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Although Africa is a continent rich in natural resources such as ore, minerals, precious stones and metals, it tends to be overlooked by expatriates when they are looking at working overseas. The main reason for this is the continents reputation for economic, social and political problems which tend to scare of expatriates. This leaves a very small amount of foreigners who are willing and eager to relocate to Africa for work. Most of the reports that filter out of Africa are negative and revolve around civil war, poverty, political instability and the rampant aids epidemic. This is enough to scare away the majority of mining expatriates, particularly when they have families they need to take into consideration.

What expatriates looking at working overseas tend to not hear, or if they do, to overlook, is that Africa is a hugely diverse continent, which is unbelievably beautiful, and rich in culture and tradition. It also offers beautiful weather, which is particularly attractive for those coming from the northern hemisphere. There are also many employment opportunities for adventurous expatriates who are up to the challenges of working in a continent so different in every possible way to where they come from. There is also plenty of opportunity with multinational mining companies that offer lucrative expatriate positions in Africa.

One does need to keep in mind though, that Africa does have its problems, and due to the on-going brain drain from Africa, this trend is likely to continue as the need for mining professionals in Africa intensifies. So if you are a mining expatriate and are up for an adventure of a life time, there are many countries in Africa that create incentives for foreign professionals to come and work, and the process of obtaining a work permit can be a lot easier than in other regions.

South Africa has generally been the most popular country in Africa for expatriates. South Africa is the most developed country in Africa. It has also for some time now, been particularly attractive to expatriates from the United Kingdom. South Africa’s beauty, climate and low cost of living have attracted a number of expatriates over the years, many of whom have stayed on permanently and ended up retiring in South Africa.

Working as an expatriate in Africa does however have its challenges. Many countries in Africa have issues around transportation. Water and electricity supplies can be extremely unreliable and frustrating, and poverty and unemployment are abundant. Working in Africa is definitely not for the faint hearted. There are parts of Africa that are better developed, mainly in Northern and Southern Africa, but many countries in Africa are very poor. Crime and theft can be a problem in many parts of Africa, mainly sparked off by the poverty and unemployment numbers so prevalent in Africa. Malaria, tuberculosis and HIV are prevalent in most parts of Africa. Many expatriates will find that the healthcare in many parts of Africa is well below standard, although South Africa and Kenya offers excellent private health care and education.

Although South Africa is the wealthiest country in Africa, and has very good private healthcare and excellent private schools, violent crime is extremely high, which can be a concern for many expatriates. Part of the reason for the brain drain in South Africa can be attributed to its high levels of crime, which is also creating a problem in attracting skills from overseas.

Expatriates in Africa are generally paid extremely well. In addition to receiving highly competitive salaries, many companies will also offer risk benefits. Many companies will also offer housing, often also offering schooling for children, company cars, and excellent leave including one or more flights back home to the employee’s country per year. Medical cover will generally also be offered, often including broad coverage that could extend to check ups in South Africa or overseas, and medical evacuation coverage. If you take all of these costs into consideration, it means that the cost to companies employing expatriates in certain areas of Africa can be extremely high.

However even with the highly competitive salaries and numerous perks offered to expatriates there are still many areas of Africa where expatriates simply do not want to live, regardless of how good the money is, for reasons around security, lifestyle, health and education. For this reason because of the locations of mines in certain areas of Africa, many mining companies will employ people on a FIFO basis rather than having them based there permanently. It is common in areas such as the Democratic republic of Congo for companies to offer a rotation basis, where they employee would work for 7 days a week for seven or eight weeks, and then have a couple of weeks where they are flown home. There are also a number of mining companies that will employ 2 people per job, and rotate them according to the FIFO requirements.

According to CostMine’s African Mine Salaries, Wages and Benefits 2012 Survey Results, it appears that expatriate salaries in Western African countries are higher than those in Southern and Eastern Africa. Although South African salaries are typically not viewed as expatriate salaries. There also appears to be a significant discrepancy between national and expatriate salaries for most of the African countries (excluding South Africa) where expatriates are earning substantially more those working locally.

So if you take all the above into consideration, if the expatriate life is one that you enjoy, and you love an adventure, when you take all the good and the bad that goes along with Africa, it has a way of getting into your blood. Regardless of whether working as a mining expatriate in Africa is going to be something that you would want to do for the rest of your life or not, you can be guaranteed that it will be an adventure of a lifetime and not something that will be forgotten easily.

23 Responses to “Living and working as a Mining expatriate in Africa”

  1. Kenneth Martin

    I have worked in 7 African countries. Except for Guinea-Conakry, I enjoyed working in Africa and I am always looking for a chance to go back. True, conditions can be harsh, but after a while on gets over it. Knowing some French may be useful. If anyone is looking for a geologist with African experience, I am ready to go back.

