Joburg fails to entice qualified expats as Nairobi scores

Crime and inadequate public transport cited as flaws in SA’s big metros

Johannesburg's municipal managers have much to do if they want to attract qualified professionals, the latest InterNations index shows. File photo.
Johannesburg's municipal managers have much to do if they want to attract qualified professionals, the latest InterNations index shows. File photo.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Johannesburg has emerged as one of the worst cities in the world for expatriates, ranked on metrics including quality of life, getting settled, work life, finance and housing.

Four African metros feature in the 57 cities scored in the InterNations Expat City Ranking 2021.

Nairobi ranks 12th, followed by Cape Town (41st) and Cairo (52nd).

Johannesburg, at 55th, is among the world’s worst cities to live in, according to the rankings, along with Rome (57th), Milan, Istanbul, Tokyo, Cairo, Paris, Maastricht, Moscow, and New York (48th).

The crime rate in both SA cities is cited as a reason for concern.

Best and Worst Cities for Expats.
Best and Worst Cities for Expats.
Image: Internations

Kuala Lumpur (1st), Málaga, Dubai, Sydney, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Prague, Mexico City, Basel, and Madrid (10th) are the top 10 cities for expats to live in.

Of the African cities, three rank among the bottom 10 in the Quality of Urban Living and Urban Work Life Indices, except for Nairobi, which lands in 34th place in the latter index. Nairobi also outperforms the other cities when it comes to the ease of getting settled, as well as finances and housing.

The Expat City Ranking is based on the annual Expat Insider survey by InterNations, with 12,420 respondents representing 174 nationalities in 2021.

Here are some of the comments about living in Africa’s four ranked cities:

Nairobi: Friendly and welcoming for expats

Nairobi does especially well in the Getting Settled Index (4th). Nearly four in five expats in Nairobi (78%) describe the local residents as generally friendly (69% globally), and 62% find it easy to make new friends (48% globally).

Nairobi also lands among the global top 10 in the Finance & Housing Index (6th): 82% of expats have no trouble finding housing, compared to 60% globally. Additionally, close to half the respondents (49%) find housing affordable (42% globally).

However, Nairobi ends up in the bottom 10 in the Quality of Urban Living Index (50th). The availability (48th) and quality of medical care (50th) are particular low lights.

In addition, 36% are unhappy with the local transportation infrastructure (15% globally). A Dutch expat says “poor maintenance of local roads” is one of the things he dislikes most about life in Nairobi.

Cape Town: Great climate but little personal safety

Cape Town performs particularly poorly in the Urban Work Life Index (54th): expats are unhappy with their job security (38% vs 20% globally) and the state of the local economy (53% vs 19% globally). A German expat highlights the “local economic problems”, while a Namibian respondent mentions the “high unemployment rate”.

The Mother City also lands in the bottom 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index (51st),  with especially low results in the Safety & Politics Subcategory (56th), where only Johannesburg (57th) performs worse.

The survey showed 42% of expats in Cape Town are dissatisfied with the political stability (16% globally), and 43% worry about their personal safety (8% globally).

While the public transportation system is another low light (52% negative ratings vs 20% globally), 93% enjoy the climate and weather (66% globally).

A big plus for Cape Town is in the Leisure & Climate subcategory, where it places 3rd: 81% are satisfied with the local leisure options (72% globally).

The survey authors commented: “Maybe the leisure options help expats socialise. They find it easy to make new friends (53% vs 48% globally) and feel at home in Cape Town (72% vs 65% globally). This leads to a good ranking in the Getting Settled Index (15th).”

In the Finance & Housing (13th) category, expats said housing is easy to find (78% vs 60% globally), but only 40% find it affordable. “In fact, 29% say their disposable household income is not enough to cover all expenses.”

Cairo: Affordable but very poor quality of life

Cairo is in the bottom 10 of the overall ranking, as well as in two indices.

In the Quality of Urban Living Index (56th), expats rank transportation (52nd) and health & environment (57th) especially poorly. 

An Afghan expat says the “poor air quality and lack of green spaces” are what he dislikes most about life in Cairo. Additionally, nearly one in three (32%) rate the quality of medical care negatively (14% globally).

In the Urban Work Life Index (53rd), Cairo does not fare much better, coming 52nd in the Job Security subcategory and 53rd in the Job & Career subcategory.

On the upside, the city performs much better in the Getting Settled Index (26th): nearly three in five expats (57%) say finding friends in Cairo is easy (48% globally), and 70% describe the local residents as generally friendly (69% globally).

The city receives its best results in the Local Cost of Living Index (7th): 63% of expats rate this factor positively (48% globally). “I like how cheap it is to live here,” says a Burundian expat. “It is an advantage for someone who is looking to settle in Egypt.”

Johannesburg: Issues with safety, work and finances

Johannesburg ranks 14 places below Cape Town, coming last in the Quality of Urban Living Index (57th) and two out of its four subcategories: Transportation (57th) and Safety & Politics (57th).

Around two-thirds of expats are unhappy with the public transportation system and worry about their personal safety (68% vs 8% globally). An Irish expat feels he must “always be on guard due to security issues”.

Moreover, Johannesburg ranks 52nd in the Health & Environment subcategory and expats consider healthcare to be neither available (20% vs 11% globally) nor affordable (40% vs  21% globally).

The city also ends up in the bottom 10 of the Urban Work Life Index (52nd): 41% are dissatisfied with the local career opportunities (33% globally). A Kenyan expat shares: “The amount of time it took to find a job has been stressful, overwhelming and frightening.”

Expats also rate job security (29% vs 20% globally) and the state of the local economy (48% vs 19% globally) negatively.

Johannesburg performs a lot better in the Getting Settled (29th) and the Finance & Housing (24th) indices. However, the latter has mixed results, with the city ranking 56th in the Finance subcategory and 10th in the Housing subcategory.

More than half the expats in Johannesburg (52%) find housing affordable (42% globally), while 70% say it is easy to find (60% globally). But 28% are unhappy with their financial situation (19% globally), and 42% say that their disposable household income is not enough to cover all expenses (23% globally).

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