October 31, 2017

How to Import Your Car Into South Africa

If you're a regular reader here at Joburg Expat, you will know that the business of buying and selling your car in South Africa has occupied quite a bit of space on these pages*. In a land without much public transport to speak of, a car to get around in is key to everything. How you obtain (and then later dispose of) a car is therefore an important topic for budding expats in Johannesburg and beyond. 

A related question that doesn't get much coverage is how to import your car into South Africa. It can be done, but you have to know the ins and outs. This is why I am delighted to publish the following guest post by CarZar.

How to Import Your Car Into South Africa

Guest Post by CarZar

South Africa has just been voted by Lonely Planet as one of the ‘Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2018.’ For those of us who live here already, this is old news: between the wildlife, the sights, the natural beauty and the cheap beer, why would you want to go anywhere else? And as the silly season approaches and an influx of excited tourists hit our shores, we expect a few of them to like the country so much that they’ll never leave.

Here’s the thing: South Africa isn’t just beautiful - it’s big, too. How else could we fit so many wonderful experiences into one place? If you want to see all of them, you’ll need a car to make the most of all the different sights and sounds the Rainbow Nation has to offer.

Now, most expats will simply sell their cars in their home country when they leave, and buy a new ride when they reach the Republic. But what if someone doesn’t want to give their car up? Maybe it’s a vintage model or a custom-made dream car, or maybe they’ve just grown attached to a specific model that isn’t available in South Africa. Whatever the reason for wanting to keep your current car, don’t stress - there are ways to make it happen! 

South African Import Controls on Cars

Importing a car into South Africa is controlled in order to protect the local motor vehicle manufacturing industry. This makes it difficult - but not impossible - for a foreigner to import their car into the country. The good news is that if your car is an inherited car, a vintage car, or a specially-designed car, you shouldn’t struggle to import it.

In order to get the required Import Permit and Letter of Authority, you need to be a permanent resident of South Africa, which means you’ll need to immigrate first and get your Permanent Residence Permit** before you can bring your car into the country.

The process of importing your car can be made easier if you use a car importer service instead of doing it yourself, but even if you don’t, you’ll need to use a clearing agent who can hold your car for you at the dock while it waits to be cleared by customs. Customs costs are made up of a fixed percentage of the car’s value (36%) and VAT (14%), as well as an ad valorem component for cars valued over ZAR130,000 (from 0.78% to 20%). All this can add up to a whopping 70% of your car’s value as customs tax. 

Application for Importing Your Car to South Africa

If you do decide to import your car, here are the steps you’ll have to go through: 

  1. Obtain an authority letter from the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS). 
  2. Complete the ‘Application for importation of a second hand or used vehicle’ form (form IE462). This form is available on the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC) website here.
  3. Submit a copy of your permanent SA residence certificate; foreign passport; and foreign car registration certificate. 
  4. Wait for the application process to be completed, which should not take longer than 5 days after the documents have been received. Although ITAC may not charge any direct fees for their service, you will need to pay the customs duty to the South African Revenue Service (SARS). The exact amount owed is calculated as a percentage of the value of the car, as stipulated in the ‘Customs and Excise Act’. 

As you can see, the costs and hassle of importing a car can make the whole process not worth it for most cars - but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Selling Your Car in South Africa

Let's say you don't import your car and rather buy it in South Africa. Thankfully, when you’re heading back home after an enjoyable time in Mzanzi, the process of selling your car before you leave is much easier. All you need to do is visit CarZar.co.za - South Africa’s best-priced car buying service - and get a free market valuation and book an obligation-free, unbiased inspection from our partner, DEKRA (the largest independent vehicle inspection service in South Africa).

You’ll receive a guaranteed offer which you can choose to accept, or you can opt to advertise your car on CarZar’s unique MatchMaking Selling Platform: over a period of 48 hours, hundreds of dealers from across the country will make offers on your car. You can track the highest bid in real time, and once the 48 hours have expired, you are likely to have received the best price the market is willing to offer for your used car.

Visit www.CarZar.co.za for more information.

This guest post was sponsored by CarZar.co.za.

* In March of 2010 I arrived in South Africa, four kids in tow, to join my husband who'd already worked there for three months. Was I wrong to believe that a shiny (I would even have taken dirty) new car would be waiting for me, ready to be driven to the grocery store and back? Yes, very wrong. There was no such car. And the ensuing process of buying a car in South Africa also educated me on the process of registering a car in South Africa, an entirely different challenge.

