What’s it Really Like Living and Working in Cape Town, South Africa?
For years I dreamed about living in Cape Town, this intriguing gem in the South African Western Cape. I had heard stories about a wonderful climate, stunning scenery and fantastic wines, and I couldn’t wait to experience it all for myself at some point in my remote-work journey. In 2022, after 2 years of Covid-related delays, I finally took the plunge and booked a three-month stay in The Mother City.
What's it really like to live in a bustling African city as a European citizen? How are utilities such as internet and electricity arranged? What is safe to do and what is not? I had tons of questions before hopping on the plane, and I'm sure you might do too.
So what ís it really like? After spending 3 months living and working in South Africa, I decided to document my experiences and share my personal thoughts and findings. From enjoying the good things in life to adjusting to daily challenges, this is my very own account of what it’s like to live in Cape Town.
The practicalities of living and working in Cape Town
First things first: how easy or difficult is it to live and work in Cape Town? Here are a few practicalities to keep in mind:
Visa for South Africa
Currently, most foreigners can stay in South Africa for up to 90 days without the need for a pre-arranged visa, depending on their country of origin. If you wish to stay longer, you can extend your visa for another 90 days. To do so, you must start your application at least 60 days before your current visa expires and submit it in person at one of the VFS Global centres in South Africa. I’d recommend applying for an extension as soon as possible, since it may take up to eight weeks to process.
In April 2022, the South African Government announced some pretty great news. The country is planning to introduce a Digital Nomad Visa to attract more foreigners and tourists. This visa would allow visitors to stay for up to a year without needing to renew. Unfortunately, there have been no further updates since the announcement, and the visa is not available yet.
Timezone in Cape Town
Good news for European digital nomads and remote workers: the timezone in South Africa (GMT+2) is a major convenience. With only a few hours of time difference (and in some cases none, depending on the season and your departure location), the country provides you with the perfect opportunity to maintain your work schedule exactly as is.
Cost of living in Cape Town
Cape Town is a place of contrasts and offers a variety of options, whether you´re visiting as a tourist or calling the city your temporary home. While it's easy to find expensive 8-course meals, ocean-view villas and exquisite wine tastings, there are plenty of affordable alternatives available if you’re on a budget.
Coming from The Netherlands, I found that food, drinks, gasoline and transportation are generally very affordable. For around 20-30 EUR you can enjoy a great meal in a wonderful restaurant, including nice wine and good views. €3 Uber rides within the city are more of a rule than an exception, while public transportation (such as the MyCiTi bus) is even cheaper. Accommodation in Cape Town can be slightly expensive, especially during the high season (December - February). However, there are plenty of wonderful affordable options available if you’re willing to travel during the off-season or live slightly outside the city centre.
Internet in Cape Town
The Internet in Cape Town is good, particularly in co-working spaces and in accommodations with fibre optic connections. During my stay in Cape Town I lived in three different apartments, all of which had stable internet connections with at least 30mbps download speeds. The issue that is, unfortunately, more pressing and concerning in Cape Town right now, is electricity.
Electricity in Cape Town and how to deal with load shedding
South Africa has been experiencing scheduled blackouts, or load shedding, since 2022 for as long as 10 hours a day. Why? Because of the country's electricity supplier's inability to handle the demand. This means that, while living and working in Cape Town, you’ll have to get used to the fact that you’ll be living without electricity several times a day, every single day. How to deal with load shedding while trying to maintain your demanding job? Here are a few tips:
Work from coworking spaces. Most of them have a backup generator so you’ll be able to stay connected throughout the day. For some coworking inspiration, you'll find a list of my 7 favourites here.
Check the load-shedding schedule in the app daily to plan your work, cooking, and laundry around it.
Keep your laptop charged at all times, so you can bridge the load-shedding gap when it occurs.
Purchase an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) for your wifi router. This portable battery will ensure your router has power during electricity cuts, allowing you to work for around 2-3 hours during load shedding.
Look for accommodation in the Central Business District (CBD). This area of the city is exempt from load shedding, saving residents here quite the hassle.
Learn to adapt. Sadly, load shedding has become a way of life in South Africa and you’ll learn to live with it. One way or another.
Are you not a digital nomad yet but would love to become one? Find my guide below, with 5 steps to get you there:
What are the best areas to live in Cape Town?
Cape Town offers a variety of neighbourhoods, each with its own unique charm and characteristics. While living in the CBD has its perks (think lots of co-working spaces and no load shedding), there are plenty of other great places to consider. Here are some of the areas I recommend:
1. Atlantic Seaboard
The Atlantic Seaboard is home to some of Cape Town's most popular neighbourhoods, such as Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Sea Point, and Green Point. I've personally lived in Sea Point and loved it there. Living here means you're close to the beach, the CBD, and other great neighbourhoods. The area is quite upscale so expect lots of hipster coffee shops, good restaurants and nice concept stores.
