Before we dive in…
BIG VISA NEWS ON THE HORIZON
The best news of all? The South African government recently announced its plans to introduce a digital nomad visa, allowing remote workers to stay more than 90 days and up to 1 year in the country before renewal. Currently, a passport holder from a list of approved countries can enter South Africa on a visa for tourist or business purposes with the ability to stay only up to 90 days before having to leave the country. The details of the digital nomad visa are yet to be released, but it is assumed the visa will closely resemble those of countries like Greece or Mauritius. Aimed largely at revitalizing the $10B tourism industry post-COVID, the government is hoping digital nomad spending will be the shot in the arm needed to help the country recover.
And now back to the main event...
A Land of Complexity
Nelson Mandela called South Africa the Rainbow Nation. Due to a complicated history marked by immigration and colonialism, many attempt to divide South Africa along the lines of black and white. This is impossible. There is extreme diversity just in the black South African tribes (comprising 76.4% of the country’s population) native to the area. The Xhosa, Zulu, Tswana and Ndebele tribes, to name a few, each have unique cuisine, dance, art and music traditions that all add to the composite soul of South Africa. Then come the white South Africans who make up 9.1% of the population. Generally thought to have mainly British or Afrikaans heritage, they also hail from German or Portuguese-speaking countries. Finally, economic opportunity has also attracted large numbers of immigrants from India and areas of the Middle East like Lebanon, and laborers from Malaysia and Indonesia have relocated here to make their mark on the nation as well through cuisine and their own cultural traditions. As a result, South Africa has 11 official languages, and dozens more unofficial ones. Each language signifies the individual character of its people, containing their way of life.
Diversity thrives here. There are over 100,000 known species of plants and animals in South Africa, and scientists estimate at least an additional 50,000 more are waiting to be discovered. Even the government couldn’t settle on one simple capital but has chosen three: Pretoria, the executive capital where the president resides; Bloemfontein, the judicial capital, which houses the Supreme Court of Appeal; and Cape Town, the legislative capital where lawmakers reside.
Stains of Apartheid: Providing a Gateway to South Africa’s Future
The nation’s history is also extremely complex. When coming to South Africa, it’s important to understand that the pain of apartheid lingers on. Baked into the identity of the nation now, it has left strong, underlying tensions in its wake and highly segregated towns and villages. Robben Island, the brutal prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he was incarcerated is a must-see. A startling reminder of the nation’s troubled political past, the brutality of the prison set against Mandela’s message of forgiveness and reconciliation shows the triumph of the human spirit and the desire of coming generations of South Africans to emerge victorious.
You’ll definitely want to take a deep dive into South African cuisine for yourself and learn by experience. It contains a beautiful mix of traditions and recipes from the nation’s kaleidoscope of cultures, resulting in robust and complex flavors. The national dish is Bobotie. Brought to South Africa by Asian settlers, this dish is rice-based and contains minced meat spiced with medium-heat curry, turmeric, garlic, lemon, onions, herbs and sometimes raisins. Topped with an egg and milk custard-type layer, the dish is served with melted apricot jam and fruit chutney. Biltong and droewors, cured meat somewhat resembling jerky, are a must-try for meat lovers. Culturally associated as a snack food for the infamous South African sports like football, rugby, and cricket, this food is a national staple and can be made of anything from wild boar to ostrich to good old regular beef. The rest? We’ll leave you to discover! We promise you won’t be disappointed!
Where the Animal Kingdom Meets Adventure
You’ll never be bored in South Africa. Popular among digital nomads and thrill-seekers for experiences such as skydiving, shark cage diving, surfing, sandboarding and bungee jumping, the country is the gateway to adventure. And after a few skydiving runs you can even hang with some fellow mammals living on the edge. Boulders Beach, a few miles from Cape Town, is home to over 3,000 South African penguins. Only about 2% of the population that existed in the 1900s remains today. That’s what you call on-the-edge-living! The beach is part of Table Rock National Park, offering them a protected habitat while still allowing them to waddle past you and check out the contents of your picnic lunch!