** See Applying for a South African Visa for more information. Also, I wanted to point out that a friend from the UK successfully imported his car to South Africa, and he was NOT a permanent resident. So there must be a way to accomplish that without needing a permanent residency certificate as outlined above.

October 8, 2017

Arrival in South Africa and Settling into a New Life in Johannesburg

As Joburg Expat is gaining new readership with new expats exploring options about moving to South Africa, I thought that I'd write a throwback blog post highlighting what those first few weeks in your new home might feel like. As anyone who has moved several times can attest, you can never quite talk as authentically about those early days in a new place as right at that moment. Once you've gotten used to it and understand the local customs, you are no longer looking at it with the same wide open eyes.

This blog post is an attempt to give a glimpse of what's in store for an expat family the first few weeks after their arrival in South Africa, from Babbalas to Yebo.

Our family of six arrived in Johannesburg on March 5, 2010, approximately 3 months before the start of the first Soccer World Cup in Africa.

The rooftops of Dainfern Valley in Northern Johannesburg

We had flown in from Kansas via Washington and Dakar on South African Airways, were greeted at the airport by my husband Noisette's driver G and a total of three cars, took note of the not-even-close-to-finished construction on the highways around Johannesburg, and duly nodded when G pointed out the exit for Alexandra township with the admonition to never set foot there. (He, himself, lived in Soweto, which he found perfectly safe; I would often encounter an almost comical pointing of fingers between different townships as to which ones were the most dangerous, but this was far into the future from that first wide-eyed ride home from the airport).

Arrived in Dainfern Valley at our beautiful and spacious new home, which I had never seen before, we fell into a blissful sleep. But not for long. Enter my first observations on local wildlife, which not only introduces the haw-de-daw (that is precisely how I spelled it in that first blog post) but also the neighbor's cats, dogs, and our very own aunt colony. This might also be a good opportunity to mention options for pest control in South Africa.

Our house in Dainfern Valley, above, and on the banks of the Jukskei River, below.

While Noisette was busy at work from dawn to dusk, my first few days were consumed with the first shopping trip, getting the kids settled at Dainfern College, the second shopping trip, exploring the whole new world of school uniforms, understanding what a robot is and when Just Now happens, and learning useful new information about the climate, security and crime, the language(s), the vagaries of electric voltage, and the food. Speaking of climate: It was raining cats and dogs those first days, quite unusual in South Africa even at the end of summer. If you want a dry moving-in experience, your best bet is to do it May through October, when it hardly ever rains at all in Joburg.

2nd Graders at Dainfern College celebrating the beginning of the 2010 Soccer World Cup

It's funny now looking back, because, as most of my long-term readers know, I absolutely loved South Africa, but there was quite a bit of frustration, and then more frustration, that first week trying to organize our home. See previous link to Just Now to explain a good portion of that frustration. And I am not even going to get into my saga with Eskom, the electric utility, because that would make for an entire book on its own.

But there were also tons of little things. Not enough electric outlets in the rooms. The need for adapter plugs even for appliances bought in South Africa. The unforeseen difficulty of buying a car in South Africa (let alone then registering said car) and opening a bank account, exacerbated by the fact that I was only the spouse. No phone, no doorbell (!), no help from the school when trying to figure out how to get kids into after school sports. As an American, I was used to filling out forms and attaching checks, and here the only instruction I ever got was "the children must come on the first day." Where? When?

Oh, and our trash can was stolen. Which I learned is called a dustbin. Or maybe it wasn't stolen as much as it was simply gone one day. It was especially untimely as the trash removal workers were on strike. And then it magically reappeared, not once, but twice.

When I finally did get a car, I was ecstatic. Until I realized I now had Johannesburg traffic to deal with, the almost round-the-clock rush hour, the minibus taxis, and of course the bribe-extorting traffic police. We also had our first emergency room visit less than a month into our move.

Nelson Mandela's former House and Museum in Soweto

Elephants in Welgevonden Nature Reserve

Hot air balloon over the Cradle of Humankind

But if this sounds incredibly stressful, let's not forget we also dove right into getting to know the beautiful side of South Africa. I have especially fond memories of our first tour of Soweto, our first safari in the Waterberg, and our hot air balloon ride over the Cradle of Humankind.

