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A Working Holiday in South Africa

Working holidays or gap years are for young people wanting to see the world, earn some cash, and gain work experience. They are not as well known in South Africa as they are in Australia and New Zealand, thus it is more challenging to arrange a gap year in South Africa.

South Africa, particularly Cape Town, is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in the world. Many visitors, interns and exchange students fall in love and end up staying in Cape Town their entire lives.

In Australia work in the Outback, in hospitality, and on fruit farms are popular gap year options. In contrast, although there are a number of fruit farms in the greater Cape Town region and surrounds, South African farms seldom hire Europeans for this kind of work. Reasons include a plentiful supply of unskilled labour, crime (scantily clad females picking apples might become the target of unwanted attention), low salaries and the non-existence of an official South African gap year visa.

Australia offers a 12-month visa to foreigners wanting to visit Australia for a working holiday. To qualify you have to be between 18 and 30 years of age, have no dependent children, be in possession of a valid passport, and going to Australia for the sole purpose of holidaying (any work undertaken is purely for financial support while travelling). You must have sufficient funds for a return fare or fare to another destination, as well as enough money for the first part of your stay.

Organising a gap year in South Africa is slightly trickier, but it can be done.

We identified the four major hurdles that need to be cleared to fulfill your dream of a gap year in South Africa:

Gap year South Africa - Hurdle 1: High unemployment

In South Africa unemployment stands at approximately 25%. Unskilled workers are a significant part of this number, thus foreigners (particularly those lacking skills and experience) will have difficulty being considered for vacancies.

Gap year South Africa - Hurdle 2: Black economic empowerment

Black economic empowerment (BEE) is an initiative promoting equal employment opportunities for people of all races in South Africa. Companies have to meet certain BEE requirements, and consequently employ people of all colours, including formerly underprivileged. If a candidate has the right skills, however, especially scarce or exceptional skills, BEE will not be used to exclude them.

Gap year South Africa - Hurdle 3: No working holiday visa

South Africa does not have a gap year visa option. Unless you are on a study permit in South Africa, which allows you to work 20 hours per month, you need to apply for a formal work permit. The portfolio of permits includes the general work permit, exceptional skills permit, quota work permit, and the corporate work permit. None of those permits is quick or straightforward, and for many of them a job offer is a prerequisite to even apply. Your search for a suitable gap year permit might have led you to the volunteer permit and the visitor permit with the option to work. Neither of them allows a candidate to earn an income, however, which makes them unsuitable for a working holiday.

Gap year South Africa - Hurdle 4: Low salaries

Unskilled workers might earn as little as R1 980 a month. This salary category includes jobs in hospitality (waitering), gardening, cleaning, and being a petrol attendant or a car guard. Such salaries enable people to merely cover their basic needs, such as a shack in a slum without paid electricity or private access to running water. This salary will not pay for a medical aid, pension fund, a flat in a secure area, a car/safe transport, healthy nutrition and so on.

Is there a solution that will make a gap year in South Africa possible?

The growing Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector in South Africa may be the answer. BPO offers opportunities in state-of-the-art companies that provide amazing benefits and perks. To encourage foreign investment, the South African government allows BPO companies to apply for corporate work permits that enable them to employ a large number of foreign nationals with language skills. Free lunches, medical aid, massages, pedicures, manicures, bonuses and stunning office space are just some of the many benefits of working in a customer service centre. Salaries are high enough to pay for a room in a flat, a small car, and a share in Cape Town's fabulous lifestyle. In addition, many customer service centres require some shift work, which enables employees to lie on the beach, go surfing, climb Table Mountain, or shop at the Waterfront during normal office hours.

While your peers are climbing ladders to pick apples on a fruit farm, you are gaining valuable customer service and marketing experience which is important in any job.

Because social media are becoming a progressively more important component of customer service, customer service jobs are more fun and challenging than ever before. They also involve a variety of communication channels, which requires intense training.

Language Recruiters recruits for a variety of BPO companies in Cape Town, and will be able to help you plan your working holiday in South Africa. Drop us an email and we will phone you to discuss your gap year options in South Africa’s mother city.