5 Advantages & Disadvantages To Being A Digital Nomad

I have been out in South Afrrica for the past 10 weeks, living and working like a local (rather than being on holiday). 

In today’s podcast I explore what it’s like to live and work as a digital nomad.  I share the major advantages and disadvantages - in the hope that it might inspire you.

Time Stamp

[00:00] Introduction

[01:11] I have worked away from the UK during the winter for the past few years and it has allowed me to travel and experience different cultures, whilst still earning a living

[01:55] Why I love South Africa

[02:23] 5 benefits and 5 disadvantages of working and living in Cape Town

[02:41] Benefit 1: The sunshine and general climate

[04:10] Benefit 2: Low cost of living

[05:26] Benefit 3: Easy to explore the country

[06:15] Benefit 4: Networking and meeting new people

[07:23] Benefit 5: Lack of time difference between South Africa and the UK

[08:38] Disadvantage 1 (& 2): Load shedding (daily power cuts)

[11:00] Disadvantage 3: Being homesick

[11:36] Disadvantage 4: Is it safe to be in South Africa?

[12:35] Disadvantage 5: Working beyond 3 months

[13:44] What you need to become a digital nomad

[13:44] Other examples of clients leading a digital nomad lifestyle

Quotations

“The digital nomad lifestyle is great if you have a sense of adventure and are willing to be away from home.” - Rob Da Costa
“Pick up your tennis racket and bat away the excuses that stop you stepping out of your comfort zone.” - Rob Da Costa

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 Full Episode Transcription

I've been out in Africa for the past three months, and I've been working here for the past 10 weeks. In today's episode, I'll be discussing what it's like to be a digital nomad working remotely in Cape Town for an extended period of time, living and working like a local rather than being on a holiday. I wanted to record this episode not to brag. I totally get how fortunate I am to be able to do this, but hopefully, inspire you if you fancy becoming more mobile with your agency.

And indeed, a few of my clients have managed to do and have a model where they are not permanently based in the UK, even if their team or their team are based remotely. So this digital nomad lifestyle can work if you're running an agency. So let's jump into today's show. 

I'm Rob Da Costa, and this is The Agency Accelerator podcast as someone who has stood in your shoes, having started, grown, and sold my own agency, I know just how it feels in the ups and downs of agency life.

So this podcast aims to ease your journey just a little by sharing my and my guests' experiences and advice as you navigate your way to growing a profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable business. Working as a digital nomad for the past few years, at least during the UK winter, has allowed me to have the freedom to travel whilst also earning a living. It's been an incredible opportunity to explore new cultures, meet new people and experience a different way of life whilst avoiding the cold and dark British winters and instead being in the Southern Hemisphere during their summer.

And I'm just coming to the end of spending only three months in South Africa, so I thought it was a good time to record this episode. Indeed, I'm recording this from my Airbnb, which is why it might sound a little echoey compared to my normal recordings. Now, if you followed me for a while, you know that I love South Africa, in particular Cape Town, and I've done this a few times before. Although this year is the longest I've actually stayed out here. It's a very easy place to be with a familiar culture, and great quality, and right now it's very cheap for us Brits.

And most significantly, there's only a two-hour time difference between here and the UK, because fundamentally, we are 9000 kilometres directly south of the UK. So it makes it infinitely possible for me to work here whilst also exploring the beauty that Cape Town has to offer. So I thought I'd break this down into five benefits and five disadvantages of working remotely. And to be honest, it was much easier to find the benefits. I could have found a lot more than five than it was to find the disadvantages where I struggled to find five.

But here goes, I wanted to be as balanced as possible, so let's kick off with the benefits. So number one has to be the sunshine. So South Africa has a fantastic climate. And if you imagine a beautiful summer's day in the UK. Well, that's what it's like here, pretty much for the whole summer. In fact, in all the time that I've been in South Africa, ironically, today is the only day that it has rained in the morning, and it's got a bit cooler. But come the afternoon and the blue sky starts to show through again, so it doesn't last for very long.

And unlike the UK, you can kind of guarantee that you're going to have two or three months of decent weather. So being out in the sunshine is just fantastic for, one, sort of mental health and getting vitamin D and having some time to go out and be in the sunshine. And also part of that is being able to explore the beautiful scenery. So if you're not familiar with Cape Town, it is obviously on the coast. It's a city that was built around Table Mountain, which is one of its main tourist attractions.

But you don't have to go very far to be on the beach or to go into the countryside or to go wine tasting in the wine areas. And, of course, a lot of people do the garden route, which is I don't know how far it is, but it's a place where you're going to see a lot of different scenery from the coast to the wineries to the mountains and so on. So it's a fantastic base in which to explore, and you don't have to travel very far to be in a very different type of place.

