Over the past few months I’ve been sharing stories from South Africans who’ve made the move across the world in a series called The Honest Expat…. It’s been really well received as an interview series because I think the question on the minds of many is “Do we stay or do we go?” Despite its’ success, I didn’t want to be the catalyst for someone choosing to leave SA without hearing BOTH sides of the story (because there are ALWAYS two sides!) Something in my heart told me that I need to also interview people who have CHOSEN to move to SA, because there are plenty of people who have actually chosen to come to South African instead of leave it’s shores! I decided to ask those who’ve moved to SA to answer a few questions about why they chose SA and what it’s REALLY like to live here as a foreigner in my brand new interview series: Expat in SA
I asked them to share the whole truth – the good, the bad and the ugly. (and I’m prepared to hear it too!) I want to find out whether the grass is in fact greener elsewhere (well, it probably is greener than ours in the Western Cape!!) or is it just as brown in the rest of the world, we’re just too silly to see it!
The idea behind this new series is to gain better insight into the realities of immigrating to South Africa – as a resource for those looking to move here, but also to show South Africans that maybe it’s not all doom and gloom after all and that some people have actually chosen to be here!
Today I’m sharing my very first interview with an Expat in SA…
Her name is Jessy Lipperts and she came to South Africa in 2003 from her home in The Netherlands to work for 5 months! She’s been here ever since. She now has a 5 year old daughter who she adopted in South Africa! Jessy is a travel planner and blogger. You can find her online at www.planetpilgrims.com
Where are you originally from? and where did you move from?
I’m originally from The Netherlands and lived in Utrecht before I came to Cape Town. I grew up near Maastricht in the south of Holland.
When did you immigrate to SA?
In 2003 I worked in the pre-opening team of the CTICC and the project finished after 5 months. After that I worked a few months as a tour leader for a Dutch company which contract finished end of November that year. I went back to The Netherlands, knowing that I would be able to come back in July 2004 to work as a tour leader again. By then I also had the plan to start my own travel company in Cape Town so when I came back in July 2004 I immediately applied for my business permit and permanent residency.
What was the catalyst/s for your immigration decision to move to SA?
I totally loved it here and I finally had a business plan. In The Netherlands I was always brainstorming around some business ideas, but they never appealed to me too much because I would need a lot of investment, a lot of staff and I would be stuck between 4 walls. These 3 limitations are not applicable to the boutique travel agency I started here: I could work anywhere as long as I have internet, I don’t need staff and I can travel as much as time and money permits and often even for free. What a wonderful idea!! I was amazed by the beauty of South Africa and the diversity. Everyone knew about the good wines but no one had told me about the incredible restaurants and insane value for money (at that time). I was looking forward to an exciting time of going on many road trips to visit lodges, doing tons of safaris and getting to know the country really well. I still worked as a tour leader about 8 months out of the year and the rest of the time I was setting up my own business. I came here with no money, just a suitcase so I started from scratch and every time I had earned some money with tour guiding I would invest it in a website, or business cards or another research trip.
How long had you thought through the immigration process?
I didn’t. I think this is different from many people who come on holiday many times and then finally decide to make the big move. In my case it was all so quick. I lost my job in The Netherlands, then heard about this project on the other end of the world and within 3 weeks I was in the plane. I thought it would be a good idea to have a break from job hunting in The Netherlands and could have never dreamt that it would be the best decision ever!!
