Today is the turn of Gill, a South African expat living in the UK, to share her Honest Expat story…
Gill and her husband, Grant, are in their fifties. They moved over to the UK in 2018, with their extended family.
Their daughter Roxanne (Roxy) and her husband Jonathan, with their two children Isabella (5) and Daniel (3), plus fur-babies Lucy the hound and Cola the cat, moved over the same time as they did and late in 2019 their younger daughter, Paula, and her husband, Calvin, made the move too.
Interview with a South African Expat in the UK
The Honest Expat – Gill
Where are you originally from?
We come from KZN, we were living in Kloof when we decided to move.
Where did you emigrate to?
Buckinghamshire, UK in 2018
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
Violent crime and corruption and a better future for our children. Also, the ever present threat of retrenchment.
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
We spoke about it off and on for about 18 months, before making the final decision at the beginning of 2018
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
It was quite a complicated process, particularly for my younger daughter, Paula and her husband, Calvin. Our son-in-law, Jonathan, has a British passport, so our elder daughter, Roxy, is here on a spousal visa, with the children as dependents. Grant has an ancestral visa, as all his grandparents were born here and I came as his dependent. We really struggled with how to get Paula and Calvin over, as there wasn’t an obvious route – after much research, we settled on a study visa, so Paula is here on a study visa currently (she is doing her Masters in Social Work) and Calvin is here as her dependent – their intention is to switch to a work visa on the points system when it becomes available in January 2021.
There was quite a lot of paperwork involved and the process was rather stressful. Financially it was NOT cheap – over and above the obvious costs such as flights, shipping our household goods and Rox and Jon’s pets and the cost of the visas, we had to pay our NHS (National health care) up front for 5 years (£2 000 each) have TB tests done and Rox and Paula had to do English tests. Grant and I will need to do English tests and Life in the UK tests before applying for our Indefinite Leave to Remain after being here for 5 years. The visas for Rox and the children are only valid for 2.5 years and so they have to go through the whole process again soon. We have had to pay international fees for Paula’s 2-year Masters degree, so that’s set us back £24 000. I feel like we’ve been haemorrhaging money!
What was your first year like after emigrating?
Amazing! SO much easier than we had imagined. We had a fantastic year settling in and finding all the fun things to do and places to go in our area. We felt very comfortable and at home almost from the word go. I really think that moving as an extended family helped us to settle so quickly. I feel for the families who are split up, that must make it a lot more difficult.
What have you loved about your new home – for you and your children? (the positives of emigrating)
Safety and security – We love that we never have to worry about security. Roxy, Paula and I feel quite comfortable walking around on our own, even in the dark, which is amazing to me. And no burglar bars, what a pleasure!
Being out and about – There is so much to do! Some of it comes at a price, but there are also plenty of things to do that are free. There are lots of parks, National Trust places, garden centres, canals and farm shops dotted about which are always fun to visit. Then there are the fairs, festivals and markets (Summer fairs, food fairs, Christmas markets, canal festivals, steam fairs..) which happen every so often, so if you are stuck for something to do it’s pretty easy to find something like that going on.
Simply going for a country walk has become our very favourite activity and – bonus! – it’s free! We find the countryside very accessible in the UK – there are public footpaths all over the place, so within minutes of leaving our front door we are wandering down a path into fields and woods. We spend loads of time outdoors, even in the Winter. If we feel like something a little more urban, London is less than an hour by train from where we live and Oxford, Henley-on-Thames and Windsor are also nearby, so we are spoilt for choice really.
The seasons – Something that came as a surprise to me is how pretty England is, no matter the season. I find you get a very real sense of the seasonal changes. Spring is an absolute delight, with flowers wherever you look, daffodils, cherry blossom and blue bells putting on an incredible display, fresh green trees and little lambs in the fields. Summer with the long, long days, fields full of poppies, and roses around every corner, is wonderful. Autumn is so, so pretty, especially in the many woodlands in our area. I thought I would hate Winter here, having grown up in the KZN midlands that are very dry and brown in Winter I was never a big fan of Winter, but the Winter here is really special, the grass stays very green, the bare trees are beautiful, the frost sparkles and then we get the odd snow day (not so much this year, unfortunately!) which is spectacular.
The community – another pleasant surprise! We have found the people incredibly friendly and community minded in our village. There is a local newspaper that comes out with all the local news and the village association organises all sorts of things – dances in the village hall, litter clean-ups (to be honest, I don’t know what that’s about, because I see very little litter lying about) a festival for the turning on of the Christmas lights, a Summer picnic on the common. Then the local parish church takes their job very seriously and organises many events too – a toddler group, craft events, Harvest festivals etc. It doesn’t take long to feel part of the community.
