Over a year ago, Dawn Spencer left behind her friends and family in South Africa to relocate to Delray Beach, Florida. She discusses some of the highlights and challenges of making the big move.
Relocating From South Africa to Florida
1. Why did you decide on Florida?
In 2011 we won green cards in the Green Card Lottery. My husband always wanted to live in the US and my sister and her husband have lived in Florida for a long time and are American citizens. I wasn’t convinced initially, especially with the exchange rate so badly against South Africans.
2. How long did the relocation process take?
It took us four years to leave our jobs, sell our house and cars, gather our finances, identify a home in Florida and wait for it to be built, relocate our cockatoo to Florida, and exit SA.
3. Were there any surprise costs you hadn’t considered?
We didn’t expect the relocation of our cockatoo to cost R58 000. And if you’re going to take a full container overseas, which is what we did, you should be prepared to pay at least R200 000.
4. Did you work with a relocation specialist?
We used Crown Relocations to pack our house in Johannesburg. I would not recommend doing it on your own. And through the entire relocation process we used an immigration attorney so that we did everything properly. There are tax implications in the US as soon as you become permanent residents, so that needs to be monitored by an expert.
5. What has been the biggest adjustment for you? Any kind of culture shock?
Florida is very different from SA. Floridians are more insular and exclusive, not open and welcoming like South Africans. Your South African accent makes you different, and if you are not part of a particular group or faith or have children at school you will find it difficult to blend in.
The political landscape in the US means that people are guarded, sensitive and defensive, and the added issue of gun ownership (especially in Florida) adds a disconcerting note to everyday life.
I have been told that the first year is the most difficult, and the South Africans who have been in Florida for a long time are very happy.
6. What is the best thing about making the move?
Perhaps that there is more opportunity because of the sheer size of the country and number of people. Even the little guy has a chance to succeed, especially with a South African attitude and work ethic.
The struggling economy, political instability, corruption, crime and violence in South Africa remain good reasons to think about retiring somewhere else. Nowhere is perfect, so you have to make that decision for yourself.
7. What are some of your favorite places in Florida?
Too many to mention…
Boulud, at the Brazilian Court Hotel, Australian Avenue, Palm Beach
Farmer’s Table, Glades Road, Boca Raton
Mariposa at Neiman Marcus, Town Centre Mall, Boca Raton
Cafe La Buca, Pompano Beach
Sundy House, Delray Beach
The Circle at The Breakers Resort, Palm Beach
The Sybarite Pig, Boca Raton
8. How would you describe the cost of living?
If you convert the cost of even low-priced items from dollars to rands it will always be mind-boggling.
9. How would you rate the ease of:
If you do the necessary studying of road signs and rules online and take time to learn to drive on the right-hand side of the road, then the actual booking and testing process is simple and very well organised.
Getting any kind of credit, however, is practically impossible.
d. Registering for public/private health insurance
This is fairly easy, but again I think you might need a SSCard. If you get a job, the company should offer you health insurance.
10. What do you miss about home?
Absolutely everything. Family, good friends, familiarity of places and things, my comfort-zone, a long-standing and hard-earned reputation in the workplace and in life, a particular social status, sense of humour, colloquial language, Woolworths….etc.
11. Any advice for readers considering relocating to Florida?
Make sure you have your financial ducks in a row. You will need your pension, life savings and more to set yourselves up. And preferably secure employment before you arrive – that is if you have a Green Card, as you cannot work without one.