How much does it cost to emigrate? (from South Africa to the US)

emigrate from south africa to the US

This is a post that I’ve been working on for what seems like forever. I thought it would be fairly straightforward to write – I just needed to keep track of our expenses related to emigration, tally it all up and the post would write itself. I figured it would help other people looking to emigrate from South Africa to the US, or really from South Africa to anywhere or from anywhere to the US. It’s a whole lot harder than I anticipated, though.

First up, here is the easy bit. These are the various costs we had to pay before we got to the US and include our various consulate visits, as well as costs related to getting all the necessary documentation in place while in South Africa. It’s important to note that we were only able to file an i130 application because I was an American citizen living in South Africa – there are difficult rules in place if your circumstances are different.

But that was all really just the tip of the iceberg, which is sort of what this post is all about. See, the idea of economic migration isn’t exactly as cut and dry as I think I thought it was, or at least as cut and dry as I’d hoped.

Dean and I were very, VERY fortunate, and continue to be so. We had our share of luxuries when it came to sorting out our move. We lived a comfortable life in Joburg, which meant we could afford the R17 000 to move our cats with us (just for the movers, not including the R5k in vet bills to get them certified as safe to travel). We could afford to pay the R34k for our flights, and even splurge on an extra chunk of cash to buy our way into a lounge in Heathrow while en route to the US. Granted, that money came out of our hard-won savings, but we were able to save that much money to begin with.

As for moving our stuff, I managed to get a reasonable quote. Everyone else wanted WAY too much money, so we opted to sell almost everything and move only 10 boxes of things, each weighing 10kgs. Some stuff we left at Dean’s parents’ house to bring over on future visits, but the majority of our worldly possessions were sold off, with only 10 boxes and 3 suitcases coming with us. This cost us about R7k to send and then an additional $400 to clear through customs and have delivered to our home.

We both have good paying jobs that we were able to start before we left, which meant we’ve had a reliable income from the moment we got to our new home. We had my mom in the States, who was able to help us with anything we needed on this side before we got here, who has also given us her home for as long as we need it. We also have Dean’s family and some amazing friends back in SA who are helping us tie up loose ends. Like I said, we are incredibly lucky, but that doesn’t mean that everything is easy or an instant path to prosperity.

We have no credit rating here in the States. That means that for all intents and purposes, we fell out of the sky in August. In order to get anything, a car loan, a rental contract, or seemingly anything else, we need to show our credit rating, or back everything up with cash. It means a huge chunk of money from those awesome jobs of ours has to go towards paying super inflated deposits just to try and get a car, a home, or even just a credit card.

We are lucky because we can do it. We are putting our heads down and working with the idea that everything will come together in the coming weeks and months. It will just take time, but we will get on our feet again. And even before then, we are able to go for nice evenings out or experience some of the joys the US has to offer.

Once we are on our feet, everything will be an upgrade over what we had in SA. We are already driving a nicer car, and the houses we’ve looked at to rent are 2-3 times the size of our old place in Joburg. Even our day to day life will be easier and better, with the ability to take Harley to local parks, museums, water parks, aquariums, travel to Europe and send her to summer camps, the list goes on and on.

[Update: less than a year later, and things really did come together. We are happy, financially stable and enjoying our lives in the States.]

This isn’t meant to discourage anyone looking to emigrate from South Africa to the US, or to anywhere else for that matter. Having been out of South Africa for six weeks now, I realize the relief I’ve been feeling in ways I wasn’t even aware of there. It’s something I want to write about soon, but suffice it to say that as hard as the move has been, as much as I miss our friends and family back in SA, I am absolutely sure that we made the right move.

Emigration is hard. Moving anywhere is difficult and exhausting and expensive and frustrating. Moving internationally is so much more so. And if you are thinking of leaving SA because you’ll be better off in another country, you absolutely might be. I just wish that emigration was explained a bit better, that people worldwide knew just how expensive it would be, how emotional, how complicated and stressful. If you’re considering emigration, let’s have a coaching session to help you decide if it’s the right choice for you, and which country would be best.

We are doing okay. Harley is adapting nicely and getting to know her Omi, as we’d wanted, and Dean and I are having fun exploring this part of the country together and generally just being on this adventure together. But it’s a strain on any and every relationship, and bank account, and will wear your nerves down. You know, until you get all the joys of prosperity promised by emigration.


Here are some other links that might be helpful about our emigration journey:

Things I wish I knew before we emigrated

How to tell your friends (and deal with their reactions) when you’re moving away

Emigration: From concept to hearing “congratulations”



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