And then there was the 2010 Soccer World Cup in all its glory. Having grown up in Germany, Noisette and I were soccer fans through and through, but had never been to an actual World Cup game. We saw Germany beat Ghana (yay!) and froze our butts off on the shady side of USA vs Slovenia. But our favorite events were the public viewings at Melrose Arch and other central locations. It was there we got the first glimpse of South Africa's remarkable diversity, with black, white, brown, young, old, Jew, Muslim, and everyone in between cheering and dancing their hearts out with a sense of community I have rarely witnessed since.

Melrose Arch, South Africa,  during viewing of Germany-Argentina game

World Cup Fever in South Africa in June 2010

Oh what I wouldn't give to go back to those first weeks in Africa, even with all the headaches and frustrations. They set the stage for the best three years in our family's life, and we had no regrets when leaving at the end of 2012 to return to America, other than the regret of having to leave it all.

If you're reading this because you are contemplating a move to South Africa, just know that I am very jealous of you. I hope you embrace everything wholeheartedly, especially the daily inefficiencies of a slower lifestyle than you're used to, for they are the very essence of living in South Africa.

I can guarantee you that you'll miss it one day.

September 25, 2017

Lindfield House: A Hidden Victorian Gem in Johannesburg's Auckland Park

A while back, one of my readers told me about Lindfield House in Joburg's Auckland Park neighborhood. It's one of the many places I would have loved to visit while living in Johannesburg, had I known about it. The city has so many gems just like this one, historical places with a fascinating backstory, but largely ignored by those who promote Joburg tourism.

Room in Lindfield House Museum
The fact that this house is lived in makes it so much more intriguing. Photo credit: Lorenda Beumont.

If you like antiques, especially from the Victorian era, Lindfield House is a lovely place to visit. And, according to the blog 2Summers, it's also the best place in Joburg for High Tea (which apparently is properly called Afternoon Tea). The pictures I've seen of their scones with cream and strawberry jam look absolutely mouth-watering.

But the main reason I'd want to visit Lindfield House is to meet the legendary Katharine Love. Not only does she own the house and live in it, she is also the museum curator, tour guide, cleaning lady, and cook. It's a one-woman show if ever there was one. If you want to learn more about life in the Victorian period, there is no better teacher than Katharine. Clad in a Victorian housekeeper's uniform, she regularly leads tour groups through the house. Every room from the kitchen to the teenage girl's bedroom is filled to the hilt with period furniture and decorations, and it all comes to life with Katharine's tales of what life was like for women, men, and children of the era.

Room in Lindfield House Museum
The rooms aren't overloaded because Lindfield House is a museum. Apparently, all Victorian
homes were crammed full of decor like this. Photo credit: Lorenda Beumont.

Library in Lindfield House Museum
I always find libraries in old houses the most appealing. Can the scones and Early Grey
tea be served right here, please, while I open a book? Photo credit: Lorenda Beumont.

Children's room at Lindfield House Museum
Children's room at Lindfield House Museum. Photo credit: Lorenda Beumont.

Since I couldn't meet Katharine, I thought I'd ask if she would give me an interview, and she agreed. I feel privileged to publish this interview right here on Joburg Expat. The light she sheds on Auckland Park's history was particularly interesting to me.

Interview with Katharine Love of Lindfield House Museum

Joburg Expat: 

Since when have you lived in Lindfield House and what gave you the idea to make it into a museum?

Katharine Love:

It was my mother who started the museum. I was born just a block away in my grandparents' home, and we would never have moved from the old house if it weren't for the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg ) expropriating the property. My grandmother, as the owner of the old house, bought this one and we all moved here 50 years ago. My grandmother died soon after that, and my mother inherited the house. She had always collected antiques, but while my grandmother was alive, she kept my mother from really going overboard with the collecting. My father was very easygoing and would not have minded, but he also died just a year after my grandmother. My mother was then free to collect as much as she wanted to. I also began to take an interest in collecting antiques when I was about 15. As the collection grew, people began to call the house "The Love Museum". Our friends were always bringing their friends to see the museum, and sometimes complete strangers would knock at the door and say, "We hear you've got a museum. Can we see it?" So the museum just happened. After my mother's death I opened the house to the public. It is now about 18 years that I have been doing tours.

JE: Is everything on display a family heirloom or do you continuously buy new items that fit into the era?

