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Tuesday 7 September 2021

How Much It Cost Us To Emigrate To The UK

The most expensive flight of my life

Now that the dust has finally settled on our move to the UK, and most of the whirlwind of admin that goes with packing up and moving to a new country (and then thrown in for good measure – a new job, a new house and new schools, all while in the middle of a global pandemic) things are finally starting to go back to some semblance of normality.

That means I finally have a little bit of time to sit down and take stock of the move, and in particular dig a little bit into something a few of the readers have been asking – just how much does it cost to emigrate from South Africa to the UK?

Of course it is impossible to give a generic answer, and naturally the cost will vary from person to person and from family to family. But in this post I will lay bare the numbers involved in getting myself and my family (1 x wife, 2 x kids (aged 1 and 4)) from sunny South Africa to the er…let’s say… the not so sunny United Kingdom 

Right, I am armed and ready with pretty much all the bank statements, invoices and receipts related to our emigration. 

But before we start, I must mention that some of the costs we needed to pay were in Rands, while some were in Pounds. Now, I am guessing the majority of this audience are of the ZAR variety, and so I will convert any £ related expenses back to Rands using an approximation of R20 for £1 (which is around what the exchange rate was at the time of our emigration). 

Of course this exchange rate changes all the time and so it is just an approximation. If the Rand weakens you may need to pad the below numbers a little bit, and if the Rand strengthens you may need to trim them a little.

Okay, let’s go!

Transport – R25,782

Perhaps the most obvious cost of getting to a new country is, well….er…. getting to a new country. For us this monstrous 24 hour endeavour with 2 kids in tow delightful and leisurely journey consisted of 2 trains, 3 flights and 2 taxis.

Of course, your transport cost will vary depending on how many of you there are, the time of year, where you are coming from, where you are headed, and the number of stopovers (we ended up with 2 stopovers as the flight times worked well with sleep and nap times for the kids).

Oh and don’t forget to book one way 

The breakdown of the cost for getting me and my family to the UK:


Moving Furniture – R97,695

Once the cost of getting yourselves over to the UK has been covered, you may want to look at the cost of getting your stuff over to the UK.

There are a number of ways to approach this, with some people advocating that you shouldn’t take any of your possessions, while others say it’s nice to have your own furniture and familiarity in a new country. And then there is every shade in-between those two extremes.

I was in the extremely fortunate position that my new company gave a relocation allowance which could be used to offset the cost of shipping our stuff over. And so we opted to bring just about everything over (although we did end up selling a fair  amount of items before the move).

Broadly speaking, there are two options when it comes to shipping containers – you can book an entire container for yourself, or you can book part of a shared container (and only pay for the space you use).

The shared container option can be more cost effective, but it comes with some additional uncertainty around when it will leave South Africa (they generally need to wait for a container to fill up before they load it onto a ship heading for the UK). So your container may sit in SA for a while while they wait for the rest of it to fill up. (Hey I never knew it was possible to use two consecutive while's in one sentence!)

With a dedicated container, the departure date is set and it can make the delivery date of your possessions a little more predictable (although still not exact).

In addition, there is a certain point where if you fill up a shared container enough, the price becomes pretty comparable with the cost of a dedicated container. We always asked for quotes for both the shared and dedicated container options, to compare. In our situation the cost of the dedicated container came in only a little higher, and with the more certain arrival date it seemed like the better choice for us.

Shipping ContainerR97,695

Passports And Other Documents - R18,139

I was the lucky winner of having a passport expire during the first lockdown in March last year. A few months before March, I had booked and managed to secure a passport renewal date. With my appointment about a week away, lockdown struck and I was unable to get get the renewal done.

Fortunately some of the restrictions were lifted over time and I was able to find an agent that could get me an appointment at home affairs based on exceptional circumstances (my new job was dependent on me getting a passport). It delayed our eventual departure a little, but I was glad I could at least get it done.

My wife also needed to renew her European passport (she and the boys would be using the EU route to get into the UK – it was a lot cheaper that way). I also needed to organise passports for our two boys (both European and South African.)

As I’m sure you can imagine all of this was a lot of fun with minimal stress!

My VISA also required me to have a TB test, get my qualifications recognised in the UK and prove I was competent in English (unfortunately a couple hundred blog posts don’t count ) – all of which had their own charges.

TB TestR2,500
Supporting DocumentsR5,948

Visa - R58,560

As mentioned before, I was going to be heading over on a skilled worker Visa, while my wife and the kids were going on a EU passport. The costs of Visas vary greatly depending on your circumstances and the duration of the Visa. I went over on a 5 year Visa, which currently costs £928 per person.

My type of Visa (as well as some of the other types) require you to pay an upfront health surcharge. This reason for this charge is to “ensure that temporary migrants make a fair and appropriate financial contribution to the NHS (National Health Service) as well as to prevent medical tourism and unfair use of health services in the UK.

The current cost of the health surcharge is £624 (around R12,480) per year, which is up pretty heavily from the £400 (around R8000) per year charge when I applied. I get the feeling this charge it is probably going to increase even more going forward. You must then multiply this per year cost by the number of years your Visa will allow you to stay in the UK. It's pretty heavy (with ours clocking in at R40,000)!

