Cape Town has always been my dream destination, so naturally, when I got the chance to go and live there for three months, I couldn't resist. And in those 90 days, I fell in love head over heels, desperate to return as soon as possible – which is what I did. I lived in Cape Town for one and a half years, and the city will always hold a special place in my heart.
It's not a secret – Cape Town is breathtakingly beautiful, and digital nomads and short-term expats have been flocking here for a few years. And they are right to do so! The South African capital (one of the three!) has much to offer for foodies, creatives, and outdoor lovers alike.
So let me walk you through all you need to know if you want to make the Mother City your home.
Getting to Know Cape Town
Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and one of the three capitals (the other cities being Pretoria and Bloemfontein). After Johannesburg, it is the second largest city in the country. It is known for a few unique sights, such as the iconic Table Mountain or the Cape Floristic Kingdom with its wide variety of endemic plants.
Lying at the foot of Table Mountain, the city bowl itself is not big. Still, with all its surrounding neighborhoods and suburbs, Cape Town has around 4 million inhabitants. You'll find that the city stretches around the whole of Table Mountain and along the long coastline. Wherever you go, the mountain is always watching over its city – and over you. In fact, Table Mountain National Park lies within the city's boundaries and makes an excellent area for outdoor activities.
Unlike other South African cities, everyday life in Cape Town can feel very European or American with old victorian houses, party streets, and long seaside promenades where you'll find people running, cycling, and walking their dogs.
It's the perfect introductory city to the African continent.
Apartment Hunting in Cape Town
Let me start by saying that finding a place to live in Cape Town is not fun. The housing market is highly competitive – especially in the South African summer months when many digital nomads stay here for a few months.
Also, rent will be your most considerable expense while staying in the Mother City. Many people expect it to be very cheap, but the rents in some Cape Town neighborhoods are among the highest in the country.
Expect to pay around ZAR 20,000 ($1,100 USD) for an apartment in a safe area. On top of that comes bills for electricity, primarily prepaid in South Africa, internet, and sometimes water.
On the plus side, most apartments come fully furnished, so you will not have additional costs for buying furniture or sometimes even everyday necessities such as cutlery. If you want to save on monthly rent, you can get a partly furnished apartment; however, home decor and furniture are relatively pricey in South Africa.
Also note that often, multiple realtors rent out a space, so while one is showing you the apartment, another one might have already signed a contract with the new tenants. Therefore, expect the search to be frustrating and realtors to not always be reliable.
Getting an apartment without a long-term permit can also be challenging, so if you only stay for a few weeks, Airbnb might be a best (albeit more expensive) option.
Living in South Africa, you always want to ensure you're staying in a safe neighborhood with secure housing complexes, inside parking spots, and maybe even a neighborhood watch. I also prefer living central since the costs to drive or uber home if you live outside the city center add up over time.
When I say city center, however, I am not talking about the neighborhood with the same name but the so-called city bowl. The city center, or downtown, is primarily offices and becomes quite deserted after 4.30 or 5.00 PM. This means it's not exactly the safest area in town.
Here are some neighborhoods I can recommend:
- Sea Point & Green Point if you want to be close to the promenade, cool bars, and the park.
- Gardens or Tamboerskloof if you like city life and being close to restaurants and bars.
- Vredehoek if you want to be close to Table Mountain National Park.
- Camps Bay/Clifton if you are only staying for a few weeks, want to be directly by the ocean, and have the budget.
- Woodstock if you wish for cheaper rents and don't mind the commute. Some areas can be shady, so best consult with locals before renting.
Cost of Living in Cape Town
After your rent, another significant portion of your monthly spending will probably go towards a rental car, which you need if you want to be flexible and explore the surrounding Western Cape. Companies like Discover Cars are a good place to start looking for a rental.
The South African Rand is generally a very volatile currency, so be prepared for living costs to fluctuate quite a bit in either direction.
Let's not beat around the bush; crime in Cape Town is significantly higher than in many other tourist destinations worldwide. Even if you are an experienced traveler with a common sense for tourist do's and dont's, I would like to point out a few things you mustn't do in Cape Town.
- You can take public transportation during the day. The MyCity bus system is quite good. During the evening, you should revert to taxis or Uber, though. If you use an Uber, share your ride with a friend or family member.