KL: I am still constantly adding to the collection. I do have pieces that belonged to my great- great-grandparents, but most of it has been collected.

JE: What sparked your love for the Victorian era?

KL: I am interested in antiques of all periods, but what I love about the Victorian era is the variety of styles that were available. Not only did they have a typical style of their own, but they had revivals of every previous style and loved anything exotic. Almost any style can be called Victorian. One can never get bored in a Victorian house.

JE: Can you share any Johannesburg-specific stories from the Victorian era?

KL: I do not know that much about Johannesburg - my interest is really the Victorian period in England - but I can tell you something about my suburb, Auckland Park. In the early days when Johannesburg was still a mining camp, it was not a very pleasant place to spend one's leisure hours. The miners used to get on horseback and ride into the surrounding country areas to have picnics. This area became a popular picnic spot, and then a man from New Zealand, John Landau, took a fancy to it because it reminded him of his home, a valley near Auckland. He bought the farm, as it was then, and named it Auckland Park. He laid it out as a residential suburb with large stands that he thought would appeal to professional people who wanted to live in the clean fresh air away from the mining camp. However, not many people were prepared to move so far out of town in 1888, even though it was only two miles away. He then turned it into a pleasure resort - converted the farmhouse into a hotel, built a boating lake, and a bandstand where they gave concerts every Sunday. There was a horse-drawn tram to bring people to spend the weekend out in the country. Afterwards there was also a horse racing course and a greyhound racing track. The Johannesburg Country Club was established in 1906 and took over the hotel grounds.

JE: Does it ever get tiring to give tours?

KL: Yes, it can be very physically tiring to give tours. When I have a busy day I am sometimes on my feet for 12 hours without a chance to sit down or have tea or lunch. There is also a lot of work getting the house ready for tours - I have to pack away everything I have been working with and put everything modern out of sight. I do not have any help in the house. I never get mentally tired or bored with the tours - I meet lots of interesting people who all ask different questions or see things in a different way. Every time it's as if I'm doing the tour for the first time.

JE: I have heard you offer afternoon tea as part of your tours - do you do your own baking and cooking for that?

KL: I only do my own baking for high teas. For the ordinary everyday tours I just buy cake. I am hoping that a friend will take over the high teas in the near future, so that I can concentrate on the tours.

I'd like to thank Katharine for taking the time to answer my questions. She has much more to tell, but you'll just have to go and see (and listen) for yourself!

This would be my favorite corner at Lindfield House, curled up with a good book. But I might
have to bring a not-so-Victorian addition: My MacBook. Photo credit: Lorenda Beumont.

One last thing that I'd like to point out: Katharine receives no government funding whatsoever for Lindfield House, even though it is such a historic place. As you can imagine, she desperately needs more funds to keep the museum going. It is also a great worry to her as to what will happen to the museum when she dies. There is no museum organization in South Africa that would be capable of maintaining it. She would love to find someone she could start training to take over from her as curator when she can no longer do it herself.

In my mind, the best way to find that person is to spread the word about Lindfield House in Johannesburg and beyond. So pick up your phone or go online and book yourself a tour. Even if you don't care much about the Victorian period, you will absolutely love the scones!

Lindfield House is located at 72 Richmond Avenue in Auckland Park. To book a tour, contact Katharine at 011 726 2932 or lindfieldhousemuseum@outlook.com

This post is part of the What To Do In Joburg series. You might also like:

The Eight Best Sightseeing Tours in Johannesburg
Top 5 Places for History Lovers in Johannesburg

September 19, 2017

Moving to South Africa? Attend Our First Ever Webinar!

It was late 2009 when I started my research leading up to a possible move to South Africa. I opened a web browser and expectantly typed "expats in South Africa" into the search bar.

I shouldn't have. Boy did my skin crawl after just a few minutes in. But I also couldn't tear myself away. One particular horror story has stayed with me to this day. An unsuspecting arrival drove home from O.R. Tambo airport, was followed by a gang of robbers all the way to his house, and was assaulted at gun point after he had opened but not yet closed the gate to his driveway again. It sounded so believable. It did a good job of scaring me.

But not quite good enough. In early 2010 we found ourselves in South Africa, making it to our house and into the garage without incident. As soon as I got my internet connection installed (which, if you'll remember, wasn't very soon at all), I created a blog and called it Joburg Expat, in hopes of attracting people like me who were typing words into Google hoping to find some useful information about South Africa.

Seven years later, I have helped many such people. I answer their questions on a daily basis, about where to live in Johannesburg, which school to enroll their children in, how to renew their visa, and, occasionally, how to source Nespresso coffee capsules for their son in England "soonest."

When I recently got introduced to Hannah Pirnie, another long-time expat in Johannesburg who herself is a great resource for newbie expats, we came up with a new idea neither of us had tackled before: Why not hold a Webinar for people who have questions about moving to South Africa?

Why not, indeed! So...

I'm excited to announce the kick-off Moving To South Africa Webinar, a collaborative effort between Translating Me and Joburg Expat on Tuesday, October 3rd, time TBD. This month's topic is "5 Mistakes To Avoid Your First Month in South Africa." Click Here to sign up.

Those who sign up will receive an email link to a website where we will host what is essentially a video meeting. Hannah and I will both do a short presentation about the topic, and then we will move on to questions from participants, which can be submitted via live chat. Participants who don't want to be seen can turn off their video feed and still participate just the same. We will also be taping the session to make it available to those who can't make the date.

If you have any questions or suggestions about our webinar series, please leave a comment below. This is very much an evolving project and we'll be learning along the way with everyone else.

To participate, sign up now for our Moving to South Africa Webinar on October 3rd, 2017. If you know anyone you think might benefit from it, please spread the word!

August 14, 2017

I'm an Expat New to Johannesburg. Which Group Should I Join?

As one of the "veteran" Johannesburg bloggers, I am contacted often by people eager to find out more about the city they are in the process of moving to. Where should we live, how dangerous is it, how can we get our kids in the school of our choice? Those are among the most common questions, and I'm quite proficient at answering them.

The question that has stumped me in the past is the one about expat groups. I admit I never started one, and never belonged to one either, though I did meet plenty of expats. We were quite happy in our own little world around Dainfern Valley and Dainfern College, and I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

But I realize that for many newly arrived expats, finding a group to join is a big deal - especially if you have young children and won't necessarily meet people through school. When you find yourself on a new continent without much of a clue of where to start, being able to make friends from around the world who've undergone a similar move and can help you with valuable tips and introductions is worth pure gold.

Trust me, the gatherings of Johannesburg expats I've attended were much more diverse-looking than
this stock photo, but I was a bit pressed for time to find a better one:-)

One such group is Trailing Spouses Johannesburg, I've written about them before. It's definitely worth joining and I'd encourage everyone to contact their Facebook group. However, it seems to be quite the busy group, and sometimes requests can go unanswered for quite some time. There is a reason for this, as they want to make sure it stays to its true mission of serving expat spouses instead of getting flooded by people simply trying to sell trinkets to expats. But when you're eager to make connections, having to wait for weeks at a time can be trying.

This is why I was delighted when I discovered a new expat group in a recent discussion on the Joburg Expat Facebook page. It's called Translating Me, and Hannah Pirnie, its founder, agreed to write a guest post about it. Enjoy!

Translating Me: A Platform for Expats to Explore and Experience Joburg

by Hannah Pirnie

When you tell people you are moving to Johannesburg, the response is rarely positive. And this is nothing in comparison to searching it out on the internet, where you will find plenty of admonishments like these:

Don't stop at red traffic lights, don't walk anywhere, and here are some tips on how not to get high-jacked... 

We are here to show you the other side of Joburg: The reasons why many expats never want to leave at the end of their assignments, the hidden gems of daily life, and the inspirational people you will find living here in the City of Gold. 

I set up Translating Me because I was fed up with sitting at home without anything to do. I had unwittingly become a 1950s housewife, with anybody I met asking me ‘what does your husband do?’  This wasn't enough for me. I wanted to explore and to learn more about this place I had come to call home. The problem, however, was that I was never too sure which activities were safe to do. So I found some likeminded friends and together we started exploring, creating amazing experiences within this dangerous” city we had found ourselves in. I finally had things to talk about at dinner parties other than what my husband does for a living. 

Translating Me is an online platform that showcases the best of Johannesburg's local life, culture, travel and style. Our aim is to inspire adventure and curiosity, and to help individuals make an impact during their time here, both personally and professionally. We also run an online personal branding course, the Identity Project, which has helped hundreds of expats all over the world. 

If you are in Joburg as an expat, you may only have two to three years of time, so don’t waste any day of it! There is so much to see, explore, and experience.  Come and join us at our next event and we can help create your bucket list for you.

Every month we run two events:

  1. Welcome to Joburg - Particularly for those who have just arrived, this is an opportunity to meet other people and ask all those important questions like "Where do I get my Traffic Register Number," "When is Just Now," and most importantly "What is Impala Poop Spitting."
  2. Unique Jozi Experiences -   We organize events such as photography tours, cooking lessons, gumboot dancing, a Soweto art tour, career talks, or interior design evenings, just to name a few.

For more information on dates, check out the website here: www.translatingme.org/events. Aside from that, I love connecting and meeting new people, so if you find yourself in Joburg, please do get in touch - I would love to show you around this wonderful city!

Hannah moved from Great Britain to Joburg in 2010, leaving her dream job working for the London 2012 Olympic Games to follow her husband to Africa. Since then two boys, one girl, and a Ridgeback dog (in reverse order) have filled her heart and time with love and noise. She strives to balance this busy new life with her passion of providing useful strategies and training programmes for other expats to help them reinvent their personal brand and maximize their experience abroad.

July 25, 2017

Expat Special: The Best Way Transfer Money Internationally

When you become an expat and are sent overseas, your first three questions to the company sending you there most likely are these: How much will I be paid, which currency will that be in, and how do I get the money to where I need it?

In our case, these questions turned out to have simple answers that worked well for us. A smaller portion of the salary went to our home bank in the U.S. where we could use it for house-related expenses and to pay into our savings accounts. The larger portion went into our newly-opened Standard Bank account in South African rand (ZAR). For a large Fortune 500 corporation this was no issue and saved us from having to transfer money ourselves. We only made one large transfer at the beginning of our assignment to buy our cars, and henceforth we didn't have to deal with currency transfers.

(Actually, I lied. Once, we needed U.S. $ for a vacation in Zimbabwe, and getting our hands on them became a multi-day errand involving enough ink to fingerprint the entire prison population of a small country, but that is another story.)

South African Rand bills

Exchange Rates vs Fees, and Banks vs Currency Brokers

Before we talk currency transfer methods, let's talk timing. Quite frankly, the timing of your money transfer is much more crucial than the method. Why? Because of the exchange rate. Here is where you should not try to emulate Noisette and me. We are the kind of people who move to America to spend a lot of money on a graduate school degree at the precise moment the first Gulf War breaks out and makes the dollar twice as expensive as it was a few days earlier. And the same people who move to South Africa for the few years the rand is fairly strong at 7-1 before it slides back to something like 13-1 the minute we have left.

If your situation is similar to ours and your company pays you in the local currency, I wouldn't worry too much about the best way to transfer money internationally. If you just do a transfer here and there, the easiest option is to go through your bank and pay their fee for money transfers, which is annoying but won't be a major expense. Consider it a convenience fee, similar to paying a charge for booking tickets online. 

It's when you get paid in your home country and have to make the transfers yourself when you have to seriously research the best option. The larger the transfer, the higher generally the cost, so a small difference in fees can turn into a big number. Why?

Let's look at what the cost of an international money transfer is typically based on:

  1. The exchange rate
  2. The fee

The former works to be a percentage of the total amount, and the latter is typically fixed. Don't be fooled by banks that advertise "low fees" or "0% commission." This often means that they disguise their fees in the exchange rate, since they need to make money somehow. Banks sell currency at the interbank exchange rate with an added mark-up, so it is this exchange rate you'll have to look at closely. It's easy to Google any exchange rate in an instant at the time of making your transfer. See how far it is off the rate you're quoted, then calculate the actual cost by multiplying the spread with the dollar amount, and adding the quoted fee, if any.

Can you get a better deal for your currency transfer by choosing another option than a bank? Most likely, yes.

One such option is a currency broker, such as Transferwise, HiFx, or Xoom. Even though they also use the exchange rate spread to make money off transfers, online brokers update their rates continually, versus banks who tend to set their rates only once at the start of each day. When you transfer large amounts of money, this variation in rate depending on your timing can amount to quite a large savings. When choosing a currency broker for your transfer, you should shop around and get several quotes before settling on one.

South African currency

Besides Banks and Brokers, Which Other Money Transfer Options do I Have?

One simple option is to use your credit or debit card to withdraw money from a local ATM. It won't be the cheapest option, but certainly an easy and safe one. When I needed cash in Moshi, Tanzania, because - not surprisingly - I had not even come close to calculating the correct amount of money I would need to pay for our Kilimanjaro post-summit beer orgy and porter tips, I was very grateful for the ATM we found in the dusty city center that was willing to spit out a nice sum of shillings thousands of miles away from my actual bank. I did not care very much about any hidden fees at that moment, trust me.

But what about apps like PayPal, Venmo, Popmoney, etc? Aren't they perfect ways to transfer money without any fees?

Well. Remember what I said earlier. There is always a fee as long as you have to transfer money from one currency into another. If there isn't an outright fee, it's hidden in the exchange rate.

Some of these apps won't even work for South Africa. I could find nothing about South Africa on the websites for Venmo and Popmoney, so make sure you research that first. PayPal, from my own experience as well as from interviewing a large number of friends for this article, is the most trusted in money transfer, and it actually has a page detailing transfers to South Africa. As long as I have used it, PayPal has been secure and reliable, if not always user friendly. Make sure you use the "Friends and Family" option when transferring funds to avoid the fee charged to sellers of goods and services. You can't request money that way, rather the person doing the transferring has to initiate it or PayPal slaps a fee on the transaction (I learned this lesson by doing it the wrong way).

And remember, just because you don't pay a fee doesn't mean there isn't one. The PayPal hidden fee in the exchange rate spread is actually quite high.

How About the Security of My Transaction?

And there are other hidden costs besides the ones disguised in the exchange rate. Consider the risk you're taking on. I have now heard from two good friends whose bank accounts were hacked through Venmo, with consequences that were both costly and annoying. It just doesn't have the same level of security as other e-payment systems. To use Venmo, you have to enter your bank login details, and it's not hard for hackers to get to them and make off with your money. It could be as simple as you using Venmo while using an unsecured wifi connection. I'm considering shutting down my Venmo app because of this. To be fair, many of my friends are using it daily without any problems. To protect yourself, you can link it to a credit card (which protects your from fraud) instead of your bank account, but then, wouldn't you know it, there is a fee for that!

One thing is for sure: When you move to South Africa, you may be pleasantly surprised as to the user friendliness of money transfer methods WITHIN the country. Everyone uses EFT (electronic funds transfer) so you can say goodbye to your tiresome old checkbook, and you can even use methods such as sending money to someone's cellphone number via your phone, which the recipient can turn into easy cash. Fraud, of course, is always a possibility in South Africa, but I have found the fraud protections generally to be very good.

I hope this article has given you an idea about money transfer options as well as the risks and red flags to look out for. Please let me know if I've forgotten anything or if you have any other valuable information to add.

July 18, 2017

The Best Story About Baseball That's Not Just About Baseball (Part 2): The Alexandra Fundraising Challenge

This is Part 2 of a 2-post series about baseball in an African township. Click here for Part 1. What wonderful timing to get this published on Mandela Day!

But to say this is a story just about baseball does not do it justice. It's about much more than that. It's about giving young people opportunities to build self-esteem and teamwork and make something of themselves in an environment where few such opportunities exist.

Has anyone read Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson? The idea was to build schools in Afghanistan. But you might remember that the story was about much more than just building schools. That is sort of how it has been for those of us who have gotten involved with Alexandra Baseball.

In Part 1 of this series I told you about the challenges we face. I sometimes think it's a miracle that baseball continues to happen - and at a very high level no less - in Alexandra. But in reality it's less a miracle than the determination of those involved to make it work. And a big part of this determination is the willingness to ask people for money, as uncomfortable as this can be.

That's what this blog post is about (to skip directly to our fundraising page, click here). The following is a brief overview of our financial challenge to keep the club afloat:

  1. TRANSPORT: The baseball season in South Africa goes from October-April. No one currently on the Alexandra Baseball roster has any transportation. We use minibus taxis to get the teams to their games. Our hope is to have a U12, U15 and U18 team in October, and a Senior team in the winter (summer in the U.S.). The cost for a minibus taxi averages ZAR700 ($54) per game day. We need to cover about 15 weeks of games for four different teams totaling $3,240. This is one of the largest expenses Alexandra Baseball has to deal with.

