11 min read

How much does it cost to move overseas?

Lifting the lid to show you what it really cost me to move to the UK.
How much does it cost to move overseas?

Hello, grownups :)

How are you hanging in there, chaps? I've pretty much degenerated into a pile of snack-crumbs and blankets by this point.

Today I'm taking a question about the costs of moving to another country.

Hi Sam! I know you moved to the UK recently. I wondered if you'd be comfortable sharing a rough estimate of your moving budget? My husband and I are talking about making a similar move sometime next year, and it would help our planning to have a better sense of how much we'd need to save up for it.

Why reader, I LOVE sharing my budgets! Queen of Overshare, right here.

TL;DR: moving myself, my partner and our cat to the UK cost us about R185,000. I reckon if we'd been a bit more careful about a few things, we could have gotten that down to R150,000. If we hadn't been so extremely lavish about it, we could have done it for R30-R50k.

Here's a breakdown of what we actually spent, line by line.

Emigration Budget
move COST (ZAR),SUPPLIER,NOTESMove CatVet bills, 3 163,<a href=“https://www.citivet.net/”>Citivet</a>Cat’s flight, 18 597,<a href=“https://www.petport.co.za/”>PetPort</a>Car rental from London to Cambridge, 3 853,We had a much cheaper car booked, but they wouldn’t accept our credit cards, so...

Some notes on our budget:

  • We moved in January 2020. Prices have probably changed a bit since then, already.
  • We moved from Cape Town, South Africa to Cambridge, UK. If you want to know why, I wrote about that decision here.
  • My household consists of me, my partner, and our cat (Sir Digby Chicken Caesar).
  • We did get a moving stipend from my partner's new company, so we were a bit less frugal than we would have been if it was entirely our own money.

Your budget will depend on a few variables. Obviously, the biggest one is where you're moving to, but five other factors are:

  1. How many people are moving?
  2. How complicated is your visa situation?
  3. Are you bringing pets?
  4. Are you bringing any stuff?
  5. Will you have to financially emigrate?

Obviously, if you're 22 and single and naturally nomadic and you're just bringing your clothes, moving overseas is hella simple. I, however, am no longer 22, and I'm a nester, so my move required about as much planning as a space shuttle launch. Many spreadsheets were involved.

Moving the people

You might be tempted to book your flights far in advance so you can get the best deal on flight tickets. Resist this temptation. You can't fly until your visas are finalised and your pets are approved to travel (if you have pets), and both of these factors are hopelessly unplannable. This can all turn into some pretty complicated schedule-Tetris, so flights should be one of the last things you book.

When you're building your budget, anticipate that you might need to pay a bit more than you think, in order to find a flight that works with your timing.

It's worth paying for a couple of extra pieces of luggage to bring with you on the plane. You're not going to have anything except what you bring on the flight with you, for a long time.

Our flight costs for 2 people from Cape Town to London, including 1 excess bag, were R17,372.

Securing visas/residence permits

My partner's an EU citizen (lucky bastard) so the entirety of his application took 40 minutes and was totally free.

My own visa situation was a lot more complicated, so we decided it would be worth paying immigration consultants to talk me through the Vogonesque application process. We used a company called Breytenbachs, who were knowledgable and reassuring. There were one or two small hiccups in the process, mostly because I made the questionable decision to try to move to England mid-Brexit, just as all their rules were changing.

Overall, I was glad that there were people that I could call with my questions when things got confusing. That said, this did end up being one of the most expensive parts of the process. I'd suggest to someone else going through this process that it's worth paying for some specific consultations to clear up questions you have, but do the actual application process yourself.

My visa ended up costing us R16,838, but if we'd done more of the process ourselves we could have kept this under R10,000.

Photograph of Vogons from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Vogons AKA English bureaucrats

Moving the cat

Transporting my pavement-special cat across the world is probably the single most boujie thing I've ever done. It was also, without a doubt, the most stressful part of the whole experience.

Would I do it all again? Absolutely. I love that little furry idiot.

Different countries have different rules about what you have to do to import pets. For the UK, they don't have to be quarantined, but they do have to go for a series of shots and tests over the course of four months before they can fly. This ultimately ended up controlling our timelines - we were ready to go long before our cat was. So, if you're bringing a pet, getting the clock started on this process is the very first thing you need to take care of.

It's also worth knowing that there are completely different protocols for travelling on the same day as your pet (you don't have to be on the same flight), or travelling separately to them. You have to decide early on which approach you're going to take, and if you're travelling together, don't book your own flight until you have solid timelines for your pet's.

I did a lot of shopping around, trying to figure out if we could move the cat more cheaply by handling a lot of the admin ourselves. Ultimately, it didn't seem worth it, so we decided to go with pet transport company called PetPort who walked us through the whole process from beginning to end. I can't recommend PetPort highly enough. They were proactive, helpful and communicative.

We also got some good advice directly from our vet, who really went above and beyond for us (including rushing out to do a last-minute panicked house-call on the day before we needed to fly because I couldn't wrestle the damn hellcat into his carrier, and I had a one-hour window to get his papers signed by the state vet on the other side of town).

Overall, including vet bills, bringing our cat cost us (GASP) R25,613. Ja, I know. I could have left the little shit behind and bought a literal tiger cub instead.

Worth it.

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

Updates from Sam-land

Friends, I had the best birthday! We tried punting on the river Cam, and I learned that I am extremely talented at punting... if what you want is for the punt to spin in place in the middle of the river 😂 Thank you for all of your birthday wishes and thoughts. They brightened my day.

  • I wrote a list of all the books I've been reading, if you're looking for a new read.
  • Friends who've managed the admin around a loved one's death, what are your best tips for someone going through it? I'm compiling a simple checklist for my next week's newsletter, and would love all of your suggestions. Emotional things too! Pop me an email if you've got any advice to share.
  • The main thing I've been doing is working on the novel I'm writing with my buddy Dale Halvorsen. We're 48,696 words into the draft, and trying to push ourselves to write 2,000 words a day. It's still a total mess, but we're having so much fun.
  • Lettuce, our little app that helps you to track your investments, just launched multiple portfolios, so now you can track assets in different currencies, or for different purposes. We'll be starting a new sprint on 13 July, and I'd love to hear what features you'd like us to build for you. Let us know here.
  • Manage Your Money: Teens Edition is going to the printers NEXT WEEK! WHEEEE!
I've been experimenting with drawing random body parts with pastels, recently. Behold all these excellent noses and boobs!