In this post, I highlight some of the main reasons why people leave South Africa. There appears to have been a sharp increase in the number of people leaving South Africa in the past few years. However, migration is something that has been happening for decades, all over the world. It’s not just an African issue. With that said, some of the motivating factors for people leaving South Africa are different to people who might emigrate from Australia, or the UK, or America. They just are.

reasons why people leave south africa

Push and Pull Factors for leaving South Africa

We left South Africa, for the second time, in June 2018. Speaking from personal experience and from talking to others (as I work on my podcast The Migration Generation,) the reasons can be separated into two different categories: Push Factors and Pull Factors.

Push Factors – These are reasons that make people want to leave South Africa. They are the things that push people to leave.

Pull Factors – These are the reasons that pull people towards other countries. Every country offers different things, but most of the pull factors can be grouped together.

What are the main Push Factors for people leaving South Africa?

  1. Crime and personal security. The crime rate in South Africa is one of the highest in the world. People need to protect themselves and their possessions and this comes at a cost too. The rate of rape, murder, hijackings and theft is extremely high. Many people don’t want to live with the constant threat of this every single day and night. The alternative of a safer living environment for families, with less crime, is a huge push factor for most people.
  2. The high cost of Private School education. Whilst government-funded education is still available, many people feel that the standard is not what they would want it to be and so they put their kids in private education which is very expensive. For a large number of university graduates who leave the South African education system, having their qualifications NOT recognised worldwide without further studying or validating required too, makes parents reconsider the quality of the children’s education. Especially when you factor in the high cost of that university education as well.
  3. The exorbitant cost of Private Medical Aid fees can be crippling. Especially considering that the option of state-funded medical care is substandard, underfunded, under-resourced and life-threatening in many situations.
  4. Employment and Career Progression. With many of the policies put in place to address the previously disadvantaged (I’m not here to debate that), many people now find their future career opportunities dwindling. Considering the high costs mentioned above the option of taking lower-paid jobs is not an option. People feel pushed to find alternative employment elsewhere.
  5. The weakening currency, the Rand, means that people are concerned about the value of their assets, and the value of their investments when they get to old age and retirement.

Moving your children from school in SA to school in the UK.

Moving your children from school in South Africa to school in the UK.

What school in the UK looks like now.


What are the main Pull Factors for people leaving South Africa

Push factors are not the only motivating factor for emigration. In spite of the list above, many people are prepared to put up with those. However, there are PULL factors that make immigrating more attractive than staying.

  1. A safer living environment for families. With most people immigrating to countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the UAE, the threat to personal safety and the crime rate in general in those countries compared to South Africa is incomparable.
  2. Free or affordable education for children with their qualifications being widely accepted throughout the rest of the world. No questions asked.
  3. The availability of State-Funded or subsidised medical care that is of a high standard, even if this does come with long waiting lists. I think it’s important to balance out cost vs quality here. No one is debating that high-quality medical care is available in South Africa, it’s just that the cost of this is exorbitant and unaffordable for many. In some situations, the medical facilities needed are not offered in South Africa. People then move to where they are offered for the sake of who is in need. This is not unique to South African immigration.
  4. A number of countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and the UAE actively recruit people from South Africa in professions such as teachers, doctors, engineers, etc. People are tempted and pulled by impressive salary and living allowance packages.
  5. Many people leave South Africa to seek career progression and enhancement overseas where their passions and professions might not be provided for in South Africa.
  6. Citizenship: The opportunity to give their children passports or citizenship of the countries of their ancestry (i.e. British or EU Passports). For many, they are the last line of generations who can do this for their children. They see these passports as giving their children better future opportunities. So leaving South Africa to lock in this option for their kids is something they choose to do.
  7. Many people also simply leave South Africa for the opportunity of travelling the world. This is not unique to South Africa, this happens the world over.

What are the reasons people Don’t Want to leave South Africa or indeed make them Return to South Africa?

Let’s not deny that the #ImStaying movement is strong. People who have no intention of leaving South Africa are fiercely proud to live there. They are continuing on with their lives, investing in their futures in South Africa even when it seems as if so many people are leaving. There are many people who move abroad for some time and then decide they would rather return to South Africa and live there forever. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. They don’t want to leave their family and friends.
  2. The weather in South Africa is amazing!
  3. The lifestyle of sunshine, braaing, rugby, the bushveld, the seaside, the fishing, hunting etc. This is hard to beat anywhere else in the world.
  4. The diversity, culture and beauty that is Africa herself hard to beat!
  5. Patriotism – South Africa is their home and they don’t want to leave.
  6. A sense of wanting to help fix what’s broken instead of leaving for ‘greener pastures’.
  7. The Boks. #truestory

What are the reasons people Can’t Leave South Africa?

Many people want to leave South Africa, but simply can’t. Here are some of the main reasons why that is.

  1. Affordability – immigrating is an expensive activity.
  2. Inability to sell property at a value that will ensure they can use those funds to purchase property in their destination country.
  3. Visa restrictions. All countries have certain requirements to control immigration. For many who only hold South African passports and don’t have the skills required for Skilled Migrant Work Permits immigrating is often impossible.
  4. They refuse to leave family behind. This is mostly elderly relatives who can’t or won’t immigrate with them and they feel like they can’t leave them behind.
expats a new life in new zealand
new Christmas traditions for expats
expat Christmas in Germany

Open Minds and Heavy Hearts

These lists are not exhaustive by any means. Many people have other reasons for leaving South Africa as well. One thing that is important to note is that no one emigrates for one reason alone. You don’t make a decision to leave your country of birth on a whim, or for one reason alone. It’s a decision that is not taken lightly. One that those who do make it, do so with a clear head and often a heavy heart.

If there is something glaringly obvious that I have missed off any of these lists, please let me know in the comments and I will gladly update it.

To everyone who is considering leaving South Africa, I just want to say one thing. “The grass is not always greener, but it is greenest where you water it.”

If you’d like to follow me on Instagram to stay up to date with our new lives in the UK since we moved from South Africa, please do. And do take a moment to drop me a comment below to let me know where you are reading this post from. I’m endlessly curious to know where my blog posts are read from.

If you’d like to be part of the Migration Generation Podcast, drop me a message and let me know and I can send you all the details.

Have a lekker day!

why people leave south africa