How expatriates live and work in Africa

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While the African youth risk their lives by embarking on dangerous journeys to developed countries in makeshift boats in search of a better life, the African continent is, ironically, an attraction to people from other regions of the world, mostly men and women in search of a better life, too.

It’s unclear exactly how many expatriates live in Africa. Their number was estimated at 25 million in 2017, which accounts for less than 2% of the continent’s overall population.  The number grew by an average of 3.0% annually between 2000 and 2017. These migrants come from everywhere, and primarily from Europe, North America, Asia and Australia. English being the official language in the largest number of Sub-Saharan African countries—as a result of British colonization—it serves as an easy vehicle of communication for these migrants who rarely have to learn the native languages. This is not to disregard French, the second official language across the continent. (Spanish and Portuguese, while important, are rather negligible in terms of numbers.)

Many foreigners who live and work in Africa are professionals relocated by their multinational employer involved in oil/gas exploration or mining (gold, diamond, and copper). Others work for international organizations in health services and conservation. The most popular career fields in Africa for expatriates are: business, trade, education, telecommunication, banking, healthcare, and sustainable development. But it has been reported that there are an increasing number of Chinese expatriates in Africa establishing companies for themselves.

Students make up a significant proportion of the immigrants in Africa. Resident permits are granted to these adults continuing their education. As a result, foreign student populations are growing throughout the continent.


Some African governments have created incentives for foreign professionals to come and work in Africa. South Africa, one of Africa’s most developed countries, is a popular African destination for expatriates, many of whom come from the United Kingdom. The rainbow nation has a quota system for many professional groups, such as teachers, physicians, and engineers, which allows foreign professionals to obtain work permits. South Africa also happens to be Africa’s most attractive retirement destination because of its nice climate, low cost of living, great natural beauty, good healthcare and adequate infrastructure.  

Nigeria has the highest number of high-income earning expatriates. There are several other destinations in West Africa that are attractive to foreign retirees, such as the Gambia, Ghana, and Cape Verde. Some West African governments have introduced several incentives to attract expatriate retirees from outside Africa. Ghana, for example, is actively attracting an African American community of retirees thanks to their relatively easy immigration rules and regulations, especially with their upcoming Year of Return 2019 initiative.

With thousands to millions of ethnicities, students, professionals, retirees, and so settling in Africa, there’s a present and future generation of folks who are very much interested and connected to African culture and tradition. Although they may not all have good intentions behind their endeavors, Africa is about to most likely become a melting pot full of colorful diversity. As the world shifts to more and more people being of browner complexion, the more humanity shall feel compelled to migrate back to their original roots in Africa, especially the African Diaspora.



Tony K Ansah, Jr. is a self-published author, a public administrator by profession, and a social entrepreneur based in Rhode Island, U.S.A. He is also the founder and owner of Ansah Africa, a consulting and marketing startup established in 2017.

Email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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