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South Africans can see the world on a remote work visa

Updated 23 Oct 2020

Ever thought of trading Joburg for Lisbon or Madrid? Tempted by Mexico’s golden beaches and azure waters? Remote visas are tempting more and more South Africans to dust off their suitcases, renew their passports and explore the delights of foreign shores.

If the last two years have shown us anything, it’s the importance of businesses and governments adapting to change – and one major example of this is the new trend of remote work.

Thanks to the internet, work and travel now often go hand in hand. And with remote visas, the world awaits. A diversity of landscapes are begging to be explored, from the tropical idylls of the Caribbean and jungles of South America to the stunning beaches of the Iberian Peninsula and futuristic cityscapes in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), all of which are that much more accessible nowadays with the possibility of remote jobs.

Technology and digital connectivity have allowed people to stay in touch and work internationally for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for a new wave of remote work.

With the advent of the pandemic, its devastating price and the world's gradual recovery, South Africans have had to show more of their characteristic resilience and ability to adapt to change. But thanks to the internet and increased high-speed fibre infrastructure over recent years, many businesses and individuals across the country survived – and even thrived – by closing office premises and opening virtual workspaces. Many employees no longer need to battle the gruelling traffic jams on the way to work or be forced into painful small talk at the water cooler, while companies are saving on rent and utility costs. And with 'working from home' fast becoming the new norm, 'home' can really be anywhere.

Indeed, it seems home isn't necessarily where the heart is, but rather wherever there’s a reliable internet connection.

As a matter of fact, many South African remote workers who aren’t necessarily keen on permanent emigration are jumping at the chance of temporary stays in new and exciting locales on a remote visa. And the possibilities are endless. If Cape Town’s Atlantic waters are too cold, perhaps a tropical paradise in the Caribbean is more your bag. If Joburg’s city life just doesn’t cut it, you might be in awe of Prague’s eclectic nightlife.

How does it work?

Remote visas are a type of immigration permit that allows foreign nationals to move to and live in a country while they are employed and earn an income from a source outside that country. A ‘gap year’ experience working abroad is no longer limited to antsy high school graduates before starting university. Individuals of any age can embark on a journey across borders, and remote work ensures continued employment, a solid source of income and none of the uncertainty that expats often face in a foreign job market.

Basically, you could keep your stable job in South Africa and guaranteed salary, while working and indulging in the luxuries of a completely different continent.

Remote work, as digital nomads have been popularising for some time, benefits not only employees and businesses, but economies at large. While some governments have had visa policies encouraging freelance workers and entrepreneurs for several years already, more and more are acknowledging the benefits. As a South African expat abroad, you will benefit both the South African and your host country’s economy, as well as its housing market and tourism sector, while not putting a strain on local employment opportunities. Meanwhile, you could be spending your free time hiking up volcanoes in Costa Rica or skiing in the Pyrenees, sipping margaritas in Mexico or experiencing an authentic Oktoberfest in Germany.

How do I sign up for this?

Start by researching the countries that offer remote work visas. Choose your destination wisely, do some research on requirements, tax incentives, accommodation and the cost of living (sites such as Expat Arrivals are exceedingly helpful in this regard), and your dream of living somewhere exotic might just be realised.

A list of popular destinations includes:

The Americas

Fancy scuba diving in Mexico? Mexico’s visa programme is valid for at least one year – and is renewable. Aruba’s One Happy Workation programme aims to allow stays from one week to 90 days, while Barbados is offering a whole year through a specialised residential certificate and the 12-Month Barbados Welcome Stamp. South African freelancers could spend two years in Costa Rica through their rentista programme, or in Antigua and Barbuda through their new Nomad Digital Residence visa.

The Middle East

South Africans could find themselves living it up in the Gulf States through Dubai’s new virtual working programme, which allows expats in remote jobs to stay in the emirate for one year. Be sure to check out the tax benefits of living in the United Arab Emirates.


Explore the Iberian Peninsula thanks to Spain’s Non-Lucrative Residence Visa and additional self-employment visas, as well as Portugal’s long-term residency policies for entrepreneurs and independent workers. Freelancers could also stay in Germany for up to three months on a freiberufler visa.

Don’t overlook the hidden gems in other European countries. Take in the sights of Prague’s famous Astronomical Clock through the Czech Republic’s zivno visa, or the charm of Estonia’s Old Town with their Digital Nomad Visa. While, at the intersection of Asia and Europe, Georgia is kickstarting their Remotely from Georgia programme, valid for one-year stays.

Things to consider with remote work visas

When investigating your ideal location, you must consider if it aligns with the expectations of your remote job. Perhaps staying connected in the same or similar time zone is important, and Europe may be the best fit. If your job or career boasts flexi-hours, then your options will be broader.

Additionally, visa processes and requirements vary greatly between countries and may be subject to change. So it’s wise to follow up at the nearest foreign embassy in South Africa about the necessary documents. These typically include:

  • Health and travel insurance
  • Proof of basic income and employment
  • Minimum bank balance
  • Visa fees
  • Travel and stay itinerary
  • Valid passport
  • Police clearance

If you’re currently in a remote job and have wanderlust for a change of scenery, would like to learn a new language, encounter new cultures, explore foreign cities (where you might not even be asked to pay a TV licence for popular internet streaming sites), then the world is your oyster…

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