    Reply
  2. Pierre Bongolo

    Working as geologist in Africa can be a great advantur.
    I am a Geologist and i’m ready to go back in Africa to work there. When i was to the University in Gabon we use to go tto the field and those were the best moments of a young geologist like me, and apart for geology there are many other things to discvover in Africa.

    If any company need someone who likes the field and the nature like me to send i Africa to work as Geologist, just contact me.

    Reply
  3. Owain Shave

    I worked in West Africa for a little over 2 years. I worked in Mali and Senegal. I enjoyed it, and would happily do so again. One thing I did learn when working as an ex-pat, is that it’s a lot easier if there’s some other ex-pats around. I really liked the West Africans I worked with, but it’s also nice to have some people with whom there’s no cultural or language barriers around, even if it’s only for a few beers every so often.

    Reply
  4. Milan Arvensis

    I worked as the geologist – processing engineer in Iran, India, long time in China, Malaysia and in December/12 to January/13 in the North Korea… You can not image that poverty and ideologically washed brains. Personal individuality does not exist there… Do you know what was killing me? I had northing what to do – no action, no internet, no call connection, el. power (if) only for a few hours a day. I think if I have survived those harsh living and working conditions – Africa can not surprise me…
    I am free, I am seeking a new job…
    Milan

    Reply
  5. Hugh Sid Nielsen

    If you having difficulty as a first time expat, give it a year all will change as it usually does just like the weather. Returrn, and you will like it a lot better

    Reply
  6. Antti Sjöblom

    Thank you for the very inspiring post. Since my graduation I have been interested in working in international mining operations and have always found Africa very fascinating in terms of its culture, people and employment. However, I have noticed it is very difficult to find the right channels for finding a mining job in Africa. For a North European mining engineer the option for working in a mining operation abroad is Australia and that is pretty much everything there is available in practice. I personally have worked abroad during my internship some years ago as an undergraduate and wanted to go to Africa but this option was not even discussed in the job interview although the company has major mining operations in Africa. Seems to me that potential expatriates are redirected elsewhere also by potential employers, not just by an employees own initiative.

    South Africa might be an exclusion here but if a graduate with a few years of mining engineering experience wanted to work in Africa how could he/she find a job, say in West Africa? At that point of life the number of contacts within the industry are still very limited. Relocation to Africa seems to be some kind of an obstacle to a number of companies and often I have been questioned that how can a northerner adapt to very different kind of conditions in Africa. So, I think there is will to work in Africa but the way could be hard to find.

    Reply
  7. Brad justice

    I have worked in the Coal Mining Industry for almost 33 years and I would love a challenge.

    Reply
  8. Marie-Hélène Emond

    The greater the challenge, the greater the reward, no?
    I would really like an opportunity to share my communications expertise with a company with operations in Africa. The media tend to depict mining and Africa with a lot of “black”. Yes, there is extreme poverty and harsh living conditions (I am more familiar with South America) and yes, as North Americans (or Europeans) we are truly spoiled, but I have yet to meet someone who had the opportunity to work as an expat and who is not willing to return any time. Working abroad is a unique opportunity to learn about yourself, other ones and to grow as an individual and as a professional. I hope my turn will come around soon.

    Reply
  9. Pete Lieftink

    5 years working on and off in Africa, has been a great experience. Want to go back, but only Expats from South Africa or UK are getting a look in these days, sue to the airline costs.
    Aussies are left high and dry.
    No one really knows what they want within the Procurement, Logistic or Warehousing areas and when you inquire about potential positions, your rate is too high. Even at the lowest rate, it is still too high.
    If you are good at your job, you are looked at, as if you want your supervisors position.
    South Africa is Tax Free where Australia is not.
    Who do I speak to to get the correct information in the first place.
    I have filled out over 200 applications and have passwords of the same amount just to apply for a position.
    A waste of time and money when you are without work and do not rely on welfare from your Government.
    I could go down that road, but I choose not to, living off my own finances instead.
    Susan, where does everybody get their information from, because I seem to be 2 weeks behind everyone else?
    Regards
    Pete

    Reply
    • Susan Kihn

      Hi Pete,

      Sorry to hear that you have been battling to much. I have been told by job seekers that it appears that the expat positions are far fewer than in the past in Africa, this does make it harder to get a position. Please contact me on skihh@infomine.com and I can see what advice I can give you, and how I can try to help you. Regards. Susan.

