Emigration… What To Expect When Moving To Another Country

emigration - what to expect
Emigration… Is it easy?

From the many email inquiries that we receive at SA-Austin.com, one thing is clear… emigration is a topic that comes up in many South African households.

This is not a new trend. South Africans have been moving to other countries in droves for at least a couple of decades. Politicsweb published an article that put the number of South African emigrants at more than 588,000 in 2010.

People have many reasons for wanting to leave South Africa, and it is typically thought that such a step will remove those issues from their lives. Depending on which country they go to, for the most part, that is true.

However, nobody should be under the illusion that emigration is easy. It is of course not impossibly difficult, but it is not necessarily a walk in the park.

Here are some of the issues that will come up…

Emigration… Which Country?

The first emigration question to consider is which country to emigrate to. You must have some sort of idea about whether you think you can live there happily. For example, if you simply can’t function in cold weather, Canada would not be a good choice for you. Do some homework on what life is like in the countries you are considering.


Some people think that you can simply show up at your new country with a tourist visa and move in. Not true! You need a specific visa that allows you to live and work in your new country.

Sometimes these can be very difficult to obtain. The USA is notoriously difficult to get into. If you win a Green Card in the Green Card Lottery, you’re set. If not, you will have to a find a job with an employer that is willing to sponsor a work visa (H1B). If you have an established business in South Africa and you want to open a branch in the US, you can transfer yourself to the branch on a L1 visa.

However you do it, the visa is critically important and can be a deal-breaker. Despite your preferences, you may be forced to pick a country where you can get the right visa.

Wrapping Up Your Affairs

Assuming that you have the correct visa for the country of your choice, the next step will be to wrap up your affairs in South Africa.

This may include selling your house and/or possessions. Some people ship their possessions to their new country, but this may not be practical if you don’t have many valuable possessions or your new country has a different electrical system.

You will have to wrap up your income tax affairs with SARS. This will include closing your old bank accounts and obtaining a new “blocked” bank account, as well as obtaining a tax clearance certificate from SARS (a certificate that states that all income taxes have been paid).

Your Family

Here comes the potentially sensitive part… your family and how they feel about your decision to leave.

Some families understand and support the new emigrants-to-be, but others don’t. They might not share your sentiments about your reasons for wanting to emigrate.

You will have to break the news gently, especially to parents for whom it can be a devastating thing to see their children go off.


Brace yourself for some strong emotions on the day of your departure.

You will be anxious because you’re heading into the unknown. You will also be sad because you’ll be saying goodbye to your family, not quite knowing when you’ll see them again. Your family, and especially your parents, will be anxious and sad for the same reasons.

After 20 years in the US, and several trips to South Africa to go visit, I can tell you that the goodbyes at the airport are still not easy.

Arrival In The New Country

When arriving in your new country, you will probably still feel a little anxious because of the unknown-thing, but you will probably also feel somewhat excited. There you are, standing at the beginning of something new and exciting, ready to take on the world.

After a few days, that feeling will likely subside and the reality of what you have done, will kick in. That is not necessarily bad, but you might feel somewhat lonely.

This is why it is a good idea to try to connect with other South Africans in the area as soon as you can. They will help to give you back that feeling of belonging that you need. These days it is quite easy to connect with such groups. Many of them have websites (like this one) or Facebook groups.

[Update] As Jurie Korkie suggests in the comments, it is also important to make some friends with locals in your new community. When they hear your accent, many will be fascinated and interested in your story. Look for social events or clubs in your area, or if you are religiously-inclined, join a local church.

The First 2 Years

In my experience, you need to give yourself at least two years to make peace with the fact that you are now living in a new country. You will probably question your move and sometimes feel sad about it. You may even strongly consider packing up and moving back home. Give yourself at least two years to get over these feelings and to adapt to your new home.

If all this sounds negative, it isn’t meant to be negative… it is meant to be realistic. It is meant to help you understand what you will be facing when you emigrate. It is meant to strengthen your mind to take on the challenges that you will be facing and to become one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have made a success of their emigration.

If you are considering emigration, I wish you all of the best  🙂 

Do you have an opinion on emigration, or an experience to share? Let us know in the comments…

Please share this information...
  • Good comments overall, but I would suggest to add under the paragraph of “Arriving in the new country” that it may be equally, if not more, important, to connect and build friendships with local people (Americans if you are in the USA, etc.) That will help you with the language nuances and local culture. This is especially important if you come over as a South African couple. Couples tend to spend even more time on their own in a new country and I found that due to the fact that I had an American roommate for two years, my American English was significantly better and easier to understand than that of South African couples who had been here a lot longer than I had been.

    It is also very good to get connected with a local church as soon as you can, if you are a believer of course.

  • Hi,

    I’ve been reading your website, been in touch with Karen about visas, and you are quite right, they are hard to come by! It seems the only option other than the lottery is the H1B visa for my husband and I – but how does one go about finding a company willing to sponsor you? We both have degrees and a great amount of work experience in finance, marketing and fashion – but so does every second American. So online recruitment sites don’t yield much hope. I would think our best bet is connecting with other South Africans in the USA and look for job openings within their networks, as I would think this would result in a greater chance of a visa/greencard sponsorship and helping a fellow South African out. We so badly want to move to America, and Austin in particular. Do you have any advice?

    • Thanks for your comment, Leigh. My best advice is to make sure you enter the Green Card Lottery, even if it is a long shot. If you win, you walk into the US with no further immigration issues. The problem with the H1B visas is that a company who wants to hire a foreigner must prove that they tried to hire an American and couldn’t find one. This is called “labor certification.” It will apply to any US company, also those owned by South Africans. Nothing stops you from trying to connect with South Africans in the US though. You might just get lucky. Sorry that I couldn’t give you better news. But definitely enter that lottery!

  • Hi there..
    I live in South Africa and my husband and i desperately want to immigrate to the States, particularly Texas. I have family in Atlanta and in Arizona. I realize it’s extremely difficult to get into the States as my family over there have mentioned. My husband is qualified in Psychology and i’m a graphic designer by trade. I have an EU passport and have read on the US Immigration website, that for certain EU countries one does not require a Visa and are allowed to stay up to 90 days. Obviously this still wouldn’t help as my husband is on a SA passport and we would need to apply for employment. If you have any advice or info to a site we can look at for jobs, i would appreciate it.

    • Hi Lara. Try Indeed.com to find work. It seems to be the popular jobs site these days. I hope that helps. Given that you have an EU passport, you may want to check if there is a way into the US using that citizenship.

  • >