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Off topic: Will move to Europe from South Africa. Are you happy in Europe?
Thread poster: Vittorina Klingbeil (X)

Vittorina Klingbeil (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
Italian to English
+ ...
Aug 30, 2007

Hello all,

My family and I will in the (near) future move to Europe from South Africa. It is not decided yet to which country as we have a few options.

I know from reading posts and polls that many of you are also transplanted Europeans, and I thought I would ask you to share either your experiences on moving to a country in Europe, or just really any thoughts on living there. I am particularly concerned about schooling for my children, aged 14 and 11, but I would love to read all comments about all issues.

What I would really like to hear is that it's great where you live, and "come on over", but realistically, all comments will do!!

Thank you all for sharing,


Paola Dentifrigi  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
Member (2003)
English to Italian
+ ...
I am Aug 30, 2007

I have always lived in Europe, so I can't compare with an extra-European country (i just visited). What I can tell you is that I love the variety per km2 you can encounter here.
However, you have to be more precise about the country, as there's a huge difference in society, culture, climate, food and so on.

Good luck and welcome


Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
English to Norwegian
+ ...
Agree with Paola Aug 30, 2007

The best thing about Europe is probably the great variety of all things - from language to climate, that you find within a relatively small area.
I have only ever lived in 2 European countries (Norway and Ireland), and cannot really compare to any other parts of the world.
But, as Paola also says - it depends where you are going.
Helsinki is not really anything like Madrid or Athens, is it?icon_wink.gif


Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
English to Norwegian
+ ...
One more thing Aug 30, 2007

I think you can be happy anywhere, it is not where you are that is most important. I am sure there are a lot of happy people in all the European countries.
I am sure there are also a lot of unhappy expats who spend their time griping about what was so much better in the "old country".

Of course there will be things that are different from what you are used to, for better or worse, if you move to another country - and to a large extent, it is up to yourself what you want to focus on.

If I were you, I would check out the schooling possibilities in the precise location you are going, and spend some time motivating the kids for the move. Living with two unhappy, complaining teenagers must be just about the worst thing I could imagineicon_wink.gif


Vittorina Klingbeil (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
Italian to English
+ ...
To clarify Aug 30, 2007

Thank you Paola and Hilde,

I did not want to specify any country/ies fearing that it would exclude comments from persons in other countries, but I see a clarification is required. We will probably end up in either Ireland, the UK (possibly England), or Germany (possibly the South).



PAS  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
English to Polish
+ ...
European Vacation Aug 30, 2007

The cultural heritage of Europe is certainly an astonishing thing - so much to see.
Living and moving around Europe is easy (if you are the citizen of an EU country).
It's mostly a safe continent (i.e. in terms of personal security).


Europe is crowded - It's a small continent with a lot of people living on it. From my travels to Africa (Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania) I was amazed at the sheer expanse of land. You will never see this here (except in the steppes of Russia or Ukraine).
It's very hard to find a place that's empty (like national parks in the United States and Canada, where you can get lost for a week and never see another human being).
Europe is expensive to live in. Taxes are high, homes are expensive.

I was born in Poland, lived in Canada for 14 years and came back to Poland 15 years ago and stayed, mostly because of friends and work. If I had the same friends and work in Canada, I probably would have stayed there...

Pawel Skalinski


Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Statistically, the Danes are the happiest people in Europe Aug 30, 2007

-- or so some survey has worked out according to the news last week.

I think as Hilde points out, happiness is partly what you make it. Danes drive me mad at times. I've lived half my life in Denmark, and I love them, but I am not a Dane and never will be.

To some of them the word Danish is apparently synonymous with 'the best in the world' icon_wink.gif ... and although they are not as bad as they used to be, you still get the impression that they are sorry for the rest of us, because we are not like them.

But as individuals and friends they are wonderful people and even foreigners can be very happy in Denmark.icon_biggrin.gif

I love the UK. That is where I'm really at home - although when I lived there I was sometimes a bit of an outsider, having spent my childhood and youth in India and at boarding school. Not any more - I fit in with other adults and merge into the group, whether I've known them for years or just met them. The English still accept eccentrics and unconventional types without comment. It is impossible to explain why, but I think that is where I would like to retire when the time comes.