How easy/ complicated was the application process to immigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
Of course everyone tells: it is not possible what you want to do. I was determined though. At the time I was told that one needs, I think it was ZAR 2.000.000 investment before you can get a business permit. The South African embassy in The Netherlands told me this. I didn’t believe them. So I just came back in 2004 and then started networking to find out what to do. Within a day I found out that a business in tourism, at the time, was an exception and the ZAR 2.000.000 can be waved by submitting a business plan to Wesgro. So I did this and the biggest hurdle I’d overcome within a week! 6 weeks later I had a business permit for 2 years. The permanent residency took longer and Dept of Home Affairs also lost my papers once, this seems to be the norm…. In 2008 I got my permanent residency after having extended the business permit one time. I used an immigration consultant to do most of the work and I just had to gather all the paper work. It was worth it because I was traveling all the time. I think each procedure was about ZAR 7.000 besides the cost for x-rays, translations of certain documents etc. Each case is different and I know it has become a LOT harder these days so I’m happy I did it right in the beginning and I didn’t delay. Now it would be pretty hard for me to do what I did. Tourism is no longer an exception so I would need a lot of money.
What was your first year like after immigrating to South Africa?
Gosh it is so long ago but I know there was 1 month when everything went wrong. I remember that I rented a car because I hadn’t bought one yet because I needed to save money. That car got stolen and then another rental car was stolen. The rental company just charged my credit card and all my saved money was gone. I also had almost given up my freelance job as a tour leader to start giving Dutch classes for a company who was training call centre staff. I thought it might be better to have a more permanent job while I set up my business. It all turned out to be a hoax. It was awful! But other than that I was on my mission to grow my business so it didn’t distract from that.
Oh and another awful thing that happened was when I was studying to become an accredited national tourist guide. We worked with an assessor for 2 years to put the Portfolio of Evidence together and she made us do exams. When we wanted to register with the Tourist Guide department it turned out she wasn’t accredited to do what she was doing. I wanted to kill her!! We had to find another institute and do it all over again because by then the rules around tour guiding had become much stricter.
What have you loved about your new home – for you and your children? (the positives of immigrating to SA)
There’s SO much that I love about this country. First of all, waking up and about 80% of the time I can see a blue sky and sunshine makes me extremely happy and is super for the soul. Spending the weekends outdoors is fantastic. The next thing I love are the people, the ‘gees’. The other day I spoke to a lady her and her family immigrated to Australia but she said they came back after 3 months. The kids had said: Mom, there’s no spice here. And I think that’s a good way of describing it. South Africa is a country of extremes. One day a person close to you might be hijacked or murdered, but then the next day you will meet the most incredible person who does the most amazing work in her community. I feel ALIVE and KICKING here! Through my work with Dutch school groups, I had a one-on-one chat with Desmond Tutu! I mean, that would NEVER EVER happen in The Netherlands. People there are all pretty much the same. Since living here, my life has much more meaning. There’s so much work that needs to be done and you can take active part in it.
What have you found hard about your new home – for you and your children? (the negatives of immigrating to SA)
In Cape Town the integration goes very slowly and too many places are not friendly for everyone. Having adopted a black child I’m much more aware of what’s wrong and what’s right with regards to things we say, do and experience and a lot is NOT good. For example for me to say ‘everyone around the braai is figuring out how to leave the country’, this is only applicable for maybe 5% of the entire South African population who can get or have a passport. I’m learning everyday and, of course, I need to because of my daughter. I wish more people would make a real effort to get to know other parts of Cape Town and try to integrate more. Too many people are happy to stay in their bubble without caring about what’s going on in other people’s life. Whenever I join an event in Langa or Khayelitsha, there are very few privileged South Africans, mostly foreign tourists or expats who seem more inclined to explore and be open to everybody and not just a small part of the population. So since having adopted my daughter it is simply no longer ok, and it should have never be ok, to go to gatherings where there are only white people. I truly hope that more people will look for opportunities to connect with people ‘on the other side’ and not only have a domestic worker from a different background come into their house once a week.
One of the reasons why my daughter is in the French School is that I don’t want her to be put in a box already from a very young age which is what most South Africans do. Talking about ‘that colored’ lady or ‘that Afrikaans’ man comes with certain connotations which are damaging to the individual and I think should be avoided to transform the mindset and South Africa as a whole. The French school is a nice mix of Africa and Europe and most kids are mixes of parents from all over the world and it is absolutely beautiful. I’m glad I found out about this school. And of course she speaks now 3 languages at the age of 5 which is fantastic.
