Cape Town and the living is easy
May 10, 2012 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I am moving to Cape Town, South Africa in January. Need specific info, contained herein.

I have a fellowship in Cape Town at UCT, lasting for one year. I need some specific help with the following:

1. I have heard I need to obtain a car. Is there a zipcar type operation there? If not, what's the best way to obtain a car for a year without having my money tied up that whole time?
2. We are considering living in a hotel suite for convenience (and safety's) sake. Any recommendations? We are looking at the Four Seasons (which is not affiliated with the US chain) and the Protea Fire and Ice executive suites. If this seems stupid or like a waste of money, then what other options so you suggest? (I'll be at UCT and how far out we can live depends on #1)
3. If my husband makes a living through non-typical means (let's say he's an independent contractor), then how hard will it be to get money OUT of the country? Is it as simple as wiring money home? We will be arriving with a decent amount of money (say, in the $50,000 range). If he makes money there (again, not as a typical employee) does it simply need to equal out to the money we bring in? Even if we spend money while we are there?
posted by mrfuga0 to Travel & Transportation around South Africa (3 answers total)
1. It's a little easier getting around Cape Town without a car, than cities like Johannesburg, but yes you'd probably want to get your own car to be able to make some trips around the Cape (and elsewhere). There are no car sharing services I'm aware of. How about purchasing a cheap, 2nd hand car. You can get an idea of prices from

2. Unless you like living in a hotel, I'd suggest renting a house. Have a look at Although the crime rate is higher in SA than in other countries, with sensible precautions you should try not to let it worry you too much. I don't know Cape Town well enough to be able to suggest neighbourhoods, sorry.

3. This page states:
Currency Import regulations:
NON-RESIDENTS: local currency: ZAR 5,000.- in cash. foreign currencies and traveller's cheques: unlimited, provided declared upon arrival.

That suggest it would be wise to declare cash and valuables to customs on arrival, to prevent problems if you're leaving with a lot of cash. The banking system is quite advanced, and you can send money to other countries, but there will be a cost to doing so.

Congrats on the fellowship and enjoy!
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 10:07 PM on May 10, 2012

Yes, you probably want a car. You can get something like a good secondhand Citygolf for about $5000. Sell it again when you're done. You won't need it if you get a place close to UCT, but if you want to explore (and it would be silly not to :-) you need wheels. Taxis come in two types, cattletruck and expensive. Neither are options.

Some hotels offer long term rates but it's not something I'm familiar with. There are many many rental options around UCT, specifically because it's a student area. Unless you're allergic to students, which is understandable :-)

You can spend money using VISA or Mastercard, same as I do when I'm in the USA. Maybe leaving your money that side until you spend it makes more sense?

Getting money to the USA is a bit of a pain, I tend to use PayPal a lot. One can get a bank draft but it's probably easier to leave the money in dollar bill form and take it with you. Except of course if you get robbed. Which brings me to:

South Africa has a horribly high violent crime rate. However, this is very localised. If you look like a tourist, you will be a target (this is true of most countries). Google "condition white" and make sure you're never in it.

If you make a whole lot of money, buy a bunch of Kruger Rands and slip it in your shoe or something :-)

I live in Fish Hoek and work not that far from UCT, it's a half-hour drive. On the other hand, from the northern side you're screwed, because all the traffic heads into Cape Town proper (Google Earth is your friend). Consider anything from Rondebosch and south to Muizenberg, Fish Hoek. Closer to the M3 is higher income thus more expensive but also more classy. Don't get a place too close to the M5 on the southern end.

Better yet, email me.
posted by wrm at 1:23 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I lived in Cape Town as an exchange student at UCT for a year, circa 2004-2005.

You will definitely want a car - we did SO much stuff that we wouldn't have been able to do without one: driving up to Paarl to go wine-tasting, weekend trips further afield, driving around the Cape, etc etc. etc. I took the street hail mini-bus group taxi/bus things a lot in the day (Mowbry KAAP!), and it was fine, interesting, and super cheap, but you'll want to drive/taxi at night.

The parking at UCT proper is apparently terrible - lots of people would drive in, park near-ish, and then walk the rest of the way. I lived in a Mowbray, a close-in suburb, and just walked 20ish minutes to school. Later on I lived with my boyfriend in Rondebosch/Newlands. At that point he was commuting to UCT through a driving/walking strategy and had no problems. Observatory (Obs) is a big student neighborhood with houses and some restaurants and bars and things - the closest thing to a college town atmosphere. Not sure if you're interested in that or not. Finding a house to rent should be feasible, and a lot cheaper/more convenient than staying in a hotel.

Safety: theft and muggings are a real concern. Our house had the TV/DVD player stolen out of it, and some friends were mugged at knifepoint. The conventional wisdom at the time (among the white, US exchange students, not all of whom were savvy travelers) was not to walk alone in a clueless-looking way, and not to walk around at night. Night-time was driving or taxi only. Most of the serious serious violence happens in the townships, but the incidents of violent muggings or hijackings is much higher than in the US.

South Africa does have export controls on money - I can't speak to the details as I wasn't earning any money locally, but you're smart to think ahead about it. I believe that it mostly concerns preventing capital flight - as a non-resident you should be subject to looser standards, but definitely look into it in more detail.

I got a local bank account and it made paying rent and such SO much easier - plus I had my account hooked up to my mobile so that I'd get an SMS whenever I used the account - useful for peace of mind. It needed a bunch of documentation but it was pretty straightfoward.

It can be hard to meet local people for real friendships, especially if you're spending a lot of time with your husband. People are quite friendly, but it's hard to break into a real social circle. To the extent that you can hang out with grad students, I'd do that. UCT also has a number of student activities groups which were very active - hiking, scuba, photography, martial arts, etc. Not all of them are very student-y - many of them have lots of grad student-aged people, and that's a good place to meet people.

Enjoy! I loved Cape Town!
posted by foodmapper at 7:25 AM on May 11, 2012

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