Rich South Africans are selling up to emigrate

 ·24 Jul 2023

Wealthy South Africans are packing their bags and selling their houses to emigrate, quarterly property data shows.

According to FNB’s Estate Agency Survey Q2 2023, the percentage of South Africans selling their houses to emigrate grows substantially as income increases.

Overall, the number of South Africans who indicated they were selling their houses to emigrate stood at 9.0% in the second quarter of the year.

This average, however, is brought down by the relatively smaller percentage of “lower-income” households looking to emigrate.

As income levels increase, the emigration indicator also rises, pointing to wealthier households leaving the country.

For instance, for those earning between R250,000 and R500,000, the main reason for selling is to downscale due to financial pressures, which stands at 41.5%. This is far higher than the 0.9% for emigration.

Meanwhile, for sellers who earn between R1.6 million and R2.6 million, 10.9% said that they were selling to emigrate.

This is even higher for the R2.6 million to R3.6 million income bracket, where 19.0% said they were selling to emigrate – the second highest reason for selling after downscaling for lifestyle purposes.

For those in the highest income bracket – over R3.6 million – emigration was the motivation for 16.1% of sales, which again was only beaten by the 26.7% for downscaling with lifestyle.

Tracking emigration numbers in South Africa is not officially done, but evidence shows that wealthy South Africa are moving abroad.

According to the latest data from SARS, 40,500 taxpayers have ended their tax residency in South Africa over the last five years.

In a parliamentary Q&A in May 2023, finance minister Enoch Godongwana estimated that approximately 2,700 of these individuals made more than R500,000 per year, with a further 1,100 earning more than R1 million per year. This amounts to R1.3 billion in assessed tax that South Africa is losing.

In addition, the latest Wealth Migration Report 2023 from Henley & Partners said 400 High Net-Worth Individuals – those with a net worth of over US$1 million (roughly R18 million) – emigrated in 2022, with a further 500 expected to leave in 2023

Why are South Africans leaving

There are several reasons South Africans are leaving the country, with JP Breytenbach, the Director of Breytenbachs Immigration Consultants, citing the lack of growth opportunities as a driving factor for emigration.

Breytenbach added that a recent spike in diplomatic and political instability has led to a spike in emigration queries.

“It is evident that with each political tension event in South Africa, the number of enquiries about moving abroad jumps significantly,” he said.

These events comprise of political tension, the chance of new legislation that could be seen as harmful by some, economic uncertainty, and politically-linked violence like the July 2021 unrest.

Where are South Africans going

The latest United Nations’ International Migration Stock Report showed that the UK has the largest migrant stock in South Africa, with nearly 250,000 people listing South Africa as their birth country.

Australia, the USA and New Zealand all follow the UK in terms of the size of their South African diaspora.

Breytenbach said that the reason these countries have a large South African migrant stock is that they have made changes to their immigration system to attract skilled individuals.

He said that the UK is a popular emigration destination for South Africans due a few reasons:

  • No language or cultural barriers;
  • Easy to fly between South Africa and the UK;
  • The UK is the hub of economic activity in Europe; and
  • A large number of South Africans already live in the UK.

Read: UK visa price hikes – this is how much more South Africans will pay

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