Are you looking for opportunities to work abroad? Do you want to leave your comfort zone and live in a new country, meet amazing people, discover new cultures and develop yourself to the fullest? If you studied one of the professions on the Critical Skills Visa list you can come to work in South Africa.
I wanted to achieve those goals and work abroad (I am from Mexico) but finding a job overseas is very difficult depending on your level of studies. If you are like me, with an undergraduate degree and you try to find a job abroad, you are going to experience the difficulties of sending tons of unsuccessful applications.
Why is it so difficult? If you don’t have a Master’s Degree, PHD or a distinguishable skill, the majority of companies will prefer contracting nationals and avoid all visa paperwork and trouble.
Fortunately, South Africa has the Critical Skills Visa, which main objective is to assist the government to achieve strategic infrastructure projects bringing people with specific skills that the country is lacking. This visa allows you to come to South Africa for 1 year without having a job contract and up to 5 years having a job contract. You can renew your 1-year visa if you are successful and find a job before your visa expires.
Last year I was working in Zimbabwe, this was the first time that I worked abroad and it was a consulting project with an NGO called TechnoServe that lasted 5 months, you can read more about it on the post My experience working with TechnoServe in Zimbabwe. As I loved Zimbabwe and made friends for life, I really wanted to stay in Africa. So before the consulting project was over, I started sending applications to companies in Zimbabwe as well as South Africa (I heard Cape Town was an amazing city so I really wanted to live there).
Unluckily, every time I started to fill in the online application after I selected “NO” in the question “Are you legally eligible to work in this country?” I think my application was sent nowhere.
Fortunately, I was talking with a friend and she told me that another Actuary (I studied Actuarial Science – very unknown degree in the world but in summary it is applied mathematics to insurance and finance) got a Critical Skills Visa and went to work to South Africa. *There are a lot of professions on the Critical Skills Visa list and maybe yours is there.
So I did all the online research, contacted my friend’s friend and started gathering all the paperwork to get the visa. Now I am going to explain you all the steps for the application process.
1. Look if your profession is on the Critical Skills Visa List
You can check here the skills or qualifications critical for South Africa. In summary there are 12 educational subject matters:
- Agriculture, Agricultural Operations and Related Sciences: Agricultural Engineer, Agricultural Scientist, Forestry Technician, Sheep Shearer
- Architecture and the Built Environment: Architect, Construction Project Manager, Land Surveyor, Quantity Surveyor, Urban and Regional Planner
- Business, Economics and Management Studies: Actuaries and Risk Assessors, Corporate General Manager, External Auditor, Financial Investment Advisor
- Information Communication & Technology: CISCO Solution Specialist, CISCO Engineers, Solutions Architects in Telecommunications and ICT, Integrated Developers (PHP, PERL, JAVA), Network Analyst, IT Security Specialist, System Integration Specialist, Enterprise Architects, Data Centre Operations, Network Specialist (Security), Database Specialist, Microsoft System Engineers, Network Controllers, AV Specialist (Anti-virus), Desktop Support Engineer
- Engineering: Energy Engineer, Metallurgical Engineer, Chemical Engineer, Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Electrical Installation Inspector, Electronics Engineer, Geologist, Industrial and Production Engineers, Industrial Designer, Manufacturing Managers, Materials Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Mining Engineer, Production/Operations Manager, Quality System Manager, Research and Development Manager, Ship’s Engineer, Telecommunications Engineers, Electrical Engineering Technologist, Energy Engineering Technologist, Mechanical Engineering Technologist, Metallurgical Engineering Technologist, Mining Engineering Technologist, Air Conditioning and Mechanical Services Plumber, Automotive Electrician, Automotive Motor Mechanic, Boiler Maker, Chemical Engineering Technologist, Civil Engineering Technologist, Diesel Mechanic, Electronics Engineering Technologist, Fitter and Turner, Materials Engineering Technologist, Mechatronics Technician, Metal Fabricator, Physical and Engineering Science Technicians, Pressure Welder, Structural Plaster, Toolmaker
- Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences: Medical Superintendant/Public Health Manager, Public Health Physician, General and Specialist Medical Practitioner, Hospital Pharmacist, Nursing Professionals, Veterinarian, Registered Nurse (child and family health), Retail Pharmacist
