Moving to South Africa from the UK: Jaime Catala shares his experience

What’s the best way to find out more about moving to South Africa from the UK? You talk to someone who’s done it, of course!

That’s why we recently sat down with Jaime Catala, one of our client managers.

Jaime, a British citizen, moved to South Africa from the UK in 2013 with his South African girlfriend, Danielle.

Since then, the couple has set up a wonderful life for themselves in sunny SA. Jaime and Danielle have gotten married and have become proud parents.

We’ll let Jaime tell you his story in his words:

What led to your move to South Africa?

I’m a British citizen, and I met my other half back in January 2010. We met while both living and working in London.

We often came to Cape Town on holiday to visit family and friends. Each time, we stayed for longer. Eventually, we decided to make Cape Town our home.

My wife is originally from Cape Town, and her brother and parents live in Cape Town, so it was a relatively easy decision.

What was the most challenging part?

Leaving our close friends and family behind was probably the hardest part, to be honest.

What surprised you about the immigration process?

The first time I attempted to gather information relating to visas for South Africa, I knew it would be a real challenge.

In 2012, my partner went to the SA High Commission in London to collect her new SA passport.

I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to go with her to see if I could chat with someone for guidance on the visa process.

When we got there, my partner went to the ‘South African’ queue while I went to the ‘other’ queue.

I innocently asked about the Life Partner Visa

The member of staff working there threw an application form across the desk and simply said: “Go home and read this.”

What a start that was! I walked out, not knowing whether the dream move would ever happen.

Who did you entrust with your visa application?

After the fiasco mentioned above, of attempting to gather info from the SA High Commission in London, I did some online research and came across Intergate Immigration.

I had an initial consultation with the then UK Senior Immigration Consultant of Intergate, which, ironically, I took over from (small world).

A few emails and calls later, I realised that I was in good hands, so I arranged a face-to-face meeting with Mark in London.

My meeting with Mark reconfirmed that Intergate was the agency that would handle my visa applications from that point onwards.

How long did you wait on the outcome of your visa application?

I’ve applied for five different visas since emigrating to SA in 2013.

I can’t remember how long I waited for each one, but on average, Home Affairs has been pretty good at issuing my visas within the stipulated eight to 12 weeks.

My last temporary residence visa granted in 2019 took nine weeks to be processed.

On the other hand, my Permanent Residence visa took just shy of three years to get approved.

Was the effort and stress of going through the visa application worth it?

Yes, absolutely. I can consider myself lucky that DHA approved all five of my visa applications, so no complaints.

What do you think the DHA could do better?

There are many areas for improvement, but I think the one area that needs the most work would be their communication.

In my opinion, having a foreigner wait for the outcome of their Permanent Residence for three to four years without any form of communication is appalling.

Most foreigners applying for Permanent Residence for South Africa rely on that A4 certificate to legally remain in the country, whether on a retirement basis, studying, working, or even running their businesses in SA.

Could you please tell us more about your experience with VFS?

I can’t comment on VFS in the UK as I applied for all my visas from within South Africa.

I must admit my personal experiences from submitting here in SA have been good. The staff at our local VFS have been polite and attentive, and it felt like they knew what they were doing.

All in all, I have no complaints based on my personal experiences.

You applied for PR in 2017. How did you find this process?

I applied for Permanent Residence based on my relationship for five years or longer with my now-wife, a South African citizen.

The process can be daunting at first, but it’s not that bad when you get your hands dirty and start gathering documents. It’s also very exciting!

How does life in SA compare to life in the UK?

The lifestyle is so different here in SA! There are lots of outdoor activities, like surfing, cycling, swimming, cricket, football, etc. I must admit I miss having a beer in a pub on a winter’s day in the UK.

Do you find it cheaper to live in SA than in the UK?

In general, yes, the cost of living is cheaper in SA than in the UK. However, certain things are equally, if not more expensive here in SA than in the UK. For example, buying a car is much more costly.

How did you find a job in South Africa?

I moved to South Africa without having a full-time job lined up.

As a qualified cricket coach, I secured a part-time job for a Cricket Academy in South Africa, where I worked for a few months.

After that, I applied for various roles using my language skills (I’m fluent in Spanish) and landed a job to work for a call centre in Cape Town for one of the major airlines in the world.

Did you ship your household belongings to South Africa?

While living in London, we accumulated furniture and items that we took with us to Cape Town.

We used a removals company called White and Company which I believe originate from Portsmouth but have branches all over England.

White and Co’s services were second to none! Initially, they sent one of their representatives to come to our house and perform an inventory to provide a quote.

Once we confirmed the quote and booked a date, they sent two staff members to the house and packed everything up for us. All we had to do was be home on the day, and White and Co did the rest.

Absolutely amazing service!

You and your wife are now parents! How did you find South Africa’s healthcare system during both of your wife’s pregnancies?

In our personal experience, the health care here in South Africa is brilliant – equally as good as the level of private healthcare in the UK.

The main difference is that you have access to free healthcare through the NHS in the UK, but here in SA, you have the cost of private medical insurance.

Your eldest child is starting kindergarten next year. How did you find and choose a playschool?

The playschool where our three-year-old is was a recommendation from a family member.

We were delighted to receive an acceptance letter for a pre-primary school in Newlands starting in January 2022.

Here in South Africa, especially around the Western Cape area, you must live close to the good schools as many schools has ‘catchment areas’. That means that unless you live close to the school you’d like your child to go to, the school might not accept your child.

Do you plan on applying for South African citizenship?

Not at this stage, but never say never.

As a Permanent Resident, I have the same rights as a South African citizen, apart from voting and holding a passport. The rest is the same – you can run your own business, work for multiple companies, etc.

Would you consider returning to the UK at some stage?

Again, never say never, but we plan to remain here in SA at this stage as we love our life in Cape Town.

What are the best parts about living in South Africa?

The climate, for sure. Rather than having 300 days per year of rain, we exchanged it for 300 days of sunshine.

What did you find the most difficult to get used to once you were living in South Africa?

The speed of things! Having lived in London, where the pace of living is electric, it was a completely different lifestyle when we moved to Cape Town.

How do you feel about how the South African government is handling COVID-19?

I think South Africa should be proud of how the pandemic was handled, especially at the beginning.

The South African government implemented strict rules and regulations early, which prevented COVID-19 cases from spiking as it did in many countries in Europe or the USA.

The locals to date continue to adhere to wearing masks when in public as this is a mandatory requirement.

I assume that the government will continue to ease restrictions as the number of vaccinated people increases and we get closer to herd immunity.

What would your advice be to anyone who is considering moving to South Africa from the UK?

The best advice I could offer to anyone would be to give it a try. If it doesn’t work out for you, you’re only a flight away.

Remember that South Africa is well connected, with regular flights in and out of Cape Town and Johannesburg airports. South Africa’s time zone is also similar to that of the UK and the rest of Europe.

And the most important thing is, South Africa is a beautiful country. Here in Cape Town, we are spoilt for choice – beach life, mountains, winery, fantastic weather, and the list goes on.

If you don’t try, you’ll never know!

Do you want to take a chance on South Africa?

Jaime is one of our client managers, as mentioned earlier.

If you’d like to speak to him about the ins and outs of moving from South Africa to the UK, please feel free to give our office a call on +27 (0) 21 424 2460.

You can also contact Jaime directly via email at j.catala@intergate-immigration.com or connect with him on LinkedIn.