Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

Emigrating from one country to another is a huge life changing decision that many people have pondered with. Everyone has their reasons whether it’s temporary or permanent. It could be for a better life, to advance their career, to travel more or simply just to experience something new. Today’s topic is something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. Personally, I think it’s good to take stock of one’s life every now and then to reflect on how you may have grown or changed as a person from your life’s experiences. After chatting to a few friends I thought it would be good to share my thoughts and theirs on the lessons learnt moving to the UK from South Africa. It was very interesting for me to hear my friends thoughts as some have been here longer than others. The opinions in this post are obviously specific to South Africans but these thoughts can be related to others who are thinking of leaving their home country too.

Conveniently I was able to categorize all our thoughts under the headings below. I have ended each thought with my friends initial in brackets.

Lessons Learnt Moving to the UK

1. Our Adoptive Country

  • The world is your oyster. You are only limited by your choices and the opportunities you don’t take. (Me)
  • Accept that we have to be very aware that what is considered polite and acceptable in one country is not necessarily acceptable in another. (R)
  • That comparing the two different worlds is tiresome and not constructive. In order to move on, stop comparing currencies, weather, house size. Just enjoy the positives and stop looking back. (R)
  • I am capable of being on my own living in a cold country with different cultures. (G)
  • I have an appreciation for good infrastructure. (G)
  • And an appreciation for the choices we have. (G)
  • Walk fast! Try to catch the early bus ๐Ÿ˜‰ (N)
  • Put yourself out there in every possible way. (N)
  • See it as an adventure (play epic music at times if that helps to give things meaning). (N)
  • Meet people and find support. You’ll experience the weirdest kind of loneliness you’ll ever know but most people here are feeling the same. You’re not alone in your loneliness, be kind when you can. (N)
  • People will take advantage of you if they can, know your worth and believe in yourself. (N)
  • When you’re feeling depressed, walking around the city can inspire you. Try remind yourself why you’re doing this, keep the end in mind. (N)
  • Have a flexible plan, stick to the plan but adapt as you go. The things you want will change over time. (N)

2. The Motherland

For those that don’t know, “The Motherland” is a South African slang phrase for your home country ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Growing up in SA, you never lose your bad vibe/trust instinct and it’s not necessarily a bad thing to still be alert when in uncomfortable situations. (Me)
  • To view my homeland more realistically. (R)
  • I appreciate South Africa and what it has to offer in terms of the climate and the food. (G)
  • The divergence between developed and developing world is not that wide, but it is easier in the developed world. (N)
  • I’ve grown more empathetic to the struggle of those in the developing world. (N)

3. The Weather

  • It won’t kill you to walk in the rain and if you always keep an umbrella to hand then you’re sorted ๐Ÿ˜‰ (Me)
  • The weather is not everything and you have to appreciate the positives in both countries. (R)
  • The grass isn’t always greener, but sometimes it is and it’s usually because it rains more. That means grey skies. There is a trade off between sunshine and green grass. (N)

4. People

  • Some relationships are not able to last the distance but that does not mean that they were not genuine before the disruption. (R)
  • And other relationships have to adjust to the longer periods of time apart, but are still strong and will endure. (R)
  • That despite the differences eg. culture, weather, politics etc, we are all human and trying to survive the rat race. (R)

My Biggest Lessons Learnt

The two biggest life lessons I have learnt from my experience of moving abroad is: to be resilient and adaptable to change and that I am mentally stronger than I expected. Being flexible and having lower expectations helps with overcoming disappointments. Also dealing with the unknown, encountering challenging situations and hardships makes you grow as a person. It prepares you to be better equipped for life.

Leaving your family and friends, a “comfortable” life, familiar routine and surroundings is an extremely tough decision. Hopefully by sharing these lessons learnt you will now have an idea of the “struggles” that everyone has had to go through to adapt to a new way of life in a new country. And in turn mentally prepare you should you decide to take this step too ๐Ÿ˜‰

What are your thoughts on this topic? I’d love to hear from you.


  1. Sal
    25th May 2017 / 8:49 AM

    Thank you for this! My husband, son and I are moving to UK in August. We have two sons there already, one for nearly 2 years and the other for 7 months. Although we are not youngsters anymore we have made the decision to pack up and go. We definitely realise that the grass is not always greener and that at some point you will always miss something whether it be in SA or UK. This is a huge opportunity and challenge for us and we are grabbing it!
    Thank you for your post it is very useful!! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 9:02 AM

      Hi Sal, it’s a pleasure! I’m so glad you’ve found my post useful, thank you for commenting ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck with wrapping things up in SA and I wish you and your husband all the best with this very exciting journey you are both about to embark on!!

