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.