2. City Bowl
The City Bowl consists of the CBD and surrounding residential areas like Oranjezicht, Vredehoek, Gardens, and Woodstock. This area is perfect if you are looking for lots of things to do and a vibrant nightlife, with plenty of great bars and restaurants to choose from.
3. Hout Bay and the Peninsula
If you're looking for a more laid-back vibe, Hout Bay or the Peninsula are great options. Hout Bay is a seaside town with delicious seafood restaurants, a lively weekend market, bars with live music, and plenty of water activities like stand-up paddling, canoeing, and surfing. The area is also surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and stunning hiking trails. Other charming little (surf)villages that are worth considering on the peninsula are Noordhoek, Imhoff's Gift, Kommetjie, Misty Cliffs, and Scarborough.
4. False Bay
False Bay is located between the Cape Peninsula and the Hottentots Holland Mountains and is home to South Africa's largest naval base at Simon's Town, as well as small fishing harbours in Kalk Bay and Gordon's Bay. These towns, as well as Muizenberg and Fish Hoek, are great if you are looking for surfing, water sports and a quiet, more local vibe.
Other well-known areas in Cape Town are Bloubergstrand (for kitesurfing), Constantia (for wine lovers) and Rondebosch (for student vibes). Would you like to combine a stay in one of these neighbourhoods with a once-in-a-lifetime safari? Then Coworkingsafari could be a great addition to your South African adventure!
Is Cape Town safe?
The answer to this question is, to me, slightly difficult to answer, as it's really subject to perception. Yes, the crime rate in South Africa, and in Cape Town in particular, is very high. There is a lot of poverty, there are many gangs residing in the city, and it’s recommended not to visit certain neighbourhoods due to the risk of being robbed. Should this put you off visiting, living or working in Cape Town? No, it shouldn’t, but it does require you to pay special attention and take some precautions.
In general, that means leaving your valuable possessions at home, avoiding walking at night (always take an Uber or taxi), not leaving your belongings unattended, and staying away from neighbourhoods that feel “off”. As a female solo traveller, it’s important to be extra cautious. In this case, try to connect with digital nomads, travellers or expats, do not walk alone at night or go hiking by yourself for any reason, and watch your drink at a bar or a party.
This might sound scary or worrying, but many of these tips are mainly just common sense. Yes, it’s different living in Cape Town than it is living in a European city. But in general, you’ll get used to keeping your guard up and staying alert. Watch out for yourself and your belongings, and you’ll be guaranteed a wonderful time in the city.
Day-to-day life as a digital nomad in Cape Town
So what was it really like for me, as a digital nomad, to live and work in a city like Cape Town?
I find that Cape Town is - first and foremost - an incredibly gorgeous place, offering stunning beaches, national parks, wine estates, and endless road trip options. Are you an outdoor enthusiast? Then the city and its surroundings are a true paradise with countless opportunities for hiking, climbing, and (kite)surfing. I discovered soon enough why Cape Town is often considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, while at the same time also being a fantastic destination for digital nomads and remote workers.
The city is usually also called the most modern and western one in Africa, and it definitely feels different from the rest of the continent. Yes, daily life can be a bit tedious at times when it comes to load shedding, aggression in traffic or lengthy bureaucratic trajectories. A Western lifestyle, however, with international cuisine and endless options for shopping, cultural activities and high-end accommodation is right at your doorstep here in Cape Town.
There is another side to Cape Town though. A darker side of extreme poverty, (racial) inequality and unsafety. The differences in wealth are so obvious here that it can feel very uncomfortable to witness or be a part of. You’ll find homeless people eating out of garbage cans while Maserati´s are racing by. You’ll see children sleeping on the street while you’re on your way to your next meal in a high-end restaurant. I found it difficult to close my eyes to this side of Cape Town, or tell myself it was just part of daily life. Talking to the people here provides you with a harsh reminder that not everyone has the freedom, safety, and relative equality we often take for granted in the Western world.
Does this dark side of Cape Town affect your day-to-day life as a digital nomad? It doesn’t have to. You can choose to enjoy all the wonderful things the city has to offer, support the country by spending your money, and live a stunning, yet quite affordable life. You can also decide to get involved with charities or other organizations that help address the city's problems. Or maybe you’ll find out fairly quickly that the city is just not for you. Whatever your situation or game plan is, I do really encourage you to work remotely in Cape Town and experience it for yourself. Because despite some of the challenges and uncomfortable moments I faced, I really have to admit that it has been one of the most interesting, beautiful and memorable places I’ve ever visited.
Do you want to learn more about living and working in Cape Town or other African countries? Or are you interested in working remotely in other parts of the world? Simply follow me on Instagram for tips, inspiration and ideas or subscribe to my mailing list and do not miss a post!