s wine region is prosperous and pricey. Most residents are white. It has a lot of energy and beauty. Nearby is Town of Franschhoek, which boasts Boschendal, a gourmet level restaurant and winery, as well as museums on the Huguenot settlers and motorcars.
The Garden District
On this visit we did not go east beyond Gordon’s Bay. But further east and west along the coast there are many other possible places to retire. The area on the coast west of Cape Town called the Garden District is also very popular with swallows from Europe. Kynsna is a small town on the coast west of Cape Town that attracts many retirees. Sedgefield is another popular retirement town in the Garden District.
How difficult is to retire in South Africa?
Compared to many other countries, it is very easy to retire in South Africa. The main requirement is that you have to demonstrate a guaranteed income of R37,000 per month (US $2650). Many U.S. or European retirees can easily afford that with their government retirement benefits. Tourist visas are for 90 days, with the possibility of renewal for 90 more. But if you intend to retire in South Africa you should avoid problems by applying for a retirement visa. For more here is how to apply for a retirement visa.
Pros of a South African retirement
Cost of living. The rand is weak so the dollar and euro go far. The price of a great meal with fabulous wines for 2 might only be $50 or even less. Homes and apartments are relatively inexpensive.
Climate. The country is in the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are reversed, which is why it attracts swallows seeking to escape cold and dark winters. Even in winter the temperature only gets into the 40s.
Food and wine. South African wine is excellent and under appreciated outside of the country. The food, especially seafood and beef, are excellent. The local cuisine reflects native and Indian roots and is very good too.
Lifestyle. The weather is good and suited for an outdoor lifestyle. There are mountains to hike, golf courses and lawn bowling, and swimming. While the ocean is too cold for more than a quick dip, tidal pools and pools are popular.
Medical. The country, which featured the world’s first heart transplant, is justly proud of it medical care. Even it’s poorest citizens can go to a high quality hospital.
The cons of retiring here
Government. Many people are unhappy with the government and the successors to Nelson Mandela as President. His former party, the ANC, has a solid majority but has been wracked with corruption and inefficiency. Some wealthier citizens are starting to leave the country.
The economy is weakening. The unemployment rate is 39% or more and among the Youth it is 50%. Average Income is only $700 per month on average. The trains don’t run on time, the national airline loses money, and education is declining in quality.
Traffic. Driving in Cape Town is terrible because of its location squeezed between the sea and mountains. Commuters spend hours going only short distances.
Location. South Africa is a long way from just about anywhere. Popping home for a family visit is an ordeal (the flight from Johannesburg to Atlanta, GA is 15 hours).
People looking for favorable climate, lifestyle, and cost of living might find South Africa an ideal place to retire. On the whole it has more plusses than minuses. If it appeals, you should come for a visit, and consider renting a place for a month or season to see for yourself.
Comments? Do you have experience with living in South Africa? Or would you consider retiring there? If so, we would love to see your thoughts in the Comments section below.
For further reading:
Mini-Guide to Retiring in South Africa