      Reply
    • Rodney Overes

      Hi Pete I feel the same, I have given (lost count) applications, They don’t contact you back, or I am over qualified, they seem to look at the package and say,” no he properly wants too much money” but yet no one has come back and said , ‘We want you and this is what we are willing to pay”. I don’t want to work for the highest salary and if I am over experienced they get that for FREE!

      Reply
  10. Charles Roos

    I have worked in Ghana and in Mali on large scale gold production mines. Your discussion is great, but one thing a person must take into consideration especially if you are in a long term relationship, that the decision comes from 2 sides and the commitment must be there or you will not make it… Thank God for my great Spouse and her support. Yes I have had Malaria twice and thought I was going to die, Thank God the support and assistance system where in place and I was well taken care of and live to share the story and experience.

    Its all a mind set and you prepare yourself mentally for the task at hand. What I loved was the people and their eagerness to learn . They say ” You can give a man a fish and he wont be hungry, but if you teach the man how to fish he will never be hungry again” Thanks for the inspiring story, I am also looking for new avenues and am available.

    Thanks
    Charlie

    Reply
  11. Rodney Overes

    Good artical and welldone
    Iam a Qualified Earthmoving Equipment Mechanic (at Caterpillar), Project Administration (at University of Cape Town), Import & Export Management (at University of Cape Town) Experience on most makes of Earthmoving equipment. Also see if you have any other position for me.
    I am looking for work anywhere in Africa or South Africa or Global, this can be Mechanic, Workshop Foreman, Product Support, Warranty Tech, Tech Rep or anything to do with Earthmoving equipment, Materials handling and the Mining sector.
    Thank you.

    Rodney Overes
    + 27 83 493 0399
    rodfork@mweb.co.za

    Reply
  12. Rodney Overes

    Qualified Earthmoving Equipment Mechanic (at Caterpillar), Project Administration (at University of Cape Town), Import & Export Management (at University of Cape Town) Experience on most makes of Earthmoving equipment. Also see if you have any other position for me.
    I am looking for work anywhere in Africa or South Africa or Global, this can be Mechanic, Workshop Foreman, Product Support, Warranty Tech, Tech Rep or anything to do with Earthmoving equipment, Materials handling and the Mining sector.
    Thank you.

    Rodney Overes
    + 27 83 493 0399
    rodfork@mweb.co.za
    I have a Skype address just E-mail me for details.
    You can also see my profile at Linkedin.

    Reply
    • Susan Kihn

      Hi Rodney

      Thanks for the feedback, and information.I will be in touch with you shortly via the contact details you provided. Regards. Susan.

      Reply
  13. Matthew Herwig

    I have tried for many years to gain work in Africa – but with a family it’s hard to find the right job – Not giving up yet though – then of course there is always the opportunity once the kids have thier owns lives to lead.

    Reply
  14. Laban Giraldi

    Hi,

    Very good article. Thanks for the insight.
    I recently was referred to a job at Sukari Mine, in Egypt. It didnt end up happening. But it’s got me interested. As with your post.
    Im an underground miner with special expertise in Shotcrete, I hold 7+ years of experience. If you can help with any recommendations of places to contact or apply I would love to hear.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  15. jacqui de klerk

    Hi

    Could anyone assist with Security expact work? Just names of companies recruiting South Africans will help alot. Thanks

    Reply
  16. edgard

    Interested in job in mining,have +65 years experience in Logistic,warehousing,materiel handling …im also fluent in French reading and writing. Born and and raised in West Africa ( Burkina Faso) worked local Admistration for oevr 10 years also in private sector as shipping and receving agent as well as customs service employee ….

    Reply
  17. Gwen Nankervis

    I have worked in Papua New Guinea where things can be difficult and there is alot of crime, and also in China. I would love to work in Africa in an administrative, accounts position, and I would love to be offered a job.

    Reply
  18. Daniel Prokop

    Nice article. I was initially wary of working in Africa having read information / warnings that proved groundless. I worked in Eritrea for 6 months on contract and really enjoyed it. The Eritrean people seemed to have a more positive outlook than most of the Westerners and they told me that one of the things they find difficult is when ex-pats are happy friendly one day and then would blank them the next day due to stress / focusing on the negative or whatever. Would love to work in Eritrea or other parts of Africa again. As an Aussie married to an Englishwoman have been on standby in UK for past couple months. New Year, new possibilities

    Reply
  19. Rudi Bezuidenhout

    Hi, I worked in Guinea – west africa as and electrician and as supervisor on a building poroject for BHP Billiton. Guinea is a wonderfull place and would like to work in africa again. I’m a Qualified electrician with mining experience and industrial. I studied project management and have supervisory knowledge and experience. I would like to get in touch with anyone in need of electricians. Thanks

    Reply

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