South Africa

South Africa flag

Packing Guidance

This guidance is designed to describe appropriate clothing, the cultural context where you will be living and working, and the professional expectations of your workplace.

As you decide what to bring, keep in mind there is a 100-pound weight limit on checked baggage.


Overview

In general, most items you will need are available in country and locally acquired items are often the best at helping you integrate into your community. However, locally available items may not be the brands, quality, prices, or sizes you are used to. Bringing some key items from home might make your transition to service more comfortable.

This guidance has been compiled by Peace Corps staff and Volunteers and is based on their experience. Use this information as an informal guide as you make your own packing list, bearing in mind that each experience is individual. There is no perfect packing list!

This packing guidance is designed to help you think through different categories of items and consider what you might want to bring, considering work expectations, cultural considerations, and your own personal preferences.

Climate

South Africa is a climate patchwork of warm coastal subtropics, hot deserts, humid highlands, snow-topped mountains, and an enclave of Mediterranean weather in the southwest. Average temperatures in South Africa range from 15℃ to 36℃ in the summer and -2℃ to 26℃ in the winter. South Africa is highly vulnerable to climate variability and change due to the country's high dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources.

Items provided in-country

Peace Corps South Africa provides the following items:

  • Water filter: The tap and/or borehole water in South Africa is not always potable. All Volunteers receive a high-quality activated charcoal water filter for water purification at site.
  • Settling-in allowance: All Volunteers are provided an allowance to buy household furniture and non-furniture items such as a bed, table, stove, kitchenware etc.
  • Electronic device allowance: All Volunteers are eligible to receive an allowance to purchase phones, laptop and/or tablet to support their IT needs.
  • Library of work-related books and novels: The Information Resource Center at the main office in Pretoria has a lending library. Volunteers are encouraged to take and share for personal use.
  • Medical kit: Peace Corps South Africa provides all Volunteers with a med kit.
Prohibited items

Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take:

  • Pets
  • Weapons
  • Explosives
  • Radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted)
  • Drones
  • Automobiles or motorcycles
  • Flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers
  • Valuables such as precious jewelry or family heirlooms
Drugs

Do not bring any drug that has not been authorized by the Peace Corps for medical purposes without prior consultation with Office of Health Services Pre-Service. This includes prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Illicit drugs, including marijuana and related products such as CBD and herbal substances such as kratom, are prohibited during Peace Corps service, even if they are legal in your home of residence. If you use, possess, or distribute illicit drugs, you will be administratively separated from service.

Clothing

Below is guidance on clothing expectations and cultural norms for work as well as leisure and recreation.

Volunteers in South Africa hand wash their clothes with powder soap and fabric softener which are readily accessible at local stores. When you wash your clothes and hang them outside to dry, they will take between 1 to 2 hours depending on the type of fabric whether it’s thick or very light. Traditionally people work Mondays through Friday, and Saturday mornings are for cleaning and laundry.

Warm weather clothing is recommended as South Africa’s temperatures remain high for most of the year, however there are a few months where cold weather clothing may be needed. Past PCVs have found that clothing made from natural fibers such as cotton and linen are ideal to remain cool in high temperatures and are quick drying in the rainy season. Lightweight long-sleeve shirts are often worn in the summer months to protect against excessive sun exposure. Both summer and winter clothing are available in South Africa.

Work clothing

South African’s adhere to a relatively modest code of dress and value clean, neat, and professional clothing in the workplace. Clothing brought for the workplace should cover the shoulders and skirts and dresses should not be exposed more than a few inches above the knee. Collared shirts, blouses, dress pants, khakis, as well as modest skirts and dresses are all considered appropriate work attire. Ties, jackets, dresses/skirts, and scarfs are necessary for attending certain events at certain places like traditional law court of a South African village.

Part of being presentable at work includes wrinkle free clothing; it is recommended that you either be comfortable ironing or consider bringing wrinkle resistant clothing. Irons are easy and affordable in South Africa. Traditional tailor-made clothing, as well as imported retail items are easily accessible in South Africa, though the quality of imported clothing and shoes may not be what you are accustomed to. A wide range of sizes can be found in South Africa though not all sizes will be found at all stores and some sizes may require additional effort to locate.