- You should not walk alone – especially not at night, but during the day you still should not walk around in remote areas, even in the city center.
- The same goes for hiking. You don't hike alone here in Cape Town. There are plenty of hiking groups on Facebook to choose from. Always check the weather before heading out for a hike since it can change quickly in the Westen Cape.
- Never leave anything on the backseat or even in the boot of your rental car. This does not go for valuables only. For example, my gym bag and shoes got stolen from the boot overnight.
- Never let anyone assist you at an ATM unless it's an official employee of the bank.
- Always lock the doors of your car, and at night, don't stop at the red lights, even on the highways. Rather stay overnight at a place instead of driving in an area you feel unsafe in.
- If you are in a dangerous situation, cooperate with the criminals.
Those points shouldn't have you worried. Cape Town is a fantastic city, and I am sure you will have the most incredible time! However, it's important to point out that you need to be aware of certain things in this city - especially since some influencers portray the place differently on social media.
The Bureaucratic Bits
Now that we've covered safety, let's get to the next boring but necessary bit: Bureaucratics!
South Africa offers a 90-day tourist visa that can easily be extended for another 90 days without the need to leave the country. However, technically you cannot work on a tourist visa even though many digital nomads do it. Right now, the government is also working on launching a digital nomad visa, but it is not yet clear what this visa will look like.
It is possible to get a long-term work visa in the country though if you dream of living in Cape Town longer than a tourist visa allows.
Healthcare in Cape Town is generally good. Each suburb or neighborhood has its own little ambulant clinic where you can go, and they are pretty affordable. You get a lot of medication without a prescription in the drugstore for little things like a cough or a cold.
Having local health insurance is always a good idea, wherever in the world you are. If you're working in-person in Cape Town, it's likely your employer will include basic health coverage in your package but if you're a digital nomad or simply traveling there, SafetyWing is a great option for health insurance. It's not the most inclusive option but it's affordable and will help you out tremendously in case of an emergency.
Digital Nomads in Cape Town
Cape Town's digital nomad scene is well-developed and bustling, especially during the European winter when it's summer in South Africa. That doesn't mean Cape Town in winter isn't worth a visit - it certainly is, especially if you're searching for better prices.
This means it's easy to meet people and make friends. Just check the different Facebook groups for digital nomads or expats in Cape Town or join a hiking or cycling Facebook group. Regular meet-ups on Couchsurfing, potluck dinners, pub crawls, and quiz nights also exist.
Coffee Shops & Co-Working Spaces
These are just a few co-working spaces and coffee shops I can recommend. Cape Town has a great coffee culture, so I'm sure you'll enjoy working from a café!
- Workshop17 Watershed
- Neighborhood Bree St
- Stranger's Club
- Yours Truly
- Truth Coffee Roasting
Another thing you need to know if you are planning to live in Cape Town is load shedding and planned electricity blackouts. Co-working spaces usually have a generator, but if you are working from home, this might be a problem.
You can download the Eskom app to see scheduled load shedding in your area and try to avoid it by working from another part of town during that time.
It also might be helpful for you to have battery packs and plenty of data for your devices if it's imperative you can get online, even just a blackout.
Fun Things to Do in and Around Cape Town
South Africa is a vast country, almost the size of Portugal, Spain, and France combined, so there are so many incredible places to visit in South Africa. Around Cape Town and in the Western Cape alone, you'll find a lot of activities that can keep you busy for months!
Here are a few of my favorites. They might not be real secrets anymore, but they are still great fun:
- Watch the sunset from Signal Hill
- Hike up Lion's Head for sunrise
- Explore the West Coast National Park
- Go whale watching in Hermanus
- Sip your way through the wine lands
- Enjoy late-night opening hours for galleries on First Thursdays
- Visit the Old Biscuit Mill on Saturdays for live music and delicious street food
Calling Cape Town Your Home Abroad
Whether you decide to move to South Africa for a few weeks, months, years, or a lifetime, living in Cape Town is a fantastic choice. You'll be rewarded with an unbeatable lifestyle, combining stunning nature, great food, and plenty of things to do in one place.
If you're dreaming of moving to Cape Town, I highly recommend you give it a chance!