Other unforgettable destinations include the Two Oceans Aquarium where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Here you can scuba dive with giant sea turtles, crabs as big as toddlers, clownfish and numerous other marine life. And what about the African safaris? Kruger National Park, South Africa’s largest and most famous nature reserve, offers safari trips that range from rustic to luxurious, both containing dinner under the African stars. You will definitely see elephants, cheetah, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, and so much more! Finally, did you know that South Africa offers some of the most compelling information regarding the origins of humanity? The Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is located about 50km north of Johannesburg. This paleoanthropological site is a complex series of limestone caves which have become the discovery site of over a third of early hominid fossils discovered worldwide prior to 2010, including a 2.3-million-year-old fossil, Australopithecus africanus, nicknamed “Mrs. Ples (nicknamed "Mrs. Ples"). Feel free to stop by and introduce yourself!
Living Your Best Nomad Life
In fact, nomads and expats note the Mediterranean climate (warm and sunny days followed by cool nights) throughout much of South Africa as one of its top draws. Cape Town, a top nomad destination, offers many opportunities to take advantage of the beautiful weather. Imagine waking up to the hustle and bustle of the city, grabbing a coffee from not just any roaster, but from Refugee Coffee, (voted #1 coffeeshop in the world for two years running by the Daily Telegraph) escaping for a surfing session in the afternoon, and finishing up the day with a hike through the hills around dusk!
The other biggest draw for expats/nomads is community. Research from an HSBC surveying expats and nomads relocating to South Africa notably found those choosing South Africa to be generally more socially aware and community-oriented than those choosing to relocate to other countries. They make deeper contributions to their local communities, and in turn, have found the South African people to be extremely friendly and welcoming, much more so than most places in the world.
For nomads traveling alone wanting community, co-working spaces are in abundance in a variety of towns. Why not grab a desk at Victoria & Albert Waterfront for a day? Located at the foot Signal Hill, you can work with a view of Table Hill National Park in the background, surrounded by the bright blue waters of Table Bay. And this is just one of many top co-working spots offering top internet speeds accompanied by the top amenities you’ve come to expect and rely on at your workspace. In South Africa you’re sure to feel right at home.
South Africa’s lack of basic infrastructure presents many challenges to daily life, however. Crime runs rampant, and because of this, most nomads choose to live in gated communities that hire private security. You will also need to be aware of the nation’s current electricity crisis and must be prepared for load shedding (planned outages when demand exceeds supply). You can ask to be put on a notification list, and if covering your area, Eskom, South Africa’s largest electricity provider, will text you with updates of planned outages so you can adjust work schedules accordingly. Most nomads report this to be more annoying than dangerous or a true roadblock and recommend keeping extra chargers around, and finding accommodations that run on solar/gas or having generators available in order to ensure important deadlines are met. Public healthcare, transportation, and education are also on the poor side by most expat/nomad standards. However, good private options are readily available at comparatively low costs when matched against US/UK/European standards. Nomads and expats alike claimed to be pretty happy with private services.
Cost of Living
One of the biggest advantages to living in South Africa that can’t be ignored is its low cost of living compared to its first world counterparts. Everything is cheaper from education and healthcare to housing and food. According to Nomadlist, the general cost of living in Cape Town in 2022 was ~$1,800. Coworking spaces ran ~$128/month with an accompanying cup of Joe running you around $1.50. Nomads tend to choose more expensive properties when searching for accommodations due to safety concerns, however, and in May of 2022 Nomadlist reported the median Airbnb price in Cape Town to be $2,215/month and the median hotel price to be ~$1,227. A studio for rent in the city centre came out to be the best option, landing at ~$600/month.
According to VC4A, a marketplace of startups for Africa, an active ecosystem supported by sophisticated entrepreneurial talent, access to local capital, developed consumer markets, and government support have made South Africa the most thriving startup ecosystem on the continent. This ecosystem in South Africa provides a wide array of sector-specific accelerators, which are locally based in addition to those sponsored by big tech like Microsoft. Funding for seed and growth stage companies is accessible. A list of the country’s most notable exits include the internet security company, Thawle, which was acquired by Verisign for $575M in 1999 and Kapa Biosystem, which was sold to the Swiss medical company Roche for a whopping $445M.
The Bottom Line?
Described by expats as gritty, honest, incredibly warm and welcoming, yet crime ridden-with an unreliable infrastructure, South Africa presents some challenges on its face. Once expats and nomads learn to adapt and embrace the diversity in both wildlife and culture, however, they report being captured by its brilliance and never wanting to leave!
Catch a rugby match while snacking on some biltong & droewors as we work diligently to gather all the need-to-know details about South Africa. Ruck & Roll!
As you wait, dig deeper into our on-the-pulse information about South Africa and connect with leading immigration Advisors on the ground in South Africa today.