This week I’m interviewing Honest Expat, Sarah Laurence (31) who, with her husband Craig Laurence (36), is currently based in London.
When they first married they moved to rural Canada for a few years, and then moved back to Cape Town to buy a house, live and work.
However, the travel bug bit again and they then spent a few months travelling full time, before living in New Zealand for a year and then moving to London in the UK.
Sarah’s serial expat experiences certainly make her one of the most experienced South African expats I’ve interviewed so be sure to read on for more of her “expat expert” insights…
The Honest Expat: Interviews with South African Expats
When did you emigrate (year)? First, 2009, but this time, 2018
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
The catalyst was to be able to earn money and set up a life somewhere where we could earn foreign currency, and somewhere where we both had career-advancing opportunities.
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
It’s really been quite a constant motif of our time together, although we haven’t always lived overseas. I suppose living in New Zealand during 2017 and moving to the UK in 2018 we really started to think about in 2015.
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
Yes to all the above depending on where we’ve been. Our first experience, when we moved to Canada, involved months of paperwork, complications, bureaucracy, and spending our savings on working towards the move. However, as we both have UK (as well as SA) passports, England has been easier than the others. In addition to a national right to stay in a place, our licences to work by professional bodies have been complicated to procure.
What was your first year like after emigrating?
For me, the first year is always a mixture of the exciting and really tough. There’s something both terribly exciting and absolutely exhausting about finding your way around a new grocery store, for instance, and everything you do, everywhere you go, is new, so there is an initial sense of novelty and of travel, a heightened awareness towards your surroundings. Currently in our first year of an emigration again, I’ve reflected on the fact that they don’t really get easier, and the administration of setting up new lives as well as working and running life as usual, can be absolutely brutal. However, this fades after a few months as the admin tails off a bit and your house becomes a home.
What have you loved about your new home? (the positives of emigrating)
For us the career opportunities have been fantastic – London is a major global city and offers us both opportunities we would struggle to have elsewhere. Additionally, the travel opportunities on the strong pound are great. After living in both Canada and New Zealand, the UK feels much closer to home both in terms of geographic distance (one overnight flight instead of two or three) and time difference. Our families visit the UK frequently and we have a network of friends and family that has made a big difference.
What have you found hard about your new home? (the negatives of emigrating)
As we both started working in our first week of arrival, I found the setting up of where we would live, buying furniture from scratch, all the ‘new citizen’ things of registering for a medical practice, bank account etc. very difficult to complete (largely because I’m quite impatient!).
What have you NOT missed about South Africa? (the positives of emigrating)
There’s not a lot we don’t miss about SA. The paucity and volatility of the rand is one thing. Also the heightened emotions of a dynamic and often changing social and political system. And I suppose, although I was lucky enough not to feel actively unsafe in SA, the necessary caution around safety and almost-constant possibility of harm may be a factor as well.
What have you missed about South Africa? (the negatives of emigrating)
So much: the warmth of the people, the warmth of the climate, the beautiful Cape Town scenery and fun lifestyle, our families, the excitement and possibility, being attuned to the culture(s) around you.
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
If I knew now what I do I’m not sure I’d have the strength for the first, young emigration to Canada, or indeed the later one to New Zealand. However, I wouldn’t take them back. We’ve learnt so much about ourselves, each other and the world around us, we’ve travelled and made many life-long friends and I think that we’re richer people because of these experiences. I also think we’re in the right place for us at the moment.
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you
consider returning to South Africa?
Possibly. A stable economy and government that supported necessary social change.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa?
After living in London, the size of the economy and work opportunities may be tough, earning ZAR!
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?
People are everything – make connections before you go. Having said that, try not to only socialise with South Africans and work towards a diverse group of friends who will enrich your experiences. Remember that everywhere is just a flight to everywhere else and if push came to shove you could get home tomorrow if you needed to. Some days (wisely told to me by an earlier arrival in NZ) are hard. Go home, have a glass of wine and try again tomorrow.
Also, and this I believe very strongly, when it comes to emigrating or not emigrating or emigrating for a little while and what is right for you and your people, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. If you mention that you’re moving overseas you may well receive well-intentioned judgement, sympathy, or praise.
As South Africans, we’ve been taught to think that moving is a moral matter, with a right or wrong. It isn’t. Do what you think is right for your family at the time. If you don’t agree with another family’s decision, think ‘good for them, not for me.’
Thanks so much for sharing your wise words and valuable expat experience with me and my readers Sarah. After so many international moves you certainly are well placed as an “expat expert”
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’re a South African expat reading this and would like to share your story please send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Images: Sarah Laurence