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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCT chapter.

Living abroad, eating well, going to the best beaches – sounds fantastic, right? You, too, can achieve this lavish lifestyle by becoming a “digital nomad.”

According to the Digital Nomad website, the term describes those who travel abroad and work online, able to continually live in diffrent places whilst working remotely. Digital nomadism developed alongside the advent of the internet as an alternative to the traditional 9-5 business model. While this does seem like an exciting prospect, there is also much to be concerned about.

Digital Nomad Culture 

The concept of digital nomadism is not a new one. The term began appearing in popular culture as early as 1997, with scholars Tsugio Makimoto and David Manners stating that rapid technological advancements would allow people to return to a lifestyle of travelling wherever the wind (or the promise of beautiful sunsets) takes them. Recent studies indicate that over 40 million people are currently digital nomads; 46% of them are Americans, and 77%  consider themselves to be tech-savvy. With these numbers, it is no surprise that more and more people continue to opt for a life on the road.

Digital Nomads in Cape Town

The problem many countries have with digital nomads is their inability (or sometimes unwillingness) to contribute to local economies. Cape Town has been affected by this, causing Capetonian TikTok users to be (rightfully) incensed. Many of the areas populated by digital nomads are more affluent areas, such as  Sea Point, Camps Bay, and the Central Business District (CBD). This, in turn, has created a new kind of sneaky gentrification – rent prices soaring to impossible heights, locals losing out on possible job opportunities, and even the price of coffee at your favourite local cafe becoming unreasonable. According to TikTok user @azeegreen, a sandwich at the popular coffee shop Vida e Caffè now costs up to R70! The indefinite nature of digital nomad culture seems to be at the root of this problem. How long will they be staying? Who are they paying taxes to? Is it worth it to disrupt local economic ecosystems to spend your days typing away on a MacBook Air outlooking Bantry Bay?

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/ Unsplash

Digital Nomads as Part of the Community 

As a result, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has issued a statement on digital nomads, allowing them to continue living in South Africa on the condition that they receive a digital nomad visa. A drafted plan to change current immigrant regulations emphasised that there should be a distinction between a working visa and a critical skills visa. In this way, Ramaphosa hopes to allow the presence of digital nomads in a way that will encourage South African tourism while simultaneously incorporating them into the diverse workforce the country has to offer. Digital nomad agencies have now begun to list countries that are incorporating more regulations on their recruitment websites for easy access. As this is still a fairly new phenomenon, a lot more research needs to be done into how digital nomadism can be done ethically. 

Hi there! My name is Aman and I am currently completing my Honours in Media Theory & Practice at UCT. I have also completed a BA in English, History and Media Studies (2023) and a Post-graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) (2024), also at UCT. My interests lie in popular culture, gender studies, feminist theory and good old fashioned memes. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, writing and making watercolour paintings. I have one son (read: cat) named Houdini, a ginger tabby who makes it all worth it. For professional enquiries contact aman.adams1234@gmail.com