Moving to South Africa from the USA

The 2011 Census in South Africa put the total number of immigrants in the country at 2.2 million, with 75% of this number being immigrants from other African countries. In 2017, the figures were close to 4 million – according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

According to more recent data from the United Nations (U.N.), 7,429 American-born immigrants lived in South Africa as of 2020. Most of these people are there to work and live permanently.

You, too, can relocate and start a new life in South Africa, where you will enjoy a higher quality of life, a lower cost of living, and a beautiful country that boasts golden beaches, Mediterranean weather, safari tours, and friendly people.

Here are some other articles that might help you plan your move:

  • Best International Movers: The international moving industry is full of scammy movers, and when all of your belongings are at stake, don’t take chances. These are the top international movers.
  • Ship your car overseas: Taking your car with you? Use a company that prioritizes professionalism, cares for your vehicle, and is experienced.
  • International Moving Costs: Moving internationally comes with its own set of expenses. Learn more about the specific costs associated with an international move.

Who are the best US-to-South Africa movers?

Company Price Vendor Type Quoting options Storage Minimum Move Size
J.K. Moving Services $$ Carrier Phone/virtual estimate Yes 1 bedroom
North American Van Lines $$$ Carrier Phone/virtual estimate Yes 1 bedroom
Allied $$$ Carrier Phone/virtual estimate Yes 1 bedroom

How much does it cost to move to South Africa?

Shipping rates between major cities in the United States and South Africa are relatively inexpensive.

The following table shows the average costs to ship household goods from port to port on a 20-foot container.

Origin city (USA) Destination city (South Africa) Cost in USD to ship via 20-foot container Average transit time
New York City Cape Town $3,502 3 or 4 weeks
New York City Durban $3,344 3 or 4 weeks
Los Angeles Cape Town $1,978 5 or 6 weeks
Los Angeles Durban $2,021 5 or 6 weeks
  • Moving from New York City to Cape Town or Durban generally costs between $3,300 and $3,500 and takes 3 to 4 weeks
  • Moving from Los Angeles to Cape Town or Durban generally costs about $2,000 and takes 5 to 6 weeks.

Please note that shipping rates change frequently and that additional services like packing and unpacking and door-to-door pick-up and delivery will increase overall move costs.

Average costs for air freight shipments from America to South Africa

While ocean transportation is slow and inexpensive, air freight is fast and pricey.

Because air freight can be nearly 20 times more expensive than shipping household goods by sea, it’s generally reserved for small shipments containing professional gear and high-value items that need to arrive in days instead of weeks.

The following table shows the average cost to move a 550-pound air freight shipment between New York, Los Angeles, and Johannesburg.

Origin city (USA) Destination city (South Africa) Average cost in USD Average transit time
New York Johannesburg $3,098 1 to 3 days
Los Angeles Johannesburg $3,129 1 to 3 days
  • Air freight shipments from New York and Los Angeles to Johannesburg generally cost about $3,000 and take between 1 and 3 days to arrive

What’s the cost of living in South Africa?

Now that we’ve tackled moving expenses, let’s look at how much it’ll cost to support yourself and your family while living in South Africa.

Various sources claim that the cost of living is between 40 and 60% lower in South Africa than it is in the United States. Whatever the real number, chances are you’ll get a bigger bang for your buck for the following goods and services:

Good/service Average cost in South Africa (in USD) Average cost in the US (in USD)
Bread, milk, and eggs for a week $11.88 $21.29
Coffee $1.82 $4.19
Restaurant meal $8.09 $15.83
Beer in a bar or restaurant $1.89 $3.98
Movie ticket $5.31 $12.43
Gym membership for one month $33.92 $38.12
  • Food staples like bread, milk, and eggs are about 45% cheaper in South Africa than in America
  • Coffee, beer, and restaurant meals are approximately 50% cheaper in South Africa than in America
  • Monthly gym memberships are about 12% less expensive in South Africa than in America

How much are utilities and housing costs in South Africa?

Though wages in South Africa are low by American standards, expats can save a bundle of money on housing and utilities.

The following table shows the cost differences between rent and utility bills in South Africa and the United States.

Country Average rent for a 1-bedroom apartment (in USD) Average monthly utility costs (in USD)
South Africa $428 $84
America $1,298 $158
  • Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment is approximately 68% less expensive in South Africa than in America
  • Monthly utility costs are about 47% less expensive in South Africa than in America

Wages in South Africa

Many expats love how inexpensive it is to live in South Africa, but on the downside, wages are about a 1/3 of what they are in the United States.

