Preparing for your move

Preparing to move a whole household to another country is a daunting prospect. On the positive side, it may be the best opportunity you’ve ever had to sort out your possessions and get rid of the excess baggage you have inevitably accumulated over the years! Even if an employer is picking up the bill, the lighter you travel, within reason, the easier your move will be.

Your move and your life abroad should ideally be as burden-free as possible, and South Africa has wonderful furniture fabrics and art work, so you may want to consider ringing the changes and purchase some furniture and objects d’art locally.

Some questions you may want to ask yourself so as to sort out the essential from what can be safely left at home, or disposed of:

  • Do we really need this to live comfortably abroad?

  • Will this fit or operate properly in a new home/country?

  • Will this be safe or perhaps a problem in another country, for e.g. Climate and temperature? For example very low humidity during the Highveld winter may cause damage to antiques and fine furniture.

  • Will we need this when we return home?

You may be accustomed to certain household items, but when you get right down to it you can get along without them. Some items, especially major US appliances are usually larger than the norm in Europe and South Africa and may not fit the spaces designated for them in your new home. In addition, appliances brought from the US will not be compatible with the local power source without transformers, and should repairs be required, parts may be difficult to obtain.

It is not a good idea to take anything especially valuable or irreplaceable. You may also have to remain within weight or container size limits set by your company’s policy.

Moving to a new location affects each child differently. Some children, especially teens, may feel out of place in their new school and suffer anxiety about making new friends. They will inevitably miss the companionship of family and old friends, their familiar home and neighbourhood, favourite foods and TV programmes. Your move can be a positive adventure for all if you make it a truly family affair.


Some tips

  • Talk to your children about your move as soon as a decision is made.

  • If possible arrange for them to join you for a Home Finding and School Search visit, prior to making decisions.

  • Provide them with website addresses to do their own research.

  • Be upbeat, share your thoughts, and enlist their help and ideas – incorporating as many as possible so they know they are important members of the family ‘moving’ team.

  • Every child, two years of age and older should take part in family discussions and help plan for the move.

  • Be sympathetic to your children’s particular needs and fears but take heart, children adjust quickly, even those who may have reacted negatively or been overly concerned. Remember the lifestyle in South Africa is conducive to children’s adaptation – a great amount of their time can be spent out of doors, riding bikes, swimming etc.

  • Older teens find the adjustment more difficult – for a start, older teens and young adults are often difficult anyway! In South Africa, they cannot drive on a full license until they are 18, and since public transport is not an option they often feel the lack of independence. Allowances and compromises therefore need to be made.

Most pet owners regard their animals as members of the family. Including them in a move to another country or leaving them can be a very difficult decision. The primary consideration should be based on the best interests of the animal. The animal’s age, health and the climate of the destination country are factors to be considered.  In some cultures attitudes to pets can be very different, and owners of rental housing may not permit them. This is not usually the case in South Africa, although pets are typically not allowed in apartments or small condos.

Another consideration is admission procedures both into the new host country and on return to your own – the UK for example, has very strict documentation, immunisation and quarantine requirements.

The first step in deciding whether to take a pet is therefore to investigate thoroughly. Country specific information can be provided by companies that specialise in transporting pets overseas.  Many companies include pet moving expenses as part of their relocation programmes. For employees of companies that do not, out-of-pocket expenses are tax deductible.

There is no set quarantine period for pets arriving in South Africa as long as they meet the requirements of the import permit and license. If they do not, the Veterinary Inspector may impose a quarantine of up to 60 days at the time of arrival into South Africa.

The following certificates must accompany the pet:

  • Import Permit obtained from the Director of Animal Health. Allow 2 – 4 weeks to obtain the necessary permits. The permit contains part of the required health certificate, along with the detailed requirements for the proper entry of dogs and cats.

  • USDA 7001 Health Certificate (or equivalent), endorsed within 10 days of animal’s departure.

  • Proof that all vaccinations are current and administered at least 35 – 42 days prior to entry.

  • An original certificate of rabies vaccination must accompany the health certificate – issued by the pet’s veterinarian, showing proof that the vaccine was administered more than 30 days prior but not more than 180 days prior to flight.

  • A signed indemnity certificate in case the pet is required to be quarantined. Note that quarantine will be required for pets imported from certain countries in Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. If in doubt contact the number below.

