Doing Businessin South Africa

Market Insights

South Africa is one of the most sophisticated and developed economies in Africa, however, the Covid-19 pandemic has created a new set of challenges for the South African market.

Enterprise Ireland is responding to the global crisis by working with Irish exporters to help them avail of business response supports announced by the Government. These supports are designed to help businesses stabilise and adapt to the evolving situation, in preparation for getting back on the road to recovery.

Market Overview

South Africa is one of the most sophisticated and developed economies in Africa and is considered the ‘gateway to Africa’ for investors due to its relative sophistication, ease of doing business, continental expertise and ability to act as a base for doing business on the rest of the continent. For Irish companies, opportunities exist in a variety of sectors, including Fintech, Life Sciences and Medical Devices, Agri-technologies, and ICT.

60.14m population (2020)

$301.92BN GDP (2020)

$6,749 GDP per capita (2020)

€96m Enterprise Ireland Client Exports (2020)

Get Export Ready

South Africa is a country of abundant resources, an advanced industrial sector, robust financial systems, a progressive legal framework and can serve as a gateway to other African markets.

English is the primary language of business in South Africa but the market is nonetheless very different from that in Ireland. Cultural sensitivity is crucial as you are likely to encounter people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

In South Africa, personal relationships are valued with networking and relationship-building considered crucial to winning new business.

Key Market Sectors

Enterprise Ireland is playing a key role in supporting ambitious companies seeking opportunities in South Africa’s fintech, ICT and agritech sectors.

Additionally, medtech and life sciences continue to perform and add appeal to Irish exporters and service providers who want to scale, and develop a presence in the South African market.

Read more on South Africa’s sectoral successes in our Going Global Guide.

  • South Africa ranks in the top 20 countries internationally for agricultural output.
  • The sum of investments in South Africa over the past 20 years has increased by an impressive 86%.
  • Ranked 60th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index 2019, out of 140 countries.

Doing Business

The Republic of South Africa is frequently referred to as ‘The Rainbow Nation’ owing to the population’s multicultural diversity. Understanding its culture and how it is emerging from its troubled past is essential to making a success of your business there.

Patience is key to the process. While individual sectors vary, you can expect to spend a year or longer from making initial contacts through to closing the first deal.

In South Africa, personal relationships are valued, and initial meetings are often used to establish a rapport and to gauge mutual trust. Whenever possible, schedule face-to-face meetings to discuss business in preference to communicating by email, letter or telephone.

Best Routes to Market

Researching ease of doing business and choosing the right route to market is very important. South Africa’s legal system is similar to Ireland’s in many respects with the benefit that all official documents and application forms are in English.

While distant from Ireland, the South African market can be served remotely by early-stage exporters who does not wish to set up a permanent base at the initial stage. The time difference in GMT+2 is an advantage for companies providing service and support to clients.

Agents bring a deep understanding of local business practices and distributors can deliver products geographically across large nations. Joint ventures and acquisitions bring valuable established contacts, customers and market knowledge – the power of referrals and networking shouldn’t be underestimated.

The key routes to market in South Africa are supplying directly, agents, distributors, partnerships, pathfinders or establishing a local presence.

Download our Going Global Guide to South Africa to find out more.

Before You Go

Before you go, we recommend you invest some time in researching the terrain before you explore the South African market. Here’s a few starting points to consider…

  1. Market Landscape
  2. Market Trends
  3. Target Market
  4. Market Segmentation
  5. Market Competition
  6. Market Research Resources

Visa requirements, South African labour laws, import rules and regulations, key taxes, and data and intellectual property protection are also addressed in the Going Global Guide. Enterprise Ireland’s Market Research Centre offers client companies access to market intelligence in the form of company, sector, market, and country information to explore opportunities and compete in international markets.

Helping You Succeed

We are committed to helping you succeed in global markets and have an immense wealth of knowledge and expertise in the South African market

Enterprise Ireland assists clients entering new markets with pre-visit support, in-market support, international trade events, additional supports and access to mentors.

Click here to download our guide to Going Global in South Africa.

Our Market Advisors are always available to support you and provide business expertise and on-the-ground knowledge.

South Africa Office
Nicola Kelly


00 27 871600233

Download our Going Global Guide or talk to one of our Enterprise Ireland market advisers in South Africa, today. Find out how you can achieve your global ambition.