Women are required to wear a skirt past their knees at traditional royal meetings that Trainees and Volunteers attend as part of their work and community integration.

Leisure and recreational clothing

South Africans engage in recreational activities such as soccer, netball, dancing, both traditional and modern, and other sports and pastimes. Clothing for such activities can include leggings, mid length shorts, t-shirts, and tank tops that cover the stomach.

Hats are very popular in South Africa due to the sunny weather, as are umbrellas which protect from the sun as well as the rain. Volunteers can bring along raincoats for rainy days.

Weddings, funerals, and community meetings are dressy affairs. You will see long skirts and dresses, modest blouses, collared shirts, dress pants, khakis, jackets, ties, and head coverings worn at such events. Traditional outfits can be easily made in-country.

When relaxed at home you can wear your leggings, jeans, shorts, T-shirts, sleeveless tops and casual dresses.

Shoes

Professional looking sandals, open toed and closed dress shoes are appropriate in the workplace and many South Africans will choose to commute to work in a pair of durable shoes and change into more professional shoes upon arrival, particularly in the rainy season. You will be doing a lot of walking; durable and comfortable walking shoes are advised.

  • Education sector: Closed toed shoes are appropriate for the classroom. Lightweight closed toed shoes. Tennis shoes and rubber sandals are not appropriate for the classroom.
  • Health sector: The health sector requires frequent walking to satellite work locations. We recommend appropriate durable footwear. Lightweight closed toed shoes or sandals are appropriate for higher level work meetings.
Toiletries and medications

You should bring a three-month supply of any prescription and/or over the counter medications you use that are authorized/approved by the Peace Corps.

Note: Prior to service, Peace Corps supplies all volunteers with a medical kit containing basic, over-the-counter medications, as well as multivitamins.

See a detailed list of items included in the medical kit.

The medical unit will replenish prescriptions after the initial three-month training.

If you wear eyeglasses, bring two pairs (of the current prescription) with you. Contact lens use will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

See additional guidance from the Office of Medical Services.

Electronics

The plugs and sockets used in South Africa are types C, D, M and N. The country operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. Electricity is available in South Africa although spontaneous power outages as well as planned power cuts makes electricity somewhat unreliable. Phone chargers can be found in most mid to large size villages and surge protectors and adapters are also available for purchase.

Cell phones, tablets and laptops are also available for purchase and Peace Corps South Africa can assist with purchasing them upon arrival, though many Volunteers prefer to bring their laptops from home.

Other items to consider

Based on your interests and personal preferences there may be additional items you will want to consider bringing with you. Below is a description of the common activities the Volunteers engage in and what different Volunteers have said they enjoy having that might be more difficult to find in-country. Note: these items are not required or even recommended, but they might be nice to have.

Volunteers who enjoy reading have found e-readers particularly convenient. Volunteers who enjoy camping may consider bringing a lightweight sleeping bag. Many Volunteers who play a musical instrument find comfort and connection by bringing an instrument with them. Swim suites for those who like to swim, yoga mats etc. Volunteers bake, draw murals at their sites as well as at their organizations, go camping, engage in cultural exchange activities such as attending weddings and funerals.

Work supplies

Peace Corps South Africa promotes the use of local resources in Volunteer work. One of the jobs of the Volunteer is to work with counterparts to identify local solutions to resource constraints using available means. Because of this, we discourage Volunteers bringing job aids from outside that may create conditions that are not replicable after the Volunteer’s departure.

Food

Apart from high nutrition snack foods that you may want for your first week to help transition to the local diet, please do not bring large quantities of food. Part of cultural integration is learning to embrace and share local ways of eating.

Preparing For load shedding

The power grid in South Africa currently is under pressure due to old infrastructure and maintenance issues. To keep the power grid from collapsing our National Energy regulator implements a daily load shedding schedule with various stages 1-6. Load shedding is when every area in South Africa does not have electricity daily from 2 to 8 hours per day depending on the stage that is announced. Once you arrive at post, we will assist you to download an app that you can use to understand the schedule for your area and plan accordingly. We recommend that you bring a back-up power bank, flashlight, headlamp, rechargeable camping lamp and a solar charger if you have one so that you can keep your phone and other electronics charged.