How to Live in Botswana

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 the promise of a stable economy with a GDP of US$15.78 billion dollars, a good job market, and an affordable cost of living.

Moving to this warm African country will present expats with the opportunity to view some of the most extraordinary wildlife scenes and most picturesque landscapes on the continent, and to meet some of its friendliest people. Expats may face a few challenges and complications along the way, but once they’ve settled in it’s sure to be smooth sailing.

How to move to Botswana as an expat?

Citizens from Commonwealth countries, with a few exceptions, do not need a visa to enter 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:

  1. Fill out the application form for Residence Permit
  2. Submit the form to any Immigration office and pay the BWP 1500.00 fee (just under GBP£100)
  3. Receive the outcome of your application within 30 days
  4. 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.

Cost of living in Botswana

+ PRO: Affordable cost of living

Botswana can be an incredibly affordable place to live, especially if expats manage their finances well. Gaborone ranks low on Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey and is more affordable than most of the 200 other listed cities. Its favorable exchange rate also attracts people from the US, the UK, and Europe. 

– CON: Healthcare can become expensive

Private healthcare is the main option for expats and insurance is a must-have, as these costs quickly add up. In some cases, the healthcare system may not be able to handle specific illnesses and major surgeries, so patients must be sent to facilities abroad such as in South Africa. Insurance that covers repatriation is likely to be more expensive.

Visas for Botswana

+ PRO: Some countries don’t need travel visas

Botswana allows visa-free entry to citizens from many countries. Citizens from places including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, the UK and many SADC countries need not apply for visas in advance if their stay is short-term. Normally, they receive a 90-day visa on arrival in Botswana. Nevertheless, prospective expats and tourists must check visa regulations with the respective embassy.

– CON: Confusing application processes

Various documents and details are required when applying for visas, residence, and work permits. Applicants must also ensure their passports are valid. To avoid unnecessary stress and frustration, embassies and immigration consultants can help.

Healthcare in Botswana

+ PRO: Good quality healthcare in major towns

Major towns and cities such as Gaborone have good healthcare. Expats are likely to receive treatment from well-trained and qualified doctors, some of whom are expats themselves. As English is the official language, there will be no issues communicating in hospitals and clinics.

– CON: Insurance requirements

Having insurance is more of a necessity than a luxury. This is because emergency treatment is only given in the event of full insurance coverage in private hospitals which otherwise often require cash upfront. Health insurance should also cover medical treatment abroad and repatriation, as some cases may require medical care in South Africa, for example.

– CON: Health risks

There are several health concerns in Botswana. There are occasional outbreaks of rabies and anthrax, though these are normally isolated. When going to national parks, tick, mosquito, scorpion, spider, and snake bites are a risk.

Accommodation in Botswana

+ PRO: Affordable accommodation

Given the decent cost of living in Botswana, it follows that accommodation can be found at good rates. Both rent and utilities are cheaper than what many expats may be used to, while the standard of housing is also high. Many expats stay in gated communities that are safe and secure with air-conditioning – a life-saver during the hottest months.

– CON: Pay attention to lease details

Landlords may mention a rent increase over time. So, expats should pay attention to what the standard of rental prices are in their area and negotiate a fee that suits both parties. Fortunately, all utilities are often included in the rent, including water and electricity. Do ask about this before signing any rental agreement.

Safety in Botswana

+ PRO: Low crime rate compared to nearby countries

There is no recent history of terrorism and violent attacks on tourists are rare. While it may be safer to walk around at night in Botswana than in South Africa, expats still need to take necessary safety precautions and use common sense.

– CON: Inequality and increasing crime rate 

Botswana is a developing country and many people live in poverty. With major inequality in the country, crime does exist. Expats should be aware of increasing petty and violent crime in towns such as Francistown, Maun, and Gaborone. Robberies and theft occur, and valuables should not be left in plain sight in parked vehicles.

Getting around in Botswana

+ PRO: Good tarmac roads

Some well-maintained tarmac roads connect most of the country, especially in and around major cities. Of course, in certain areas, this is lacking. Four-wheel-drive vehicles may be needed, especially for those visiting the national parks.

– CON: Driving hazards

Drivers do face risks and new arrivals may be frustrated by others not following the rules of the road, ignoring speed limits, and drunk driving. Outside of urban areas, lighting is poor, so expats should drive slowly and be vigilant of livestock, wildlife, and potholes. When traveling to remote areas, expats should take emergency supplies, including food, water, and a satellite phone.

Working in Botswana

+ PRO: Money matters can be dealt with fairly easily

Tourists in Botswana or those staying short term may be able to use travelers’ cheques at some banks. US dollars and euros can be used in several main hotels. Visa and major credit cards are accepted in shops and restaurants, and ATMs are accessible in major towns.

+ PRO: Growing economy and job opportunities

Botswana’s economy is growing reasonably well, largely owing to its wealth of diamonds. The job market is vibrant and presents plenty of work opportunities, so expats shouldn’t struggle to find work. Expats are often also transferred to branches in Botswana through their own companies.

