Digital nomadism is growing globally. Photo: Reuters

By Timi Odueso

Digital nomads are typically people who work online while moving from country to country. African digital nomads are facing hefty visa restrictions to work abroad.

But visas aren’t stopping the skilled workers who are taking advantage of remote work to build new lives in new countries.

A typical digital nomad will stay a few weeks in a city before moving to another, but that’s only possible if you’re holding a “strong” passport.

If you’re saddled with papers from a underdeveloped African country, your options are cut by more than half with most of the more ‘’financially developed cities’’ beyond your reach.

But ‘’weak’’ passports aren’t enough to stop the droves of skilled African workers who are either traipsing their continent with remote work or moving abroad to work remotely.

Internet access greatly helps in work flexibility. Photo: TRT Afrika

Many are taking advantage of increasingly emerging opportunities in remote work to double their income and pursue self-fulfillment.

Work flexibility

While visas do not outright create a path to permanent residence, they provide with an excellent opportunity to carry out businesses in cities with better infrastructure that supports their digital lifestyles.

Jackleen Nnenly, a project manager with over 10 years of experience working across media in Africa, has made a split decision in 2021 to leave Lagos, Nigeria, where she had grown up.

While Nnenly didn’t apply for a digital nomad visa—which was widely available at the time—she pursued a masters’ degree at Northampton, volunteered while in school, and is now working remotely for Bentley in the UK.

For Nnenly, her decision wasn’t premeditated by a need to become a digital nomad. She simply wanted to escape the chaos of Lagos’ infamous ‘go-slows’ – the city’s serious traffic jam.

The same rings true for many other digital nomads. Africa’s infrastructure dearth means many cannot work as fluidly as the digital nomad lifestyle requires.

Whether it’s low internet penetration or poor electricity supply, remote workers in several countries on the continent will often find their productivity dampened.

Nomadic visa

Others like Funfere Koroye, a design engineer who has worked across four continents have attained the UK Global Talent Visa which is open to tech people with no less than five years of tech experience who can add to the UK economy.

In fact, as per the Tech Nation Visa Report 2021, Nigeria is the African country with the most applicants for the UK Global Tech Talent Visa, ranking third in the world with 11.3% of the 4,200 applications globally.

Koroye’s move to the UK, and his foray into other countries like China and Italy, have been premeditated by how easy it is to do business there.

The economic advantage for the digital nomadic lifestyle also means that many of these workers earn in a stronger currency.

More companies are adopting remote working. Photo: TRT Afrika 

The average inflation rate across sub-Saharan Africa reached 9% in August 2022—leading to the rapid depreciation of several currencies including the Nigerian Naira and the Ghanaian Cedi.

Given how much migrants contribute to the UK’s economy—running into billions of pounds annually —more countries are following in its steps and are instituting digital nomad visas.

Tourism boost

Since the pandemic, over 19 countries globally—including Malta and Argentina—have created digital nomad visas in the hopes of attracting talent and increasing their GDPs.

African countries have not been left behind. Since the pandemic, five African countries—Cape Verde, Namibia, Mauritius, Seychelles and Rwanda—have created digital nomad visas in hopes of attracting remote workers and retaining the talents leaving in droves.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Africans leave the continent in search of greener pastures.

While very few of them are remote workers, many African countries are starting to realise that a working country not only means they get to stem the brain drain, they also get to increase tourism for their countries.

While only five have digital nomad visas available at the time of this article, others like South Africa are in the process of creating one. Others are offering short-stay visa-on-arrival for those who can afford it.

One digital marketer, noted to TechCabal, that she’s worked from 10 different African countries including Senegal and Kenya in the past two years.

Legal right

Companies across the continent aren’t left out. With a dearth of talent and a budding generation of young people who are interested in travel, more are creating “work from home” or “work from anywhere” options for their employees.

There has been debate over employees working extra hours due remote internet access. Photo: Getty

Startups, which have experienced a funding crunch following the global funding winter, are offering remote and hybrid options to employees across the world.

Andela, one of the continent’s first unicorns, went fully remote in 2020 and hasn’t turned back since. Others like Paystack, Big Cabal Media, Flutterwave or GetEquity have remote options for their employees.

Even legislations are starting to shift to recognise the value of digital and remote work. In 2022, for example, Kenya tabled its Employment (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which seeks to establish a legal right for remote workers to disconnect after work hours.

The bill, if passed, will also prevent companies from reprimanding employees who don't put in extra hours.

With Africa set to have the largest workforce globally in 15 years, it's in the continent’s best interest to keep its talents satisfied.

The author, Timi Odueso, is Senior Editor at TechCabal, a platform for technology news around Africa.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.

TRT Afrika