- Life and Earth Sciences: Environmental Engineers, Environmental Manager, Industrial Pharmacist, Aquatic Scientist, Animal Scientist, Advanced Composites Engineering, Archaeological/Paleontological Specialist, Bioeconomist, Biochemists, Bioinformatician, Bioinformaticist, Biological Scientist, Botanical Scientist, Chemical Scientist, Computational Biologist, Environmental Scientist, Ecological Scientist, Food Scientist, Engineering Geologist, Geochemist, Geohazards Specialist, Geologist, Geophycist, Laboratory Technologist and Technician, Marine Bioscientist, Materials Scientist, Metallurgical Scientist, Metrology, Microbiological Scientist, Polymer Scientist, Protein Scientist, Seismologist, Soil Scientist, Toxicology Scientist, Water Resource Scientist
- Professionals and Associate Professionals: Land and Engineering Surveyors, Electronic Engineering Technician, Materials Engineering Technologist, Electrical Engineering Technician, Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Practitioner, Draughtsperson, Mechanical Engineering Technician, Chemical Engineering Technician, Organisation and Methods Analyst (Incl. scheduler, estimator), Surveying Technician, Geomatics Technician, Quantity Surveying Technician, Civil Engineering Technician, Materials Engineer Non-destructive Testing (NDT), Materials Engineering Technician – Road materials, Materials Tester, Construction Safety, Health, Environment an Quality (SHEQ) Agent/Manager/Officer, Aeronautical Engineering, Architectural Senior Technologist, Architectural Draughtsperson, Astronomer, Physicist (SKA), Geomagnetic Physicist, Solar Physicist, Space Physicist, Plasma Physicist, Space Technologist, Space Weather Specialist, Magnetic Technology Specialist, Radar Engineering, Radio Frequency Engineering, Environmental Technologist, Industrial Engineer, Industrial Engineering Technologist, Industrial Engineering Technician, Landscape Architect, Landscape Contract Manager, Landscape Horticulturist, Mining Technician
- Trades: Millwright, Boilermaker (For Strategic Infrastructure Projects), Industrial Machinery Mechanic, Pipe Fitter, Double Coded Welder, Rigger, Moulder, Raise-bore Operators, Raise-bore Foreman, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
- Business Process Outsourcing (BPO): Software Development Engineers and Managers, Systems Architects, Engineers and Managers, Foreign Language speakers for specialist language support and technical or sales support (German, Swiss German, Flemish, Greek, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin and French), Business Analyst, Quality Analyst, Quality Assurance Specialist/Auditor Customer Service Manager/Team Lead
- Academics and researchers: Doctoral Graduates (Acquired Abroad), Research in several areas (check complete list here)
- Post-Graduates: Doctoral Graduates (Acquired in RSA)
2. Contact the South African Embassy on your country
If your profession is on the list, you are ready to continue with the process. Just Google “Embassy of South Africa and the name of your country” and you will find its telephone number, website and social media accounts.
Generally, they will have a website in which they will have a more detailed description of the application process to obtain the Critical Skills Visa but you can even contact them by social media.
In my case, in Mexico you can find documents and a lot of information on the South African Embassy Facebook Page.
3. Make a list of all the documents you will need to gather
You can see more general information here, but again, contact the South African Embassy on your country for a more specific list. In my case these were the documents I gathered:
- Application form
- Medical Certificate
- Radiological Report of the chest
- Original Passport
- Two passport photographs
- A yellow-fever international vaccination certificate if travelled from/through a yellow-fever endemic area
- Original Police clearance certificate
- Proof of financial means in the form of bank statement (last 3 months)
- Fee ($169 USD in Mexico)
- One way airplane ticket
- Optional: If the applicant has already secured employment prior to submitting the visa application, a copy of employment contract specifying the occupation and capacity in which the foreigner shall be employed
- A confirmation of your skills by the South African Qualification Authority SAQA – explained on the following section
- Proof of registration with the professional body, council or board recognized by the SAQA (in my case this was the Actuarial Society of South Africa) – explained on the following section
All the requirements mentioned above are easy to get but I’m going to give you a more detailed description of the last 2 documents which are more difficult to obtain.
4. Confirm your skills with the South African Qualification Authority SAQA
On the South African Qualification Authority SAQA official website you are going to find all the relevant information to get this certificate.
In summary you are going to have to send all the way to South Africa certified copies of all your academic studies (documents in foreign languages must be accompanied by sworn translations). And no, you cannot send scanned copies by email.
Besides that, you will also need to include:
- Application Form
- Proof of identity (ID/Passport/relevant permit)
- Proof of payment
- Consent Form
After you have sent all the documents they will evaluate them and if successful will send you back to your country the original certificate proving you are qualified in your profession in South Africa.
5. Become a member of one of the Professional Bodies recognized by SAQA
You can find here the list of all this professional bodies.
