Foreigners are flocking to retire in South Africa – here’s why and where they’re coming from

 ·6 Jul 2024

Thousands of foreign nationals have chosen South Africa as their retirement destination, with many of them leaving some notable first-world countries such as the United Kingdom, China, Germany, and the United States of America.

In a parliamentary Q&A last year, the former Minister of Home Affairs, Aaron Motsoaledi, was asked to provide the total number of retirement visa applications received and approved, as well as the countries from which these applicants came.

In his response, Motsoaledi revealed that over the past two years, South Africa had received approximately 3,645 retirement visa applications from foreigners residing in 112 countries.

Out of a total of 3,645 visa applications, 1,645 have been approved, 1,449 are pending, and 499 have been rejected.

Reasons for rejections vary, from incomplete documents to failure to prove the required net worth or retirement income, which meets South Africa’s prescribed minimum amount of R37,000 per month.

The data also reveals that the top five countries for retirement visa applications are the UK, China, Germany, the USA, and Bangladesh, which account for 1,824 of the total applications.

Interestingly, notable applications have also been received from other European countries, such as Switzerland (150), the Netherlands (124), and Sweden (27), indicating a diverse range of applicants.

Adding to this, while commenting on the latest visa backlog numbers in 2024, the minister highlighted that another 1,686 retired person visas had yet to be processed, meaning the number of applications of foreigners wanting to retire in South Africa sits at well over 5,000.

Why South Africa

Despite facing numerous challenges, such as load shedding, high crime rates, and poor governance, South Africa continues to be viewed as an appealing retirement option for foreigners, especially in Gauteng.

Although, the Western Cape has also experienced a surge in demand for property from foreign buyers in recent years.

Sandton, Johannesburg.

According to the latest Census 2022 provincial data, Gauteng is the most populated province in the country, with 15.8 million inhabitants.

However, only 9.5 million people who live in Gauteng were born in the province.

In contrast, 11.6 million of KwaZulu-Natal’s 12.4 million permanent residents were born in the province.

Gauteng is clearly a migration and semigration hub, with roughly a third of residents coming from other areas.

Overall, 1.1 million people born outside of the country live in Gauteng, which is far more than the 368,000 foreigners living in the Western Cape, which comes in second place.

The most sought-after locations for retirees in South Africa are the major urban centres, including Cape Town and Johannesburg.

These cities boast substantial expatriate retiree communities, especially from the United Kingdom.

Additionally, there are other slightly more economical options with significant expat retirement populations, such as the Garden District along the southeast coast, Durban, Knysna, Krugersdorp, and Sedgefield.

South Africa also features numerous retirement villages, with those in Cape Town being particularly popular among foreign retirees.

South Africa is a popular retirement destination, largely due to its warm climates, picturesque landscapes, and affordable living costs.

However, many immigration specialists—including Integrate Immigration—highlight the main reason as the standard of living.

Immigrants choose South Africa as their chosen retirement destination because their euros and dollars afford them a better lifestyle and a cheaper cost of living.

Integrate Immigration noted that a major draw for foreigners is house prices and affordable household support.

Household support refers to the common practice of employing a domestic worker and gardener, which is considerably cheaper than in first-world countries. This helps older retirees with maintenance.

Dawie Roodt.

Economist Dawie Roodt agrees, saying South Africa is an exciting place to live and far more affordable than most developed countries.

Commenting after his visit to New Zealand, he said he would never leave South Africa.

“South Africa is a very special place. The first thing I did after returning from New Zealand was to buy a proper steak for a third of the price,” he said.

However, despite the positives, Roodt emphasised to those considering staying in South Africa the importance of careful future planning and awareness of the country’s risks.

He said that South Africa is a dangerous place with many inherent risks that must be identified and managed.

Additionally, Roodt suggested that individuals can still appreciate the country’s favourable climate, cuisine, familial bonds, and friendships by adhering to a few fundamental guidelines, with safety being of utmost importance.

This may entail residing in a secure estate and steering clear of precarious situations.

Regarding financial matters, Roodt recommended that South Africans maintain a diversified portfolio, with a significant portion invested internationally.

Overall, Roodt added that foreign retirees choosing South Africa are a very good sign, especially for the economy.

“These individuals are effectively long-term tourists, leading to an increased inflow of capital, and this also supports the exchange rate of the rand,” he said.

Roodt added that South Africa should encourage more of these types of visas and stressed that Home Affairs needs to do better, as the current turnaround for retirement visas is a dismal 12 months.

Read: South Africa wants to shift the R8.4 billion goalposts

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