This is the post I searched for and couldn’t find when we were planning to travel from South Africa to the United Kingdom. Here’s information about the actual costs and logistics of our travel from South Africa to the United Kingdom covering our experience of travel documentation requirements, credit card applications, cars, banks, accommodation and phones. All in one place!
This post contains 3000 words! Use the table of contents to jump to relevant sections if you’re short on time. Each topic comes with our story so if useful information is all you need without the fluff, then please feel free to scroll down till you find what you’re looking for.
This is not the ‘Ultimate How To’ guide. It’s merely us sharing our personal experience in the hope that it may help others setting out on the same path.
1. FLIGHTS SA TO UK
With the help of the handy Hopper App to find the best time to book flights, we found the best deals for flights and car rental in the UK on lastminute.com. There are many booking sites you should check to search for flights like Skyscanner, Expedia and Kayak. We always try all of them and more, but most of the time we find the best deals on lastminute.com. We use the Tripit App to keep track of itineraries and travel bookings.
After 24hrs from take-off we survived a long-haul 2-stop flight with a lap toddler and arrived in England. Our flight is an experience worth sharing if you consider doing the same. From our home in sun drenched South Africa to a cold snow covered airbnb in the English countryside we flew to start a new chapter. Now, we call both SA and the UK home. We have dual British and South African citizenship, and like most natives, we love and hate each in their own special way.
Flight Itinerary & Cost
Flight Cost: £ 1 380 / R 23 800
Read our FLIGHT REVIEW of our long-haul economy flight with Air Etihad.
2. TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
We almost don’t take-off at all. At the airport check-in desk in Johannesburg, they ask for the children’s’ original unabridged birth certificates. WHAT?!
Documents Required by New Law When Flying With Children
Thes was new to us. The last time we flew with children internationally was in 2012. Apparently, the South African law changed since then. You must present the original unabridged birth certificates of each child for international flights in addition to valid passports and the required visas at check-in. Without the correct birth certificates, they will not allow you to take the children out of the country. In addition, if the children travel with one parent, a letter of consent is needed from the other parent.
With the help of my brother, Dean, we eventually get photos of the certificates, which are safely tucked away in a filing cabinet back home, to present as evidence. Despite the effort, it still looks like they’re not going to let us board the plane. Unless we go without the kids. Hhhhhmmmm, tempting.
It feels like hours go by as I try to keep the children happy and together in one corner. Picture me chasing chickens as I run after Kate who tries to escape every few minutes while keeping an eye on the older two and all our worldly possessions. All while Brendan tries to convince airport personnel that all three of them are our very own children. He’s practically begging the manager to allow us to board. Obviously, we were eventually allowed on the plane, but not without a few extra grey hairs from serious stress! I felt like Gandalf The Grey by the time we finally walk through the check-in gates.
3. CREDIT CARDS
Most people have credit cards, but we decided a long time ago to use cash only and not to rack up any debt except good debt like a mortgage. We never got extra credit cards in South Africa because we never needed them. We could always shop online using a debit card or pay by EFT. Our other UK cards were paid in full when we left the UK in 2012 and were eventually closed due to being dormant for too long.
Order / Renew Credit Cards Well In Advance
The point is, that when you travel and need to book international flights, hire cars and accommodation for a months or weeks in advance, you need credit cards. Some places will only accept bank guaranteed credit cards, like the car rental booking sites. We only realise this at the very last minute and quickly look into credit card applications at our respective banks.
Checking Our South African Banks for Credit Cards
Brendan checked with Standard Bank who has a rather longwinded application process envolving personal visits to the bank and lots of time and paperwork. Not suitable and, it turns out, not an answer to our dilemma.
FNB, on the other hand, came up top trumps with a quick online hassle free credit card application process that did not involve any phone calls or personal visits to the bank. Best thing is the card would be ready for collection within three to five business days. Five work days was exactly how much time we had left before going to the UK!
Another thing I love about FNB is that they are the only South African bank that is integrated with PayPal as far as I know. I’m not sure if it’s changed since, but that was great for me as I use PayPal often and we also receive payment from overseas guests who book our Airbnb accommodation in George, Skyways.
Use this Code when booking Skyways in George between April and October for a 15% Discount: FTE15
No Room For Error
So the rental car is booked in my name. Remember that you need the credit card to present it as a guarantee when you collect your car and it must be in the name of the person who the car is booked under, or you cannot get the car. No problem!
We go to FNB in George on Friday, the 4th day, to check if the card arrived but it’s not there. The bank clerk says she’ll arrange for the card to be sent to the FNB branch at Jo’burg International Airport by the next day, Saturday, so that we can pick it up when we arrive on Monday on our way to the UK. Eeeeeek! There is no room for error.
Right, so as soon as we get over the first hurdle to convince the Air Etihad check-in staff that the three children we are trying to keep from running in every direction, are indeed ours and that we both have the stretch marks and documentation to prove it, we must run to the bank before it closes at 4 pm. And, by God’s grace, we make it ten minutes before closing time and the all-important credit card is there. Thank you FNB! We 💖 you. Thanks to you, our hire car awaits.
