These days, when thinking about a move to another country you needn’t think only of those places that are nearby. Europe may be on our doorstep, but Europe is in turn on the doorstep of a far bigger continent: Africa. And for many, the idea of moving to South Africa in particular is as alluring as it is exciting. But how easy is it to make the move, and what can you expect from a new life there?
The nation of South Africa (abbreviated to SA henceforth) is home to around 47 59 million people from a broad range of backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. In some ways, SA is more like North America or Europe than other countries in Africa, with cities of skyscrapers, shopping malls and all the other trappings of modern life.
Despite having a troubled modern history, SA has really been on the up over the last couple of decades and it’s now considered to have pulled free of many of the problems associated with its past. Business and trade are booming, and political stability has brought much-needed investment to the country and seen the economy move away from primarily mining and agriculture to developing innovative new sectors in IT and finance.
People who have moved to SA rave about what a great place it is to live in. There is masses of open space, seemingly endless sunshine and the lifestyle is laid back and relaxed compared to many other places. Wine aficionados gravitate towards the Winelands region, a fertile area bordering the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek mountain ranges. With its Dutch colonial flavour, the region abounds with beautifully preserved small towns and lots and lots of vineyards.
Beach life is also a big drawcard for SA expats. With some 2850km of coast – much of it comprised of golden sandy beaches – it’s no surprise that pursuits such as surfing, fishing and sailing are so popular there. The braai (otherwise known as a barbecue) is a social and cultural institution that remains a favourite among expats and locals alike. For those who like to travel, there’s easy access to some of SA’s nearby neighbours, including Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique, where some of the best wildlife parks in Africa are to be found.
In fact, if it’s nature and the outdoors life you dream of, SA is rightly famed for its wildlife, its beaches and camping trips in the bush. You’ll never be too far from a game park, if safaris are your thing, with Kruger National Park being the most well-known. What’s more, there are long sandy beaches lining the Garden Route and the Durban area in the KwaZulu-Natal region, attracting tourists and locals alike.
Cape Town is another popular destination for expats, and it’s no surprise when you consider its stunning location on the ‘African Riviera’, its cosmopolitan reputation and the fantastic year-round weather. There’s also a thriving economy there with a wide variety of sectors, increasing the scope for finding work.
Nevertheless, some are put off SA by stories of crime in the news. But seasoned expats insist that the country is generally safe, and that most crime is limited to certain troubled hotspots. Furthermore, they say, if one acts with prudence and caution – as one would do anywhere – there’s really nothing to worry about. The consensus is the rewards of living in SA speak for themselves, and far outweigh the potential negative aspects.
The cost of living in SA is relatively low compared to many other countries. In fact, according to statistics site Numbeo.com, SA is the 79th most expensive country in the world to live in, with the UK coming it at number 28. On average, it is reckoned the total living cost for a family of four including rent, utilities, food and entertainment would come in at R37,466, which equates to around £1,761 per month. This compares favourably to the average cost of living in the UK, which is reckoned to be £3,803 for a family of four per month.
The South African currency – the Rand (ZAR) – has devalued against the Pound over the last few years and is now around 25 percent weaker than it was in 2017. This is part of a longer-term trend that has been apparent since 2006. In fact, the Rand has lost around half its value since then. For the most part, the currency is driven by commodity prices and risk assessment, as SA is a commodity exporting country and is therefore sensitive to changes in price and the state of the global economy.
Nevertheless, the economy has become highly diversified in recent years and there are large IT, manufacturing and banking sectors offering a range of potential jobs for expats. Most jobs are to be found in the largest three cities – Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban – but there are opportunities all over the country.
If you’re only planning to visit SA for a period of less than three months, then you’ll likely need no more than a valid passport. For anything longer, or if you are planning to move permanently, you’ll need to obtain a permit or visa.
Work Visas are issued to people who have a particular skill that is currently in demand. Currently, there is a shortfall of IT professionals, middle managers and salespeople, so anyone with those skills should find it easy to get a work visa. These types of visas come under several different categories, ranging from visas issued for those with Critical Skills, Work Transfer Visas for those who already work for a South African company or a company with South African branches, as well as Corporate Visas for high-flying businesspeople.
If you’re no longer working you might want to apply for a Retired Person’s Visa. These visas are issued to people who can satisfy the requirements of having a fixed monthly income that exceeds R37,000, which is approximately £1,800 at current exchange rates. You’ll need to be able to prove that you have this income for life, and not just temporarily.
Alternatively, if you’re thinking of settling for good you might want to apply for Permanent Residency. Having this gives you most of the rights other SA citizens enjoy – with the exceptions of voting in general elections and holding a South African passport – although, in general, you will need to have been living in SA for five years already on another visa, although this is not always the case and you can apply ‘on other grounds’ from abroad.
Of course, other visas are available for a range of reasons, such as being a student, or for temporary work, and it is always worth consulting a professional immigrations service that deals with SA before taking any major decisions.
If this overview of South Africa as a potential destination for residency or retirement prompts you to take a closer look, be sure you follow the latest official advice regarding visas, permits and any travel instructions that may be imposed due to Covid-19.
South Africa is a fascinating country and a fantastic place to put down roots but be sure to avoid wasting money if you decide to make the move. Many people needlessly give away their hard-earned funds to banks and other institution whenever they make an international currency transfer. This tends to be in the form of bank fees and poor exchange rates when making a transfer for a large purchase, such as a property, or for ongoing payments, such as a pension.
But you don’t need to waste money on bank fees. Currency Solutions offers just that – solutions to your currency needs. So, whenever you are ready to make a move to South Africa, be sure to get in touch with us at Currency Solutions and we’ll tell you how we can easily arrange funds transfers and save you money.
Opening an account with Currency Solutions is completely free and you’ll be able to make currency transfers anytime at our excellent exchange rates.
We appreciate that navigating the currency market can be daunting! So, a dedicated account manager will always be on hand to offer guidance.