I've never been to Ireland and spent very little time in Germany, but I like what I've seen.

It is partly a matter of temperament. I think I would love serious German thoroughness, but I don't know if it is a myth. I lost interest in Knödeln on my last visit to Germany icon_biggrin.gif - but mercifully there is much more to Germany than Knödeln!!! The glass museums at Veste Coburg, Frauenau and Passau, just to mention my own passion...

Wherever you go, best of luck!



Seamus Moran  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:54
German to English
+ ...
You can catch a plane anywhere Aug 30, 2007

Living in Europe is great because you can move about so freely with cheap air-fares. So if you need a change of scenery just hop on a plane and you're in Madrid or Oslo or wherever. I live in Ireland, have lived in the UK and the South-West of Germany. Each place has its good and bad points. In terms of quality of life I would choose Germany especially if you like doing outdoorsy stuff and getting out to nature. In terms of education I really can't say. Ireland has a good education system. I don't know about Germany and the UK. It depends on the type of school, etc.


Marie-Hélène Hayles  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
Italian to English
+ ...
Happy Aug 30, 2007

But - if my partner could find a decent job there - we'd move TO South Africa like a shot. We've been there three times (Johannesburg/KwaZulu Natal/Durban area) and loved it. Some friends of ours lived in Jo'burg for five years and were very sorry when he ran out of excuses as to why they should keep renewing his contract and they had to move back to Italy!

I think the most immediate problem you'll come up against is the climate - all the areas you mention are much more relentlessly cold and grey than SA. I know it gets cold in your part of SA too but in my (admittedly limited) experience the winters in that area are cold at night, and warm or hot, dry and sunny during the day - a totally different prospect to unending days of chilly grey drizzle, as is common in British winters (or even all year round!) at least.

For my part, having moved from the UK to Italy, I'd never want to move back there - and three years in Luxembourg, with a similar climate to the UK, have confirmed this.

[Edited at 2007-08-30 09:27]


Deborah do Carmo  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:54
Dutch to English
+ ...
British/South African Dual National now resident in Portugal Aug 30, 2007

Hi Vittorina,

In a nutshell, yes we're happy, but it took a good five years for us to get to that point. The first two years were really tough and what you need to try and learn to stop doing from Day 1 - which I didn't learn until much later - is comparing things. If you constantly think back and compare things, you'll be quite miserable, but if you focus on what is good about your new destination, you should be fine.

Depending on where you go of course: my husband is Portuguese and we opted for Algarve (inland, about 25 km from the coast and off the tourist beat). The weather is great most of the time, the food and cost of living (other than property) is relatively cheap. And we are surrounded by hills and a distant sea-view, so not affected by the lack of space a lot of people feel after they arrive in other parts of Europe.

I find some things really advanced (banking and IT) but the overall laid-back attitude a bit much to cope with at times. Personally I'd have been better off back "home" in the UK, because I could have stayed in mainstream law, but I was outvoted.

Similar to what Christine says: I am not Portuguese and never will be, I'm constantly aware that I'm a foreigner (although most people are friendly and I've met some very special people, the general attitude is far more brusque than in SA and that really takes some getting used to - learn to give back as good as you get very quickly!) but I can at least go anywhere here and not worry about getting hijacked at the traffic lights (happened to me in Pretoria).

My girls (14 and 15) can catch a bus down to Faro alone and jump on a boat to the beach if I'm not free to take them - they can go to the movies, the swimming pool, the library alone. I could never drop them off alone in SA these days.

My elder daughter is off now with two friends in Ireland (under family supervision) and comes back Sunday night. Just the peace of mind in that regard is worth it, but of course the whole of Europe is not the same.

And we're far happier since we recently found a South African butcher that sells "proper" boerewors, mielie pap (of all things) and Ms Ball's chutney - it's amazing what you miss when you're awayicon_smile.gif (I can't believe I've just publicly admitted I miss mielie pap!)

