Getting to the England from South Africa with our family – what we learnt

We made our decision to move from Cape Town back to England (specifically Sevenoaks in Kent) last year but the execution of it all only started in the middle of 2018 when things started lining up for my husband and I (work and visa wise).

There are so many things to consider and prepare for. But here’s what we learnt:

  1. Try to visit the area that you want to live in:I realise that not everyone has the financial means to check out the place that they’d like to move to ahead of time. But if you have the money, go overseas (or send your partner) and check out the areas you are keen to live in. We’d lived in London before but were keen not to live in the City. I so often see people say they are at a loss on   where to live as the United Kingdom is so big with a plethora of towns, villages and cities to choose from. We narrowed it down like this:
  • We wanted an area that was commutable to a big city, i.e. London.
  • We wanted a country-village type lifestyle.
  • We wanted a family friendly place.
We decided to live in Sevenoaks, Kent. Stunning Knole Estate is nearby.
The deer at Knole are tame.
  1. Try have one parent go up first to set everything up:This is really hard, especially if you have children but if you or your partner can organize to go up ahead and sort things like accommodation out first, it will be much easier.
  2. Search online for homes:Whether you’re looking to rent or buy in the UK, two sites stand out for me: rightmove.co.uk and zoopla.co.uk. If you have school-going children, Rightmove has a handy school checker which tells you about all the schools in the surrounding area where you want to rent and gives you it’s Ofsted rating. Also check out booking.com and Airbnb.com for temporary accommodation to tide you over until you find a suitable place to rent or buy.
  3. Measure, measure and measure again:I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Typical South African homes are large with rolling lawns. Meanwhile, typical English homes are much smaller and gardens (if you’re lucky to have one) are not much bigger. Garages are also a rarity. So make sure you get rid of all your big furniture items, particularly if the place you’re moving to has no place to store them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to sell things:You may think that your second-hand goods are pieces of junk that no-one would want. But I was able to sell my bed, matching side tables, kids television, microwave, etc. I posted some things on Gumtree but I was able to sell things more quickly using Facebook groups including: Secondhand Baby Essentials and Southern Suburbs Classified (relevant groups if you’re living in Cape Town).
  5. Put your house up for sale and to rent:When we put our home on the market to sell we found it difficult securing a buyer. It’s hardly surprising given the current market. I spoke to a property economist from FNB and he said the average waiting time can be as long as 16 weeks. Cape Town is currently going through a ‘buyer’s market’ cycle. It means that buyers have all the power as there’s too much stock on the market. Plus it didn’t help that we were trying to sell in winter, when Cape Town had just gone through a severe drought, followed by stringent water restrictions. Of course, the election is just around the corner and I’m sure the political climate and rhetoric is not helping the property market much either. We ended up advertising our home to let as well and the result was that we found a tenant instead of a buyer. Make sure you do an inspection of the property before the tenant moves in, so that you and the tenant know where you stand.
  6. You can open a bank account from South Africa:If your partner has gone ahead of you, see if you can get him/her to open a Monzo. It’s a digital, mobile-only bank based in the United Kingdom. When your partner gets invited to open a bank account (say from friends or colleagues) and spends money on it they can send you a ‘golden ticket’for you to open your own account. All you need is a form of ID (passport will do) and a camera phone where you can take a video of yourself declaring your desire to open an account. Try and get rid of your kids while you do this or get them to pipe down with the noise-making (although Monzo approved my account application with screaming kids in the background and all. Guess they didn’t want to mess with a mom). It’s also possible to open a bank account via 1stcontact.com. They have a Classic Kick Starter Package which will sort out a bank account, mobile SIM card, accommodation help and job assistance all for £35 (R666.25)*.
  7. Get help from others that have done the move to the UK before you:There are a couple of Facebook groups that have been created specifically for people that want to move to the UK from South Africa, including: South Africans Immigrating to the UK; South Africans (saffas) in the UK & Ireland; South-Africans living overseas and SAFFA MOMS in Great Britain. They stress that they’re not registered immigration experts but there are lots of people ready to help and give advice based on their own knowledge and experience.
  8. Get financial advice:Moving to the UK, or anywhere else for that matter is stressful and very expensive. While you can sell your house and car you could lose all that money and more if you’re not careful. Do a comprehensive budget for the move which includes visa fees, accommodation, food, commuting, and flights.
  9. Budget for your pets:If you have pets and want to keep them then you have to factor in their costs too. We used PETport and I final bill came to just over R39,000 to transport our labrador and spaniel from Cape Town to England. It’s not cheap! Then of course if you have to move ahead of them then there’s kenneling costs to consider too. There are costs that lead up to it all which include getting the right vaccinations so they can be approved to fly. You then need to have blood tests done and can only transport the dogs after they have got their rabies certificate and three months after their bloods were taken. Our vet sent our blood samples off to Onderstepoort in Pretoria and it took six weeks to get that all sorted and returned with a certificate. However, I’ve since heard from others that their vets sent their blood samples to vets in Germany and Austria, which involved a quicker turnaround and apparently cost cheaper too.
We swapped stunning Cape Town for equally stunning Sevenoaks in Kent. We took our dogs with.

