July 1, 2011

Things to Buy Before You Move to South Africa

*** UPDATE: There is a newer version of this blog post: 19 Things to Put on Your Shopping List for South Africa. ***

Prospective expats have asked me what they should buy before moving here, and it is an excellent question. Some things are just too expensive in South Africa, some are impossible to find, and some are at least so cumbersome to track down that it's easier to buy them abroad or have friends bring them when visiting. I'm sure by publishing these items here I will get a flood of protest from South Africans who will assure me that indeed those things can all be bought in South Africa (probably from a street vendor!), but all the better. Then at least I will have found out where to get them! Also, please note that my suggestions are mainly for expats from the U.S. - my German shopping list is different yet again (and includes, for instance, Schokomüsli).

Here is what's on my list:

  • Ziploc bags - believe it or not, these are hard to find here. You can get some Glad products here, but sandwich bags are not typically among them, and the local sandwich/freezer bags don't come with the zip part, not even a fold-over closure. I did end up finding some really nice ones in Chinatown, but not everyone will want to go there.
  • Sneakers/tennis shoes - very expensive in South Africa; if you have kids, buy several sizes up; if they play any sports, like soccer, I would by cleats as well.
  • Starbucks beans - even you can now order Starbucks coffee in a few places, you can't buy the beans here. Hint, hint, to our next visitors from the U.S.!
  • Power cord adapters/multi-strips/transformers - as mentioned in My Top Expat Tips.
  • Advil/Motrin - I haven't yet found any Ibuprofen in South Africa; the most common pain medication, especially for kids, is Paracetamol, which has the same ingredient as Tylenol. I was bummed when I wanted to stock up on Children's Motrin during our last US trip and couldn't find any, only to learn later that it had been pulled off the shelves due to a recall. But Advil did the trick as well.
  • Chili powder - isn't that the silliest thing? But plain old chili powder has been impossible to find, and I checked all the grocery stores. I made do for a recent pot of chili with some ground chili flakes, cumin, and oregano, but it still wasn't the same. Mexican food in general is hard to find in South Africa.
  • Amazon Kindle - great to have in a country where books are unusually expensive; read more at Your Kindle in South Africa.
  • Pepperoni - okay, a bit dodgy to wedge a few pack of pepperoni between your underwear, but my kids have lamented the fact that you can absolutely not find a pepperoni pizza in South Africa. Pepperoni just isn't sold here in any form. Salami yes, and good variety too, but pepperoni no.
  • Battery-operated alarm clocks - if you're an American, one of your first errands will be buying an alarm clock, because none of your old ones will work. However, they don't have much selection here on radio alarms, and the ones they do sell are often not good quality (one friend of mine swears that all the 2nd choice products that didn't pass muster in Europe end up with us in Africa). In any case, you don't really want something to plug in anyway, as often as the power seems to be interrupted, so what I would do is order small battery-run alarms for the entire family from Amazon before you leave. That way you'll be covered and can strike one post-move errand  off your list.
  • Plastic coat hangers - I'm all good on those, thank you very much (in case you're a prospective visitor:-) but I do remember from my early days that those are not as abundant as back home. They're not impossible to find (I bought mine off a street vendor almost the first day  here, which started a long tradition of buying hard-to-find things off street vendors) but definitely more expensive here.
I'm sure there is more to add to this list (and, like I mentioned above, perhaps things to take off it as well), so I invited all your comments!


cat said...

Maybe I can help with some:

For ziplock bags in a great variety of sizes and great price, go to Plastc warehouse - there is one in Fourways opposite the centre that has the Toys R US and Pick 'n Pay.

Chilli powder - try the Indian spice shops - they all sell it. ( (BTW I would love some Starbucks too - my BIL used to send me some from Dubai.)We have settled for DOuwe Egberts as a second choice

Get Lotem suspension - it contains Ibuprofem and Paracetamol. Works like a charm.

Bing said...

All my ziplock bags are from Chinatown. You know the ones I use - good and sturdy.

I've bought Ibuprofen before. But that was in Cape Town and the brand is Inza-200 by Aspen.

I bought chilli powder from Indian stores in Fordsburg. Don't buy, come get some from me.. I have alot!

You're right, sneakers are crazy expensive here.

What I miss the most is Skittles. I just don't get why they don't have Skittles here. And Reese peanut butter cups.