4. CAR RENTAL
Arriving at Heathrow Airport 24hrs later, tired and just about ready to collapse, we still have the task to pick up the rental car from Green Motion before we can go to our Airbnb in Hungerford. It sounds simple, but it really isn’t. The car is booked in my name, which means that Brendan stays at Terminal 4 with the kids while I go to get the car. Green Motion is a fifteen-minute bus ride from Terminal 4 and you have to take two buses to get there. Green Motion offers to refund the £5 bus fare you pay to get to their depot, but I forgot to claim mine. Fried brain.
Everyone I had to deal with was really friendly and helpful actually and it was a nice welcome back to England.
I must say, getting there was a breeze because of helpful bus drivers and a regular bus service. With no waiting times, it took exactly fifteen minutes. As I step out of T4 I ask, like any women would, the first bus driver I see how to get to the address, pointing to my printed car rental confirmation. He tells me to hop on, his on his way to my stop. As I get off that bus my next bus pulls up and drops me off at the Green Motion depot. Easypeezy.
Allow Time To Pick Up The Hire Car
The receptionist man at the hotel where the bus dropped me off comes out of the hotel to help me find the Green Motion office on arrival and he goes out of his way to explain the way back to Heathrow to me. Super nice people again!!!
Picking up the hire car takes almost an hour in total, which is unexpected, but what can you do? There are some issues with paperwork, but again the Green Motion guy behind the desk is very helpful and sorts us out with a free upgrade from a Focus estate to a comfy Citroen Picasso C4, lots of mint sweeties and free bottled water for the kiddies. I cringe to think of Brendan back at Heathrow T4 trying to cope with tired kiddies.
Driving in the UK again from Green Motion back to Terminal 4 in the snow is nerve wrecking, but thanks to wonderful sat nav and directions drawn on paper by helpful locals, not an issue at all and takes exactly fifteen minutes.
Read the Fine Print
If There Is Any!
We were happy with the car and service from Green Motion. The only niggle I had was that we booked online with Lastminute.com while in SA and when I picked up the car I was told in much detail that the insurance we bought online was not sufficient and that I had to buy another insurance from Green Motion or we would not be covered in case of an accident. This insurance cost more than what we paid for the rental in total. None of this was stated on the site and Green Motion is aware of this, but that is just how it is according to them and I thought that wasn’t right. We refused the extra cover, went with what we had and thankfully didn’t need it in the end.
With the snowstorm, we had to extend the rental by one day as we could not get to London from Hungerford. You can conveniently extend with a simple text message and or email without any hassle. Sometimes I prefer talking to someone, but we couldn’t get hold of Green Motion by phone. Good thing their email and messaging service works well. When we returned the car there were no issues and our deposit was returned promptly.
We’ll use Green Motion again in future if the price is right.
Car Hire Cost: £27 for 3 days (Lastminute.com special deal) + £16 per extended day. Booked a Focus Estate and got a free upgrade to a Citroen Picasso C4
HSBC staff are super helpful and friendly. They want you to open a bank account with them and they help you to get it done in a professional manner. I’m so impressed with how easy it was for me to open a basic bank account again after five years. We both banked with HSBC when we lived here and they had our full history to hand so I’m glad we left our accounts in good standing with up to date credit card payments and mortgage histories before we left in 2012.
Opening a Basic Bank Account UK
To open a basic bank account you need to provide proof of address and identification. Your passport and drivers license (UK or overseas) will be sufficient to prove identity. Our friends agreed that we can use their address to receive mail in the UK and HSBC accepted this arrangement and used the address to open our bank accounts. We got a letter confirming our bank accounts and addresses within half an hour.
Both Brendan and I have valid UK drivers licenses and we could use the letter from the bank to update our addresses with the DVLA to get updated license cards. You need a valid up to date drivers license card to get car insurance.
6. DRIVERS LICENSE
Updating our UK Drivers License Address
Trying to renew your drivers license address online with the DVLA is tricky, but Brendan took his proof of address from the bank and his old UK drivers license to a little post office, which you’ll find on any high street or at the back of a shop in the smallest village, and they took a photo, cut up the old license and ordered a new one for him. Quick and easy service without any hassle. I love how things work in the UK.
7. BUYING A CAR
Car prices in South Africa are astronomical compared to the UK. In the UK you get a good quality car for the same price as an ancient piece of rust in SA.
Initially, we bought a used car from a dealer in Trowbridge and we had it checked out by an independent mechanic who gave us the thumbs up. However, we’ve had to make so many repairs to it that we are now considering to return it before the three-month warranty runs out. We are looking at the option to lease a car for the six months we spend in the UK and will update this post as soon as we’ve replaced our car.
Our car insurance policy is with First Car Insurance which we bought via a comparison site, a popular way of shopping for insurance in the UK. Comparethemarket.com is the comparison site to use.