Schooling is probably going to be tricky with the age of your children, my girls had just finished Grade 2 and 4 when we arrived and although they didn't speak a word of Portuguese we sent them straight to a Portuguese school and they coped - so well, in fact, my elder daughter has just finished top of her grade and has won a trip to the Azores Islands (she leaves Monday afternoon), sponsored by our municipal council. My younger daughter - who isn't quite as disciplined - still managed an average of 82%.

There were a lot of tears the first six months as they didn't understand the language and although they didn't get special treatment - we had to put in long hours at home - it's a challenge that I think has made them both stronger. They had to sink or swim, and that has made them more dedicated than they may have been back in SA (with what future to look forward to?)

Schooling is free (i.e. no direct school fees). They pay EUR 1.25 per day each for their lunch, which is soup, followed by a fish/meat dish and fruit or dessert and books for both of them cost me about EUR 400-500 per year (which you can claim on tax anyhow). If you are forced to go the private route because of language issues, be ready for a big shock financially.

The school year here runs from mid September to the end of June - a longer holiday than say England - and it's important to keep the academic years in mind, given that SA is January to December.

School starts some days here at 08h30, other days at 09h30 and finishes at either 16h30 or 17h30, with the exception of Wednesdays when they have the afternoon off.

There isn't the same inter-school sports culture, most things here are organised through clubs. That said, my elder daughter made it to national championships for sprints through an inter-school system, but that is a recent thing. She plays football at club and provincial level.

I'd say the syllabus here is more advanced for Maths but on a par for the rest of the subjects. Bear in mind that in most European countries they need to take two or three languages for at least part of their schooling. My girls take Portuguese as first language, English as second and German as third (but they could have opted for French or Spanish locally).

Assuming you've got the language issues covered (English or Italian), schools are very different here. In SA there was much more spoonfeeding, here they are left far more to their own devices - which is not a bad thing as they learn self-discipline - and may find city schools especially rough in comparison (but I honestly don't know what the schools are like back in SA now, so maybe not).

Be prepared for probably a hefty drop in your material standard of living because of the exchange rate and foreign exchange restrictions, but weighed up against the ability to walk around freely here - depending where you go - and not have to jump every time you hear a dog bark - it's worth it. I couldn't go back to having to be on guard all the time.

Health-wise the state system in Portugal isn't bad at all, but I still prefer having private insurance, a throwback to South African days but far cheaper - for a family of four I only pay EUR 1,500 per year, whereas in SA I was paying the equivalent of EUR 400 per month when I left, for roughly the same benefits.

I'm on holiday next week, but feel free to contact me for specific info via my profile page when I'm back (11th).

Best of luck

[Edited at 2007-08-30 14:05]


Hilde Granlund  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
English to Norwegian
+ ...
THe only thing Aug 30, 2007

I really could not get used to in Ireland was the weather in the winter. Wet, cold and disgusting. It might be quite a change from sunny (I imagine) South Africa. It was certainly a change from the cold and dry winter weather I was used to. Norwegian frost will bite your nose, but not creep into your bones like the wet chills in Ireland.
But the pubs, the people, the culture, the scenery, the Guinness and the craickicon_smile.gif...

[Edited at 2007-08-30 09:33]


Kathryn Strachecky  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:54
French to English
Love it, as do my South-African friends Aug 30, 2007

Personally, I love Europe, although I have never lived elsewhere than England and France.

I have friends who moved from South Africa (Cape Town) to England and then back again. He had lived in England for a few years and spoke English, but she had never left her country and, although she spoke good English, spoke mainly Afrikaans.

They moved back again a few years ago, a move they had always said they would make as they were theoretically only in England to make enough money to live well in South Africa. Although Pete was glad to see the quality of life they could have when they moved back to South Africa, Tania really misses England. After only a few years, I think she looks on it almost as her home country, even more so than South Africa. They are even thinking of moving back I believe!

Concerning schools, they have four children and Tania found the schools in England to be better than those in SA. Their children are younger than yours, though, the eldest being 7.

Of course, you might have a totally different experience to them. But they were happy in England and you could be too.


Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:54
Flemish to English
+ ...
United in diversity Aug 30, 2007

You are planning to move to those countries where the prices of real-estate are the highest in Europe. For the price of a house in the South of the U.K., you can buy a villa in the Eastern-European countries. From a bureaucratic and fiscal point of view, Germany is not the most friendly country.
I had the luck to travel a lot with airline discount 90%. Pity that I never used that to go to South-Africa.
Hopped over to the U.S., Canada, Japan, Hong-Kong, Taiwan and did half of the Transsiberian twice.
Also bought a Eurrail and have been in different places.

America is for the healthy (do not get "sicko") and the wealthy (living in sunny places like Southern California).
In general "health insurance" in Europe is o.k. with some health-tourism (from the British isles) to less expensive countries.
I guess that each person must make out for him/herself what the best place on this globalised world is. There may be a E.U. of 27, but its motto is "United in diversity".

[Edited at 2007-08-30 09:37]


Gillian Searl  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:54
Member (2004)
German to English
Comparing UK and Germany Aug 30, 2007

I am British and have lived in southern Germany periodically.
The UK is expensive especially as far as house prices, cost of living and taxes are concerned. In spite of Germany's reputation setting up as a freelancer was not hard (I do speak the language) and I assure you I paid much less tax in Germany then in the UK.
Germany has more extremes of climate than the UK - hotter in the summer and colder in the winter.
If you are going to live in Germany get used to the way they do things and if you live in a flat prepared to do your communal cleaning duties on a rota basis (Kehrwoche). In the winter this can include shifting snow several times a day so before you choose a flat make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for. Apart from that I loved living in Germany.
If you come to the UK avoid London - pay a few visits and flee! But find somewhere more pleasant to live - where you can get to know your neighbours and have a sense of community. Having said that, I am told that SA is much more danagerous to live in than London. I know lots of South Africans in my small city and they all seem pretty happy as a rule. Except of course for the weather. But as we say, if you don't like the weather wait a minute.
I have visited Ireland a couple of times and like it very much. House prices are no cheaper over there but there is still a sense of community in many places that is frequently lacking in the UK. It's also more European in that they use the euro and the signs are in km rather than miles. The rish have a reputation of welcoming strangers and I certainly experienced that on my short trips.
Hope that helps.


Thomas Pfann  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:54
Member (2006)
English to German
+ ...
Germany vs. England Aug 30, 2007

I myself have never lived outside Europe, so I can’t really compare. But as a German who has been living in England for the past seven years, I can at least draw some comparisons between those two countries. Here are just a few points which spring to mind:

Integration: Coming from an English-speaking country you would obviously find it much easier to settle in the UK or Ireland as there is no language barrier. I don’t know about Ireland, but here in England you probably wouldn’t even be considered a „foreigner“. Germany, I believe, can be a little less welcoming and foreigners might find it harder to integrate. This is probably less of a problem in larger towns, but in small towns or villages it can be more difficult for foreigners (and not just foreigners from abroad but just as much for Germans from other parts of the country) – it’s not that people are generally xenophobic, it’s just that in my experience Germans don’t move around that much – many stay in their home town (or at least home region) for their whole life so they don’t need to make new friends all the time which kind of makes them a bit of a closed society.

Cost of living: The cost of living in England is generally pretty high, in Germany prices are generally much lower. Housing in the UK is very expensive, while in Germany you pay less and get a lot more (in terms of building quality and space). However, taxes in Germany are much higher than in the UK (higher income tax). So in the end I don’t think it makes a huge difference, although I do think that in Germany you get a higher standard of living and more value for your money.

But as so many others already pointed out: It depends on what you make of it. Every country has its advantages and disadvantes, its good points and its bad points.

A good place to find out more about life in Germany from the perspective of foreigners is this website:

It’s a website for expats from English-speaking countries living in Germany – there are loads of Brits, Americans, Irish and probably some South Africans, too. They’ve got a forum where many matters of day to day life in Germany are discussed and which may give you a good idea of the kind of problems they face. You’ll also find lots of practical advice there. Of course, you can also ask your own questions.

[Edited at 2007-08-30 10:10]

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