This guide provides advice on successfully moving your belongings abroad. Here you will find tips on shipping to South Africa, moving companies, air freight options and more.
If you’re moving to South Africa, the idea of transporting your belongings might fill you with dread. Don’t worry though, because with a bit of forward planning you can take much of the stress out of the South African immigration process. Here’s our guide to help you with relocating to South Africa.
Customs for South Africa
You should be allowed to bring your personal possessions into South Africa duty free, but you’ll need to make sure you arrive before they do. People moving to South Africa need to show up in person at Customs in advance of their belongings with the required paperwork (forms DA304, SAD500 and PI160), an inventory of their items and their residency visa. After you’ve provided the required information, it should around 7-10 working days to complete Customs clearance.
Shipping to South Africa
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is whether to send your belongings by sea or by air freight to South Africa. Both options have their pros and cons, and which one is best for you depends on your personal circumstances – such as how many items you have, how far they’re travelling, how quickly you need them, and whether you’re on a tight budget.
Moving your belongings by air freight to South Africa
Cost of air freight
Air freight can be a great idea, especially if you’re only sending a small quantity of items to South Africa. Air freight charges are calculated by weight (rather than volume), so it might not be the best choice if you need to transport heavy items like furniture and white goods, but it could be ideal if you’re moving into a home which is already furnished.
In addition to the fees being expensive for heavy items, you might also need to pay up to 5% of the overall value of your goods for insurance, so costs can quickly mount up.
How long it takes to send your items depends largely on where you’re sending them from, but it’s reasonable to expect a turnaround time of a week. This makes air freight to South Africa by far the quickest way to get your belongings to your new home.
If you’ve left it a little late to get your plans sorted, sending your possessions by plane might be your only remaining option. While you’ll need to plan in advance whichever method you choose, it can be possible to send items by air freight with only a few weeks notice.
How to book air freight to South Africa
The easiest way to make a booking is to compare quotes online. Remember though, online and email quotes will only provide you with an outline cost based on your shipment weight, location and moving dates, and won’t include extra costs such as insurance and packing (if applicable). You should always compare quotes from several companies, take heed of personal recommendations and check providers are registered with an industry body (more on this later).
How the process works
Once you’ve finalised your booking, you’ll need to arrange a date for the transit company to pick your belongings up. Around this time, you should be provided with details of when the shipping to South Africa will be sent, and many companies also provide an online tracking system so you can keep up to date with its progress.
Packing for shipping to South Africa
You’ll usually be allowed to pack your own belongings, but if you choose to do so, it’s important to make sure they’re secure and that you haven’t over-packed your cases. If you’re unsure about how best to pack your items or want some extra peace of mind, the transit company will generally offer a professional packing service at an extra cost.
If you can’t wait a month or more for your possessions and you’re willing to spend a little extra money, air freight to South Africa could be the best option for you.
Container shipping to South Africa
Container shipping is a popular way of transporting large items on a budget, with several options available for customers with different load sizes.
South Africa’s major container ports are situated in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and East London, but there are smaller ports elsewhere. While the port of Cape Town was once South Africa’s busiest, this has now been surpassed by Durban. The spread of the four major ports means that most places in South Africa can be accessed within a day’s drive.
While it’s cheaper than air freight, shipping by sea can take a long time. The journey between Europe and South Africa will usually take around four weeks, but some companies advise allowing 7-10 weeks for door to door transit, or as many as fourteen weeks should you choose a shared container (known as groupage – more on this later). To see how long it will take when moving to South Africa from the UK visit a comparison website such as this one.
How the process works
If you’re moving the contents of a large house, shipping by sea will usually be the most cost-effective choice, but options are available for customers with smaller loads. If you choose to use a door-to-door service from a relocation company, they will survey your belongings and choose the best option for you out of the following three:
- Full container load – your items are loaded into a steel container and taken to the port. The container is then directly transported to the destination.
- Less than a container load – if you don’t have enough belongings to fill a container, you can instead have them crated and shipped in a similar time frame.
- Groupage – this is the cheapest of the shipment options, where your items are grouped with those belonging to other customers. The drawback of this is that it works on a basis of supply and demand, so your shipping company will wait until enough other people are moving their belongings at the same time – meaning you could face delays.
Containers usually come in set sizes, with a 20-foot container able to fit around about the contents of a 3-bedroom house and a 40-foot container suited to a 4-5 bedroom house.
If you’re not in a rush to get your possessions and you’re looking to move on a tight budget, container shipping is likely to be your best bet.
Using a moving company for South African immigration
If you want to take the hassle out of your move, you can employ a relocation company to provide a door-to-door service. This might seem expensive at face value, but once you’ve factored in how much each step of the process will cost individually, it might be the best – and safest – choice.
Relocation companies generally offer several different tiers of service, from the door-to-door option to simply shipping your possessions.
If you choose a high level of service, you’ll need to give the relocation company plenty of notice, as they’ll need to come to your home and survey your belongings before providing you with a full quote. Ideally, you should plan to allow at least three months, and remember, the best companies fill their slots quickly.
Relocation companies will always offer a professional packing service at an extra cost (if you’re in the UK, services are usually charged from around £10 per cubic metre). Professional packers are often worth the investment as they provide you with extra peace of mind that your belongings will be safe.
Some relocation companies offering services to South Africa will insist on packing your belongings and won’t offer full insurance if you’ve packed them yourself, but this isn’t always the case so check the terms and conditions.
DIY v using a relocation company
The main benefits of organising the shipping process yourself are that you’ll be able to work at your own pace, and if you’ve got the time to compare all of your available options for each stage of the move you could end up saving some money.
It’s not for everyone, though. Issues such as insurance, inventories, packaging and having your items collected and delivered at the other side can all cause a headache. In addition to the time taken preparing each step, it’s also easy to lose track of the costs, and in some cases it can be more financially astute to use a relocation company.
How to choose a relocation company for moving to South Africa
Remember, these people will be looking after your possessions, so you’ll need to do plenty of research before jumping in. Personal references and testimonials are like gold dust, but if you don’t have any friends who’ve made a similar move, your decision might come down to how reputable the company is, the quote they offer and your gut instinct.
A sure fire way of checking a company is reputable is to see if they are registered with an official body. For example, many companies are registered with international bodies such as the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations and the International Air Transport Association, while in Britain, many are members of the British International Freight Association.
Secondly, always be suspicious of companies who won’t provide a clear, itemised price list of everything included, from insurance to packing materials.
Finally, find out to what degree you’ll be able to track your property, and ask what recourse you have if the relocation company fails to deliver it to your new home on schedule.