Finally, I just have to mention the online shopping….. swoon! Once a week the lovely chap in the delivery van arrives at my door with my week’s groceries… what a pleasure! Want something from Amazon… click…. the next day it’s at my door. You want it, it gets delivered! I love it!
What have you found hard about your new home – for you and your children? (the negatives of emigrating)
I find the red tape a bit of a pain in the neck. For example, when we registered at our local doctor we were given a big, fat wad of papers to fill in – literally a wad! – and we had to provide proof of residential address as well, whereas in South Africa it would have been one sheet of paper and “the doctor will see you now”! Same story when opening a bank account.
For Grant and me, emigrating in our 50s meant taking quite a knock financially – our pensions are practically non-existent, which is very scary when you consider that retirement is not all that far away. It’s going to be a case of work-till-you-drop.
Our standard of living, in a material sense, has also dropped quite drastically – we’ve gone from a 3-bedroom, two bathroom home with a granny flat and office, a deck, a veranda with hot tub and a garden, to a two-bedroom flat with no garden! Quite a shocker to say the least! Funnily enough, once we had gotten over the initial shock, we have come to appreciate our small apartment and the lock-up-and-go lifestyle; but let’s be frank, it is rather humbling. Those Rands don’t convert to many pounds people!
Eating out is very expensive, we definitely eat out less than we did in SA.
As for the children – they start school SO young here. Our little Danny will go into Grade R when he is 4 and he will be doing pretty much the work that South African kids do in Grade 1. In my opinion it is way too much pressure at too young an age.
Our granddaughter Issy has ASD. Here they are very big on integration, so Issy was put into the local infant school (which is lovely, we have no complaints about the school) but she wasn’t coping in the mainstream class and Rox and Jon decided to homeschool her instead. In South Africa they would have had a choice of special schools for her, both private and government. It’s a tough one, because in some ways integration for children like Issy is good, but in our case it didn’t work.
What have you NOT missed about South Africa – for you and your children? (the positives of emigrating)
Obviously, the crime. Living in constant fear. I don’t miss that AT ALL.
The heat and humidity, I much prefer the climate here.
What have you missed about South Africa – for you and your children? (the negatives of emigrating)
I miss sushi! Oh how I miss sushi! The sushi is way, WAY better in South Africa. I also miss bunny chow and proper samoosas and Woolies chai. For me, it’s clearly all about the food! Oh and I never thought I’d see the day that I say this, but… I miss SPUR! Weirdly, you don’t seem to find restaurants here where you can go and eat a proper meal, with an indoor play area to keep the kids happy while you do that. Strange, but true. There are loads of lovely indoor play areas, but they are indoor play areas that happen to serve food, as opposed to restaurants with lovely play areas. I also miss Shongweni market – I used to love going up to Shongweni market on a Saturday morning and sitting having a gin and tonic in the sun, listening to live music.
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
Knowing what I know now I would have emigrated years ago, when we still had time to build up a decent pension, and most definitely to the same area.
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?
Never ever. I have no inclination to return to South Africa at all.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa – for you and your children?
I feel much more at home here. I feel like I was always meant to live here.
What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of emigrating that you’d wished you’d known about before going. Do you have any advice for those contemplating making this huge move for their families?
Unexpected good thing: We found the whole process so much easier than we thought it would be. I wish I had known that it would be relatively painless, I’d have stressed a lot less during our last few months in SA.
Unexpected bad thing: Our standard of living dropped more than we thought it would as far as actual housing goes.
Two pieces of advice I would give to people thinking about making the move would be:
Do it as soon as possible, don’t wait till your 50s like we did (but on the other hand, if you are in your 50s, do it anyway!)
I think the most important thing is to emigrate with a positive mindset. When you walk out of the doors of that plane, make up your mind to be happy. You need to embrace your new country and have a positive, happy energy from the word go. If you look for wonderful, happy, exciting things to see, do and experience you will find them. By the same token, if you look for negative things you will find them too. If you sit around wishing you were back in South Africa, going on and on about the things you miss, you will talk yourself into a dark place very, very quickly. If you have a moment of feeling sad and missing SA, acknowledge it, give yourself a little bit of time to wallow, but keep it brief and then get out there and do something fun and move on from that feeling.
Thanks so much Gill for sharing your story!
If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.
If you are an Honest Expat and happy to share your own emigration story please leave a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org