Photo Credit: Crystal Swain-Bates
This Black Couple Shares The Ins And Outs Of Working Remotely In South Africa
South Africa has always held a special place in the hearts of Crystal Swain-Bates and her husband. They first visited after randomly selecting it from a map, aided by the good fortune of finding a discounted fare. The couple enjoyed that first trip so much that after getting married the following year, they returned for a group honeymoon.
“We invited our family and friends to come with us so that they could get a taste of what South Africa was like,” Swain-Bates told Travel Noire. “A lot of people don’t talk about South Africa in the media. When people talk about traveling, everybody’s just about going to Paris and going to London. Everybody talks about Jamaica and the Caribbean countries, but nobody talks as much or with as much enthusiasm when it comes to Africa. So, we wanted to change that.”
They made a pact to return and finally settled on 2020, but the pandemic upended those travel plans. However, after spending most of the year indoors they were ready for a change of scenery.
“We said, let’s hop on a plane and go back to South Africa. Except this time, we didn’t know how long we would actually be gone.”
Swain-Bates is a full-time author and owner of a growing publishing company. Her husband works in information technology. The nature of their jobs allowed them to travel unrestrained by return dates. Both are able to work from anywhere in the world.
Forbes estimates that pre-pandemic, approximately five percent of full-time employees with office jobs worked primarily remotely. By the spring of 2020, that number rose to 60%. And as workers settle into a significantly changed employment landscape, the percentage is likely to settle between 20-30.
Swain-Bates spoke to Travel Noire about how she and her husband have managed living and working remotely in South Africa while maintaining their Atlanta home. She also shared some tips to help those interested in a virtual lifestyle.
Turn your home into an Airbnb
When the couple decided to move to South Africa, they had just purchased a house. But there are ways to make it work whether you own a home or are renting an apartment.
“We made sure that when we bought our house that it was below our means,” said Swain-Bates. “So we’re not Airbnb-ing our house. It’s empty. But for anyone who wants to do something like this, if they’re in an apartment, that is easy because they can kind of time it around the time that their lease is up. But they could either Airbnb their house, or if it’s not a financial strain, they can just keep their house as is and just do what we’re doing.”
“We have a family member that goes by and checks on everything. We also have cameras and motion sensors to monitor the house. We do have a plan as far as our house is concerned and how we’re able to still cover the mortgage while we’re gone, and make sure that it’s okay.”
Make an arrangement with your employer to work remotely
Some employers are likely to have more confidence in allowing their staff to work remotely since many managed to do so successfully over the past year. If you would like to make this a more permanent arrangement, have a conversation with your boss to come up with a plan that will work for both of you.
“They don’t need to know where you’re going. But as long as you know that you’ll be able to still work, still get on Wi-Fi, still take calls during the times that you’re supposed to, then it’s the same thing as you working from home.”
Be mindful of the time difference
If you’re planning to be out of the country, request to work 100% remotely, since you won’t be able to pop into the office for meetings. But don’t let the time difference scare you. For Swain-Bates, working remotely in South Africa is very manageable time-wise.
“The time difference in South Africa is six hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time. When you’re in Cape Town, the standard nine to five job in eastern time is 3pm till 11pm. So it’s not something crazy, where you’re going to have to be up at four o’clock in the morning or five o’clock in the morning working. It’s actually doable.”
Consider the cost of living in your desired destination
Swain-Bates lives in Cape Town, a city on the southwest coast that tends to be expensive. She estimates that visitors can spend anywhere from $1,000 to $1,800 per month for an Airbnb rental. But in Durban, a coastal city, the average rental tops out at about $1,000. However, the cost of rent in various parts of South Africa can be offset by the more affordable quality of living for those earning money in a more valuable currency.
“I think it might be 14 South African rand to one US dollar. It fluctuates. But the cost of living is crazy low. For two people in Atlanta, an appetizer, two entrées, and one drink each would be well over $100. Whereas here in South Africa, even in Cape Town, the most expensive city, you can order food and your entrée might be $6. At a very nice restaurant, you can order an entire bottle of wine for around $8 or $9, and they bring it over in the fancy bucket and everything. So you really get a lot more for your money when you’re here. Ubers are plentiful and very inexpensive. We Uber everywhere. We don’t have a car here, which means that we don’t have to worry about the cost of maintenance or the cost of gas, which for some people are something they have to think about. Ubers are so cheap. I would say 99% of our rides are in the $1 range.”
There may be tax benefits to your move
According to Swain-Bates, portions of your travel can be written off for tax purposes. Before putting the final touches on your travel plans, consult a financial and tax advisor.
“If you’re going to do a yoga retreat in South Africa, you can write that off,” she revealed. “There are so many ways to be creative, that I don’t think a lot of people think about or realize, but business is totally global. It’s so much easier to work with various people all around the world. You can literally take a trip like this, plan it out in a way that you can write off a portion of your expenses, and then it’s a win-win. You’re working, your business is covering the cost of a lot of the stuff that you’re doing, and you get to be in a beautiful place that you haven’t been before.”
Observe the local laws
Earlier this year, an American couple caused quite the international incident by getting deported from Bali for violating the purpose of their stay. Before uprooting for remote work, consult a lawyer to find out what is acceptable under the conditions of your visa, particularly in terms of conducting business and taxes.
Follow Crystal to learn more about living and working remotely in South Africa on Instagram.