The adventures of the Els family, who immigrated from South Africa to the USA. Els family in Texas.

Questions & Answers

These are questions that I received from various people as they prepared for their own immigration.

Keep in mind that these answers are only my opinion, and are based on our experiences as a family who immigrated from South Africa to the USA. Although I won't deliberately give incorrect answers, it will be a good idea to get a second opinion if you're basing an important decision on the answers to these questions.

Should we take our furniture with us?

This depends on your situation. If a company is paying for your relocation, and your furniture is still in good condition, I'd say yes, take it with you. If you're paying for the relocation and most of your furniture needs replacement, it may not be worth the cost of shipping it. One advantage that taking your furniture might offer, is that you'll feel you're on "familiar turf" once your furniture arrives and you unpack your stuff into your new home. We didn't take our furniture along.

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I used to have a domestic servant in SA. Will I have to take care of my house work now?

Unless you will be making lots of money in your new country, YES you will be doing your own house work. Fortunately Americans aren't big on ironing clothes (they take it out of the tumble-dryer while still warm), and most apartments/houses have automatic dishwashers. They're still working on automatic vacuum cleaners and dusters!

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What about transportation when we arrive?

If you're going to stay in a hotel for the first few days, you can arrange for the hotel courtesy van to pick you up at the airport (call them from the airport after arrival). Thereafter, rent a car as soon as possible. In many cases car rental companies require a credit card number, but we were able to rent a car without one. If you are able to keep your credit card when you leave South Africa, it'll make life easier for you. Don't worry too much about learning to drive on the other side of the road - it's easier than you think. Remember that the divider line on a two-way road remains on the driver side since the driver also sits on the other side of the car.

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Do you pay a lot of taxes in the US?

It is my opinion that you pay less taxes in the US than in South Africa. The US tax system also works on a sliding scale, i.e. the more money you make, the higher the tax percentage. In 2000 I earned way more than the US national average and only 18% of my money went to income tax. In most cases you pay Federal tax (to the central government) and State tax. State taxes are insignificant compared to Federal taxes. Texas doesn't have State taxes, but the property taxes are slightly higher here.

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Are goods cheaper in the US?

If you compare apples to apples, yes, in most cases goods are cheaper. In 1996 our Panasonic TV and VCR cost $400 each, and I believe equivalent sets in SA would have set you back at least R2,000 each at that time. I bet you're now thinking "...but wait a minute. $400 x 6 = R2,400 and that's R400 more than R2,000..." Yes, it is, but you can't calculate it this way. Based on what salaries were like in 1996, let's say you earn R5,000 per month. A similar job in the US paid around $3,500 per month. Paying R2,000 for the TV would take 40% of your monthly SA pay, but paying $400 for it would take only 12% of your US pay - quite a difference.
Our new mini-van cost $25 000, which amounted to less than 50% of my annual salary. An equivalent van in SA cost around R250 000 at that time (I checked), which amounts to more than 4 times the annual salary I made in SA. You can buy a cart/trolley full of groceries for about $250 (in California it's $400).
One exception has to be housing. It is more expensive, but still affordable in most of the US. Cost of living is something that can vary sharply throughout the US. The San Francisco Bay Area is very expensive. In fact, a small 3-bedroomed house on the SF Peninsula can easily cost $500,000. In Austin it would be more like $120,000. This is one of the reasons why we left San Francisco. So, yes, things are generally cheaper, but watch out where you go live.

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Why/how do I establish credit in the US?

In South Africa you probably had a home loan, and at least one credit card from your bank. You also had a history of payments that you made over the years. Well, that slate has now been wiped clean, and you need to start over building a "credit history". This is basically a history of making consistent monthly payments towards something or another, and it is very important, because without it, nobody will lend you any money, or give you a credit card.

You'll find that if you walk up to your new bank here in the US and ask them for a credit card, they'll probably say no. "You have no credit history, so how can we assess the risk we'll be taking", they'll say, and you'll wonder, "Well, if you won't give me a credit card, how can I establish a credit history". Don't despair, there are ways to do this. Firstly, your bank will probably be willing to give you a "secured credit card". You deposit a certain amount of money into an account with them, and they then give you a credit card with a credit limit equal to the amount you deposited. This eliminates their risk. Use this card regularly, and make sure you make your monthly card payments on time, and voila, you have a credit history! Department stores, like Sears or Target, also have "in-store" cards that you can use to buy stuff in their stores. Get one, use it, and make sure you never miss a monthly payment. Before you know it, you'll be receiving so many credit card offers from other companies that you'll get sick of it!

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If you have any questions that would help you and others, please them to me.

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Copyright, John Els