For more information, please contact: Director of Veterinary Services, Tswane/Pretoria: +27 12 319 6000.

Useful Websites:



Importing a Motor Vehicle to South Africa is a complicated, lengthy and costly process. If you are entering SA as a temporary resident, you will have to obtain an Import Permit, pay duty by way of a ‘bond’, based on the ‘blue book’ value of the vehicle. The duty could be as high as 60 – 80% of the value and you will only get the funds back when you export the car i.e. you may not sell the car in SA. In addition, the cost of shipping is not insignificant!

We therefore recommend that you either purchase or lease a motor vehicle in South Africa as opposed to bringing one from home. If you still want to import your vehicle, please contact Elliott Mobility and we will assist with more detailed information or alternatively contact a South African Consulate well in advance of departure for current regulations and forms. The Automobile Association of Southern Africa is an excellent source of information:

In addition to passports and visas, other types of documentation may be required during your stay abroad in establishing identity, applying for bank accounts, verifying legal arrangements, paying taxes and fulfilling other obligations required by your own government and that of the new host country. It is advisable to have multiple copies made to take with you. Do not pack them away with belongings being shipped. Keep them with you in the event they may be required while travelling or during your settling-in period. It is also a good idea to leave copies with a trusted family member or attorney in your home country.

We suggest you make and bring copies of the following documents:

  • Descriptive data page/s of each family member’s passport

  • Birth certificates of each family member

  • Marriage certificate

  • National Driver’s License

  • Certificates of citizenship for naturalised individuals

  • Adoption papers

  • Divorce and child custody papers

  • Health Care Insurance

  • Medical records, immunisation certificates and any necessary medical prescriptions

  • Dental records

  • Property insurance records

  • Automobile insurance records

  • Income tax records for several previous years

  • Wills

  • Power of attorney

  • Lease or rental agreements

  • Letter of reference from your home country bank

  • Contract of employment with new host country employer


Important documents such as your driver’s license, birth and marriage certificates should be translated into English by a sworn translator and certified.

Before making a decision on what to Bring and What Not to Bring, we suggest that you review the information below on Household Goods / Appliances and Electronics. If possible, we suggest that you select a home before making any final decisions.

General Considerations

If your company is moving you, know its policies regarding storage and the quantity/cubic feet of household goods allowed.

  • Consider the relative size of your overseas home versus your current home. You’ll probably want to bring your favourite cookbooks, kitchenware and measuring cups / spoons in the units you are used to

  • Consider whether you should bring antique furniture, bearing in mind that Johannesburg has a very dry winter and these items may warp or crack

Home Furnishings

In deciding what furnishings to bring with you, it is useful to have some idea as to what your new housing will look like. Typically unfurnished South African homes include:

  • Ÿ  Built-in kitchens and stoves (oven and hob)

  • Ÿ  Built-in cupboards in bedrooms and bathroom

  • Ÿ  Wall to wall carpeting and / or tiles

In addition:

  • Modern South African homes tend to have smaller bedrooms than you may be accustomed to therefore there may not be space for free-standing wardrobes or cupboards.

  • Nearly all homes have covered outdoor patio areas and swimming pools, and most entertaining is informal and al fresco. You may therefore decide not to bring fine china, glasses and irreplaceable silverware.

  • If you bring your own beds, you may need to bring your own mattresses and linen as sizes may differ from your home country.

  • All types of furniture, home ware, draperies and decorative objects are available in South Africa. Imported goods are expensive but much is made locally, and is of an excellent quality. Antique shops and second-hand shops can be found in most urban areas.

Appliances and Electronics

Special care is called for when deciding which, if any, household appliances and electronic equipment to bring with you. Electric current varies from country to country. The US and Canada for example, operate on 110 – 120 volt, 60-cycle system. The European and South African standard is 220 – 240 volt, 50-cycle. Some appliances can be made to operate on both currents. These “multi-system’ devices are discussed in Televisions and VCR’s later in this section.

There are a number of terms it is helpful to be aware of in determining whether common place devices powered by electricity will function properly in a country other than the one in which they were manufactured and purchased:

Voltage - a measure of the strength of electric current. It is the most important factor in the operation of an appliance. One designed to run at 110 – 120 will be severely damaged if connected to a 220 – 240 outlet.