So that's the number one advantage, which is the sunshine being here in the summer and the ability to get out and explore. The second big benefit for us Europeans is the cost of living because compared to other major cities around the world, Cape Town offers a relatively low cost of living, allowing digital nomads like me to stretch their budgets much further. So the pound is fairly strong against the rand. So you can pretty much half the cost of most things, including food and wine and accommodation and so on.

And you're going to get an idea of how much it actually costs to live here. So it's actually a lot cheaper for me to live here during the winter than it is in the UK, especially with the current price of gas and electricity. So that means that you're going to have a really good quality of life if you are spending an extended amount of time here and if you are actually living here, you also get access to health care, which is really good, and education and all sorts of other opportunities to explore.

So that's the second benefit, which is the cost of living. And that's one that you cannot really underestimate because it means you're not going somewhere. That's beautiful but seriously expensive. But somewhere that is beautiful and an awful lot cheaper than it is to live in the UK, I feel like this episode should be sponsored by the South African Tourist Board because I always feel like they need to do a bit of a better job of promoting just how beautiful this place is. 

Number three kind of carries on from number two, and that is the fact that you can explore the country pretty easily and you can get around pretty easily.

As I said, already, you know, I'm based in the centre of Cape Town and you need to drive 20 minutes time by sea and go down to the Cape of Good Hope, one of the most southerly points of Africa. I can travel into the wine lands on the garden route. I can go up into the mountains and walk around Table Mountain or Lion's Head signal here and so on. The terrain changes really quickly. You don't have to travel that far. 

So if you plan your time here, obviously, you're gonna be working Monday to Friday. But then you can certainly ensure you get away for the weekend. And because accommodation isn't too expensive, it makes it infinitely affordable to do that. So that is number three; the ability to explore. And the fourth benefit I wanted to share with you is just how easy it is to network and meet other people. If I'm really honest without making you get the violins out. When it came out on this trip, I didn't know anybody because the friends I had here had left.

But it is absolutely amazing how many ex-clients and current clients are actually out here. So I've been able to meet up with current and past clients, and they have introduced me to some of their friends, and their friends have introduced me to some of their friends, and suddenly you have a big social network. But also there is a lot of business networking so you can build your business network up here as well. Of course, whether you actually want to have South African clients will be debatable, because the cost of living is so much lower here.

So are the salaries, so it may be that you don't want to have South African clients. But certainly, the ability to build a network and meet other like-minded people both personally and professionally is really easy. And personally, I found it much easier to meet people here than I have in places like the USA. So that is my fourth benefit, which is the ability to network. And the fifth benefit I wanted to share with you is the time difference or the lack of time difference between here and the UK because, as I said, we are almost directly south, about nine thousand kilometres from the UK and therefore the time difference from the UK is two hours and to mainland Europe is one hour.

So it makes it very simple to work here and keep your UK hours, but operate from a different country where it's summer instead of winter. So that has to play a big part. I would really like to go to places like New Zealand and I suspect parts of New Zealand are very much like Cape Town. But the biggest issue besides the distance is the fact that their time difference is about 10 hours, I think so. That would be really problematic unless I was going to become nocturnal. And that's sort of what put me off. And it was what keeps bringing me back to South Africa. So that is my fifth benefit, which is the time difference. 

Okay, so let's move on to the disadvantages. And in a full disclaimer here, as I mentioned, I've struggled to find five disadvantages. But I feel like the first disadvantage could easily account for two, so I'm only actually gonna give you four. But the number one disadvantage that not many people tell you about is the "load shedding," as they call it out here.

In other words, the power cuts. And this year it's worse than ever, so you can download the Eskom app. And Eskom is the main electricity provider in South Africa, and they will tell you when the power cuts have been happening, most days they are happening about three times, so early in the morning from, say, 6:00 to 8:30, there is no power. And in the middle of the day, from 12:00 to 2:00, there's no power and then in the evening from 8:00 to 10:00 or 10:00 to midnight there's no power. And this has been, of course, making work challenging.

So there are a few things that you can do to overcome this. First of all, make sure you've got a laptop with a battery, that it's charged up. You can also get a mobile router, which is what I have, and buy a local SIM card for data, which is not expensive. And you can also buy a UPS device or uninterrupted power supply, which is another way of overcoming this that can power the in-house router and your TV and the lights and so on, so you can't underestimate that, but you can plan for it.

And as I said, I'm going to let this count for two big disadvantages. South Africa on its surface looks like a first-world country. The quality of food, accommodation, hospitality, travel, the roads, and everything else feels just like it does in really nice other first-world countries. But then when the load shedding takes place, you realised that actually, it's not a first world country and the issues, although I don't get political, the issues that are causing the load shedding is that they have one power company that's owned by the government that has been totally under-invested.

