The labor market in Cape Town

labour market
Updated 2022-11-06 13:02

Cape Town attracts expatriates as well as South Africans from other provinces who want to live, study or work in this city with multiple opportunities and where the quality of life is one of the best in the country. What are these opportunities, and what can you expect from the job market in Cape Town?

Reasons for moving to Cape Town

Cape Town is undoubtedly the best-managed metropolis in South Africa, and this good governance creates a stable economic environment that attracts investors.

The region is ranked as the leading financial center in sub-Saharan Africa and is the capital of technology startups, with approximately 50,000 employees in this sector. The city was awarded the title of the world's top festival and event city at the World Travel Awards in 2018 and 2020.

Cape Town is the country's second-largest container port, and its airport is the second busiest in the country, attracting export-oriented South African companies that tend to locate in port cities and coastal industrial areas.

The most promising sectors in Cape Town for expats

Cape Town has the lowest unemployment rate of any South African region.

The city has a very diversified economy. The main sectors are:

  • Tourism and hotel services
  • Film and audiovisual
  • Information Technology
  • Finance
  • Port activities
  • Ecological industry


Tourism contributes 3-5% to Cape Town's economy and employs approximately 150,000 people, 45,000 of whom are directly employed. The city was named the world's leading festival and event city at the World Travel Awards in 2018 and 2020. This sector was greatly affected by the water shortage that hit the region in 2017-18 and then by the COVID-19 pandemic with very strict lockdowns (including one in December, the high tourist season) and border closures.

Sixteen million tourists used to come to South Africa each year, but the sector experienced a 72% decline in 2020 for the country as a whole. There has been an encouraging recovery in tourism in Cape Town since the end of the restrictions, although the sector has not yet returned to its pre-COVID level. Many expatriates with a second language other than English can find employment in this sector because the tourism industry is internationally oriented.

The film and audiovisual industry

The city of Cape Town is world-renowned in the film industry and is becoming a very competitive destination internationally for productions and post-production. More and more big-budget films are being shot here as Cape Town has a wide range of locations, studios, facilitation companies, specialized crews and a very good reputation in the industry. Low production costs and a favorable exchange rate are additional attractions for international producers.

Cape Town Film Studios (CTFS), a public-private partnership whose private shareholders are leaders in their respective fields of media, film and marketing, is the first Hollywood-style film studio complex built in Africa. Established in 2010, Cape Town Film Studios has employed 98,000 people in its first ten years of operation.

The film industry has become a priority sector in the Western Cape economy. It generates about R5 billion and creates about 6000 direct and 2500 indirect jobs per year.

Cape Town is also becoming known as the center of video game development in South Africa, with 57% of the country's studios located there. These sectors are in high demand of qualified employees.

Information Technology

Cape Town is home to a network of approximately 500 startups, making it the center of South African high-tech. 20% are specialized in e-commerce, and 15% are in financial technologies.

Silicon Cape, established in 2009, is a community network of technology entrepreneurs created to build a vibrant, world-class technology sector in the Western Cape. It is now one of the largest entrepreneurial networks in Africa.

Expatriates whose education and experience meet the Essential Skills work permit criteria can find work or start their own business in this dynamic sector.


Cape Town's financial sector is considered one of South Africa's leading financial services centers. 35 insurance companies, 29 pension fund companies, 35 credit companies, 12 securities trading companies and 95 asset management companies are headquartered in Cape Town or the Western Cape. The country's five largest banks are also based in Cape Town.

Port activities

The port of Cape Town occupies a strategic and economic position as it is located on one of the busiest commercial maritime routes in the world. It is the second largest container port in South Africa after Durban. Fishing and the fishing industry occupy an important place in the economic activity of the port, employing 140,000 people, and 85% of South Africa's fish exports come from Cape Town. The ship repair industry is also important, as the large Asian fishing fleets use the port as a base for transshipment and repairs. Cruise ships call here, which is beneficial to tourism.

Green industry

Cape Town wants to position itself as a "green" city with the creation of the Atlantis Green Tech economic zone, inaugurated in 2018, dedicated to the renewable energy and clean technology industries. This zone is becoming a manufacturing hub for products such as wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and green building materials. A medical cannabis production project has been launched, with a plot of land already reserved for the cultivation project, to which a cannabis oil and capsule production unit will be added. A project to manufacture electric cars is also under consideration.

Obtaining a work permit to work in Cape Town

Since 2018, the government has strongly tightened its immigration policy. It is now almost impossible to obtain a general work permit (not requiring very advanced experience and skills).

Only expatriate candidates whose work history and educational background meet the criteria for an Essential Skills work permit may have the opportunity to find a job in Cape Town. But the long and tedious process of applying for a permit for a foreigner puts off many companies who prefer to hire South Africans.

In addition, with some of the best universities in the country, Cape Town has highly qualified graduates in the sectors that recruit.

The city of Cape Town and the Western Cape have put in place several strategies to attract investors.

Wesgro (the official tourism, trade and investment promotion agency for Cape Town) assists investors wishing to establish themselves in any sector of activity.

Invest Cape Town is a city agency whose mission is to create the best conditions to attract investors.

It is quite easy to obtain a Business Permit and the creation of a company is strongly encouraged by the government because it provides employment opportunities to South Africans. However, one must have a well-defined project and have capital before considering applying for such a permit.

Useful links:

Invest Cape Town


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