11. Shop around for your flights:You don’t have to buy the minute you get a quote. We checked out some prices on travelstart.com but went to Flight Centre and got a discount on the TravelStart quote. It was also handy having a travel agent who could give you advice on visas and forms for the children (remember children can’t fly without birth certificates).

12. Sort out birth certificates and passports well ahead of time:The Department of Home Affairs was quick to issue my children’s passports (it took just two weeks) but as their systems were down several times I didn’t know they were ready until I phoned in four weeks after my applications for the boys. Birth certificates on the other hand can take months – so make sure you apply well before the time if you didn’t get one issued for your kids at the hospital where they were born. Remember that there are some bank branches that have Home Affairs branches in them. We used the Standard Bank branch in Canal Walk as it has a Home Affairs branch. Here the queues are much shorter and you have the ability to book an appointment online for IDs and passports. If you’re travelling with children without your partner then make sure you get a letter signed by the father/mother and get it certified.

I consider Emirates a very family friendly airline. Picture courtesy of Pixabay.com

13. Choose a child friendly airline: We flew Emirates, and I have to say that they were great for kids. There’s endless forms of entertainment – lots of cartoons, games and movies to keep them entertained. You can also pre-order kids meals. As I have small children, I found it handy booking seats next to the toilets so I could keep an eye out on when they were free. Emirates is also one of the few airlines that lets you take a lot of baggage. We could each take 2 x 23kg bags to check in. Plus I took a laptop bag, handbag, pram (which I had to check in) as well as one item of carry on luggage. What also helped to keep the kids entertained was buying them some kid friendly luggage. They had car suitcases that they used to scoot around the airport and it was also a handy toy at airport lounges. Takealot also has some lovely suitcases in the Trunki brand.

The car suitcases I got for my kids. But Trunki suitcases available from Takealot.com also look like fun.

14. Get different quotes when selling your car: We got quotes from We Buy Cars and from the dealerships that sold us our cars. We decided not to sell our cars privately although I believe that the likes of Gumtree have done much to improve security when car sales are transacted on the site. My husband got a better deal from We Buy Cars and I ended up getting a better deal from my dealer. It pays to look at various offers.

15. When you get to England you can buy things for cheap and upcycle: Join your local buy and sell Facebook group (I used Sevenoaks Moms Buy and Sell). I managed to find a chest of drawers for £25 (R470) and a new bicycle that someone was selling and hadn’t used for six months for £50 (R940). I upcycled the chest of drawers which had kids’ pencil drawings all over it and looked rather shabby and it now looks like new. Bargains can definitely be found.

The Halfords bike I bought for £50. New bikes from Halfords start from £100 and up.

*All figures correct as at 1 September 2018.

4 thoughts on “Getting to the England from South Africa with our family – what we learnt

    1. We’re getting there. My eldest misses his friends from SA but he’s making friends here. It can be really hard at first but I don’t regret it.

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