The following table shows how the salaries for average workers compare in the two countries.

Country Average monthly salary (in USD)
South Africa $1,187
America $3,149
  • Wages in South Africa are approximately 63% lower than they are in the United States

How to move from the USA to South Africa

To stay in South Africa (S.A.) for more than 90 days, you will need to apply for a visa. This applies whether you intend to stay in South Africa permanently, long-term, or short-term.

Different long-term visas to consider when moving to South Africa:

  • Work visa
  • Study visa
  • Visitor visa with volunteering endorsement
  • Business visa
  • Relatives’ visa
  • Retired Person visa

These visas will allow you to stay in South Africa for extended periods. However, you will not have permanent residency.

Different types of permanent residence permits:

  • Work visa
  • Critical skills visa
  • Business visa
  • Refugee visa
  • Retirement visa
  • Child/Spousal visa

These visas give you permanent residency in South Africa. The term for these permits is indefinite. You can find more information about South African visas here.

The process to get a South African visa or permit:

First, it is important to go through the different types of visas available to see which you are most eligible for. You can either start by applying for a long-term visa or you can seek a permanent residency permit if you qualify.

For long-term visas, you have to apply from your country of origin the first time you do it. Permanent residency visas are divided into two – direct permits and indirect permits. For direct residency permits, you must have been living in South Africa for about 5 years – either working, studying, investing, or otherwise.

Once you know which visa you need, apply online, pay the applicable fees and wait for processing. You can apply for your visa online via the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. or the consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York.

Finding accurate cost figures for South African visas isn’t as easy as it is for many other countries, but according to migratewithq, the average costs are as follows:

  • Corporate Visas – $567 to $1,418 (10,000 to 25,000 South African Rand)
  • Critical Skills, General Work, and Intra-Company Visas – $652 to $851 (11, 500 to 15,000 Rand)
  • Life Partner and Spousal Visas –  $397 to $680 (7,000 to 12,000 Rand)

Please note that visa costs are subject to change and that many expats hire experienced immigration consultants to guide them through the process.

You can find additional information on travel and immigration to S.A. from the U.S. Embassy in S.A.

How to move your things from the U.S. to South Africa

  • International moving companies

International moving companies are quite popular when it comes to international relocations. And a big reason for that is they operate just like your normal interstate mover, only internationally. You can expect the usual services such as pick-up, packing, loading, sea/air transport, and delivery down in South Africa. And because they do so much for you, they are the most expensive way to move from the U.S. to South Africa.

  • International container companies

These are just like local container moving companies, only that they ship internationally. They are quite cheaper than international movers because they do not provide packing or furniture assembly/disassembly services. You just get a container delivered and you pack it on your own. The container is then shipped to your new address in South Africa.

Some of the top moving container companies are FlatRate, UPakWeShip, Schumacher Cargo, Move Cube, and iContainers.

  • Sea Freight

Sea freight works in almost the same way as international container moving. But there are some disparities.

With sea freight, you can ship goods that take up just a portion of a container. The freight company, or their forwarding partners, will collect your household goods from your residence. Once at the freight company premises, your goods are packed on pallets and loaded into containers.

  • Shipping companies

General shipping companies can transport your goods from the USA to South Africa via air or sea. They can also handle different volumes of goods, starting from a single box to a full container. You want to consider shipping companies only if you need to ship a few boxes or just a handful of furniture/appliances. These companies offer some personalized services such as packing, crating, and padding

Why are people moving from the USA to South Africa?

Why people are moving out of the U.S.

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens leave the USA each year and settle in other countries. At present, it is estimated that there are about 4 million Americans overseas. Most of these people migrate out of the U.S. for reasons such as:

  • Jobs/career development.
  • High cost of living in the U.S.
  • Retiring abroad.
  • Looking for better private healthcare.
  • Cultural issues such as racism and religion.

Why people are moving to South Africa:

As we mentioned earlier, there are almost 4 million immigrants in South Africa to date. That’s about 7% of the country’s population, or thereabout.

A huge number of these expats are from the Southern African region. They go there seeking jobs and a better quality of living in S.A. Others from countries such as Botswana, Kenya, and Nigeria go to seek professional careers and investment opportunities. And others from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan go there seeking refuge.

Immigrants from western countries such as the USA and U.K. go to South Africa mainly to seek critical skill jobs, to retire, and to enjoy a more relaxed lifestyle.

