I love reading the interviews with South African expats… and I think you do too (well, some of you do as it’s often the series people I know bring up in conversation!)
Today I’m interviewing Meg from the blog This is us living. She is a South African who moved over to Ireland with her husband, Rob and their pug, Jack, in November 2016.
The main objective of their move was so that they could travel more and explore more of the world. In South Africa, they had a house filled with things they had collected over the years, but, even with all the things, they were not really happy with life. They wanted to travel more than anything but couldn’t afford to maintain the things, and still travel!
They decided to scale down and sell most of their stuff, moving to Ireland as a fresh start. Read on below for more about Meg and her move to Dublin, Ireland.
Where are you originally from?
Johannesburg, South Africa
Where did you emigrate to?
When did you emigrate (year)?
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
On honeymoon in October 2015 we had a chat about what we want out of life, and where do we see ourselves in 5 years. We both love to travel and really want explore more of the world. Both of us have experienced living in another country when we were in our 20’s, but living overseas in your 20’s and living overseas as married professionals is two different things. So we decided to start looking at options. We LOVE South Africa and we never moved for any negative reasons, we also never saw the move as permanent. We are always winging life, and so we took a leap of faith to see what life in Ireland would be like. We do see ourselves going home; we are just not sure when that will be.
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
We first looked at what kind of job opportunities were available, and looked at various countries because we didn’t have any preferences. Ireland came out top because we could move our dog over easily and there was a good amount of job opportunities for us both.
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc.?
As South Africans, you can enter Ireland and stay for up to 90 days without any visas. The trick is that you will need a work permit to be able to work in Ireland. But you can only apply for the work permit once you have a job offer. So it works a little backwards. We were lucky in that my husband skillset is on the critical skills list for Ireland, meaning that he could get a work permit a little easier than other types of careers. We waited until he had a job offer and work permit before we moved over, it took us 3 months from the time we accepted the job offer until we moved over. In hindsight, I would have brought more savings over because it ended up taking me a bit longer (more than 6 months!) than we expected to find a job here, even though I was eligible for a spousal/ dependent work permit. The different types of work permits are all submitted into the same department and they are reviewed according to date submitted, not type. So even though a spousal/ dependent employment permit is free, it takes the same amount of time to process it. So we ended up living off one salary for quite a while.
What was your first year like after emigrating?
They say the first 18 months is the hardest and that is no lie. The first year was tough. We had some personal issues that were outside of our control, but also figuring out how things work and making new friends takes a while. We don’t have kids, and we aren’t students so we don’t fit into lots of ‘options’ to find friends. Living overseas is not as glamorous as everyone thinks it is, you still have to pay bills and do admin – it is not the same as going to a country on a holiday. We have been here nearly 2 years and there are still days where I am lonely and miss home. I don’t think that ever really goes away.
What have you loved about your new home? (the positives of emigrating)
Ireland is a great country. We love living here, and if you can get through the admin and bureaucracy, living in Ireland can be great. We love how much there is to do and see here, we are always exploring. I love the change of seasons, fall/autumn is my favourite season. A winter Christmas is novel too, and they really go all out for Christmas so it feels like you are in a Christmas movie. Irish folk, the ones we have met, are extremely kind and helpful. They will go out of their way to help you out. Plus they have a very similar sense of humour to South Africans so we have really enjoyed the laughs and the craic here.
*craic is a saying here in Ireland which is used like ‘gees’ or fun or good vibes.
What have you found hard about your new home? (the negatives of emigrating)
The admin and bureaucracy to stay and work in Ireland for non-EU passport holders is extremely hard. Currently it is taking up to 3 months to process employment permits, so many employers are not too keen to employ someone when it will take so long to get you working. There is also a housing crisis here, so finding a place to stay is challenging, not to mention rent is stupidly expensive in the city. Adding a pet-friendly rental is even more challenging. But none of this stuff is impossible, it can all be sorted, it is just a bit stressful if you don’t know what to do. That is actually why I started my blog, to help others thinking about moving to Ireland.
What have you NOT missed about South Africa? (the positives of emigrating)
I think the thing we appreciate a lot is that we can travel a lot more easily living so centrally to Europe now. But there really is so much we miss about SA.
What have you missed about South Africa? (the negatives of emigrating)
I miss the people. We miss the Joburg hustle and “gees”. We miss our friends and family dearly. We also miss the good weather and the braai’s outside with the people we love. South Africans are just one of a kind.
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
I think we would still move, we have had some highs and lows with moving, but the move has made us stronger as a couple, and has taught us so much about each other and ourselves. We have grown from this experience, and we are better people for it.
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?
We want to move back to SA once we have done loads of travelling, however, if things don’t work out here in Ireland then we would want to go back to SA because our family and friends and our support network is there. I know I have said this before but we hold no ill feelings towards SA, we love our home country and really do hope to move back once we have explored a little bit more of what the world has to offer us.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa?
I think what makes it hard is that we haven’t done enough of what we said we wanted to do. We still have loads of travelling and exploring to do, so it would be hard to go back so soon. We would feel like we had failed ourselves if we didn’t give it a full shot 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?
I think we didn’t realise how big a move like this is. We did it for the right reasons, but I don’t think we ever fully realised how permanent a move like this can be. Once you get through all the admin and paperwork, you almost don’t want to move again because you don’t want to go through all that uncertainty again. Change is hard, and it affects everyone differently, which I think is why some people go and some people choose to stay. We definitely should have come over with more savings, and a better ‘worst-case’ plan in place. Plan for the worst, then multiple it by 10. I would say that anyone looking to move to Ireland, you should really find a job before you move over. Finding a job and a place to rent are the two biggest hurdles – the rest just takes time to settle and adjust. I definitely think you have to have a certain amount of bravery, and maybe a little bit of ignorance. It takes courage to put yourself out there – but do it, and really Ireland is an amazing place to live and work.
If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to click this link to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.