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Hiring Domestic Help in South Africa

Becoming an expat isn’t always easy and can involve quite a bit of legwork and headaches. But there are also some undeniable benefits to expat life, and one of those is the availability of affordable domestic help in a range of countries. South Africa is one of them. Hiring domestic help in South Africa is not difficult but there are a few things you should know about the process.

Do I Want Domestic Help?

If you are planning a move to South Africa and are unsure whether or not you want to hire domestic help, just know that practically every expat family ends up employing a domestic worker or even several of them. The idea might take some getting used to, especially if you’ve never had domestic help before, but not only will it make your life easier, it will also provide a much-needed job opportunity in a country with high unemployment. You might even be approached by job-seekers upon moving into your new home, or you might “inherit” the previous domestic worker in case his or her employer has moved overseas, so it is best to come prepared so as not to feel overwhelmed during your first few weeks in a new country.

What Kind of Help am I Looking for?

The first question you should ask yourself is what type of help you are looking for. Do you have small children and need someone to look after them? Do you need help with cleaning (the most common), gardening, driving, cooking, or perhaps a combination? Most domestics have worked in their jobs for many years and developed a routine they will automatically bring to your household, so if you have specific needs, it is very important to state them upfront to make sure your expectations are met.

Also, will you need full-time (40 hours a week) or just part-time help? Live-in or live-out? South African homes are typically outfitted with separate domestic quarters, so that live-in arrangements – sometimes even for husband and wife teams – are not a problem. Having someone available around the clock (though for overtime pay outside of regular hours) can be a huge benefit, especially if you have younger children and want to enjoy the occasional evening out, but it also comes with additional responsibilities, i.e. furnishing the domestic quarters adequately and providing a monthly meal allowance.

Where do I Find a Domestic Worker?

There are a few agencies catering to the domestic help market, such as Marvelous Maids, who will find and screen employees for you as well as handle any paperwork, for a fee. If you are living in an estate, check with the estate agent if there is a weekly or monthly newsletter with a classifieds section advertising maids and gardeners, or check with your child’s school if they have an equivalent newsletter. The Gumtree website is another option. Hiring domestic help via direct referral from a previous employer is often the best way to find a good match.  

What is the Typical Salary?

You’ve found a domestic worker. What Now? Your first order of business will be to negotiate a salary. South Africa is known for its labor-friendly laws, and all matters regarding the employment of domestic workers are regulated by the Department of Labour. The minimum wage is low, approximately ZAR 1,500 per month, but there are specific rules concerning work hours, overtime, annual leave, public holidays, unemployment insurance, and especially termination. The typical salary for a full-time housekeeper doing your washing and cleaning and perhaps looking after the kids ranges from ZAR 1,500 to ZAR R3,500. You might decide to start with a salary at the lower end of the range to leave room for annual increases or the occasional doctor’s visit or other needed help, but in general R3,000 will be adequate. It is customary to pay Christmas bonuses, and a South African employer might reward long-term service with generous retirement help – something less applicable for expats.

Handling the Paperwork

There isn’t much paperwork involved in hiring and employing a domestic, and it is something you can easily do yourself. However, if you’d rather have someone else do it for you, a payroll service such as UIF Solutions will handle it for about ZAR 20 per month.

There are three items in terms of paperwork you will need:

1) An employment contract (a sample can be found on the Department of Labour website).  Make sure you are very specific when listing tasks as well as reasons for termination – the laws are labour-friendly and in the event a former employee takes you to the Labour Court (it can happen), it is advisable to have everything documented.

2) A monthly payslip for your employee to sign as well as for the records. Some domestics will scoff at this additional paperwork, but it is best to document all payments for future reference from either side.

3) Monthly payments to the UIF, South Africa’s unemployment fund. The employer and the employee are required to each pay 1% of the salary into the UIF, though in reality the employer often pays both portions, making it 2%. To register your domestic, visit the uFiling website. Download the two forms, both UI-8D and UI-19. Complete and fax them to the number provided, and within a week you will receive a uFiling number for your online account, which you can then use to make your monthly UIF payments.

Also make sure that your domestic worker is South African or in the country legally (there is a special dispensation program for Zimbabwean workers) with working papers. You don’t have to wait until uFiling is set up before your domestic can start his or her job, the returns can be submitted later. It’s probably a good idea to agree to a trial period for the first month, or even just a few days, to make sure your domestic is a good fit with your family, before entering into a permanent arrangement.

That’s all there is. Enjoy your new life in a clean house!


By Sine Thieme, an American repat just returned from a three-year assignment in Johannesburg with her husband an four children, where she loved the weather, the people, going on safari, and the fact that you never quite knew when exactly 'just now' would be.