Living in South Africa - How Green is the Grass?

For many years a popular topic of conversation (or constant gripe) among us has been the number of citizens either emigrating or heading to the British Isles for work, and more recently the effort that is being made in an attempt to get them to return. But while many South Africans leave, immigration trends in recent years have noted an increase in the number of Brits and other foreigners heading to South Africa.

As South Africans head to Britain in search of work opportunities, 81% of Brits feel that they would have a better standard of living if they lived abroad. Whilst the countries of the European Union are currently the most popular destinations for emigration (Spain being top of the list) due to the lack of visas or permits required, countries further a field such as Australia, USA and South Africa are also proving to be popular migrant destinations.

So what drives these "Mad Dogs and Englishmen" to head over to SA when we still have so many South Africans leaving? What lure and appeal does South Africa have compared to all the other migrant destinations? As patriotic South Africans, we know the pull that the "Mother Land" holds but we also know how foreigners perceive the gloomy news reports of crime and AIDS related problems, not to mention our colourful political history.

In fact it's amazing how some people do perceive South Africa and Durban itself. On a recent trip to collect a Polish friend of mine from Durban International, her opening remark after coming through the gate was (in a heavy Eastern European accent), "So ver are dee lions?" To which I pointed in the direction of Pietermaritzburg and said "About 100km's that a way!"

There is the historical aspect of involvement that Brits have with South Africa. Quick History Revision: The British influence goes back to 1806 when the Cape of Good Hope was ceded to Britain from Holland and the Brits began to settle. Lineage and ancestry is of course the reason that many South Africans hold, or are entitled to a British Passport and ancestry is always a popular reason for emigration. The Home Affairs procedure for foreigners entering the Country are fairly simple, but the red tape involved in actually staying in the country is harsh should a Brit have SA ancestry the red tape is easier to break through.

Economic growth has also seen a rise in foreign applications for SA work and business permits. The UK may well be the land of opportunity for young South Africans hoping to get a leg up on the career ladder but what about the more entrepreneurial businessman who wants to start something new and innovative?

Nash Cohen, MD of next generation estate Agency Hunters is an Englishman who came to South Africa several years ago in search of such opportunities and says that 'Britain is an excellent place for young people looking to learn unique business skills and operate in one of the fastest and most dynamic professional environments, but the market is completely saturated. In South Africa, you just need a good idea, to be focussed and undeterred by setbacks and if your concept or product fits into a certain niche it is far easier to create impact in the market place'.

With the current market in mind, existing British companies are also finding niche markets to exploit, leading to European workforces being sent over to head up various regionalised departments. This is an ever increasing occurrence and has led to La Lucia Ridge becoming the fastest growing commercial node in South Africa. The Department of Home Affairs recognize this regular occurrence as an 'intercompany transfer' work permit and so are set up to process such a permit efficiently (relatively!).

With the new South Africa moving forward as it is, Investment opportunities and particularly property investment attracts a number of foreign investors. With the favourable exchange rate, South Africa has enjoyed a wealth of foreign (in particular UK) investment into our property markets. In addition home ownership is an attractive investment for the English, 66% of Brits feel that inflated property prices make it unrealistic to buy property in the UK. Investment opportunities rarely exist to first time buyers and this is a growing area of interest for UK investors.

"81 % of Brits feel that they would have a better standard of living if they lived abroad"

Bearing in mind all of the above, another major attraction of living in South Africa is the lifestyle, standard of living and in particular the weather. The British have to handle the harsh winter and often arctic conditions, which leave sometimes only 1-2 months of sunshine per year. No doubt this has more than a significant role in the high number of SAD sufferers Seasonal Affective Disorder, in short a medically recognised depression brought on by a lack of sunlight.

Then of course there's the romance. Stories of South Africans meeting and falling in love in the UK are common ... Some will stay in the UK but others do choose to return to these shores with their partners. 'Spousal' Visas for unmarried couples have been introduced which makes it easier for the British half of the couple to stay in the country.

Although flights to and from South Africa aren't cheap and it isn't a short trip, the journey itself is fairly easy. Overnight flights and the miniscule time difference mean Jet Lag is a non-issue, which in turn has seen South Africa (and in particular Cape Town) become a popular weekend destination for Europeans.

The tourist board in Durban had an unusually high number of enquiries for accommodation from the UK over the Easter Weekend and with the opening of the new International Airport at La Mercy, weekenders from the UK could soon become a more regular visitor to Durban too, could this ease of access entice another generation of modern day colonists to settle in the area?

By Deanna Fewster
Courtesy Hunters

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