By Mike Potts
It’s estimated that over 500,000 South African-born people are living and working in the UK. London has the second largest number of South African expatriates in the western world, with expats gravitating towards university towns like Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Edinburgh.
This makes sense, as many young South Africans left South Africa’s sunny shores to earn their university degrees in the UK. Plus, thanks to the open invitation provided by the British ancestry visa, many young, skilled South Africans hopped on a plane to start a new adventure overseas.
What was usually planned as a short-term visit over the waters would often end up as a prolonged stay. Falling in love, getting married to a British-born or fellow South African in London, building a career and starting a family was not part of the plan, but more often than not, ended up being the outcome.
Usually, when families started growing, the very real pull to come back home for much-needed support from friends and family resulted in South Africans coming home.
Plus, with organisations like the Brain Gain’s Homecoming Revolution promoting South Africa since 2003, the call of Africa is seeing more and more expats coming home.
My story is a bit different – I am UK-born, but in 2009/10 the UK was not a great place to be and I took the opportunity to fulfil my desire to travel, as well as to be part of the entrepreneurial boom South Africa is currently experiencing. So, we packed up our belongings and made our way to South Africa, where we found our own little place in the sun in Johannesburg (initially).
So, here is what you will need to know if you plan on coming back to SA or have just come back:
Five Things to Remember When Coming Back to SA:
- Be Realistic: Once the idea of coming home has taken root in your mind, it may feel like you cannot get home quickly enough. Take a breath, pause and then engage. You need to remember that South Africa is classified as a developing country, and although it is getting a lot of things very right, there are things that you might have gotten used to in the UK that are not as well-organised in SA. Be realistic and embrace the challenges. It will be much easier to deal with if you accept that the dream and the reality are quite far apart.
- Tax Affairs: Get your tax affairs in order in the UK. You need to submit a P85 before you leave the UK so that you don’t leave a tax legacy behind. Consult an expert if you must.
- Pension Options: If you have accrued a hefty pension while working and living in the UK, you need to know what your pension options are.
- You can leave it in the UK – it is subject to UK pension legislations and regulations and stands to be heavily taxed if you withdraw it all. Plus, is the new pension minister in favour of policies that will positively affect your pension?
- You can move it to another EU destination and will be subject to that country’s pension regulations.
- You can move it to non-EU countries like Malta, Mauritius, Australia and South Africa. These jurisdictions often have more favourable regulations in place for pension management, and South Africa’s Rand exchange rate is highly in your favour, making the amount you can access from your pension in Rands much higher.
- Rent First: Before buying your first home back in South Africa, rent in your neighbourhood of choice so that you can shop around for a permanent home without the pressure of arranging everything else on top of finding a home.
- Invest Wisely: With the Rand / Pound exchange rate being so heavily in the Pound’s favour, your Pounds will give you a lot more opportunities in South Africa than you would have in the UK as far as investment and spending goes. Make sure you talk to an expert who can advise you in South Africa, so that your hard-earned cash carries on working hard for you.
So, although South Africa has its challenges, so do many other countries, and coming home to a country with such a strong bond to the soul of its people makes more sense to me than staying away.
South Africa is no bed of roses, but it has so much in its favour that we love living here, we love the people, we love the vibe and the positive, creative energy. For us, it’s about focusing on the good, and embracing what we feel is more important for our little family, and for our future.