From the Okavango Delta, home to lions, hippos and elephants, to the sprawling salt flats of the Makgadikgadi Pan, living in Botswana gives expats the unique opportunity to experience some of most extraordinary natural landscapes in Africa.
With a highly affordable cost of living, Botswana is fast becoming a popular alternative to South Africa among British expats. Discover all the benefits of living in Botswana with this handy expat guide, including how to move to Botswana, how to find accommodation and what to look for in your medical cover.
Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa with a population of just over two million. More than a third of this inland nation is made up of national parks and nature reserves, providing one of the world’s last remaining natural havens for wildlife such as elephants, leopards and buffalo.
Botswana thrives on its tourism industry, especially eco-tourism which has put the country on the map as a sought-after eco-friendly destination. Botswana also has a big diamond industry, and is the continent’s richest country, maintaining one of the most stable democracies in Africa.
This is great news for expats moving to Botswana, providing promise of a stable economy with a GDP of US$15.78 billion dollars, a good job market and an affordable cost of living.
How to move to Botswana as an expat?
Citizens from Commonwealth countries, with a few exceptions, do not need a visa to enter to Botswana. However, if you’re planning on working or living in Botswana for more than 3 months, you will need to apply for a Residence Permit through the government website.
The Residence Permit application process is relatively straightforward. Here’s a quick outline of what to expect:
- Fill out the application form for Residence Permit
- Submit the form to any Immigration office and pay the BWP 1500.00 fee (just under GBP£100)
- Receive the outcome of your application within 30 days
- After 5 years of living in Botswana on a Residency Permit, you’ll be able to apply for permanent residency status
Supporting documents include passport photos, a copy of birth certificates, marriage certificates if applicable and a medical report.
How many expats are living in Botswana?
According to the United Nations, there were over 100,000 expats in Botswana in 2019. Among the most common countries these expats came from are:
- South Africa
- United Kingdom
Is Botswana safe for expats?
Botswana has a low crime rate compared to other countries in Africa. There is also no recent history of terrorism and violent attacks on tourists are very rare.
Expats moving to Botswana should keep in mind that it is a developing country where many people live in poverty.
Because of this, petty crime such as robberies and theft do happen, and expats living in Botswana should use common sense when thinking about their own safety.
Expats should also be aware that while homosexuality was decriminalized in Botswana in June 2019 but tolerance and understanding may vary from region to region.
How is the political situation in Botswana?
Botswana is the longest continuously stable democracy in Africa, with over 50 years of political stability.
It has a multi-party democratic system, with general elections held every five years. The Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) has been in power since 1966, with the last general election held in October 2019.
That said, stability in Botswana is not comparable to stability in Europe. The economic climate, though one of the most successful in Africa, remains challenging and transformation is slow. The country’s dependence on diamond trade makes it vulnerable to external economic fluctuations. Tourism, the country’s second biggest source of income, has also been affected by the pandemic.
What language is spoken in Botswana and do people living in Botswana speak English?
The official, language in Botswana is actually English. However the local language, Setswana, is also widely spoken, and is the only spoken language in some of the country’s most rural areas.
Expats moving to Botswana should be able to get by fairly easily with English, especially if they choose to live in the bigger towns or cities. Though it might be worth learning a few basic phrases in the local language, if only to be polite.
How did Botswana deal with COVID-19?
Botswana imposed several phases of lockdown measures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, infection and death rates remained low compared to the global average.
As of May 2022, Botswana has had 307,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2,692 confirmed deaths.
So far, Botswana has successfully administered at least 1,920,000 doses of COVID vaccines – enough to have fully vaccinated about 41.7% of the country’s population assuming only two doses are needed.
Many expats moving to Botswana settle in the towns or cities of Maun, Francistown and Gaborone. These are far and away the more expensive choice, though do provide much better access to transport, work, schools and amenities.
Popular suburbs in Gaborone include Broadhurst and Phakalane. Phakalane is built around a golf estate and is particularly popular with expats.
Expats can expect rent to be one of their biggest expenses living in Botswana, but it is still cheap by UK standards.
Can expats buy property in Botswana?
Yes, but only in certain areas. Foreigners buying property in Botswana are limited to towns, cities and some other areas outside tribal territories. Areas such as Tlokweng, Mogoditshane and Molepolole, for example, are considered tribal and are off limits to foreign buyers.
Foreigners should also be aware that it is illegal to buy unimproved land in Botswana unless it is a freehold property.
Top expat tips for living in Botswana
- • Ensure you have all essential documents and visas in place before departure
- • If you move with your kids, early application for school places is advisable
- • Have up to three months’ rent available upfront to secure a rental property
- • Look at life insurance and health cover that reflect your location needs. We have been supporting expats with international insurance for almost 30 years now
- • Stay healthy and immerse yourself in the culture
Expats planning to work in Botswana, or live in the country for more than 3 months will need a Residence Permit.
