Where to Live

The best cities in South Africa to live in

There are nine provinces in the country for expats to choose from which doesn’t make choosing where to live in South Africa easy. Helping you narrow down the selection, this guide takes a brief look at some of the main cities in South Africa along with South African security.

Cities in South Africa

By Expatica

Updated 3-1-2024

This guide offers advice on the safest places to live in South Africa. From the hustle and bustle of the larger townships such as Cape Town to the more tranquil pace of life on offer a little off the beaten track, learn more about your options.

Relocating to a new country can be an overwhelming experience. That’s especially the case if you’re moving to South Africa. South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world; there are plenty of opportunities for expats, but getting your head around the different areas can be confusing. If you’re planning on renting in South Africa or buying South African property, you’ll need to think carefully about which South African cities suit your needs.

Much is written about South Africa’s crime record. Although the risk factor varies across cities, this is something you will need to factor into your decision. In this guide, we take a look at the main cities in South Africa and some of the more beautiful areas for expats to live.


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Cities in South Africa: Which location to choose

While Cape Town is the most popular city for expats, research by Mercer in 2016 showed Durban to have the best quality of life. Of the top 450 cities in the world, only three South African cities made the list: Durban (85th), Cape Town (92nd), and Johannesburg (95th).

Cape Town (South Western South Africa)

Many expats move to Cape Town with its rich vein of history, iconic landmarks, and modern amenities. In this guide, we’ll summarize some of the most popular areas of Cape Town for expats. For a more comprehensive guide, check out our full article on where to live in Cape Town.

  • Atlantic seaboard (Camps Bay, Fresnaye, Bantry Bay, Clifton) – Popular with wealthy expats buying beachside homes, and close to the city center
  • City Bowl – An area with plenty of modern city amenities and good quality schools at the foot of Table Mountain
  • Bo Kaap/Waterkant – A blast of colour, with brightly painted houses and modern apartments. Home to the city’s Muslim community.
  • Constantia, Tokal & Bishopscourt – Grand gated properties in a prestigious area around 25 minutes from the city centre
  • Bloubergstrand/Blaauwberg Coast – Popular with watersports enthusiasts and with spectacular views
  • Hout Bay – Home to weekend commuters, pretty beaches and picturesque walking trails

Living in Durban (Eastern South Africa)

Durban is South Africa’s third-largest city, and is known for its beaches and warm, sunny climate. While the beachfront area is popular, it is also the noisiest part of the city. Rent costs and the overall cost of living in Durban are lower than in Cape Town. Larger properties can be found in Durban North, and Morningside is also popular with families moving to the city.

Towards the center, Musgrave and The Berea are among the most exclusive areas. A little further out, the suburb of Kloof is one of the most attractive choices for expats. Expats living in Durban can also experience good quality healthcare, with private facilities of a comparable standard to European countries.

Living in Johannesburg (North Eastern South Africa)

Johannesburg is the economic centre of South Africa, and can be a frenetic place to live. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, there are gated communities in its more affluent suburbs. Rent prices in Johannesburg are lower than in equivalent major cities in the Western world. Some parts of the city do have high crime rates; expats in search of a higher quality of life tend to flock to the more exclusive neighborhoods.

Johannesburg is an exciting, frenetic city to live in

Living in Pretoria (North Eastern South Africa)

Pretoria is the administrative capital of South Africa, and thus is home to most local government departments. Pretoria is a cosmopolitan city. While it has a smaller expat population than the likes of Cape Town, there are some neighbourhoods that are suitable for expats, such as Waterkloof and Brooklyn.

Levels of South African security

South Africa is a diverse country and many expats choose to live in the larger cities discussed earlier. But there are some other safe and suitable areas a little further off the beaten track.

Port St John’s (Eastern Cape)

Port St John’s is located on the coastline of the Indian Ocean. This is the ideal choice for families with young children deciding where to live in South Africa. With Port Elizabeth and Durban not too far away, finding a suitable South African school shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Port St John’s is an area of great beauty and a suitable place to enjoy a relaxed and laid-back lifestyle.

Cape St. Francis (Eastern Cape)

Close to Port Elizabeth, Cape St. Francis is a quiet seaside town, which is popular with local tourists in the summer holidays. The area has a low crime rate overall, and most people don’t feel the need to live in gated compounds with security presence.

The West Coast

The towns of Yzerfontein, Churchhaven and St. Helena Bay on the sparsely populated west coast are among the safest areas for expats to live in South Africa. These areas are an ideal place for expats in search of a peaceful lifestyle.

South African security

The Garden Route (Mossel Bay to the Storms River, South West of South Africa)

Situated between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, towns on the Garden Route offer a safe haven for expats with young families. For those with higher budgets looking at where to live in South Africa, there are plenty of stunning homes on estates with excellent security measures, and in the likes of George and Knysna expats can find the best golf real estate.

South African security: Crime statistics

For more information about the crime rates and levels of South African security in some of the main cities click here.