From Boston to Cape Town: An American in Cape Town
I’m Amy, and I’m an American most recently from Boston, living in Cape Town, South Africa with my husband, Chas.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband is a Postdoctoral researcher at M.I.T. in the U.S. We’ve always wanted to live in another country, so when the opportunity came up to continue his research at the University of Cape Town, we jumped at the chance to move abroad.
2. How do you make a living?
I’m a freelance copywriter and editor, and I also write creatively, which is a generous way of saying that I’m mostly unemployed. Thankfully, what I do make, I make in USD, which goes further here in South Africa. The job hunting I have done in Cape Town hasn’t been very successful as it's a bit of a visa nightmare to get a work permit for SA.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Thankfully, we are able to communicate frequently with friends and family through FaceTime, emailing, and texting. Being on social media and having a blog is also an easy way to keep in touch.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Cape Town?
Cape Town is such a wonderful city to live in—you are basically always 20 minutes from the best beaches, hiking, and a vibrant downtown. We love how there is so much to do, and how well we can eat. Affordably, too! It’s also been so fun to travel from Cape Town to explore the coasts, Namibia, Kruger Park, and soon Botswana and Zambia. South Africans are also some of the nicest, most inviting people out there. Everyone we’ve met is generous, hospitable, and genuinely friendly.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Cape Town?
South Africa is so far from the U.S. It’s a big trip to take and flights are expensive, so visiting home is difficult.
6. What do you miss most?
The usual things—family, friends, and my pets. I miss not having a car. And I desperately miss fast internet.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Like moving to any city, it can be hard to meet new people. But, Cape Town has so many things going on, and I’ve found it the most effective to join social groups. I’ve gotten involved in a writing group, and my husband and I joined a philosophy/discussion group. We were lucky to know a couple of people before moving here, too. You meet people through people, and the rest is history.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
I think Cape Town is a very easy city to assimilate to if you’re coming from the U.S. Thankfully, since English is widely spoken in South Africa, you don’t have a major language barrier. As far as customs that take some adjusting to—driving on the left-hand side of the road in a city full of tiny streets and bad drivers (sorry, Cape Townians) wasn’t easy.
It can also be strange to live so much of your life behind a gate. Since most housing has walls and/or gates, it’s taken some getting used to not having the same kind of open neighborhoods and communities that we had in the U.S.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That it’s very dangerous, and especially for tourists. Of course, like any place, you have to be smart and conscious of what’s going on around you, but Cape Town is a very navigable city. In pairs, in groups, even alone—I feel safe in Cape Town. I do miss the freedom of walking around at night, and I am far more aware of crime and how it affects people on a day-to-day basis. But, media reports are often exaggerated, and they should not inform your decision about visiting this great city.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Almost everything is lower, especially if you’re comparing prices to those in Boston—housing, entertainment, eating out, and even visiting the doctor are very affordable. It makes moving here on one income much more manageable. Some costs are about the same, like grocery shopping and buying other products like clothes, household goods, etc.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Sort out your visa from your home country. Unfortunately, because immigration laws recently changed here in South Africa, we had to make a trip back to the U.S. to update our visa status, which could have been avoided if we had been aware of the laws before our move out here. It took less than a week to obtain our new visas from the embassy in Washington, D.C., which is one great thing about doing it from the U.S. We know people who have been waiting close to eight months to hear back from visa services here in Cape Town!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog, An American in Cape Town, in January of this year to keep our family and friends up to date on our life here in Cape Town. It’s also been a great way to keep an online record of our time as expats, and has been a tool for meeting others and learning about our new city, too.
Amy's blog, An American in Cape Town
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