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Africa is overlooked by many expats seeking a new life – but with growing numbers of British nationals relocating to beautiful South Africa or the astonishing landscapes of Kenya, that looks set to change.
One of the challenges in moving to Africa is that every country is unique – in culture, economics, political stability, and living costs.
The critical thing to remember is that no less than 54 states altogether, including the island nations – with a broad choice from bustling cities to the sprawling Sahara, mountains and glorious tropical beaches.
Look beyond the perception of a part of the world beset by challenges, and you’ll find a remarkable place with some of the most extraordinary natural beauty and rich culture in the world.
This article wanders through the wilds of Africa to take a glimpse into the reality of the top 10 places to live for British expats, ideal for those seeking a life less ordinary.
Table of contents
1. South Africa
The most popular destination in the continent, by a fair way, South Africa is home to around 212,000 Brits. So if you love natural beauty, thriving cities, excellent universities and award-winning wine, it’s a great choice.
South Africa is right at the tip of the continent, with borders adjacent to six other countries. The nation is extensive, with 11 official languages and an astounding depth of cultural heritage.
The tourist months run from May to September when wildlife ventures out to watering holes and rivers during the dry season. Nights can be cold, but the days can still be blisteringly hot.
Some parts of South Africa are more dangerous than others, particularly some neighbourhoods in Johannesburg.
Stick to Cape Town, the West Coast and the Garden Route – a stunning stretch between the Eastern Cape and Western Cape – and you’ll keep safe.
Kenya has 29,000 UK expats in residence and is perhaps most famous for some extraordinary wildlife and safari reserves.
Medical care isn’t the best, so you’re wise to opt for great private cover to access the private hospitals in the big cities if needed.
Kenya is on the East African border, with mountains and plateaus in the country’s middle, where the capital Nairobi is situated. The east coast touches on the Indian Ocean.
The temperatures reach between 20 °C and 28 °C during the day, year-round. Of course, it’s hotter on the coast. Given the proximity to the equator, there isn’t summer and winter to speak of.
Head to Lake Victoria to while away the day spotting zebras or soaking up the rays on the south coast beaches, and you’ll steer clear of any crime.
Areas around the Somali border are best avoided, as some parts of Nairobi are vulnerable to terrorism and kidnappings.
Nigeria is a top choice for professional expats, with around 16,000 British nationals in residence, most in Lagos. The economic engine of Africa has the largest economy and is famous for the colourful local customs and Afrobeats music scene.
The capital is Abuja, but many of the large multinationals are based in Lagos.
Like many African countries, Nigeria can be sweltering in the day, reaching up to 40 °C, and dipping down to 0 °C in the northern hills overnight.
One of the plus points of Nigeria is that English is the official language, and locals are often eager to help.
However, there are some dangerous regions, and it’s worth being fully versed in the no-go areas before venturing anywhere alone.
Many employers in Nigeria provide cars and drivers to ensure their expat workers negotiate the chaotic roads and stay away from the riskier zones.
Now, something starkly different – we did say that Africa is a continent of huge contrasts. For example, Egypt is world-famous for its remarkable artefacts and historical sites.
Whether the allure of the pyramids draws you, have always wanted to ride a camel through the desert, or feel charmed by distinct Egyptian heritage, it’s a beautiful place to visit – and even better to live.
There are 14,000 UK residents in Egypt, with many based on Cairo, Dahab, Upper Egypt or the Sinai Peninsula. This unique country is both African and Arabic, with a vast mixture of international expats.
While there are some areas where foreigners are advised not to go, the most significant issues in Egypt are haggling and aggressive salespeople – but locals are also hot. If you get used to the tactics in the market, you’ll soon get accustomed to making a quick exit.
Most expats in the small country of Malawi live in the capital, Lilongwe or Blantyre. The borders neighbour Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the state is known as the warm heart of Africa.
You might find that some goods are hard to come by and that power cuts occur regularly. Still, the lifestyle change has compelling benefits, such as the outstanding range of businesses, NGOs, hospitals and schools mainly staffed by expat professionals.
While Malawi might be one of the least developed countries, it does have a thriving farming industry with local produce, including tea, cotton, sugarcane and tobacco.
There are around 7,400 Brits in Malawi, enjoying the laid back nature of local life and making the most of the astounding sunsets and wildlife.
Malawi ranks 59th on the Global Peace Index, similar to Greece and safer than Cyprus.
Zimbabwe is another African nation that has struggled with political regimes, most notably under Robert Mugabe.
That said, it’s a lot more than may appear, with excellent educational standards as indicated by the 92 per cent literacy rate.