  2. 25th May 2017 / 10:50 AM

    It does take a while to adapt to a new country its culture and people – it is so interesting to read your thoughts and about the lessons, you learned. It is certainly exciting and does leave you stronger in the end ๐Ÿ™‚ Have a nice weekend, Natalie!

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 12:23 PM

      Thanks Miriam, I’m sure you can relate to some of these points ๐Ÿ˜‰ Have a great weekend too!

  3. Roshan
    25th May 2017 / 4:02 PM

    Hi Natalie, I have been living here for 10 years now from living in New Zealand, it helped that my friends were here and I lived with them, but when my friends left I had to adapt so was a good challenge. Best thing I have ever done moving to a different country (UK in my case)

    • whatudidntknow
      25th May 2017 / 7:31 PM

      Hi Roshan, I do know that a lot of people tend to move back to their home country when their friends leave etc. so I’m glad that it worked out well for you in the end ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Roshan
        26th May 2017 / 5:17 PM

        Thanks Natalia ๐Ÿ‘

  4. 25th May 2017 / 10:19 PM

    Aw such a lovely article, South Africa looks the most beautiful place! Wahhh I think I would choose sunshine over grey skies but it is very green in our area ๐Ÿ˜€ xx

    I would love to follow each other on bloglovin’ if you like! My blog is http://www.icecreamandclara.co.uk

    • whatudidntknow
      26th May 2017 / 6:19 AM

      Hi Elizabeth, thanks for reading. Lol, South Africa is a beautiful country with lots to see and great weather. You should definitely go there for a holiday. I shall check out your blog on Bloglovin ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. 26th May 2017 / 11:57 AM

    In my case, I moved from Belgium to the UK. I’m lucky enough to live abroad while being 2 hours away from my family, hahaha.

    • whatudidntknow
      26th May 2017 / 12:04 PM

      Hahahahha yes at least it is quite easy for you visit family when you want to ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Angela
    27th June 2017 / 2:39 PM

    I stumbled across this while at work in Edenvale, JHB. ๐Ÿ™‚ My sister and niece moved to Swindon in January and love it. I have a 3 year old son and am trying to convince my hubby to move. SA is amazing, but let’s be frank, life here is limited. So on the fence but would love to live in a place where things actually work and function and headlines are not always awful and shocking. We have EU passports so feels silly to not experience life in Europe and try give our son a good start.

    • whatudidntknow
      29th June 2017 / 6:15 AM

      Hi Angela, thank you for commenting. I have always told people that have the “key” to get into the UK more easily than others should definitely give it a try if you can. Yes, it is a costly move but you’ll never know unless you’ve done it. And if it doesn’t work out then you can always go back to South Africa. Personally I think it’s the best opportunity you could give to your son for his future. I also know of people that have moved to the UK, moved back to SA and have moved back to the UK again! So if anything, there must definitely be something on this mud island that captures the heart ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Maureen
    23rd August 2017 / 3:29 PM

    Thank you for this wonderdul article. My two daughters have been living in the Uk for years. I wish I could go, but it’s difficult at the age of 46 to get a work visa. I’ll will keep trying because I want to be with my girls.

    • whatudidntknow
      23rd August 2017 / 8:51 PM

      Hi Maureen, thank you for your lovely comment. It must be frustrating for you to not be in the UK with your daughters. I hope things work out for you and that you’re able to join them here one day.

  8. Thato Lebotsa
    13th December 2017 / 9:17 AM

    Ive been toying around with the idea of packing up and leaving South Africa for numerous reasons. I love my country, My family and the people but with all that’s going on I’ve had enough. I’ve been going through the internet trying to find some kind of direction but I’m so overwelmed with all the sights that i don’t even know which ones to trust. could you please assist me?

    • whatudidntknow
      14th December 2017 / 10:30 PM

      Hi Thato, thanks for your comment. Are you thinking of coming to the U.K.? You could have a look at https://www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration or contact a company like Breytenbachs to find out more about visas.

