How Much Does it Cost to Move Overseas? Part 2 of an SA to UK Example

This article was written by Sam Beckbessinger.

Part 2 of 2. In part 1, Sam discussed her budget, moving people, moving pets, and securing visas. Click here for part 1.

Bringing your stuff vs. buying new stuff

I spent a lot of time debating the pros and cons of bringing furniture with us (this decision had a spreadsheet all to itself). Ultimately, here’s what I decided: it’s not worth bringing anything that’s not priceless to you.

Partly, that’s just because of the timing. The fastest quotes we received promised to transport our things in 6 weeks (they lied). You can expect this to be more like 3 months at minimum, and several people I spoke to, who’d made similar moves, said it ended up being between 6-9 months (I’m 7 months in and counting, but to be fair, there was a whole global pandemic that slowed things down a bit).

That rules out bringing your bed, unless you want to risk sleeping on the floor for half a year. You can’t bring appliances, because the electrical outlets are different. So you’re down to deciding whether to bring stuff like a couch, dining table, desk, etc.

If you own some very expensive furniture, or priceless family heirlooms, then sure, bring it all with you, but assume you’ll have to live without it for a long time. That might mean moving into a furnished apartment at first, or really embracing minimalism for a while.

I own a couple of heirloom armchairs, many boxes of books and some artworks that fall into the “priceless to me” category, so we decided to bring over a container of non-essentials, but to re-buy all of our basics (like a new couch) in the UK. Because we weren’t paying for this part of the move ourselves, I chose a company that wasn’t the cheapest but purported to be the fastest. This was a huge mistake. They’ve been a nightmare to deal with, and cost R21,148.

If I did this again, I would have just booked a medium-sized MoveCube for my sentimental shit (which would have cost me R11,862), expected it to take 6+ months to arrive, and bought everything else from scratch.

Really, if you’re not that attached to your stuff, by far the easiest thing to do is sell or give away everything and start fresh on the other side.

The tragic fact is that you will get almost nothing for selling everything you own, and it will cost you a lot of money to replace it all. You can mitigate that somewhat by being thrifty about what you buy, but you’ve got to balance thrift against how big your schlep appetite is.

For furniture, I’m a big believer in buying quality brands, second-hand. When I moved to Cape Town, I bought a used Coricraft couch for R3,000 through Gumtree. Four years later I sold it for R2,300. Compare that to the new R2,000 bookshelf I bought from Mr Price Home that I ultimately got R200 for.

I made about R12,000 selling almost everything I owned back in Cape Town. We also sold our car, which got us an extra R60,000.

Fitting out a new house for two people in the UK cost us about R50,000, with a mix of charity shop finds, TK Maxx and Ikea.

Transporting our sentimental stuff and buying new household stuff cost us R74,662 in total. We could have saved R10,000 by going with a different shipping company (and I’m kicking myself that we didn’t). We probably could have spent a bit less kitting out our home if I’d had more time to spend in charity shops before everything locked down.

Finding somewhere to live

It’s difficult to flat-hunt from afar, so it can be smart to send one person ahead to stay in an AirBnB for a few weeks while they lock down a place to live, before the rest of you arrive. We did that, and it cost us an additional R11,937.

When you do find a new house or flat to rent, you’ll need to pay a deposit on it. Ours cost R36,898 including the first month’s rent. Cambridge rents aren’t cheap, yo. You should be able to offset this by getting the security deposit back on your old South African flat.

Overall, the cost of finding and securing a new place to live came to R48,835.

Financial emigration

This could be a whole post on its own, but basically, know that if you want to take all of your financial assets out of the country (for instance, you want to move your retirement savings to your new home) you will have to apply for a process called financial emigration. When you financially emigrate, you will have to pay capital gains tax on these assets. Depending on what assets you own, this could mean an eye-wateringly huge tax bill, and it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

The good news is that you can move overseas without immediately applying for financial emigration, and for most people, it’s a good idea to first move, find your feet and figure out your life plans before you initiate this process.

Figuring out what makes the most sense for you can be complicated, so talk to an expert if you need advice. I got excellent support from a business called Creative CFO, who charges a transparent R750 an hour (I love transparent pricing when it comes to financial advice).

So, was it worth it?

In reality, our move didn’t really cost us R185k, because we had a moving stipend, the R70k from selling our car and furniture, and the returned security deposit on our SA flat, all of which offset our costs. But if you’re thinking about making a similar move yourself, that’s a reasonable estimate of what you’d need to have saved up, if you wanted to follow a similar process. Or you could keep things really simple, sell all your shit, move into a furnished flat, and just take yourself and some bags, in which case you really only need about R30-R50k.

Everyone’s financial life is different. Spending nearly R200k to move to a different country might seem like an insane waste to you, or it might seem totally worth it. It was worth it to us, in the long run, and we were very lucky to have the savings and moving stipend so that we could.

I really believe that being more open and transparent and honest about how we spend our money helps to demystify it, and helps other people have the information they need to make better decisions. I hope that lifting up the lid to show you the real money I spent (including the dumb spending mistakes I made) is helpful to at least one of you, somewhere!

I guess the moral of the story is, never get a cat.

Wishing you Vogon-blasters, warm weather and lots of spreadsheets,
Your friend Sam.

For information as to how Relocation Africa can help you with your Mobility, Immigration, Research, Remuneration, and Expat Tax needs, email info@relocationafrica.com, or call us on +27 21 763 4240.

Sources: [1], [2]. Image sources: [1], [2].