– CON: Time-consuming and often unnecessary paperwork

Slow, inefficient bureaucratic processes are issues in many countries all over the world, and Botswana is one of them. Red tape is hard to avoid when applying for visas and when doing business, but expats who keep their documents in order and show a little patience generally have a smooth experience.

Culture in Botswana

+ PRO: Locals are friendly

People from Botswana, known as Batswana, are friendly and helpful. They are proud of their country and culture. Some seemingly small parts of communication are important to the culture, for example, greeting, respecting the elderly, and making eye contact (too little eye contact is viewed with suspicion).

– CON: Understanding and tolerance of LGBTQ+ is low

Although homosexuality is no longer considered illegal in Botswana, the LGBTQ+ community continues to face discrimination, harassment and negative attention as public customs are not tolerant of it. This element of culture shock may be difficult to deal with, although things are slowly changing.

– CON: Tolerance of immigrants varies

Although Batswana are generally friendly and welcoming, foreigners have mixed experiences. Those from the US and the UK may have more positive experiences than expats from other African nations who have reported feeling treated as, and being seen as, outsiders.

Lifestyle and things to do in Botswana

+ PRO: Nature is abundant

Nature buffs with a thirst for adventure will not be short of things to see and do in Botswana. This ranges from the Okavango Delta with luxurious (and expensive) eco-lodges and self-camping (more affordable) experiences to the Makgadikgadi Basin with its salt pan in the heart of Botswana’s northeastern savannah ecosystem. The diverse flora and fauna and natural beauty will capture anyone’s attention.

+ PRO: Gaborone is well developed

Most expats are likely to move to Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, which is also the largest city. It is quite well developed with shopping malls, entertainment opportunities, banks, and safe taxis.

– CON: Expat bubble can isolate new arrivals

Moving to Botswana with a good salary and employment package can secure good quality accommodation and possibly international school fees for those with children. These expats can also afford luxurious safari adventures and a comfortable life which may isolate them from the reality of the country. Botswana experiences inequality, but is also incredibly rich in traditional culture. Expats are encouraged to step out of their comfort zones, learn some of the local language, Setswana, and immerse themselves in the culture.

Schools in Botswana

+ PRO: Good standard of international schools in Botswana

Expats with children can choose from a selection of international schools that mainly offer American or British-based curricula. Some schools have Christian values. Several schools also offer boarding facilities. Most are concentrated in the capital city.

– CON: Public schools lack resources

Public schools, although much more affordable, are not really an option for many expats. This is because the quality of resources and teaching is not as good as in private, international schools. This leaves limited options for parents, restricting them to more expensive schools. Fortunately, international schools in Botswana have much better rates and tuition fees than those in European countries.

Weather in Botswana

+ PRO: Year-round summer

Botswana has a warm climate with most of the year being hot and dry. Those who love the heat and hate the cold will settle in well. Be sure to carry water, sun-screen, and hats when walking around, not only when sunbathing.

– CON: Too hot and humid to bear

For many, adjusting to the hot climate can be unbearable. Air conditioning is essential. It can be difficult to sleep, although winter nights from May to August provide some relief from the heat.

Can foreigners live in Botswana?

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.

How do people live in Botswana?

A country of slightly over 2.3 million people, Botswana is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. About 11.6 percent of the population lives in the capital and largest city, Gaborone.

Republic of Botswana Lefatshe la Botswana (Tswana)
Demonym(s)Batswana (plural) Motswana (singular)

Is it nice to live in Botswana?

Expatriates living in Botswana enjoy a low crime rate in comparison to other African and even some Western countries. There is some theft and petty crime, however, and expats should exercise a normal amount of caution when going about their daily lives.

Do you need a visa to live in Botswana?

All non-citizens who wish to stay in Botswana should apply for a residence permit to allow them to live in the country. Persons who are above 18 are required to apply separately if they wish to stay in Botswana and their applications should be supported by the person(s) upon whom they will depend while in Botswana.

How can I become a citizen of Botswana?

Who is eligible? All foreigners who have resided in Botswana for an aggregate period of not less than ten years and have resided in Botswana for a continuous period of twelve months immediately preceding the date of application.

Can a foreigner buy a house in Botswana?

Foreigners can buy property in Gaborone, Phakalane, Lobatse, F/town, and some other areas outside Tribal Territories. Foreigners can also buy any freehold land or property. In Botswana, it is illegal to buy unimproved land or plot unless it is a freehold property.

What is the average cost of living in Botswana?

A single person estimated monthly costs are 452$ (6,017P) without rent. The cost of living in Botswana is, on average, 52.82% lower than in the United States.
Cost of Living in Botswana.

Lettuce (1 head)14.38P
Water (1.5 liter bottle)11.46P
Bottle of Wine (Mid-Range)80.00P
Domestic Beer (0.5 liter bottle)18.53P