Why people are moving from the U.S. to South Africa:

More than 7,000 Americans are living in South Africa to date. And with the trend we have seen lately of Americans leaving the U.S. in search of greener pastures, this number will gradually go up in the next few years. Some of the main reasons why people are moving to South Africa from the U.S. include:

  • Employment and better career prospects.
  • Lower cost of living
  • Better quality of living
  • Affordable private and public healthcare
  • Good weather all year
  • Beautiful outdoors with lots of natural attractions and recreational activities.
  • It has multiple official languages including English and Afrikaans.
  • Great public transportation systems.

Some of the best places to move to in South Africa

South Africa is a beautiful country that enjoys a blend of warm weather, sandy beaches, a big game safari, forests, mountains, and booming metropolitan cities. Here there’s something for everyone. If you’re set on calling South Africa your new home country, here are the big cities you should be looking into:

Cape Town

Cape Town is located on the southwestern tip of the country, off the South Atlantic Ocean. The city is located in the Western Cape Province and has a population of about 750,000. Cape Town is a breathtaking metro tucked between the blue ocean waters and imposing mountains in the backdrop. It is one of S.A.’s.. three capitals and the second-largest city in the country.


Durban is located in the southeast section of the country in KwaZulu-Natal province. The city has a population of about 650,000 and is the third-largest in the country. Durban enjoys a warm climate which is why its waters are a haven for dolphins. It is a hip, urban city, with lots of entertainment, nightlife, culture, and restaurants.


Johannesburg, also known simply as Jo’Burg, is the largest and most popular city in the country. It is located in Gauteng province (where it is the capital) in the northeastern part of the country and has a population of over 1 million. The larger metro area around the city houses over 10 million people. Johannesburg is an economic hub in the Southern Africa region and is brimming with industries involved in finance, hospitality, marketing, tech, fashion, arts, data, and health.


Pretoria is located in the northeastern part of South Africa in Gauteng province, just 30 miles from Johannesburg. It is the administrative capital of the country and hosts most government headquarters, plus all foreign embassies. It has a population of about a million people and is the largest inland city in the country.

Despite being tucked away from the shoreline, it is within good proximity to the world-famous Kruger National Park. The city enjoys a landscape mix of urban development and greenery and is a hub for education, government services, and diplomatic activities.


Bloemfontein, located in Free State province, is centrally located in the country and has a population of about 650K. It is the judicial seat of government in the country. The city is an urban sprawl with museums, universities, and parks. Bloemfontein promises a more relaxed living atmosphere even though the arts and nightlife are alive and thriving.


Can an American move to South Africa?

Yes. Americans can relocate to South Africa permanently or on a long-term basis. There are currently thousands of Americans born in the U.S. who have successfully emigrated to South Africa.

What do I need to know about moving to South Africa?

South Africa is a beautiful country with great weather and lots of attractions. Its modern cities offer everything one can find here in the U.S. Before moving there, however, it’s important to have a job or knowledge in some of the critical skills needed there as a way to provide sustenance. There are also pockets of crime in certain sections of major cities so it’s good to know which places to avoid.

Is it safe for an American to live in South Africa?

It is safe for an American to live in South Africa. Despite crime in some areas and short-lived ethnic uproars every few years, South Africa is a stable country and one can easily avoid the few affected areas. The same precaution warranted in most U.S. cities is what you need to stay safe there.

How do you move to South Africa?

You can explore international moving companies, international moving container companies, shipping companies, and freight companies. The first and second are ideal if you’re moving with most of your belongings. Shipping companies and freight companies are better suited for shipping just a few items or several large boxes.

What are the benefits of moving to South Africa?

You get to:

  • Live in a beautiful country dotted with mountains, parks, and beaches.
  • Enjoy a lower cost of living
  • A higher quality of life.
  • More affordable healthcare.
  • Enjoy great weather all year long.
  • Access exciting career prospects in certain fields.

How can I move to South Africa from the U.S.?

First, you need to be eligible for a visa that allows you to go there for work, study, volunteering, retirement, or business. Then you apply for your visa and pay the applicable fees. After about 5 years of working in the country, you can seek a permanent residence visa.

What are the best places to live in South Africa?

The major cities in South Africa are great for professional careers, entertainment, business investment, retirement, and education. They include Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Pretoria, and Bloemfontein.

We hope that this page has helped you understand what moving to South Africa from the U.S. is like, what is expected, and how you can go about it. Obviously, you will need to carry out deeper research to see if your interests and needs align with the southernmost country in Africa.

South Africa is definitely a promising land that could hold the dream life you are aspiring for. With a rapidly growing economy for job seekers and investors, and beautiful beach cities for retirees, S.A. can be a comfortable, exciting, and happy new home for you.

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