FAQs about Peace Corps in South Africa
From Peace Corps Wiki
|FAQs about Peace Corps|
For information see Welcomebooks
 How much luggage am I allowed to bring to South Africa?
Most airlines have baggage size and weight limits and assess charges for transport of baggage that exceeds this allowance. The Peace Corps has its own size and weight limits and will not pay the cost of transport for baggage that exceeds these limits. The authorized baggage allowance is two checked pieces of luggage with combined dimensions of both pieces not to exceed 107 inches (length + width + height) and a carry-on bag with dimensions of no more than 45 inches. Checked baggage should not exceed 80 pounds total with a maximum weight allowance of 70 pounds for any one bag.
Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to take pets, weapons, explosives, radio transmitters (shortwave radios are permitted), automobiles, or motorcycles to their overseas assignments. Do not pack flammable materials or liquids such as lighter fluid, cleaning solvents, hair spray, or aerosol containers. This is an important safety precaution.
 What is the electric current in South Africa?
If you have working electricity, the current is 50 cycles, 220 volts. There may be surges and brownouts, which put a strain on appliances. The Peace Corps does not provide transformers. We recommend tape players that use D batteries because C batteries are a little harder to find in rural areas. AA and watch and calculator batteries are easy to find.
 How much money should I bring?
Volunteers are expected to live at the same level as the people in their community. They are given a settling-in allowance and a monthly living allowance, which should cover their expenses. Often, Volunteers wish to bring additional money for vacation travel to other countries. Credit cards and traveler’s checks are preferable to cash. If you choose to bring extra money, bring the amount that will suit your own travel plans and needs. The Peace Corps is not able to keep large sums of personal money for you.
 When can I take vacation and have people visit me?
Each Volunteer accrues two vacation days per month of service (excluding training). Leave may not be taken during training, the first three months of service, or the last three months of service, except in conjunction with an authorized emergency leave, so plan carefully before committing to attend a friend’s wedding or a family event during your first or last three months of service. Family and friends are welcome to visit you after pre-service training and the first three months of service as long as their stay does not interfere with your work. Extended stays at your site are not encouraged and may require permission from the country director. The Peace Corps cannot provide your visitors with visa, medical, or travel assistance.
 Will my belongings be covered by insurance?
The Peace Corps does not provide insurance coverage for personal effects; Volunteers are ultimately responsible for the safekeeping of their personal belongings. However, you can purchase personal property insurance before you leave. If you wish, you may contact your own insurance company; additionally, insurance application forms will be provided, and we encourage you to consider them carefully. Volunteers should not ship or take valuable items overseas. Jewelry, watches, radios, cameras, and expensive appliances are subject to loss, theft, and breakage, and in many places, satisfactory maintenance and repair services are not available.
 Do I need an international driver’s license?
Volunteers in South Africa do not need to get an international driver’s license because American drivers licenses are legally acceptable in South Africa. However, volunteers are only allowed to drive when on leave.
Most urban travel is by bus or taxi. Rural travel ranges from buses and minibuses to trucks, bicycles, and lots of walking. On very rare occasions, a Volunteer may be asked to drive a sponsor’s vehicle, but this can occur only with prior written permission of the country director.
 What should I bring as gifts for South African friends and my host family?
This is not a requirement. A token of friendship is sufficient. Some gift suggestions include knickknacks for the house; pictures, books, or calendars of American scenes; souvenirs from your area; hard candies that will not melt or spoil; or photos to give away.
 Where will my site assignment be when I finish training and how isolated will I be?
Peace Corps trainees are not assigned to individual sites until after they have completed their pre-service training. This gives the Peace Corps staff the opportunity to assess each trainee’s technical and language skills prior to assigning sites, in addition to finalizing site selections with their ministry counterparts. If feasible, you may have the opportunity to provide input on your site preferences, including geographical location, distance from other Volunteers, or living conditions. However, keep in mind that many factors influence the site selection process and that the Peace Corps cannot guarantee placement where you would ideally like to be. Most Volunteers will live in small towns or in rural villages, but will usually be within one hour from the nearest Volunteer. Some sites will require an eight- to 10-hour drive from the capital.
 How can my family contact me in an emergency?
The Peace Corps’ Office of Special Services provides assistance in handling emergencies affecting trainees and Volunteers or their families. Before leaving the United States, you should instruct your family to notify the Office of Special Services immediately if an emergency arises, such as a serious illness or death of a family member. During normal business hours, the number for the Office of Special Services is 800.424.8580, extension 1470. After normal business hours and on weekends and holidays, the Special Services duty officer can be reached at 202.638.2574. For nonemergency questions, your family can get information from your country desk staff at the Peace Corps by calling 800.424.8580.
 Can I call home from South Africa?
International phone service to and from South Africa is very good. Calling cards such as those offered by AT&T, MCI, and Sprint can be used in-country. Some Volunteers purchase their own cellphones and receive calls from home instead calling home. Some host families may have telephones in their homes.
 Should I bring a cellular phone with me?
Maybe. The systems here are different from those used in the United States, but phones that can access the foreign GSM bands will work here (that includes newer versions of the iPhone and most phones marketed as "global", but make sure you phone is unlocked). South Africa has many cellular service providers, and the Peace Corps staff is equipped with cellphones to attend to emergency calls. Volunteers who have personal cellphones are not always able to get service from their village, but the vast majority of volunteers can get cellular signal from at least one provider in or near their village.
Many volunteers use cellphones for internet access.
The current policy of Peace Corps South Africa is that volunteers are advised not to bring cellphones. However, volunteers who arrived with phones had no problems, other than that they had to get a SIM card before their phones would work. You can save a considerable amount of money by buying a South African compatible phone (possibly one that lets you tether to your computer for Internet access) before you leave the United States--electronics are more expensive in South Africa.
Most volunteers have 2 phones--one they use for the internet, and another cheap phone they carry with them to make calls. This is to save money replacing the phone if you are robbed.
 Will there be e-mail and Internet access? Should I bring my computer?
Almost all South African volunteers have a laptop, and almost all volunteers are able to access the Internet via cellular signal. The quality and speed of cellular Internet can vary significantly from site to site. The cost of cellular internet is high, but most volunteers are able to afford some connectivity with their Peace Corps Living Allowance.
Access requires either a phone or dongle that connects to the computer.