To buy car insurance we have to upload photos of our drivers’ licenses during the online application process. In addition, after a phone call from them to confirm information, we send the V5 form, also called the Logbook in the UK, together with proof of address, which we got from the bank to the DVLA. Again, the post office is helpful and provides a prepaid DVLA envelope for this purpose.
Cost of Buying a Car: £ 2 244 / ZAR 39 000
- £ 1600 Car purchased (7-Seater Zafira)
- £ 249 Car Insurance Upfront Payment (£60 p/m there-after)
- £ 190 Vehicle Tax
- £ 85 Vehicle Service
- £ 120 New Tyres
To date, we stayed in self-catering accommodation booked via Airbnb from the start and we’re happy with the experience apart from one.
It’s still winter in the UK in March so we found a good deal on accommodation in Hungerford. Plus if you book for 28 nights or more most places offer a long-stay discount, which is nice. April is another story. With it being Easter holidays and our destinations located in the relatively expensive areas of Woking, Ascot and Windsor. We couldn’t find anywhere to book for more than 28 nights in April that was also within our budget. Everything was fully booked already.
- Airbnb Accommodation cost March (Hungerford): £1645
- Airbnb Accommodation cost April (Woking, Ascot, Windsor): £2600
A Series Of Unfortunate Accommodation Events
Every place and every type of accommodation booking has pros and cons. The pros outway the cons by far for us with Airbnb, but these are a few cons worth mentioning.
Hefty Cleaning Fees
One of the kiddies messed sticky stuff on a carpet in an Airbnb apartment in Woking and it cost us an extra £114 (ZAR 1900) to have one bedroom carpet professionally cleaned to remove a spot the size of a 20p coin. We now look for places with tiles, wood or laminate flooring where possible.
Some hosts charge a standard cleaning fee of up to £90 for every booking and then you are still required to take out the trash and wash up dishes.
Not As Advertised
Only once did we have a horrible experience in a place not fit for occupation, much less by a family with young children. Airbnb contacted us directly after the host notified them that we were not happy and after I sent Airbnb the full reason of our dissatisfaction in writing they promptly checked us out the next morning with a few links for alternative places to book in the area, a refund and a legal advice helpline or guide or something to that effect.
The reason for that was because one of the children was shocked by open electric wiring. During the day I’d keep the children upstairs in two rooms, too scared to let them downstairs and away from the awful stench of the kitchen. The other issues were that the place was not like advertised on the photos at all. No cups, no curtains in the living room, no TV, dirty entrance and cutlery and the beds were really poor quality. Thankfully we were there for only two nights. We gave the host a 1-star rating and they gave us a 1-star rating. Bygones. These things are expected to happen, but hopefully not often!
Surprised by Airbnb Automatic Check Out
The automatic check-out by Airbnb was not ideal because Brendan works all day so we could only physically leave after 5 pm, provided that we could find somewhere to go at such short notice. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing because we found the perfect place in Ascot which was like heaven in comparison and Airbnb paid for the extra day the host charged because we could only leave the premises after 5 pm. We did not want to take legal action against the host because the shock was not serious, we just wanted to go somewhere else and get our money back.
As we arrived at Heathrow, Brendan bought me an EE (a service provider like MTN or Cell C in South Africa) sim card with pay as you go data and airtime, but we ditched it not long after because I never had signal where we stayed on the farm near Hungerford. Instead, we both get a Vodafone £20 pay as you go monthly package deal which provides great reception where ever we go with 6GB data and I think about 1000 minutes of airtime and unlimited text messages.
Pay As You Go Monthly Vodafone Bundle: £20 each
10. SUMMARY OF TOTAL TRAVEL COST SA TO UK
Keep in mind that these costs are for a busy young family of five!
March: £ 6 828 / ZAR 118 000
- £ 1380 Flights
- £ 59 Car Hire J(5 days)
- £ 2244 Buy a Car
- £ 1645 Accommodation Self Catering (Airbnb)
- £1500 Other (Phones, Shopping, Excursions, Fuel, etc)
April: £ 4600 / ZAR 79 500
- £ 2600 Accommodation Self Catering (Airbnb)
- £ 2000 Living (Phones, Shopping, Excursions, Fuel, etc)
11. SUMMARY OF RESOURCES
- Travel Apps: Hopper, Tripit
- Booking site used for this trip: Lastminute.com (flights and car hire)
- UK Car Insurance comparison site: Comparethemarket.com
- Mobile Service Provider: Vodafone.
- Hire Car booked with Green Motion via a Lastminute.com special deal.
- Accommodation booked with Airbnb.
Information correct at time of publishing in 2018. Please check the relevant websites for updated info and prices. We may earn a commission if you click through some of the links in this post, at absolutely no extra cost to yourself, but it does make it a bit easier to keep our blog going. Thank you for your support. Please like and share this post if you enjoyed it and we’d love your comments and feedback below.