Around 6,100 Brits live in Zimbabwe, primarily in Harare, with a warm climate, multicultural population and a range of malls, private schools and numerous green spaces and parks.
There are issues with power outages, yet Zimbabwe is a nation reclaiming its culture. Even the busy capital is a beautiful city with relatively low crime rates and welcoming social culture.
Although southern Africa has had its share of troubles, most places in Zimbabwe are safe.
Urban and tourist areas are the most frequent places for pickpocketing, and it’s inadvisable to travel alone at night if you’re not familiar with the areas.
Life in Ghana varies depending on living in a big city, such as Accra or Kumasi. Around 68 per cent of the population live in more rural locations where life is simple, rustic, and a place of incredible village communities.
There are 5,900 Brits in the country, mainly working in the cities where solar power and pipelines provide more stable amenities.
Agriculture makes up over half of the national GDP, and while there isn’t a great deal of public transport, the charm and unique nature of the country makes it somewhere truly special.
One of the best parts about living in Ghana is the cuisine – from jollof rice to banks and fried fish; the local food is incredibly varied, with almost everything sourced from local farmers.
While many parts of Ghana are poor, it is safe – violent crime is rare, and thefts are unusual. People are generally friendly, and it’s often chosen as a place for travellers to visit the continent for the first time.
Most of the 5,800 UK expats living in Zambia head for Lusaka. The wild Zambian countryside is breathtaking, with miles of countryside and, of course, Victoria Falls.
Like much of Africa, infrastructure isn’t excellent. Still, if you’re adaptable, you’ll find this an incredible country, with around 70 tribes and a spirit of collaboration you’ll find in only rare spots of the world.
Properties in Lusaka are large, with generous gardens, and expats tend to opt for serviced residential communities complete with swimming pools and tennis courts.
Provided you take the usual precautions, Zambia is a safe place to live. However, break-ins are probably the most frequent crime, so locking doors and avoiding valuables on display is wise.
While not one of Africa’s most prominent expat destinations, there are 5,500 UK citizens in Tanzania, and this growing tourist hotspot has a great deal to offer.
Most people live in the northern border regions or along the east coast, with the larger cities of Dar es Salaam and Dodoma being the primary residential zones – with very few people live in the country’s middle areas.
Growing construction, tourism, telecommunications and agriculture industries have attracted major businesses to Tanzania. Yet, it remains low cost, with an infrastructure that isn’t developed by western standards but offers an authentic African life experience.
Extreme poverty in some parts of Tanzania can be a massive culture shock to expats. However, it is also a special country with some of the largest nature reserves in Africa and spots the Great Wildebeest Migration every year.
Botswana is considered the safest country in Africa. It is a peaceful nation ranked 33rd safest in the world according to the 2020 Global Peace Index (making it safer than living in Spain).
It’s also a growing economy, a valuable diamond sector, and a respect for nature that creates an excellent climate for families.
From the eco-lodges in the Okavango Delta to the camping experience in the heart of the ecosystem, you can spot some of the rarest creatures in the world here – living harmoniously outside the capital city Gaborone.
Ask any of the 5,000 UK nationals living in Botswana, and you’ll find it is a safe country with low living costs and good road networks, and an all-around friendly and peaceful place to live.
Top 10 African Countries FAQ
Every country has safer parts and more risky crime hotspots.
Still, given the history of civil disturbances and serious crime in some African countries, you must check out wherever you’re heading to ensure it’s safe for expats.
Safe cities include:
• Nairobi, Kenya
• Windhoek, Namibia
• Gaborone, Botswana
Africa is a vast continent – and the second-largest in the world after Asia.
There are multiple border crossings between the 54 nations, with the landmass itself three times larger than Europe.
Some borders facilitate easy travel, but others have strict visa criteria, so it’s wise to check with the local consulate before attempting any cross-border journeys.
Again, Africa is enormous, so it’s tricky to answer the average living costs comprehensively. However, if we take South Africa and Egypt as two examples, you’ll find that:
• Groceries are 37% cheaper in South Africa and 54% less expensive in Egypt.
• Rental costs drop by 49% between the UK and South Africa and down by 82% in Egypt.
Of course, a lot depends on whether you’re earning a British salary or a pension, but the living costs are significantly lower no matter where you choose in Africa.
It depends on the country, the local economy, and your skillset.
The best places to find work in Africa are Kenya, with a booming oil sector, and Nigeria, which has the largest economy in the continent and high demand for professionals in finance and engineering.
Most African cities have a range of international schools and expat communities that are welcoming to British expats.
In terms of general living standards and family amenities, Durban and Grahamstown in South Africa and Lagos in Nigeria rank among the most popular destinations for families with children.
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