IMMIGRATE or Immigrate

I  have been in contact with some South Africans willing to immigrate to Spain, and from their questions I‘ve seen that there are a couple of things I need to make clear.

Typical South African approach to many things in life is Gung-Ho. Let’s do it, Let’s do it now. After 25 years of living in the country, I have adopted this philosophy too. Don’t get me wrong,  I think it is a brilliant strategy for most things in life. But, in the matter of immigration, another approach is needed.

Go Slow

Let me explain. Most of South Africans at the moment are applying for Financial Immigration, selling everything, packing everything, going within weeks of their property being sold. I think this is a completely wrong approach.

First, they haven’t properly studied the options. Yes, people are emigrating everywhere, but to Latin America? To change one crime-ridden continent for another? To go from total instability to potential instability? And to rely on the recommendation of the people they don’t even know. Sell everything and move? Suicidal.  To be completely honest, this is what I’ve done when I came to South Africa. But I didn’t sell everything and I told myself if that doesn’t work, I will go back. Plus, I was really young, and thank God, stupid.

Financial emigration can bring you another set of problems. First, it might put you at odds with Tax office, it might cost a lot, it might close the doors of South Africa forever (and we really don’t know how it will look in 10, 20 years, although we are guessing now) and you might be forced to buy foreign currency at the worst possible moment. So that is why I think this is a bad way to start your journey, unless, of course, you have to cash your pension, and then, there is no other option.

You don’t need another passport

Another thing I want to point out is that there is no need to seek a new passport. Believe it or not, South African is good enough, as long as you have a residency in another country. You can still be South African, and live in Spain for the rest of your life. Once you spend 10 years in Spain, you can apply for citizenship, but there is no real need to do it. Unless you have always dreamed of being a Spaniard. With your residence card you can travel anywhere you want in Europe, and for the rest of the world, the South African passport is good enough. Yes, you might need a visa for the US, but you will get it easily here, not like in Johannesburg, where they take all the watches at the entrance so you don’t know how long are you waiting, once inside.

You can have Spanish residence and South African authorities don’t need to know about this. First of all, they don’t really care. Also, there is no immigration communication between South Africa and Spain, and even if there was one, it is completely normal to be a South African with a Spanish residency. You don’t want to worry that one day, somebody would want to revoke your citizenship.

Get yourself two years

Once you decide, OK, this is it, I am going, give yourself 2 years. You can start the residence application straight away, but you will have to travel to Spain first, to open an account and do a couple of other things. You will have to buy or rent a place where you want to live. Get a medical insurance. Then, once you have an account, you can send your money over. You are allowed to send 1.000.000,00 Rand per person as a travel allowance. And that is a lot. So, if you decide to send money in November or December, in a month or two, you can send some again. So it is 4 million in a short amount of time. If you give it another year, it is 6 million. If you have kids, even more. And so on. This you can do via normal agencies (do not go to banks, the will kill you on the exchange rate) like Bidvest, via Internet, paid in a foreign account, with your name, going from your account into your account. It will sort many money laundering issues Europe might have. There might be even cheaper ways to send money, but I can only talk from my experience.

The advantage of this system is that you haven’t emigrated financially, just moved some money overseas – you are not on anybody’s radar. It means that you can come back to South Africa whenever you want, because you haven’t really left, and you can be a resident of another country. You can keep your South African bank accounts and what is even more interesting, keep getting income paid into those accounts (if you have any), either by renting your existing house or other properties. Hell, you can immigrate just for a year, and see if you like it, and if you decide it is not for you, you can come back to your house in South Africa.

Once in Spain, there are other interesting options. As this is a normal, First World country, normal rules apply. You can buy the property, you can buy the business, you can do many things. Now, this is another interesting thing: as a foreigner, if you have enough income in South Africa, you can even get a mortgage. It will not be huge, you can probably get 40% of the price, maybe even 50%, but, the interest rate in Europe is about 1.6% at the moment. And the property value in Spain is rising, in the worst areas of Valencia, about 5-10%, in best up to 15% a year. Rents are rising even faster. And it is not a bubble, because the prices are still about 20-50% lower from their peaks. You can do your math from here.

Learn a language

Another point I want to make is a language. It will take you about a year and a half to get grips on it. I am almost there, of course still far from perfect, but after a year on Duolingo only, I can communicate well enough. It takes about an hour daily. If you can get some private lessons on top of it, even better. But, don’t believe people when they say – you don’t need a language. There are some groups on the Internet that are promoting strange countries with many serious lies, and the most important one is about the language. If you are coming to Spain to retire, sure, you will not need Spanish, there are so many immigrants, and most of them are English-speaking. But if you want to start a business, maybe get a job later, you need to start your Spanish now. After all, it is a beautiful language, and I am proud that I managed to get this far.

So, this is why I am suggesting a soft option of Immigrating instead of IMMIGRATING. Yes, come to Spain, it is a beautiful country and you will not regret it, but do it slowly. Get your ducks in a row, make a plan B, and then, it will look much easier.