Cycles, also referred to as Hertz, and indicates frequency of a process called oscillation that produces alternating current. It affects the accuracy of appliances such as clocks, sound systems and others that have an internal timing mechanism.

Some appliances can be adapted to work on different currents than they were constructed for by using a transformer, which adjusts the voltage downwards (typically from 220 to 110). The appliance is connected to the transformer, which is plugged into an outlet. Transformers work only on alternating current and do not affect the cycle. They are rated as to watts or wattage, another measure of current strength they can accommodate. They should never be connected to an appliance requiring a greater wattage than they are rated for and, except for the smallest appliances, should always be grounded. The mathematical relationship between watts and amps is simple. Multiply the number of amps by voltage to get wattage. Thus, an appliance marked 2 amps and intended to operate at 110 volts has wattage of 220.

Plug Configuration

South Africa primarily uses three prong plugs with round ‘blades’. Adaptor plugs can be purchased locally, but they are intended for travelers, and it is usually more satisfactory to have new plugs fitted. Lamps from abroad will work in South Africa but local (220 volt) light bulbs must be fitted.


Some appliances, as noted above, can be obtained in multi-system versions. Smaller devices such as hairdryers, clock radio’s and VCR’s are often made with a switch that enables them to be operated on either 110-120 or 220 – 240volts. There are also multi-system television sets but scanning discrepancies may still produce inferior reception. Other more powerful appliances such as microwave ovens and vacuum cleaners are not made in multi-system versions.

No North American appliances can be plugged directly into the electrical outlet in SA. Some North American appliances will operate in South Africa with the correct transformer and electrical adapter, including coffeemakers, toasters, blenders, mixers, most stereos, most computers, and cordless telephones. Others, however, must be 220 / 230 V, 50Hz. Refrigerators, washers, dryers, air conditioners, microwaves, vacuum cleaners fall into that category.

Televisions and VCR’s

Televisions do not travel well internationally. Broadcasting systems differ from country to country and they are not automatically compatible. The leading systems are NTSC, used primarily in North America and PAL, used in most of Europe and elsewhere. In addition, the SECAM system is used in France and some other countries. The key difference is the number of lines that are “scanned” on the TV screen per vertical inch. In some cases, sets built for one system cannot be converted to receive transmissions of another. If convertible the conversion is typically expensive and not always fully satisfactory. It is usually much simpler to purchase or rent a compatible set in the new country.

The broadcasting system in South Africa is PAL-I (VHF/UHF). Televisions from North America where the broadcasting system is NTSC-M/M cannot be used in South Africa. It is recommended that expatriates purchase a full multi-system television and VCR that can be used throughout the world. This system allows local broadcasts to be received and accepts both local videotapes and those with different formats.


Please Note:

  • Ÿ  If you purchase a television set in South Africa, you must obtain a Television License.

  • Ÿ  Rental television sets are also available.


Cellular (Mobile) Phones

South Africa operates on a GSM Digital System therefore compatible cell phone instruments can be used in SA but analogue instruments cannot. Local service providers will be able to reconfigure settings on digital instruments brought into South Africa.

Telephones and Fax Machines

Most ordinary digital telephones and fax machines from overseas countries will work in South Africa. However, if purchasing top of the range cordless phones etc., please check with the overseas supplier to be 100% certain that these instruments will operate in South Africa – technology advances in developed countries more rapidly than it does in South Africa – in addition, the guarantee on the instrument may not extend to South Africa – something that needs to be considered given the high incidence of lightning and vulnerability of these type of instruments to being struck by lightning. All things considered, it is probably advisable to purchase these instruments locally.

Prohibited Items

  • Controlled drugs, including opium, morphine, cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines, barbiturates, LSD and any other substance generally regarded as illegal

  • Flammable items such as matches, paint, cleaning and lighting fluids, laundry detergents, aerosols and candles

  • Firearms, ammunition and explosives (firearms need a special import license)

  • Most animals and all birds (dead or alive!)