They also don't have good quality padded double sided tape. Or 1/2 of the good stuff like hooks, non-wall paint damaging tape that 3M makes. I ordered them from UK Amazon.

And the one thing I miss very badly - fishballs. I love good springy fish balls and the frozen ones here in Chinatown are crap.

Okay, time to stop complaining. =p

Debs said...

Hi Sine,thanks for the tips on what to bring to SA. I agree with you whole-heartedly about the sneakers - good quality Nikes cost an a fortune. I stock up from Foot-Locker when in the US, and I get visitors to bring Starbucks beans when ever they ask what they can bring.

With regard to the Advil, I have just returned from Clicks Pharmacy at Fourways wit a bit of research for you.

Neurofen - this is ibuprofen. There is a syrup for kids, normal and extra strength for adults - and even one for preiod pain.

Lotem - mentioned in the previous comment is wonderful. It is great all sorts of pains, aches and fevers. It is a combination of ibuprofen and paracetamol. (also the same as Ibugesic)

Stopayne (Liquid) I use this for sore throats, pain and fever etc. It is a combination of codeine, paracetamol and an anti-histamine.

For adults I also keep stocked up with Ibumol ( ibuprofen and paracetamol tablets) and Myprodol (the same - just another name)

Having had 3 kids (7, 16 and 18) go through the normal childhood coughs, colds, flu etc. I can say that although I am not qualified in any way, I feel that I have enough experience to know that these do work.
Oh - and my last suggestion is try the Nando's sauces and chili powders available at Pick 'n Pay.


Debs said...

Sorry, I forgot to mention that these are OTC medicines (Over The Counter). You will need to ask the pharmacist for the medicine but you do not need a prescription. If you are on a medical aid you can ask if they will pay for it. It depends on each medical aid and what type of benefits you are on.

Sine said...

Ha! I knew I'd get lots of advice with this column. Thanks everybody for the great tips. I'll definitely be prepared in the pain medication department.

The thing about chili powder - is the stuff from the Indian shop real Mexican chili powder to make chili with? Because that's not just crushed chilies, it also has other stuff in it like cumin etc that gives it that Mexican flavor.

Oh, and I think I can safely say I do NOT miss fishballs (sorry Bing!). With you on the Reece's cups and maybe Skittles, but not fishballs, sorry.

Heather said...

Ziplocs are impossible to find here. I always ask my American friends to bring them. I also crave my favorite cereal -- Barbara's Shredded Oats -- and ask my friends to bring it from the States. I can't find cereal here that I like. Indian spice shops are the place to go for chili powder, for sure.

Sine said...

Heather - as Bing said, you can get Ziploc bags from Chinatown and they are nice and sturdy, excellent for freezer bags, but I miss the regular thinner lunch ziplocs. I don't want a heavy duty ziploc every time a make lunches for the kids, I just want one that is sandwich size.

Regarding cereal, have you tried the Luxury Muesli from Woolie's? I'm seriously hooked on that now. Eat it with Cape berries and plain lowfat yogurt (I know, Bing will frown:-) every morning.

Lauren said...

I agree about the Ziplock bags! What I miss the most though is Kraft macaroni and cheese. I've had everyone who's come over from the states bring me a couple of boxes.

Madelein said...

Pepperoni is known as green peppers in SA. Also try peppadews - a smaller more burny version

Madelein said...

Oops only now saw that the pepperoni you need is more like a pepper salami. I can only recommend that you buy pepper salami and make your own pizza.:)

slowvelder said...

So glad I stumbled on to your blog through 'in joburg- living on the rand'
As a South African I lived in Europe for a few years as an expat and reading your posts has given me quite a few chuckles. It's great to see 'us' through your eyes.

With regards to your items on this list: Neurofen is ibuprofen which is easy to get in any pharmacy as other comments have mentioned but a further tip is to just ask the pharmacist for ibuprofen - they will give you the generic which is a lot cheaper and just as good.
I don't get the ziplock puzzle - my pick n pay is full of them and I live in a tiny town in the middle of the bush. Afraid you will have to import the Starbucks Beans. For any other product which seems exotic here try going to Thrupps http://www.thrupps.co.za/thrv4/
They have many, many imported products from around the world. They will also find things for you if they don't have them.

Love your blog - I will keep reading :)

cat said...

