Emigration: These are the 10 biggest factors driving South Africans abroad

Recently-released data on emigration from South Africa shows that an alarming number of citizens are considering packing up and moving abroad.



Afrobarometer has released a trove of emigration data concerning South Africa and the rest of the continent, and it’s turned up some eye-catching results. Almost half of those surveyed in Mzansi have considered living abroad as a genuinely feasible option that would benefit them in the long run.

It’s perhaps no surprise that more than two-thirds of potential emigres from SA want to head towards Europe or North America. Mauritius and Madagascar also score highly in this regard. But this feedback bucks the trend set by the majority of sub-Saharan Africa, where a large number of respondents say they would stay within the continent:

“If residents of South Africa – the primary destination country within the region – are considering migration, they are far more likely to be looking outside the continent (69% say Europe, North America, or some other non-African destination), as are potential emigrants in Mauritius (87%) and Madagascar (76%).”


The data also revealed that a considerable minority of our fellow citizens are already packing up their things and going. Last week, we revealed that 10% of all sellers in the property market are looking to move abroad. That glum mood stretches far beyond real estate figures, though:

  • It’s estimated that 3% of all South Africans are currently preparing to emigrate, or have already begun the process of emigration.
  • Around 12% of our young adults (aged 18-25) are strongly considering a life abroad.
  • Just over 4 in 10 South Africans have considered emigration at some point.

The 10 top reasons why South Africans consider emigration

The Afrobarometer survey asked its participants why they would consider moving overseas, and there was an overwhelming favourite that came out on top: 40% state that they were tired of not being able to find work and felt they would have much better luck elsewhere.

The unemployment rate stands at 27% in this country, but youth unemployment is even worse. Around half of all young adults are struggling to find a job in Mzansi. Other respondents said they would leave to country to try and escape poverty, whereas the promise of a more “peaceful life” proved to be another popular motivating factor:

FactorPercentage of South Africans
Finding work40%
To escape poverty17%
Peace and security8%
Travel and tourism purposes7%
Business prospects6%
Democracy and freedom5%
Better services4%
Unspecified reasons4%
Join family3%
Improve education2%

We spoke to emigration specialists Sable International on this topic. They believe these numbers are so high because of the current political situation. They list SOE mismanagement and land reform uncertainties as the factors which are finally pushing people towards leaving South Africa:

“Since about 2015, there’s been a feeling of instability and uncertainty about our country and the future. Land reform, talk of nationalising the reserve bank, gross mismanagement of SOE’s plus rampant corruption in the government has contributed to uncertainty around our country.”

“This is a big contributing factor when people make the decision to emigrate. The costs of emigration is always increasing, so the only way a number of people can make that move or meet the financial requirements is by selling their major assets or properties sooner rather than later.”

John Dunn, Immigration Manager