Ex Files | Deanna Lewis | South Africa


Deanna was born and raised in Southern California. At the age of 17, Deanna became a mother and decided to devote her life to a career in social services and public health in hopes of being an inspiration to other young mothers. Deanna holds degrees in social work and public health and has utilized her degrees to work as a public health social worker and researcher for close to 20 years. At 38 years old, Deanna became disillusioned with her once field of passion and decided to “retire” and take a leap to living a life abroad that she use to only dream of. She has since become a legal resident of South Africa and opened the Traveling Frugalista boutique.

Traveling Frugalista is a boutique that combines Deanna’s love for traveling Africa, fashion, and being frugal, by sourcing deals around Africa and sharing them with others at a bargain. Most recently Deanna has combined forces with a local African arts dealer in Johannesburg, to learn all there is to know about antique and contemporary African art in hopes of bringing the beauty of African art to more of the diaspora. You can find Deanna and her Traveling Frugalista boutique inside of the African Diversity shop located in Johannesburg, South Africa.

When did you decide you wanted to experience life abroad?

I came to the conclusion that I wanted to move abroad several years ago, but I had minor children entering high school and I didn’t think it would be fair to uproot them at such a critical point. Instead of pushing my desire aside, I started actively planning to move once my youngest child graduated. When I first started planning I was fairly set on moving to the Eastern Caribbean because it’s close to the U.S. but I always had this nagging feeling to visit Africa before making a decision. I started by visiting West Africa, then North, then East but none of those places spoke to me more than the Caribbean. Then I finally had the chance to visit Johannesburg. For unknown reasons, I was always drawn to visit Johannesburg but plans never worked out. The stars aligned just so and my first Johannesburg trip was planned. Upon my first visit I instantly knew why I was drawn to visit. It was as if my spirit had been in Johannesburg before and from day one I felt like I was home. To this day, I still feel this way.

Was it difficult for you to pick up and move to South Africa? Where did you live before moving abroad?

It wasn’t difficult for me to leave the U.S. because for as long as I can remember, I preferred to be around non-Americans. Then when I started traveling I realized that I always felt happier and more me when I visited small islands in the Caribbean and several parts of Africa. I was born and raised in California and never spent more than three weeks outside of the U.S. before taking this leap.

What made you take the leap of faith without knowing what employment would be like?

When moving to South Africa I knew I was fairly disillusioned with my field and didn’t want to work in my field or for anyone in the near future. I think this made moving to South Africa easier because I didn’t have to worry about finding a job or trying to get a South African work permit. Working here might make it easier to meet people but given the nationalistic wave moving through the country right now, I think being self sufficient ( at least temporarily) is the way to go.

What caused you the most angst as you were planning your exodus?

When planning to move abroad I didn’t have fears because I truly felt it was part of my destiny. Now that I am here my biggest fear is having to deal with a family emergency that will result in me having to return to the U.S. for an extended period of time. I truly love being outside of the US and having to move back actually caused me a bit of anxiety.

How did you start your business abroad?

Deciding to move to South Africa meant I would have to live on my savings and supplement things with contract work. Seeing I’m still disillusioned with my field, contract work really wasn’t calling my name either. As luck would have it, I met an African art dealer who inspired me to turn my pastime of buying trinkets during my travels to sell in a business. Thanks to this encounter, my Traveling Frugalista travel blog with the occasional accessory for sell, is turning  into a business with an upcoming website and brick and mortar store, with the occasional pop up store in the Caribbean, U.S., and Europe. I have no idea where things will go with the Traveling Frugalista Boutique but over the next few years I plan to learn significantly more about African Art so I can bring not only accessories and trinkets to the diaspora but antiques that many didn’t know held value or thought outside of their reach.

What advice would you give anyone considering starting a business abroad?

I encourage everyone looking to have a business abroad to look into everything from all angles. Decide on your target market. Make a decision on if the business will be solely online. Find out if it’s possible to maintain the business solely online to prevent the need for a business permit in the new country. Research if the new country requires significant resources to get a business permit if there is a desire for a physical store. Learn if the country requires working with a citizen or permanent resident to open. Most importantly look into the stability of electricity, internet, and postal services, especially if the business will be online. In the case of South Africa, the requirements for a new business permit are steep. Lucky for me when I started planning my move to South Africa I had no plans to have an actual business in South Africa and I was eligible for a different permit. Now that I have an interest in a physical store it’s definitely beneficial that I am involved with someone who already has a business that I can be added to. Business permit requirements in South Africa are quite steep and are no longer designed for the small business owner. Another important thing to take into account with having a business abroad is capital. The currency has fluctuated a bit since I moved to South Africa and I realize that having a little more than planned as a rainy day fund is definitely a wise move. Even for a small online business.

It has to be a huge mental exercise, any words of advice for those simply considering moving?

I would advise anyone looking to move abroad to visualize yourself moving to your country of choice, research what it will take to move, be honest about what might hold you back from moving, then develop a plan to facilitate the move. From there, work on eliminating all unnecessary debt and create a savings that will allow you to stay without working for 6 months to a year. This way you can really get a feel for the country without stressing over money. Lastly, research all your options for remaining in a country legally. I cannot emphasize how important residency documents can be in some countries. I did visa runs my first year in South Africa because I wanted to be sure that I wanted to call Johannesburg home but I also knew living without a residency document was not an option. To live comfortably and truly call South Africa home a residency document is required.

What’s your take on Jo’berg?

In my opinion Johannesburg is like the New York City of Africa. The arts and culture scene here is out of this world and the amount of talent in just about every art field is never ending. If an expat is interested in just consuming art there is usually something going on every night and quite often its free. I’ve been to more free gallery openings, with live entertainment, sponsored bars, etc in the last year, than the last 5 years in Los Angeles. As in New York there is also a significant number of festivals with artists from all over the world, often times free. Even the fashion industry is full of opportunities due to several high caliber fashion shows. There are also several venues for dance and theatre of a high caliber and at an affordable price. If an expat is interested in exhibiting work there is an abundance of galleries to pitch work to and there are often job listings for galleries seeking managers, etc. Given the nationalistic work climate at the moment it might take a significant amount of time to get approved for a work permit but this is definitely an option for someone who is truly passionate about the arts or highly skilled. The arts and culture scene is also one of things that pulls me to Johannesburg.

 Any plans of repatriation?

I have no plans to return to the U.S. The affordability and quality of life afforded to me in Johannesburg makes me wonder why more people don’t live outside of the U.S. Outside of Mexican food in California and my children, I don’t miss anything and will be looking into permanent residency as soon as possible.

What has this move taught you?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned since moving abroad is dream big, follow your heart, leap, be open to limitless possibilities, and remember you can always go back to your home country and be a worker bee so why not give things a try. I never planned to move to Johannesburg, fall in love, and start an online business but here I am.

For more information on Deanna Lewis, visit www.africandiversityarts.com




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