How to live and work remotely from South Africa

Remote Work & Culture

If you’ve been dreaming of setting up shop in South Africa to work remotely, you’re not alone. The country, a longtime favorite for tourists and digital nomads, is also frequently listed as a popular destination for remote workers.

Panther
The Team
February 17, 2022

If you’ve been dreaming of setting up shop in South Africa to work remotely, you’re not alone. The country, along time favorite for tourists and digital nomads, is also frequently listed as a popular destination for remote workers. However, before you pack a bag and hop on a flight to Johannesburg, make sure you know everything you need to know about working remotely in South Africa.

This guide is part of our Work From Anywhere series, where we walk remote workers through everything they need to know when considering a country for remote work.

We aim to provide you with insights and ideas you haven’t heard of before.

What it’s like to live in South Africa

For many, South Africa brings to mind safari vacations set against a backdrop of sprawling game reserves. However, while it’s true that South Africa offers some of the best Big 5 sightings on the continent (maybe even the planet), this is just one of many attractions the country has to offer.

Wildlife viewing opportunities are just a car ride away from bustling cities and mountainous topography. See for yourself the iconic Table Mountain, then head south to Cape Point where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

However, as much as we can rave about all that South Africa has to offer, only you can decide if it’s right for you. We’re here to help you make an informed decision about where you work next, so here are some key details about life in South Africa.

Key facts about living in South Africa

  • 📍Capital: South Africa has three capital cities to represent the different branches of government: administrative Pretoria, legislative Cape Town, and judicial Bloemfontein.
  • 💱 Currency: South African Rand (ZAR)
  • 💵 Average cost of living: The cost of living in South Africa is pretty affordable, especially when compared to other countries popular with remote workers. You can live comfortably in South Africa on $900-$1300 USD per month.
  • ☀️ Climate: Most of South Africa experiences warm, sunny days and cool nights. The southwest region has a Mediterranean climate while the interior is more temperate.
  • 🗣️ Language: South Africa’s constitution officially recognizes 11languages; Zulu and Xhosa are the most widely spoken.
  • 🍲 Food: South Africa’s wide variety of dishes reflects its diverse population. Be sure to try biltong, a dried, cured meat that’s a longtime favorite snack. Or, perhaps you’ll try bobotie, a spiced mince with an egg-based topping sprinkled with raisins or sultanas.
  • 🤑 Taxes: Long-term remote workers in South Africa are expected to pay taxes on any income earned while physically residing in South Africa. Taxes can be high, but it depends on many factors.

Some of South Africa's best cities

South Africa has no shortage of beautiful and fascinating cities that would be a dream for many remote workers. With how diverse the country is in landscape, culture, and attractions, we would need more time to fill you in on all of our city recommendations.

To get you started in your research, we’ll start with 4 South African cities that are great bases for remote workers:

Cape Town

Cape Town is one of the best cities in the world for remote workers. That’s not just our opinion. A global study of the best cities for remote workers ranked Cape Town 16 out of 75—outranking cities like Athens, Barcelona, and New York City!

Pretoria

South Africa’s administrative capital boasts more affordable housing than Cape Town. It’s smaller and more laid back than its neighbor Johannesburg, and you can visit a variety of nature and game reserves within driving distance.

Durban

Home to Africa’s largest port and a picture-perfect harbor, Durban is South Africa’s third-largest city. There are some incredible beaches there along with a diverse population.

Hermanus

Hermanus offers an irresistible trio of mountains, vineyards, and beaches. With plenty of sightseeing and outdoor activities to choose from, it’s a great place to set up shop.

How long will you stay in South Africa?

Whether you’d like to take a three-week workcation or are daydreaming of semi-permanently relocating to South Africa, you have options.

Currently, foreigners from certain countries can live, work, and play in South Africa for up to 90 days before they need to make arrangements for a visa. There are a few different options for these visas that we’ll cover below.

If you’re staying for less than 90 days…

If you want to work from South Africa for a few months but avoid the hassle of residency permits and taxes, this section is for you. And it all depends on what kind of passport you have right now. So we’ll break it up by geography below.

✅ You can go to South Africa without a visa if you have a passport from one of these countries:

Andorra Ireland Qatar
Argentina Israel Russia
Australia Italy St Vincent & the Grenadines
Austria Jamaica San Marino
Belgium Japan Singapore
Botswana Liechtenstein Spain
Brazil Luxembourg Sweden
Canada Malta Switzerland
Chile Monaco Tanzania
Czech Republic Mozambique Trinidad & Tobago
Denmark Namibia United Arab Emirates
Ecuador Netherlands United Kingdom
Finland New Zealand United States
France Norway Uruguay
Germany Panama Venezuela
Greece Paraguay Zambia
Iceland Portugal Zimbabwe

🌍 How long can you stay with one of these passports?

The countries in the list above have visa-free access to South Africa for 90 days. If you want to stay longer than90 days, you’ll need to apply for a temporary residence. More on that below.

You'll have to apply for a visa if you have a passport from anywhere else

If you didn't see your country on the list above, that's OK. You’ll just need to apply for a Visit Visa at the embassy or a consulate to enter South Africa and provide biometric data.

✍️Important Note: South Africa is currently in the process of rolling out a new eVisa process. It’s a new hassle-free protocol that will allow travelers to request visas online.

It has not yet been officially confirmed but it is possible that once the eVisa rolls out, all travelers will need to apply for one online, including those from visa-exempt countries. The eVisa is currently in pilot mode for a few countries and the government plans to add more countries in 2022. Stay updated by checking the Republic of South Africa’s website and the consulate site in your country.