What have you NOT missed about your previous home country – for you and your children? (the positives of emigrating)
Rain and bad weather. My daughter asked when we were in The Netherlands: Mommy where is the sun? Well then you know…
What have you missed about your home country – for you and your children? (the negatives of emigrating)
What I miss from The Netherlands is using my bicycle as a mode of transport rather than a car or MyCiti bus. Cape Town is slowly getting there but it is too dangerous to cycle on the streets with my daughter doing groceries which is what I would be doing in The Netherlands.
Knowing what you know now – would you immigrate to South Africa again? Or would you immigrate again but to a different place?
Yes, both, I could immigrate to a different place. I never think any decision should be permanent. I see myself rather as a global citizen and if there would not be such strict rules, I would float in between different countries a bit more I think.. Although my daughter is in school now so we are a bit more restricted. I am dreaming up a year of where we will go and live in 4 different places to explore and learn and spend quality time together.
What makes you consider South Africa your permanent home now?
My company is based here, my home is here and my daughter is here. She has dual citizenship (2 passports).
What makes it hard to call South Africa home – for you and your children?
It is not hard. It is our home. We love living here and make sure we are active citizens who are rather part of the solution than sit around and moan.
What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of immigrating to South Africa that you’d wished you’d known about before doing so. Do you have any advice for those contemplating making this huge move for their families?
Since I didn’t have much planning time and didn’t have many expectations before I came here this is a difficult one. I’m an impatient person so that was, and still is, a big challenge. Everything takes forever and the red tape is horrid. I think the bank alone must have about 100 copies of my ID book because each time I need something they make new copies.
Meeting people is very casual which means that plans often get cancelled and you always need to confirm 1 day or an hour before the actual meeting to avoid having to wait or people not rocking up at all. I’m still not used to this and perhaps that’s why lately I mostly have international friends because I’m a person of planning and commitment.
I would never say that South Africa is a cheap country which is what people often think. You need a LOT of money to enjoy all the fabulous things South Africa has to offer. If you want to live in a nice area, that costs a lot of money, if you want to send your kids to a certain school, it is expensive. Yes certain things might be cheaper, but shopping at Woollies is actually more expensive than shopping at a good supermarket in The Netherlands. Also one supermarket never has everything that you want or need, so you end up going around and around to get all the stuff you want. For someone who doesn’t like shopping, this feels as a waste of time and my cooking has become pretty boring.
I love it that people chat a lot and easily start a conversation. This is definitely not the case in The Netherlands. People will look at you weird. Here it is normal to just have a small chat while standing in a queue. I enjoy those little interactions daily and would miss them.
It seems that having a child, also turns you into a taxi service for the next 18 years. Because of safety issues SA children seem to not have a certain independence that Dutch kids have. I have friends who moved back to The Netherlands for that particular reason so I’m very aware of that with my daughter.
I LOVE the assistance at petrol stations. IT IS FANTASTIC!! In Holland I would get out of my car, put petrol in, then walk inside, most probably in the rain, to pay and then head back to the car. Here I can just chill and chat.
With regards to safety which is obviously what people ask about a lot. I try to live my life in a way that I don’t want to be scared for anything, but I don’t want to be reckless either. So I’m always balancing. For example at night I prefer to take Uber instead of driving myself so I will still go where I want to go.
Oh and then the usual things: there are ATMs everywhere, the private hospitals are MUCH better than in The Netherlands, the water is good, the roads are fantastic, a lot of outdoor playing areas and South Africans LOVE children and take time to have a chat with my daughter which would not happen in Holland so I love this aspect of living here.
Thanks so much Jessy for sharing your story! I loved reading it and getting your “outsider” perspective on SA… although after 15 years of living here I think you’re more of an “insider” now!