Most Spar shops stock skittles - two flavours. Or is it nto the same thing?

Doc said...


the Ibuprofen issue has been covered adequately above, just to add that we also use Ponstan( mefenemic acid)for pain , fever and inflammation.also available in suppositories.Good idea to alternate these with Paracetamol or Ibuprofen/paracetamol combination.Please be careful thou and adhere to the maximum dosing schedules per day for these medications.
A good safe alternative for very Young infants is a suppository called VIRBUCOL.its made by HEEL( german company) homeopathic and works for fever, colic, childhood infections like measles , mumpos etc and also teething.Ask your Pharmacist .they are available at the Dischem pharmacies.

Chilli Powder with Cumin and other mixes are available from Indian spice shops.best places are fordsburg- Akhalwaya's spices.

Sneakers,no solution:we also get from the states and buy a few sizes up , thou I have found reasonable priced imports at a shop called " Polo International" in Marlboro and also some shops in teh Oriental Plaza.

hope this helps

Sine said...

slowvelder - glad to have you on my blog and thanks for the comments. Regarding ziplocks, do you mean they have the bags that you can actually zip with the yellow and green or blue stripes? All I've seen here of the ziplock brand is plastic wrap. Thanks for the tip on Thrupp's - you're the second person recommending that, so I'll have to go there soon and write about it afterwards!

Yash said...

Hi Sine, must admit - your blog is a bit addictive! yup, Thrupps stocks a lot of stuff that you may not find in many shops. You can also order from them online, and they deliver. Hope u've managed to find some ibuprofen (cos they're available EVERYWHERE, even in the most remote rural government clinic). Even chili powder - now even at regular stores like PickNPay, spar and Woolies. Hope it isn't too cold this weekend in Jozies! happy bloggin!c

Sine said...

Hi Yash, thanks for the feedback and yes, I have found the ibuprofen. I've also seen the chili powder you mention but it's not the same as Mexican chili powder. It is just powder made from chili. Whereas Mexican chili powder is a mix much like curry, where they add some things like oregano and cumin. Nothing you couldn't make yourself, but it's just easier with the chili powder...

noodle said...

Just seen Reeses (the whole range) at GAME - here comes Walmart…

Sine said...

Yay for Reeses! Thanks for the info, will go there if I have a craving:-). Since we now know that we're moving back, I'm more on the other end of the spectrum now - trying to figure out all the things I should buy before we leave. My husband already ordered tons of Rooibos tea, and, can you believe it, rusks!

po said...

It seems you have to go to the counter now to request Ibuprofen in South AFrica now. They give it to you in a metal cage, but it is crazy cheap!

Sine said...

Not living there anymore, I now have fond memories of the weird metal cages:-)

Lisa Lorenz said...

I agree with everything on the list...And I am so frustrated about pepperoni! I have looked everywhere.. I have tried all the salamis..and they just don't cut it for a good pepperoni pizza. So depressing lolol. Also I miss my Swiffer and Swiffer dusters and pads.when I first moved here. I brought a whole bunch with me now. I also could not find bounce sheets. And I miss may big Costco wet ones. And the paper towels suck here! lol. And I don't like the toilet paper! Funny how you miss certain things..but I miss my pepperoni the most and of course my Quebecois cheese curds and poutine! Also no good bbq gravy for chicken, I brought lots of St. Hubert bbq sauce with me.

Lisa Lorenz said...

And their sanitary napkins selection is awful too.

Sine said...

Did I leave out the paper towels? God the paper towels are awful in SA! However, like I read on 2summers.net the other day (she also complained about paper towels), maybe it is a blessing in disguise. The awful paper towels make you use actual rags, and it's better for the environment. Nevertheless, I imported a whole pack of VIVA when we first moved there, and was guarding them like the apple of my eye!

Sine said...

You're right, some things only make sense to certain people. I had a poutine once in Mont St. Anne and can safely say I would never miss that at all:-)

Re sanitary napkins - I remember guarding OB tampons like the apple of my eye too and despairing when I finally had to buy the local ones, only to be totally pleasantly surprised that I in fact liked them - the way they twist open instead of the little plastic thingy you have to pull? Genius! Lil Lets I think was the brand, and now I just ran out of those again HERE and wish I could buy more. Seems like I'm always hanging behind a few years with my new discoveries...