✍️✍️ Another important Note: In 2021, Cape Town called on the national government to introduce a Remote Work Visa to make it easier for remote workers to stay in South Africa for longer than 90 days. This is both in part to capitalize on the remote work trend that has shown no signs of slowing down and to boost the tourism industry. More on this below.

✅ Other required documents

Whether you’re from a visa-exempt country or not, you’ll need the following items to gain entry into South Africa:

  • Your passport
  • Proof of onward travel showing you won’t stay in South Africa longer than 90 days
  • Health requirements (e.g. proof of yellow fever vaccination if applicable, a negative PCR test)

If you're staying for more than 90 days…

If you’re envisioning a longer stay than90 days or are considering permanently relocating to South Africa, there are a couple of things to be aware of:

  • Anything longer than a 90-day stay will require a permit. You'll need a temporary residence permit.
  • South African Work Visas are not for remote workers. Work visas are only meant for people who are working for a business located in South Africa.

South Africa’s Temporary Residence Visa

There are various categories of temporary residence visas in South Africa:

  • Transit visas for the purpose of transiting the Republic en route to a neighboring country
  • Short-term Visitor’s Visa (valid for 90 days)
  • Long-stay Visitor’s Visa (valid for 3 months to 3 years)
  • Study visas
  • Treaty visas
  • Business visas
  • Medical treatment visas
  • Relative’s visas
  • General work visas
  • Critical skills work visas
  • Intra-company work visas
  • Retired person visas
  • Exchange visas

For most remote workers, only one of these options will work: the long-stay visitor’s visa.

To apply, you’ll need to use the Temporary Residence Visa Application Form, DHA-1738 and provide all of the required supporting documents, which may include:

  • A passport valid for no less than30 days after the expiry of the intended visit
  • A photocopy of all temporary residence visas endorsed in the passport
  • Processing fee
  • 1 recent passport size color photograph
  • A yellow fever vaccination certificate (if applicable)
  • An unabridged birth certificate
  • A marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • Proof of a spousal relationship by means of an affidavit (if applicable)
  • A divorce decree or proof of legal separation (if applicable)
  • A death certificate in respect of a late spouse (if applicable)

Taxes for Remote Workers in South Africa

Paying taxes in South Africa can be tricky for remote workers. If you’re staying less than 90 days you’re in the clear and won’t be responsible for paying any taxes for the duration of your stay.

However, remote workers must pay taxes if…

  • You have lived in South Africa for more than 91 days in each of the last five tax years, and at least 915 days in total across those five years, or
  • You are a permanent or temporary resident of the country

For remote workers that fall under one of the above buckets, any income earned while physically residing within South Africa qualifies as taxable income. South African tax rates range from 18% to 45%based on income brackets. Remote workers filing taxes in South Africa must register with the South African Revenue Service and file an annual tax return.

💡 Potential for a Remote Work Visa

“We are seeing innovation within the tourism sector to accommodate the changed behavior of remote working by offering affordable long-term stays, including other benefits required to work remotely…
Looking at the country as a whole, whether you’re in Limpopo or KwaZulu-Natal, every part of our country is a perfect destination for these digital nomads to come here for long stays, what we call the ‘workcation’, and they add so much value to the local economy by staying in guesthouses, using taxis, visiting restaurants and whatever else.”

-Jamie Vos, City of Cape Town’s mayoral committee member

If approved, the Remote Working Visa would allow foreign remote workers to complete an online application (eliminating the need to visit an embassy or consulate in person) to apply for stays ranging from 3 months to one year.

Visitors from over 100 countries could qualify for the Remote Working Visa, as long as they can provide proof of income from foreign sources throughout the duration of their stay. This visa would make longer-term stays more convenient for remote workers who want to stay longer than 90 days.

However, this visa is currently still in the ideation phase, and there is no hard deadline of its rollout. You can stay updated by checking the South African Department of Home Affairs website.

South Africa: The Panther report card

Here's where we'll grade South Africa on a number of objective factors about how hard it is to work and live there. You can use the report card and compare to other countries in our country index to see what might fit your needs best.

Ease of short-term stay: A

Why: For folks from visa-exempt countries, it’s a breeze to live and work in South Africa—as long as you don’t plan to stay longer than 90 days.

Ease of residence: B

Why: Remote workers in South Africa who wish to extend their stay past 90days must visit an embassy or a consulate and apply in person for an extension. However, this could change in 2022 if the country decides to introduce a Remote Working Visa.

Taxes: B

Why: Both permanent and temporary residents and those who plan to stay longer than 90 days per year will be subjected to South Africa’s income tax rates.

Overall score: B

South Africa offers breathtaking landscapes and proximity to nature at its best. Already a popular destination for tourists and digital nomads alike, the country is working to attract more remote workers with the introduction of the eVisa and the potential of a Remote Working Visa.

Explore other places around the world to live and work

Maybe you’ve got your heart set on South Africa. Or, perhaps you’re still weighing your options. Check out the rest of our Work From Anywhere[1]  index to find the perfect place to live and work remotely.

Want to work from South Africa? Let your employer know

Wherever you’re working now, your next move is entirely up to you. Remote work opens up a world of possibilities (literally)and with over 200 countries out there, you’re bound to catch the travel bug to get out there and explore.

If living in South Africa is a dream of yours, you can make it happen. Talk to your employer about your plans and let them know that Panther can help. Our team handles all of the compliance laws and legal requirements—your employer just needs to make a couple of clicks and let Panther do the rest.

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