In my case it was the Actuarial Society of South Africa; I entered their website and saw all the requirements to become a student member.
Each body should have their own rules but I had to send all the way to South Africa the following certified copies:
- SAQA Certificate of Evaluation
- University Transcript
- High School Transcript
- Two Professional Referrals
- Membership fee (electronic transfer)
6. Plan your trip (Buy your one-way airplane ticket)
Without a job contract the Critical Skills Visa will last 1 year with the possibility to renew up to 5 years if you are successful in finding a job.
But in order to start your application you need to show your airplane tickets (one way is enough) so the embassy can stamp an initial and last day on your visa. So you need to plan:
- Arrival date: buy your one-way airplane ticket.
- Place: generally you will have to choose between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Johannesburg is the capital and biggest city so you will have better chances to find a job faster but you can also decide to go to Cape Town (as me) because you will live by the beach and enjoy an amazing life quality.
- Accommodation: are you going to rent a house? A flat? Have roomies? Stay with a friend or family?
- Expenses budget: consider how much money you are going to spend for living expenses (food, transport, entertainment, etc.) during the time you are going to be looking for a job.
7. Summit all your documents to the embassy
After you have gathered ALL the documents you will only have to go to the embassy, leave them and wait till they process your Critical Skills Visa.
*In my case it was very quick, I got my visa in less than 3 weeks.
8. After you get your visa and travel to South Africa secure your job
Within 12 months after obtaining Critical Skills Visa you will have to submit an employment contract specifying the occupation and capacity in which you were employed.
- Plan your times: you have to send documents all the way to South Africa (by courier or speed post). Consider that courier may take incredibly long times and also the documents will take some weeks to be processed by the organizations so if you are planning to go soon try so use speed post and check the deadlines (e.g. there may be deadlines to become a member of your career’s professional body).
- Don’t give up: collecting all the paperwork and sending all the documents may be time consuming and expensive but at the end you will get your visa and experience the amazing country of South Africa!
- Look for jobs before arriving to South Africa: even though you can get the Critical Skills Visa without a job contract, if you arrive to South Africa without a plan you may take some time to find a job and during all this process you will have to pay for accommodation, food, transportation and other expenses.
- Find temporary accommodation: if you take long time to find a job there are many ways in can you can contribute as a volunteer in exchange of accommodation and food. Websites as Workaway and Helpx will connect you with locals who will ask for 4 to 5 hours of work (painting, taking care of children, doing marketing, helping in a hostel, etc.) in exchange of accommodation. Other websites as Trusted Housesitters and House Carers will connect you with home and pet owners who need a sitter, when traveling, so you can enjoy staying for free in exchange of taking care of the house. Check more opportunities like this one on the Scholarships Page and then Volunteering section.
- Contribute: when you arribe to South Africa do not forget that the aim of the Critical Skills Visa is to contribute to South Africa with your special skills!
- Stay motivated: you can see amazing videos of life in South Africa and also check the blog for all my experiences in Cape Town.
10. Living in Cape Town
I’ve been living a couple months in Cape Town and I completely love it. Fortunately, I have been able to travel around the world by studying, working and volunteering and I think Cape Town is my favorite City.
It is full of nice places to visit: beaches, natural reserves, public parks, historical sites, markets and more. It is very touristic, so you will never feel bored, wine tours, safaris, sunset cruises, sky diving, bungy jumping, paragliding, kloofing, shark cage diving, seal snorkeling, beach horse riding, rock climbing, abseiling, hiking, helicopter flights, surfing, nightclubs and festivals are come of the activities that you can do here!
- Sunset Beach
- Sky Diving
- Bungy Jumping
- Zip Lining
- Power Boat Ride
- Rock Climbing
- Abseiling Table Mountain
- Quad Biking
- Sea Kayaking
- Helicopter Flight
- Gyrocopter Tour
- Hot Air Balloon Ride
- Surfing Lessons
- Kitesurfing Lessons
- Sandboarding Lessons
Art & Culture
- The Rockwell Dinner Theatre
- Artscape Theatre
- Cape Town Comedy Club
- Oude Libertas Amphitheatre
- The Fugard Theatre
- The Galileo Open Air Cinema
- Robben Island
- Iziko Museums of South Africa (11 National Museums)
- Two Oceans Aquarium
- Shimmy Beach Club
- The Address
Are you interested in finding opportunities to go abroad? In the Scholarships Finder you can find a wide list of scholarships, work opportunities, volunteer projects, contests, entrepreneurial support, and virtual courses!
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