Recruitment | Executive Search

Working in South Africa – all you need to know

As one of the top foreign language recruitment agencies in South Africa, Language Recruiters regularly get emails from young people who would like to work in South Africa. The reality is that it is far from easy to find a job or to get a work visa arranged, making the dream of working in South Africa for many unfortunately difficult to reach. As a recruitment agency specialising in foreign languages, we are in a privileged position to help foreigners with their job hunt in South Africa.

Here are the most frequently asked questions we find in our inbox:

1. How popular is working in South Africa?

Last year we received over 1250 applications from people who were serious about living and working in South Africa. Dutch, together with Germans and Portuguese are the largest groups of applicants.

2. What advice can you give foreigners who want to work in South Africa?

We explain South Africa is an emerging economy with a unique history. We also explain, that the country is struggling with high unemployment (especially among the black population), but that South Africa is simultaneously dealing with a shortage of certain skills and that the lifestyle is aaaamazing.

If the candidate does not fit into any of the critical skills categories and hence qualifies for a critical skills visa, we usually suggest to work in a Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) company for a while. You will earn money, build connections and shift work will give you the opportunity to get to know Cape Town during the day (shifts usually happen between 7am to 10pm…so no need for match sticks). A foreign candidate with a marketing degree and foreign language skills for instance could initially take a position in technical support in a contact centre. While a call center job might not be the most exciting of all jobs, working for a BPO gives the candidate access to the company’s corporate work visa. With a bit of luck, the candidate will be promoted within the company.

3. Is it easier or harder to find a job in Cape Town than in cities, such as Johannesburg or Durban?

Located in the business centres of South Africa, companies in Cape Town and Johannesburg generally employ more foreigners. Johannesburg generally offers the better paid positions. In Cape Town you earn a little bit less. Depending on the industry there are jobs available in other parts of the country too.

4. Are there many jobs in South Africa, specifically filled with foreign candidates? And if so, what kind of jobs are they?

Industries employing foreigners include: Film Industry, tourism and hospitality, climate change and sustainable development, digital marketing to name a few. Most jobs, open to foreigners without a work visa, are positions in customer services. Those customer service positions are often in tourism and e-commerce. Many big brands have moved their customer service department to Cape Town. Foreigners in possession of critical skills, eligible for the new critical skills visa are invited to live and job hunt in South Africa for up to a year without having secured a job offer.

5. How big is the chance that a foreign ‘white’ person gets a job that South African candidates have applied for?

In short: How big is the impact of Black Economic Empowerment on the job hunt? Not all jobs are tied to BEE regulations. The job ad usually tells you if it is in fact a BEE position. Chances are however, that your potential future employer will ask you if you have secured a work visa if this is not stipulated in your CV.

6. Do companies help candidates to arrange a work visa or must I do that myself?

Ultimately, it’s the foreigners responsibility to apply for a work visa. Should the candidate decide to work in the customer service industry, the company will usually sponsor the work visa for the candidate. Corporate work visas involve far less admin.

7. What is the average South African salary?

Salaries are lower than in most European countries. In South Africa the cost of living is lower too. In Johannesburg, the salaries are generally higher than in Cape Town, which is due to the ‘tax’ you pay for the sea and the mountain 😉 To provide a framework: a senior marketer in Cape Town earns anything from R30,000 per month upwards. Someone working in customer services earns between R12,000 and R16,000 depending on experience. Bar staff and waiters often live off tips.

8. Do companies offer additional benefits like pension and health insurance? Is there a scheme in case you become ill or incapacitated?

Smaller companies, agencies and start-ups often do not offer any additional benefits. Larger, listed companies and Business Process Outsourcing companies do. To what extent companies pay depends on the company and the negotiation skills of the candidate.

9. What tips can we give foreigners who approach us for a job?

We always advise people to be flexible in the work they do here, especially if they do not have critical skills. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter to stay in the loop about upcoming vacancies. Regularly attend networking events like Xing and Internations.

10. What is the impact of the new legislation surrounding work and residence permits in South Africa and how does the new legislation affect foreigners who want to work in South Africa?

The critical skills work visa is a new visa category, which allows foreigners with exceptional skills to stay in South Africa for up to a year without a job offer. With the new visa legislation in place, it will be in particular more difficult than before to request a general work visa or a work and endorsements based on life partner visas. In order to apply for a general work visa according to the new Immigration Regulations the Department of Labour must confirm that all terms and conditions of the employment offer, including salary and benefits, are not inferior to those in the relevant market segments for SA citizen and permanent residents. Life partner visa applicants have to prove that they have been in a relationship for more than 2 years to qualify.

Again, to work in South Africa you need a work visa. That can be quite a task for which you should use the professional service of an immigration agency. Some companies, especially business process outsourcing companies are willing to pay for your work visa for South Africa.

Language Recruiters is a special branch of the recruitment agency Initiate International, which is since 2007 specifically aimed at foreigners who want to live and work in South Africa. Is your dream to live and work in South Africa? Please contact us: To browse current vacancies in South Africa follow the link below: