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Birgit Böttner, South Africa

Who are you? 

My name is Birgit Böttner, a translator originally from Germany, and on social media I go by my author name, Evadeen Brickwood. I’m 59, have been widowed for four years, and my two daughters in their 20s are married.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 1991, I moved to South Africa from Botswana, where I’d been working for two years, because I didn’t want to move back to Germany.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I didn’t have much stuff, so a building company, which worked with the engineering firm I worked for, informally took my things to Johannesburg at the time.

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Did you need to obtain a visa, residency permit or work permit? What was the process like?

I had a work permit at the time and converted it to a residence permit. This was after about six months, when I had decided to stay in South Africa.

How does the cost of living compare with your previous country?

As I’m now earning in Rand as a freelance translator, it can be challenging at times. It’s also not easy to work as an international author, as some platforms are not available here, but there are ways to get around this.

Is it easy to open and use an account with a local bank?

I have an account in Germany, and I opened my South African account many years ago. It’s fairly easy to open and use an account here.

How did you find somewhere to live?

At first, I lived in affordable garden cottages in good areas. Now I own a house and rent out a garden cottage.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes, but it’s not easy to get to know them these days. I am active in international social groups.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I’ve been here for a while, so I get along with everyone. At first, it was challenging, because of cultural differences, but I’ve since overcome that.

What do you like about life where you are?

I like the ease of living and that I could re-invent myself. Nothing is taken as seriously as in Europe, and it’s easy to talk to strangers. We have so much space and wilderness, but also culture in the cities. South Africa is much more international now than it used to be.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

That we are often isolated and looked down on by so-called developed countries.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Life is slower here, and the way the country is governed is obviously different. Also, the racial differences and rich and poor are different here.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

It’s different now. I deal with expats through my work who have to produce more evidence of financial security and skills than I had to. Just be prepared that applications take a while. It’s best to have job before moving.

What are your plans for the future?

It’s difficult to make plans during Covid-19 times, but for now, I’m staying in South Africa.

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