  • Ivory

  • Furs from endangered species

  • Perishable foods and live plants

We do not recommend that you pack the following items in your unaccompanied air or sea shipment

  • Ÿ  Fine jewellery and irreplaceable items

  • Ÿ  Valuable currency, stamp, coin and card collections

  • Ÿ  Original bonds, wills and deeds, stock certificates

  • Ÿ  Photos that are irreplaceable

  • Ÿ  Compact discs, computer diskettes and tapes


Air Shipment

It typically takes 6 – 8 weeks from the time your goods are packed to delivery of your sea shipment to your new home. You may therefore want to consider sending essential items via airfreight in advance of your sea shipment.

Some suggestions are:

  • Clothing - adequate quantity for all your family members – please bear in mind that the seasons between North and Southern Hemisphere are reversed!

  • Medical prescriptions and supplies.

  • Baby equipment (car seats, strollers).

  • Children’s favourite toys, bikes, books, videos etc.

  • School records, medical / dental records, or other important documents you may need immediately upon arrival.

  • Anything you cannot live without!

Sea Shipment – Useful Tips

  • Arrange for appliances to be serviced before your move.

  • Record the manufacturer’s name and model number of each appliance.

  • Make sure everything you ship is clean and dry, since dampness and humidity are the leading causes of shipping and storage damage.

  • Musical instruments may require special expert packing before being moved. Pianos and organs should be prepared for the move by a piano / organ technician as they have parts that should be secured or removed entirely and then packed.

  • If possible, your personal computers should be packed in their original boxes; if not available, use a large sturdy box and cushion all components with plastic bubble pack or Styrofoam.

  • Don’t ship diskettes in the moving van, since they are sensitive to extreme temperatures.

Insurance on Household Goods

Your shipping company/insurance agent will supply you with instructions concerning insurance on your household goods shipment. Pay particular attention to its requirements for separate valued inventory lists for each part of your household goods shipment; i.e., one for air shipment, one for sea shipment and one for storage. These valued inventory sheets must be given to your insurance carrier before you move, so a Certificate of Insurance can be completed and forwarded to you prior to loading your shipment.

Valuables, such as antiques or collections, should be appraised – retain a copy of each appraisal and forward a copy to your insurance provider. If any of your belongings are damaged or missing, if possible note  the damage or loss on the shipping inventory sheets before the driver leaves your new home on your moving-in day. Alternatively, notify your insurer promptly (some policies specify no later than 30 days following the delivery). Be sure to keep any damaged items – do not proceed with repairs until the claims adjuster has inspected the damage.

What to expect on Move-In Day

  • The driver will make a written inventory and record the condition of all the items in your shipment.

  • The insurance company will use these inventory sheets if you make a claim, so it is important that everything is listed and that you agree with the condition the driver assigns to each item before it is loaded.

  • Movers use codes to note the condition of items – ask the driver to explain the codes to you.

  • If you do not agree with the driver’s assessment of any items, note your exceptions on the original inventory form.

  • The driver will provide you with a copy of the inventory sheets after you sign them.

  • Before the movers leave, they will ask you to sign a Bill of Lading releasing your belongings to them for shipment. Review it for thoroughness, and retain a copy for your records. This document details all limitation to the mover’s liability, so be sure you understand its terms and conditions.

There are several important things to do before the movers leave:

  • Take one final walk through your house to make sure nothing has been overlooked.

  • Make sure the driver knows where you will be in transit and how to reach you at your destination.

  • Get a scheduled arrival date from the driver and the name and number of your moving company representative.

Customs on Arrival at the Airport

On arrival in South Africa, you will first clear through the immigration section and then enter the Customs area. Items you have shipped will be subject to a completely separate customs inspection and clearance – there is no need to declare them at this time.

Customs and Import Duties on Shipments

  • Personal household goods, furniture and electrical appliances required to ‘set up’ a family home are allowed through customs duty free and do not require an import permit. It would be advisable not to pack with a consignment of brand new goods as these may incur costly duties.

  • The goods may not be sold or disposed of in any way for at least six months from date of clearance or duties will be charged.

  • Motor vehicles, tobacco goods and alcoholic beverages (above the usual duty free allowances) are subject to import duties.

  • An inventory of the goods and your work permit/temporary residence permit must be presented at the time of clearance – your removal agents/relocation agents will provide you with detailed information.

Moving Services:   Office Hours - +27 (0) 11 256 3000
After Hours - (+27) 71 453-0214