It has massive debts, so any money it's making is trying to pay off those debts. And it has very old infrastructure that fundamentally needs updating. And it needs to be more efficient because apparently, it's only generating about 25% of what it could be if it were running efficiently. And this is a long-term problem for South Africa that isn't going to go away overnight. And I guess the second point that happened last time I came here was that there were water shortages because there was a big drought and South Africa hasn't invested in, for example, desalination plants, although it's surrounded by the ocean.

So when there's a water shortage, we have the same type of issue where water gets cut off at certain points of the day. So that is my number one disadvantage, which I'm going to count for two, which is load shedding and water shortages. Now, the second disadvantage is one of sort of being a bit homesick. So, unfortunately, my partner can only get a couple of weeks' vacation every year. So he had to go home after two weeks after we'd been exploring Namibia. But we sort of agreed because I can work remotely that I am going to spend an extended time here.

And of course, we talk every day. But you can still end up missing home. Ask me that question again when I've been home for a day and wish I were back here and I might have a different viewpoint. But in terms of balance and fairness, I have to put that as a second point of disadvantages of course-- being homesick if your loved ones are away from you. Now the third one isn't really a disadvantage, but I feel like I should talk about it because it's the kind of first question everybody asks me, which is safety.

So, "Is it safe to be there, Rob, especially when you're on your own?" And I would answer emphatically, yes, if you are conscious about this, and that means that you're not walking around on your own late at night or when it gets dark. And second of all, you're not walking around with your phone in your hand or your wallet poking out your back pocket or your rucksack loosely held over your shoulders because you're asking for trouble from opportunistic people. There is no doubt about it. There is a lot of poverty around here, and you see it more evidently than perhaps you do in the UK. So there are people begging and they can be more persistent.

But you just have to be smart about all of this stuff. So safety has never been an issue for me. But I know that it's a concern for other people. And my advice is to be smart and sensible and don't advertise that you are a tourist. And the fourth point I wanted to make was about working out here for longer than three months because as a Brit and in certain other countries, you get automatically a three-month visa. But if you want to get a working visa or a longer visa, then you need to go through a bureaucratic process that can take many years to get your working visa.

So that is definitely a disadvantage if you want to be here for longer than three months. What a lot of people who spend longer periods here do is they will leave the country and then come back in, in order to get their three-month visa renewed. But I've made sure that I'm just here in just under three months, so it won't be an issue for me. So that is the fourth disadvantage, which is getting a visa can be very complicated and bureaucratic.

In terms of qualifying for a Visa, it's not that difficult. But in terms of actually getting it, it can be quite difficult. And I've heard stories where people have had to sue the government in order to get the process moving so that they can get their visas. So that's my fourth disadvantage, which is working for longer than three months. 

Okay, so there you go. So that's my hope for a balanced view of the five advantages and disadvantages of specifically working in South Africa. But of course, if you want to be a digital nomad, all you really need is a good WiFi signal and a computer, and then you can work away. You know, I brought my camera with me. I haven't got my proper usual podcast recording mic, but I've got a mic with me that I could bring in my suitcase. You really don't need much more than that. You just have to have a sense of adventure and, you know, as I say, be willing to be away from home for a while. We will definitely be doing this again next year. We actually have been looking at properties while I've been here. We've decided not to buy this year, but we now know the process and the cost involved in buying.

And that's something that we definitely want to do in the future because this is a place we would like to retire to or certainly spend time each year coming back during the winter. So I will be planning to do this again next year. And I would just encourage anybody who wants to be a digital nomad and work remotely that you just need to pick up your tennis racket and bat out the way all the excuses, all the stories that we tell ourselves that keep us stuck in the same space. 

As I said I've got a few clients that do the same thing as this. I have one client that runs a London PR agency, but he is based in Brazil and it works really well for him. And he comes back every eight weeks to the UK for a week or two and then he's back out to Brazil. So there are other examples of people that are taking a digital nomad lifestyle. And I'd encourage anybody if you were thinking about doing this to go and do it for a short period of time, and see how it works for you. And then over time, you can make it a longer period of time as high I've done. 

Okay, so I hope you found that episode use for a bit of a different episode. But I did want to share sort of my story with you in the hope that it will inspire you to go and explore the world as well. Of course, if you enjoy this episode, please make sure you hit subscribe, and share it with your colleagues. I'd love you to leave a review on Apple reviews because that helps the podcast be shown to more people.

So other than that, have a fantastic rest of your week and I will see you next Thursday for the next episode of The Agency Accelerator podcast.

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