Tanisha Colon-Bibb always planned on spending her life in New York — until love brought her halfway across the globe.
The 33-year-old entrepreneur grew up in Harlem as the youngest of four children. After graduating from Spelman College in 2010, she launched her first business, Rebelle Agency, helping clients in entertainment, non-profit and other fields coordinate their marketing and advertising strategies.
“I’ve really tried to work with talented people that want to use their voice for good,” Colon-Bibb tells CNBC Make It. “That’s led me to work with a lot of minority voices, whether it’s women, Black and Brown people or members of the LGBTQ community … it really brings me joy to help give a voice to marginalized people.”
In 2018, she launched her second business, a talent management firm called Rebelle Management. Running two businesses, however, became draining for Colon-Bibb and by the end of 2018, she says she felt “stuck” in New York. “I felt like all of my time and energy was spent toward building my business,” she notes. “I realized I wanted to experience new things and travel more.”
One trip to Cape Town would change her life. In November 2019, Colon-Bibb visited South Africa’s legislative capital for her friend’s wedding and met her boyfriend Malusi Siboto, a professional cricket player from Cape Town. “There were instant fireworks, it was love at first sight,” she recalls. They spent the next few months traveling throughout Africa and Europe together before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
The pair navigated a long-distance relationship and a seven-hour time difference for several months until international border restrictions were lifted in October 2020. Colon-Bibb moved to Johannesburg, where Siboto lives, that month. “It wasn’t even a second thought for me to come here, live with him and build our relationship,” she says. “I would definitely say love made me move to South Africa.”
While some of Colon-Bibb’s friends were skeptical at first about her moving in with a new boyfriend, they (along with her parents) have been supportive of her decision. “Most people are excited, but they also have a lot of questions, like ‘What are you doing there?’ and ‘How could you live in a completely different country?'” she says.
In fall 2020, travelers from the United States were still considered high-risk for coronavirus transmission by the South African government, so Colon-Bibb couldn’t fly directly from New York to Johannesburg. She quarantined for two weeks in Ghana with a friend and flew to Johannesburg from there.
Colon-Bibb was granted a 90-day visa that was extended to September 2021 due to rising coronavirus cases throughout the continent and safety concerns. She traveled to the United States to visit family and friends at the end of the month and was granted a new 90-day visa so she could continue to stay in Johannesburg after she returned.
While the 90-day tourist visa has been a helpful short-term solution for the initial move, Colon-Bibb says she’s considering applications for a business or partnership visa with Siboto so she can build more of a “permanent life” in South Africa.
Before her relocation Colon-Bibb says she often felt like she was living “paycheck to paycheck” in New York — but living in Johannesburg has helped her save more money and raise her credit score. “Anyone who lives in New York knows that anytime you step outside, you somehow end up spending at least $100,” Colon-Bibb says. “Moving to South Africa has given me much more financial freedom.”
In April she and Siboto moved into a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath apartment where they split the cost of rent and utilities. Colon-Bibb pays about $979 in rent per month, which is her largest expense. But she has saved money by turning off cell service to her U.S. phone number and switching to Wi-Fi calling, which costs her about $150 each month.
She also devotes a portion of her budget (about $565 each month) to self-care activities like nail and hair salon treatments. To help with homesickness, Colon-Bibb spends $26 each month on a VPN service and Netflix subscription so she can watch American TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Law &Order.”
While Colon-Bibb mostly cooks her meals at home, she also likes to explore different restaurants in and around Johannesburg each week with friends. “There’s such a lively energy in South Africa,” she says. “I really enjoy hopping between different bars and restaurants while I’m out and eating new foods.”
Other items in Colon-Bibb’s budget include a recurring donation to her church in New York and payments toward her student loans, a personal loan and old utilities bills she’s continuing to pay off from her old New York apartment.
Here’s a monthly breakdown of Colon-Bibb’s spending (as of August 2021):
Phone Bill: $150
Debt Repayment: $93
Transportation (Ubers, other rideshare services): $80
When Colon-Bibb first moved to Johannesburg, a lot of her clients thought she was just taking a vacation. “They didn’t realize it was a permanent move! It was definitely an adjustment for all of us,” she says.
Each morning she wakes up at 5:00 a.m., completes a morning prayer meditation and runs two miles around her neighborhood. Next is breakfast and coffee — a “non-negotiable” part of her routine, she adds — before logging on to work from her home office or a local coffee shop. She usually takes a break at 5:00 p.m. to eat dinner and watch a TV show, then works until 8:00 p.m. if she needs to have video meetings with clients in the United States.
Moving her business from the United States to South Africa has been a relatively smooth process during the pandemic, she notes, because a lot more people have become open to remote work and having meetings over video.
South African officials raised the alarm last week on a new variant of the virus, omicron, but the discovery hasn’t changed any part of Colon-Bibb’s routine. She avoids crowded places and tries to spend time with friends outdoors as much as she can. Johannesburg continues to operate on a level one lockdown, which mandates face masks in public places and has a curfew in place from 12:00 a.m. until 4:00 a.m. “Nothing has really changed at all, the variant isn’t very scary to me,” she adds.
Colon-Bibb met most of her friends through Siboto and one of her college friends, who moved to Johannesburg right before the pandemic. When she’s not exploring new restaurants or live music venues, she’s been learning how to cook traditional dishes like Vetkoek, a fried bread filled with curried mince, or watching old South African films with Siboto. “I am completely fascinated by his culture, and he does a really great job of explaining different ceremonies and traditions so I can get a better sense of the country,” she says.
Her favorite part of living in Johannesburg is the city’s natural surroundings and wildlife. “I’m from the concrete jungle, but it is so refreshing to be able to go hiking by the beach or mountains and be among animals,” Colon-Bibb says. “The first time I saw a zebra, I freaked out because I’d never been that close to an animal outside of the zoo my entire life.”
The entrepreneur calls herself a “global citizen” and imagines a future where both South Africa and New York are her home bases. 14 months ago, Colon-Bibb moved to South Africa for love, not expecting to fall in love with the continent, too. “As a Black woman, being in South Africa has allowed me to grow emotionally and spiritually, because I feel connected to my ancestors in a way I didn’t feel in New York,” she says. “Being here with Malusi, too, has made me more patient, interested to learn more people’s stories and see the world, so I am really, really grateful for that.”