Health SurchargeR40,000

Accommodation - R59,200

Living somewhere new is best when you have somewhere to live!

The approach we took in sorting out our accommodation, was to first book a short term rental/long stay guest-house for the first month or so. From there we could look at getting something more permanent.

Two reasons we did it this way:
  1. To allow us to view properties and areas before committing to a longer term rental (in addition we were finding it incredibly difficult to get any rental agents to get back to us on the enquiries we made from South Africa. Based on the 2 or so replies we did get, it seemed like in the part of the UK we were moving to, you kind of needed to be in the country before anyone would even consider you).
  2. It would allow some time for our container with our furniture to arrive. Getting a place and having our furniture arrive at the more or less the same time would reduce the time we would be sleeping on blow up mattresses (it feels like camping and is kinda fun for the first night or two, but after that not so much).
We managed to find really nice 2 bedroom, furnished apartment that would have us sorted for the first month and a bit at a cost of £1260 (around R25,200). Now I must mention that this figure is definitely on the very low end by UK standards since we were (and still are) in one of the cheaper areas of the UK. For other parts of the UK (like e.g. London) I would not be surprised to find something similar would cost double or even triple what we paid.

In that first month, and with many of rental agencies not at full operating capacity due to Covid, it was really tight toward the end - but we managed to secure a more permanent rental just in time. Now even though our rental cost from this point onward is not really a cost of emigration, I am mentioning it here because there are many places which require 2 or sometimes even 3 months deposit to secure it.

The rental market in the UK works quite different to South Africa in that you have many people “applying” to rent a place, and then the landlord decides who they like best based on current job, previous rentals, how much deposit they have etc. Since we weren’t from the country and didn’t have any previous UK rental record, we needed to offer 2 months rent as a deposit to sweeten the deal.

The rent for the place we wanted was £850 a month, so our deposit ended up being £1,700 (around R34,000). Again I must mention that this is in one of the cheaper areas of the UK and you could probably double (or even triple) that rental and deposit cost for a similar family-of-4-type accommodation in other parts of the UK.

1 Month Short Term Furnished RentalR25,200
Rental DepositR34,000

Adding It All Up

Right so let’s put everything together… Get the calculator out..

Our total bill for emigrating from South Africa:

Wow, seeing this number is pretty scary – over a quarter of a million!

But to put it into perspective - that money would only get us around 2 years worth of medical aid contributions and school fees had we stayed in South Africa. So it's all relative I guess. And I am just really grateful I didn't have to foot the entire bill. My then future and now current employer, very generously covered around 80% of our total cost through their relocation allowance.

And of course it is possible to do it cheaper. But yes, there is no two ways about it - emigrating is pretty costly! 

Other Expenses To Think About

Keep in mind that not everything in our list of expenses will be applicable to everyone. But in the same breath, there are also expenses which were not applicable to us that other people would incur. For example, getting pets over can be pretty expensive.

Update - one of the readers pointed out that I had forgotten about the costs of staying in a quarantine hotel if you arriving from what the UK calls a "red list" country. As it currently stands, South Africa is on this list, and so you will need to fork out a pretty hefty sum for the privilege of being locked in a hotel room for 10 days. We were fortunate that there was only a self isolation requirement when we made the move over.

The Hidden Costs

Sitting here with a list of receipts and bank statements, it is pretty easy (although slightly more tedious than I first thought) to flesh out all the numbers around the cost of our move. And that’s because those costs are pretty obvious and visible.

Unfortunately there are a whole hosts of other costs, which although not as visible, are still very much there.

These can be difficult to put a figure on, but it is important to realise that we also lost quite a bit of Rands on things like:
  • Selling our house (and the additional costs and taxes if buy again on this side)
  • Selling and rebuying a car
  • Cashing out pension funds
  • Selling out of investments and re-buying them on this side
  • Selling/Donating/Scrapping furniture/household items and rebuying them on this side
And yes some of these may not be applicable to everyone, but then again there are other similar hidden expenses which weren’t applicable to us but could be to others.

Although I Am Now Experienced, I Am Not An Expert

I suspect that after this article I am going to be getting a lot of questions and queries about Visas, landing jobs in the UK, and eligibility for getting into the UK.

Unfortunately a lot of the answers to these questions are very dependent on each person and circumstances, but I will try give some more info and useful links below as a starting point.
  • For skilled worker Visa info, you can check out this Gov.UK link https://www.gov.uk/skilled-worker-visa . In fact, the Gov.UK website has really great info on all types of Visas, eligibility and all the processes involved. It was my go to resource for our emigration and I highly recommend it (as opposed to checking out what Ben has to say on that other Facebook group. Although I must say, there are some pretty decent Facebook Groups with knowledgeable people and really good information. But never just believe everything you see on the socials - official information is best.). There are also professional immigration lawyers which you can make use of – some of them will even help with initial information for free.
  • For jobs, there are a few good websites. Top of my mind is reed.co.uk, but keep in mind that there may be better sites for certain industries/levels of experience etc. I ended up on a few recruiters radars after submitting my CV to a couple of UK job sites and making some applications. Then when a recruiter got in touch. I was able to explain that I would be needing a Visa to emigrate, and so I could only consider companies who were willing to sponsor me.

Till next time, Stay Stealthy!
 - ~ - ~

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