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Relocating From South Africa To Florida

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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…

Fave Restaurants:
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

Fave Beaches: we haven’t tried them all yet, but we like:
South Beach (Miami)
Delray Beach
Deerfield Beach
South Beach Park (Boca Raton).

Fave Shopping:
Town Centre Mall, Boca Raton
Worth Avenue, Palm Beach
Mizner Park, Boca Raton
Aventura Mall, Aventura (near Miami)
Collins Avenue, Miami
8. How would you describe the cost of living?
If you’re earning dollars then gas (petrol) and groceries are affordable. Eating out can be expensive depending on where you go, but there are lots of affordable options. There are affordable goods in every category: homeware, fashion, outdoor, DIY, entertainment, but if you want a slightly better range of items the prices skyrocket. Anything upmarket has a big price tag.
If you convert the cost of even low-priced items from dollars to rands it will always be mind-boggling.
The exchange rate simply does not work for South Africans in the US. If you are using your savings (rands) when you relocate expect to burn them very rapidly.
9. How would you rate the ease of:
a. Applying for a Social Security Number
We received SSCards with our Green Cards.
b. Applying for an American Driver’s License
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.
c. Opening an American Bank Account
If you have dollars to deposit into a bank you can open a checking account fairly easily, but that is with a Green Card and SSCard, I’m not sure what happens if you don’t have these.
Getting any kind of credit, however, is practically impossible.
The option exists to open a ’secured’ credit card, in order to build up some kind of credit history, but that means you deposit a couple of thousand dollars into that credit card and that is your spending limit, so what it means is you’re using your own money to build a track record of credit usage. Even with a Green Card and SSCard you will not be able to get a mortgage (bond) for your home, or be able to finance a car, not until you have built a decent credit history.

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.

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