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Living in South Africa
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- 26 November 2014
Advice for British people living in South Africa, including information on health, education, finance, moving to the UK and more.
This guide sets out essential information for British nationals residing in South Africa, including where to access advice on health, education, benefits, residence requirements, finance and more. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below. See our ‘Our services’ for more details of what consulates can and cannot do to help. This information supplements the travel advice for South Africa.
Our publication Support for British Nationals Abroad: A Guide sets out the steps that British nationals can take to stay safe abroad, and provides details on what help the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide if you do get into difficulty.
South Africa does not have a reciprocal health agreement with the United Kingdom and visitors to South Africa are advised to apply for travel/medical insurance ahead of their arrival. For further information please visit the South African Department of Health website.
You will find information on education on the South Africa government website.
Entry and residence requirements
Please visit the South African Department of Home Affairs website for further information and contact details of your nearest office if you wish to settle, visit or work in South Africa.
Driving licences and vehicles
The South Africa Government Services website has information on driving in South Africa.
For banking information see the website of the The South African Reserve Bank.
Details of taxation can be found through The South African Revenue Service (SARS).
Guidance on bringing medication into country South Africa
Contact the South African High Commission in the UK for details on which medicines can be brought into South Africa.
Sponsoring family members
Please approach the South African Department of Home Affairs direct for further advice and information on sponsoring family members to live in South Africa and visit the government’s services website for information on applying for permanent residence and South African citizenship.
Moving to the UK
The South African Reserve Bank offers information to persons wishing to emigrate from South Africa.
All those with a valid British citizen passport are free to enter the UK and remain for as long as they wish.
If you are British, have entitlement to Right of Abode or if you qualify for a UK ancestry visa, and have a non-British spouse, partner, or any children, under the age of 18, who wish to accompany you, these may qualify for entry into the UK as your dependants. Information and advice should be obtained from UK Visas and Immigration.
You can check the opening times, address and contact details for the South African UK visa application centres online. Any children you have over the age of 18 will need to qualify for entry in their own right, except in very exceptional circumstances.
The Habitual Residency Test
British citizens are entitled to live and work in the UK. They should, however, be aware that if they are coming to the UK after a long period overseas they are unlikely to be automatically entitled to state benefits, a state retirement pension or assistance with higher education fees.
To be eligible for any of the above, a British citizen must meet certain residence requirements in order to satisfy the Habitual Residency Test and/or to have made the appropriate National Insurance contributions.
The term “habitual residence” is not defined in UK social security legislation. This means each case is treated on its merits, in the light of the claimant’s individual circumstances. In considering whether a person is habitually resident, decision-makers will consider a wide variety of factors. These include the reasons for coming to the UK; the length of stay; any previous links with the country; the length and general nature of residence in another country; and the claimant’s future intentions once in the UK.
A person with no previous links to the UK or who has been resident outside of the UK for a considerable period of time will need to prove an appreciable period of actual residence, together with a settled intention to settle in the UK. What constitutes an “appreciable period” will depend on the facts of each individual case. In order to satisfy the habitual residence test a person must also show that they have a right to reside in the UK.
If a British citizen wishes to move to the UK for the first time, they should make prior arrangements for accommodation before arrival and bring sufficient funds to support themselves until they have found employment.
British citizens should bring with them evidence of any previous employment and educational qualifications.
The Habitual Residency Test is a notoriously opaque piece of legislation. It has been challenged many times resulting in a variety of case law that may affect your entitlement. Further information on the Habitual Residency Test can be found on the websites of the Turn2us charity, the Department of Work and Pensions and the UK Parliament website.
The most readily available housing in the UK is found in the private sector where housing can be bought, leased or rented. Private sector housing can be sought through estate agents in the area in which you wish to live.
Local authorities in the UK have a duty to ensure that housing advice is available free of charge to everyone in their area and some will also be able to provide details of accredited private landlords in their area.
Public sector housing (social housing) is in high demand across the UK and it is mainly provided by local housing authorities and housing associations.
Applications for social housing should be directed to the housing authority in the area where you wish to live although some housing associations will accept direct applications.
Returning British citizens should be aware that in many areas, and particularly in London, the South East of England and other major conurbations, waiting lists for social housing are long, and priority for lettings goes to those who are in greatest housing need.
Those who intend to work in the UK should make arrangements to secure employment before leaving for the UK. Those who cannot do so should visit a Jobcentre Plus office in their local area or a private employment agency as soon as possible after their arrival in the UK or consider responding to advertisements in the media for jobs appropriate to their qualifications. The address and telephone number of local Jobcentre Plus offices can be found in local telephone directories or via the Department for Work and Pensions website.
Residents of the United Kingdom are entitled to register with a local NHS general practitioner (doctor/GP), and must do so before they can qualify for any free medical treatment, other than emergency treatment. British citizens from overseas who settle in the UK are considered “ordinarily resident” for this purpose and can register by contacting a GPs surgery in their local area. GPs are listed in local telephone directories.
Some GPs may not be able to accept new patients, as their lists may be full. A list of local NHS GPs and further information on the NHS can be obtained via the NHS website.
People who are returning to the UK to take up permanent residence will be automatically entitled to hospital treatment free of charge. If a person is not returning on a permanent basis the cost of hospital treatment can be determined by the hospital in accordance with the relevant regulations and patients may be charged. This may be regardless of whether or not a GP has accepted the person as a NHS patient. More information is available on the Department of Health website.
See also the information on entitlement to NHS treatment for those returning the UK.
British citizens are entitled to register with a local NHS Dentist. Dental treatment is only given free to a limited range of people, such as children under 18, pregnant mothers and those in receipt of certain state benefits. For people who work, standard NHS charges are applicable. For a list of local NHS Dentists and for further information visit the NHS website.
State education is free in the UK for British citizens between the ages of 5 and 16/18. To qualify for home tuition fees for a higher education course, a British citizen must have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three years before the course starts. For further information, and a list of local state schools, contact your local education authority (the telephone number can be found in the local telephone directory) or visit the Department for Education website. You may also want to see the information from the Independent Schools Council.
State benefits and assistance
The most current information about benefits for those people returning to live in the UK from abroad can be found on the Department of Work and Pensions website.
Citizen Advice Bureau
Offices of the Citizen Advice Bureau can be found throughout the UK. They give free, confidential, impartial and independent advice on a wide range of subjects, including state benefits, housing, legal matters and employment. The address and telephone number of your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) will be in the local telephone directory or on the CAB website.
Alternatively details can be obtained in writing from:
National Association of Citizens Advice Bureau
115-123 Pentonville Road
Telephone 020 7833 2181.
UK Airport Travel Care Organisations
Additional passenger assistance services for returning British nationals may be available at the following airports:
- Travel care at Heathrow Airport
- Passenger services at Gatwick Airport
- The Chaplaincy at Manchester Airport
No financial or accommodation support is available through these services.
This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. The FCO and the British high commission will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant local authority.
Published: 26 November 2014
Related guides: Notarial and documentary services guide for South Africa