    Alexandra Baseball players getting into minibus taxi on their way to a game

  2. LEAGUE FEES: A team averages ZAR1,500 ($115) in fees. For our four teams this would total $460. Gauteng Baseball uses these fees to run its baseball operations for the province.

  3. PROVINCIAL PLAYERS: Across all teams, Alexandra Baseball will typically have 20-25 players and coaches named to the A and B Provincial teams. This is a huge honor for the players, but they have very little ability to pay for the uniforms, transportation and lodging expenses associated with traveling to the National Baseball Championships. Typically, the cost per player or coach is close to ZAR4,000 ($308). Our total cost to take 20 players is around $6,000. Gauteng Baseball tries to help with fundraisers like an annual Golf Tournament, and the Alex players do try to raise money, but it is very difficult to raise that much money in a township.

  4. Provincial players heading to the SA National Baseball Championships 2017

  5. NATIONAL PLAYERS: Alexandra Baseball has had three National South African players. Michael Lepebe was named to the South African U21 National team a few years ago, but was unable to participate in any of the tournaments outside of South Africa due to the costs. This year Mohamed Alaoui was selected as a pitcher for the U18 National team to play in the World Cup in Thunder Bay, Canada in September 2017. Gauteng Province is working to help Mohamed (Mo) make it to the tournament, but the cost is ZAR29,000 ($2,230). Mohamed led the Gauteng Province to the U18 South African National Championship as the winning pitcher. In addition, Tsekiso Rapuleng is a non-traveling reserve with the possibility of joining the team in Canada.

    SA National Player Michael Lepebe

    SA National Player Mohamed Alaoui

    SA National Player reserve Tsekiso Rapuleng

  6. EQUIPMENT: 100% of the equipment for Alexandra Baseball comes from donations from the U.S. Little leagues, high schools, travel teams, and generous donors outfit approximately 75 players every year.

    Used equipment donated in the USA, getting put into suitcases to make the trip to SA

  7. SHIPPING: It is simply too expensive to ship equipment to Johannesburg from overseas, and it has only been done on rare occasions. The more common method is having friends traveling to South Africa take extra bags with them on their trips and taking the equipment to Alexandra through people on the ground in South Africa. A typical extra bag fee can range from $50-$100 per bag.

  8. COACHES: Our ultimate goal is to have small monthly stipends for the coaches at every age group. Currently the coaches all volunteer their time every afternoon after school and every weekend. Our goal is ZAR1,000 ($77) per coach per month and ZAR1,500 ($115) for the Club Chairman. The coaches themselves struggle with regular jobs, as discussed. Paid coaches are the only way to ensure that the program survives long-term.

  9. FOOD: Many of the players go without many things. We try on the weekends to prepare lunches or create a deal with the local tuck shop (concession stand) to both support the league and get the players and coaches a solid meal. It costs about $75 a weekend to feed every player and all of the coaches.

    Making lunches for the players

This is the reality of what it takes to keep 75-100 players involved in a positive activity that builds their self-esteem, fosters teamwork, and gives them hope for a brighter future.

Our goal for this fundraising season is $5,000. To date, we have collected $1,300 towards that goal, which is pretty awesome.  

Obviously, the above added all together totals much more than that. But $5,000 would cover the most pressing needs for the next few months. The team has also been fortunate to have other generous sponsors like the Milwaukee Brewers Community Foundation, the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame, and the University of San Fransisco Sports Management Program in the United States, and Standard Bank in South Africa, as well as friends of the program that often step in to make up the shortfalls to make sure the kids get what they need.

Standard Bank supports Alexandra Baseball

Students from the University of San Francisco Sports Management Program visiting Alex 

Whether you have a passion for baseball like we do, or whether you simply want to help out those in need, we would be thrilled about any small donation you can spare. To make it as easy as possible, Natalie has created a Go Fund Me page at the link below:

As an additional options, we also accept good old checks sent to us in the mail. Since we are an official 501(c)(3) organization, all donations are tax-deductible:

Make check out to: 

Mail to:
Africa On Deck
Attn: Sine Thieme, Treasurer
9 Carmel Ln
Brentwood, TN 37027 

Also, if you haven't yet, please LIKE us on FACEBOOK!

We hope that you are as excited as we are about what's in store for this new phase of developing baseball in Africa. As Africa On Deck gets off the ground, we will share with you the best stories about baseball that are not just about baseball.

And perhaps you will see why it was so hard to say good-bye.