This South African works remotely overseas – and you can too

Remote working in a foreign country has a number of positives, but there will be challenges to overcome. Picture: Meg Wilson

Remote working in a foreign country has a number of positives, but there will be challenges to overcome. Picture: Meg Wilson

Published Mar 3, 2023


The global remote working trend has opened up a world of possibilities for people who do not have to be at their company’s offices to continue doing their jobs.

When the movement grew following the Covid-19 pandemic, many South Africans embraced the options it offered, which included being able to relocate to other parts of their provinces or country.

Lifestyle and well-being became a greater focus for employees and their families, and so moving to smaller towns or less urbanised areas where they felt they could enjoy a better quality of life was a choice many made.

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But it has not stopped there.

As workers and their employers become more comfortable with their remote working patterns, the boundaries of where people live are expanding, even beyond the borders of South Africa.

Meg Wilson, an international public relations specialist, moved from South Africa to Panama at the beginning of 2022. She took her South African clients’ work with her and has also been able to keep her international clients.

Although she is not in the central American country on a Digital Nomad visa, due to her having residency there, the life she is living is one that South Africans can also enjoy if they take up such visa options in countries that offer them.

Managing the time difference

Although not all countries offer such visas, and the requirements from those that do will differ from place to place, the digital nomad world is an enticing one. Wilson feels that one of the biggest reasons people choose to work from home or further afield is that they would like the freedom to manage their own time and work outside of 'normal' office hours when necessary, especially if they have a family.

Of course, there can be some challenges, such as earning Rands while living in a country with a stronger currency, and managing the time differences in order to still meet South African work deadlines.

“I do have to accommodate time differences and sometimes work very early in the morning or late at night to meet client deadlines.”

However, if one boxes clever and sets daily or weekly targets as she does, nothing is impossible.

“I can also decide to double up on work one day and take the next day off to go to the beach, for example, or spend time with friends and make up the work hours later in the day.


Wilson’s main challenge, however, which was especially experienced at the beginning of her life in Panama, was the language.

“Google Translate is a great help for basic communications, but if one really wants to fit in and experience local culture, it's important to learn the language as soon as possible. It also really helps when dealing with government officials and any banking or legal matters.”

The many positives

Wilson lives in a small mountain town and enjoys its friendly and relaxed lifestyle.

“I can safely walk everywhere I want to go, and there are local supermarkets and shops that have most things I need from day to day.”

The place she lives – Boquete, in the western highlands of Panama – is in the heart of a farming and fishing area, so fresh fruit, vegetables, fish, chicken, and dairy products are “plentiful and affordable”. There are also many excellent restaurants in town and good local doctors, dentists and health facilities.

“However, I can also easily get to the nearest city which has big malls, hospitals and an international airport (about 40mins away) by excellent public transport. Local taxis are also readily available and inexpensive.

“There are quite a number of expats and tourists here from all over the world, and there are all sorts of outdoor and indoor activities available every day, from hiking, birding, cycling, and swimming to yoga, drumming, trivia, and different kinds of live music most evenings.”

In addition, she says beautiful Pacific beaches are only about a two-hour drive away, while the Carribbean on the north coast is about a four hours’ drive.


In Panama, Wilson says, there are various types of accommodation available, and the apartment she rents is similar to the one she had in South Africa.

“The rent is higher but it is all-inclusive of electricity, water, gas, refuse removal, free laundry, high-speed internet, and cable TV. I have experienced very few unplanned power or water outages and then usually only for a few minutes.”

She says planned outages for maintenance or upgrades are listed “well in advance” on the municipality's website and Facebook page from time to time, and usually only last about four hours.

Of course some things are very different and do take some adjustment.

“Panama is equatorial so sunrise and sunset are pretty much the same all year round. Temperatures also do not fluctuate much and it only has two real seasons, wet and dry. In the wet season, it rains hard every afternoon and sometimes at night too. This takes its toll on local roads and pavements, which need frequent repairs. The dry season can also be very windy.”


For South Africans wishing to follow in her footsteps, even if they lead somewhere other than Panama, Wilson advises that they “be brave and willing to try new things”.

“Be flexible, adaptable, and resourceful if the unexpected happens – and it will. Be respectful of local people and customs, and speak the local language as much as you can. Be a good 'citizen' and follow local laws.”

Other words of wisdom she shares are:

  • Do not try to short-cut the process or requirements for whatever visa or permit you need
  • Always keep your paperwork and your finances safe and up to date
  • Pack and transport as little as possible
  • Leave your politics and drama at home

Panama: How to get a short term visa for remote workers

Information on the Kraemer and Kraemer law website states that the short-term visa for remote workers or digital nomads was created in May 2021, with the main purpose being to encourage tourism for telecommuting travellers.

In order to apply for this visa, you will need to:

  • have a contract with a foreign company of transnational character, in other words, you need to be a self-employed worker in telework modalityand
  • carry out work from overseas companies or clients
  • have income from abroad with an annual amount of at least 36 000 balboas (R653 200)

Once granted, this short-term visa as a remote worker is valid for nine months, extendable for the same period.

The government fee for this visa is about R9 100 and does not cover private medical insurance.

Other countries that offer Digital Nomad visas

As of 2022, there were 42 countries that offered such visas for remote workers, according to These include:

  • Dominica
  • Mexico
  • Anguilla
  • Dubai
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Ecuador
  • Aruba
  • Estonia
  • North Macedonia
  • Bermuda
  • Georgia
  • Norway
  • Bahamas
  • Germany
  • Barbados
  • Greece
  • Romania
  • Belize
  • Hungary
  • Saint Lucia
  • Cayman Islands
  • Iceland
  • Seychelles
  • Cabo Verde
  • Indonesia
  • Curaçao
  • Spain
  • Croatia
  • Latvia
  • Czechia
  • Malta
  • Taiwan
  • Cyprus
  • Mauritius

Other countries that have Digital Nomad visas on the horizon, but have not yet implemented them include:

  • Andorra
  • Montenegro
  • Argentina
  • Italy
  • Sri Lanka

Obtaining such a visa differs from country to country, with some processes more difficult and expensive than others. For information on the processes, visit the websites of the relevant countries.