The countries where most South Africans emigrate to

 ·25 Jan 2024

Many countries worldwide, including the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States of America, are emigration hotspots for South Africans, but the tide may be turning.

For this list, we have looked at the number of South African-born residents living in foreign countries as per the latest foreign-birth data from each country’s statistics body, such as a census,

Although several countries may have high South African populations, many statistics bureaus don’t provide the exact data on the number of South Africans living within their borders, such as the United Arab Emirates.

Using the available census data, the United Kingdom had the highest population of South African-born residents at 217,180.

This was a 13.69% increase from the amount of South Africans 191,023 living in the United Kingdom in 2011.

Australia is home to the second-largest number of South African emigrants, with 206,730.

This is a notable 23.23% increase from the 167,630 a decade prior.

The United States of America completes the podium at 139,332, while New Zealand (71,382) and Canada (51,590) make the top five.

The top eight countries for South African expats can be found below:

Rank CountryNo. of South Africans
1United Kingdom217 180 (2021)
2Australia206 730 (2022)
3United States of America139 332 (2022)
4New Zealand71 382 (2018)
5Canada51 590 (2021)
6Netherlands28 466 (2023)
7Ireland15 886 (2022)
8Portugal10 630 (2021)

Reverse emigration

Despite talks that South Africans have been increasingly emigrating overseas amid load shedding, a weak economy and crime, FNB’s Estate Agents Survey for Q4 2023 has shown that property sales linked to emigration have declined.

“Emigration-related sales were steady at 8%, significantly lower than the peak of 18% observed in 2019 but in line with the long-term average since Q4 2007,” FNB said.

Moreover, Rory O’Hagan, principal of the Chas Everitt Hyde Park and Sandton office, also recently noted a “reverse emigration” trend, where South African expats are returning coming back home, with many taking up new corporate jobs in Johannesburg.

“Most are highly skilled individuals with years of experience, which is a benefit to SA,” O’Hagan said.

Tax Consulting SA said that the return of South Africans is due to a multiplicity of factors, such as cost of living concerns and the cheaper costs of home ownership compared to popular emigration hotspots.

“As the desire to return gains momentum, our practice has seen an increasing number of expatriates inquiring about the practicalities of coming back to South Africa,” it said.

Some of the other reasons to return to South Africa include:

  • Being tired of unpleasant weather and worried about natural disasters,

  • Missing family and friends,

  • Fears about the fallout from the Ukraine and Middle East conflicts

  • The high and rising cost of living in Europe, the UK and the US, and

Read: Flying vs driving from Joburg to Cape Town – the cheapest option right now

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