A Behind The Scenes Look At Expat Life In Johannesburg

expat life in johannesburg

Join us as our Instagram Manager, Jessica Randi Murray, gives us a glimpse into her family’s daily life in Johannesburg, South Africa.

I am an American expat from New York living in Johannesburg, South Africa with my husband and two children, Collins and Berkeley. We have been living in South Africa for almost 3 years. My husband is here working for a large beer company.  I think sometimes people mistake the expat life as being a bit cushy. And while I will admit that it has afforded us an amazing opportunity and we have a nice life in a beautiful climate, it hasn’t come without significant challenges! Read on to hear more about what life and travel are like for us here in South Africa! 

Day-to-day life in Johannesburg is probably not all that different from the lives most people with young children lead around the world. School and extracurricular activities like swimming lessons, soccer, ballet, riding and more fill our days.  My husband’s job demands long hours and frequent travel, so our weekday routine is important as I carry the load during the week. By the weekend, we are all exhausted and usually enjoy lazy mornings at home, followed by errands, or trying out various kid-friendly restaurants and activities nearby.  Some of our favorites include: The Herb Farm, Bryanston Organic Market, berry picking, the kids gym, The Johannesburg Botanical GardensCradle of Humankind and Nirox Sculpture Park. We spend time cooking or picnicking with friends and venture to the clubhouse in our estate for birthday parties. We also find time to FaceTime with grandparents and cousins in different time zones.

Before moving abroad, our experience traveling with children was limited to flights across the country to see family, and road trips on the east coast.  Our children were only 2.5 years and 10 months old when we moved to South Africa, so we were certainly not seasoned family travelers. One 16-hour international flight changed all of that!  Since moving, we have done the flight back and forth several times. We have taken a couple trips to Mauritius and many trips within South Africa: Cape Town, wine country, and game reserves for our absolute favorite adventure: SAFARI!  Our girls are now well-seasoned travelers. Our next trip will be to Rwanda to do gorilla trekking!

And while our expat life in Johannesburg has afforded us with a wonderful opportunity to travel and explore, it has come with many challenging times.  Being so far from family and friends is one of the hardest parts of living abroad. Daily challenges like power and water outages that can last from a few hours to a few days, along with inconsistent access to WiFi, are regular reminders that we live in a developing country. These things often pose significant risks to our health and personal safety along with the high rate of crime. The unemployment rate in South Africa is around 30%, which means that almost a third of the population here cannot afford to live. Around 50% of people live below the poverty line. This creates desperation which fuels crime. Protecting myself and my family is an exhausting constant.  

In our daily life, we navigate lanes of traffic filled with homeless people begging and we pass through townships where those in poverty live in absolutely deplorable conditions.  It is truly heart-breaking. It’s hard not to feel guilty when you enjoy a meal out with your family and as you pull out of the parking lot are confronted with people starving. Often times, I feel helpless.  We are fortunate that while here we have an opportunity to employ several people, helping them to earn a wage that allows them to provide for their families and educate their children. We feel our privilege here tenfold and we remain hopeful for this beautiful country and the people in it.

Ultimately, this is temporary for us and the opportunity to live and travel here has made us stronger, more resilient and more aware.  We hope that even if our children don’t remember much from our time here, it instills in them the notion that the world isn’t nearly as big as we often perceive it to be.  Teaching our children about life through travel is the greatest gift we’ve given them.   

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