  9. marilyn
    23rd July 2018 / 9:18 AM

    wow- thanks for this blog. my husband wants to move over.. I’m not keen leaving parents our our lovely warm weather.. so it’s a very very tuff decision for me. But would like to give my children a better start to life.. one is 8 and the other will be turning 4 soon… just very scared of the unknown out there. Where is the warmest place to stay in the UK and close to the ocean? Are jobs easily available for a 46 year old female. We will be going over with Portuguese passports

    • whatudidntknow
      24th July 2018 / 8:27 AM

      Hi Marilyn, thanks for reading my blog and for your comment. The weather and leaving family behind are probably the main reasons why most people struggle to leave SA. And understandably so too. Coincidentally you happen to be reading my blog during one of the hottest summers weโ€™ve ever had here in the U.K. and today is 30 degrees! The South East of the U.K. is probably the โ€œwarmestโ€ place in the country. There are people that live on the coast in cities such as Bournemouth/Brighton who also commute to London but then they have a very long commute. You would have to weigh up the costs of income and expenses living in a coastal city vs London. I donโ€™t know what industry youโ€™re in so canโ€™t comment on that but job availability is probably better than S.A. The best thing would probably be for you to draw up a list of pros and cons. Personally, a better future for your children is the best reason to leave. Also the fact that you have Portuguese passports makes it a bit easier and if things donโ€™t work out in the U.K., thereโ€™s always the option to go back. Good luck!!

      • marilyn
        24th July 2018 / 9:21 AM

        hi there… thanks for the feedback…. It’s really a tuff decision to make to leave family behind… but I know it’s the best for my children one day.. the 30 degrees sounds awesome :).. Wish it could be more than just 2 months of the year hot there !! or should I say warmer – ๐Ÿ™‚

        but yes… we are busy with our list… Will see how the dice falls. I’m in the bookkeeping side of things.. (don’t have a diploma) but have years of experience. Husband wants to go into the fish and chips trade that side.. He has been looking into Ivybridge (googled it – streets or town looks pretty).. But that is probably expensive part of UK ?
        anyway – nice to speak to you … will keep on following your blog x

        • whatudidntknow
          24th July 2018 / 7:30 PM

          Hi Marilyn, Iโ€™ve never heard of Ivybridge before but I had a quick look and itโ€™s located in Devon which is a beautiful part of the U.K. As for bookkeeping jobs, you could have a look at some of these sites to get an idea of salaries: http://www.reed.co.uk, http://www.indeed.co.uk, http://www.monster.co.uk. Iโ€™m not familiar with that industry so cannot comment on it much. All the best!

  10. marilyn
    25th July 2018 / 7:24 AM

    many thanks – will have a look !! Much appreciated.. x

  11. Rose
    2nd August 2018 / 4:10 PM

    Hi there guys, so good to be reading this blog I stumbled across. Am thinking of moving back with hubby and 2 children, 5 & 10 years old. Any advice on SA kids making the adjustment to UK schooling. Daughter is grade 4 and son will be in Grade R next year! Thank you so much…

    • whatudidntknow
      8th August 2018 / 6:00 AM

      Hi Rose, thanks for commenting and reading. Apologies for the delayed response. Unfortunately I donโ€™t have advice on your question. There is a forum called britishexpats.com where you could try posting the question and hopefully other people previously in the same situation may be able to help you.

  12. 18th September 2018 / 10:39 AM

    Hi. Over the last few weeks I have being doing a bit of research on moving to the UK. As my grandmother was born there… I can get ancestral Visa. I’m a professional artist..for the last 10 years…. but self taught. As I have to work for 5 years to get residency… makes it a bit of a challenge. Out here in SA… I’m quite setup… but am not happy of situations out here. So it’s almost like… I need to leave. Take my art to a country where the art world is at least well and alive… and where money is worth it’s worth. Reading your blog has helped…. as I will on my own.

    • whatudidntknow
      24th September 2018 / 9:25 AM

      Hi Calan, sorry for the delayed response. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog. I wish you all the best in your new venture!

  13. Ashleigh Alistoun
    7th May 2019 / 2:07 PM


    Thanks a million for your posts. It is good to know I am not alone. My family and I are leaving for the UK soon – waiting for Visas. We are coming on an inter-company transfer.

    We are leaving for the sake of a better life for our children.

    I must admit I am scared as I do love South Africa though I know we can’t stay here anymore.

    • whatudidntknow
      11th May 2019 / 10:31 AM

      Hi Ashleigh, itโ€™s a pleasure. Thank you for reading my blog. Glad you found my posts useful. I wish you and your family all the best in this new exciting chapter of your lives!

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