To apply for a Residence Permit, you’ll need to show that you can financially support yourself while living in Botswana. This will require documentation such as bank statements, proof of retirement funds or proof of savings. You’ll also need to provide a birth certificate and any relevant business documents.
After 5 years living in Botswana, expats can apply for permanent residency status.
You can download the visa application forms from the Botswanan government website.
What sort of salary will I earn living in Botswana?
Thanks to the country’s world-renowned diamond industry and fast-growing service, tourism and manufacturing sectors, the economy in Botswana is one of the most successful in Africa. This means that while salaries are far lower than you would expect in the UK, they are sufficient to support a good living standard in Botswana.
Other attractive job sectors in Botswana include ICT and financial services.
The typical monthly wage for a person working in Botswana is around BWP 11,700 per month (GBP 777). Salaries range from BWP 2,970 (GBP 197) to BWP 52,400 (GBP 3,480) depending on industry and profession.
Being a developing country, the cost of living in Botswana is incredibly affordable. According to Mercer’s 2021 Cost of Living report Gaborone is ranked 202nd of 209 cities, making it more affordable than most other cities on the list.
To add perspective, a litre of milk will cost you BWP 14 (GBP 0.93) in Botswana, while a bottle of local beer will cost you BWP 21 (GBP 1.40).
Living like a local is the cheapest way to get by in Botswana, as the price of imported products, including food, can be quite high.
Banking and finance in Botswana
The local currency in Botswana is Pula, abbreviated to BWP. There are 100 thebe to a pula and the currency is a combination of notes and coins:
- Notes: BWP 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200
- Coins: BWP 1, 2 and 5; and 5, 10, 25 and 50 thebe
Expats living in Botswana tend to have a local account for everyday expenses, while also keeping an offshore account for UK earnings and savings.
Expats moving to Botswana might consider banking with:
The tax system in Botswana can be tricky to navigate for expats, so it’s usually advisable to hire an expert to help you get it right. The tax year in Botswana runs from July 1 to June 30.
Expats living in Botswana will need to pay taxes if:
- they are living permanently in Botswana
- they have been living in Botswana for at least 183 days of the tax year
- they earn an income from sources in Botswana
Botswana has a double taxation agreement with several countries, including the UK, so if you do pay tax to Botswana, it’s worth looking into whether you might be eligible for foreign tax relief.
Private healthcare is the preferred option for most expats living in Botswana, giving access to the best standard of medical care and the option to evacuate to other countries with better facilities and doctors in the case of an emergency.
Expats who choose to stick with public healthcare can expect to pay a fee of around £50 for most healthcare services. However, if you’re planning on moving to Botswana you should be wary that medical facilities and resources are of a far lower standard outside the major cities.
Culture and customs in Botswana
The colourful culture and customs are one of the greatest benefits of living in Botswana. Traditional Botswanan culture is reflected most prominently in the Setswana language, tribal music, local food, traditional dress, rituals and public celebrations.
Botswanan culture is celebrated in an annual festival called ‘Letsatsi la Ngwao’, or Botswana Culture Day. The two day celebration begins on 30th September each year with street parties, parades, street food and other local events.
Tribal traditional is highly valued throughout Botswana, though this is slowly changing as younger generations adopt more Westernised lifestyles. Christianity is the dominant religion.
Before moving to Botswana, make sure you check the following:
- ☐ Have you researched places you’d like to live?
- ☐ If you’ve found an apartment or house you’d like to rent, have you contacted the landlord and made an offer?
- ☐ If you’ve agreed a place to live, have you received your tenancy agreement?
- ☐ Have you received a job offer from a Botswanan employer?
- ☐ Alternatively, do you have proof of income and your eligibility to work overseas from your existing employer?
- ☐ Have you started your application for your residency visa?
- ☐ Do you have the proof of income or proof of savings required to apply for a visa?
- ☐ Have you found your local public health service in Botswana, and are you aware of the costs of using that service?
- ☐ Have you taken out international health insurance before moving to Botswana?
- ☐ Have you looked into other forms of health insurance to support your life in Botswana, such as life insurance and income protection?
- ☐ Do you have all the paperwork necessary to complete your application for a bank account?
- ☐ Do you have the minimum deposit available in cash?
- ☐ Have you looked into the cost of relocation? If you’re bringing your own furniture from home, have you received a reliable quote from a shipping company?
- ☐ Have you looked into schooling for your children? If you are relying on state education, you may need to contact schools to see if they have places available.
Before you go…
If you’re considering choosing international health insurance, William Russell would be happy to offer you advice and a quote to help you decide. For 30 years, we have helped expats like you move and settle into their new lives overseas, with the peace of mind of knowing their families are covered by a comprehensive and flexible health insurance policy.
Speak to us today to find out more about how international health insurance could benefit you and your family – and good luck moving to Botswana!