Digital Nomads: Working Remotely in the Arab World
By: Lindsey Penn/Arab America Contributing Writer
Even before the pandemic began and many people were forced to work from home, “digital nomads” were working and traveling the world. “Digital nomads” are people who have jobs that can be done entirely remotely, so they decide to work from their laptop and travel, sometimes for months at a time. For example, most programmers can work just from their laptop without having to be in an office. Being a digital nomad requires a lot of research beforehand; sometimes the employer has to approve the idea for tax reasons, and visas can be complicated to navigate.
The Arab world has quite a few places where remote work is possible, meaning it has visa options, good wifi/internet, and most of all, fun places to explore and visit. The countries listed below are some of the best for digital nomads.
Morocco is a wonderful country to visit, but is also a great place for digital nomads. Its location in North Africa makes it easy to visit Europe from the country if you would like, but you also don’t have to-Morocco has multiple cities that are fun to explore, such as Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, and many more. If you’re more of a beach person, Morocco has that too. As for language, English may be hard to find even though there are people who speak it. If you speak Arabic or French, you can get around. With the long history of the country, there are so many sites to visit, like Roman ruins, medinas, and so on. It is also a pretty safe country, although women do have experiences with harassment.
As for visas, Morocco is relatively easy if you have a passport from a Western country. You can stay in Morocco for up to 90 days with a tourist visa, and if you want to extend it, you can go to the local police precinct where you’re staying and continue from there. That being said, though, always check with your home government and Morocco’s government for different visas in different situations. Also, be prepared to run into some administrative issues, as the concept of digital nomads is new enough that many governments both in the Arab world and around the globe do not have experience handling these situations.
For working, though, it is important to make sure that there is decent internet and a stable connection. In the cities, Morocco has pretty good internet access whether it is through cafes and hotels. There are also options to buy data plans for relatively cheap. Outside the cities, though, it might be tougher to find places with strong internet, but they do exist.
In terms of places to stay and getting around, Morocco has multiple options depending on your budget. There are hostels (the cheapest option) and Riads (hotels typically created from houses in the medinas, and are the most expensive option) and many choices in between. It is also somewhat easy to get around, with the public transportation (trams, buses, etc.) being easy to navigate for foreigners (it’s easier yet, though, if you have someone to show you around). There are also taxis, but remember to negotiate and tell them to put the meter on.
Lastly, the cost of living in Morocco is cheaper than in the United States. The cities are more expensive than the rural areas. Morocco’s currency is the dirham, and the exchange rate is 9.26 dirham to 1 USD. How much you spend living in Morocco depends on where you choose to stay and your lifestyle.
Tunisia is another country where being a digital nomad is possible. Tunis, the capital, is right on the coast and is a great place for remote work. There are many places to travel to within Tunisia to see beautiful landscapes and historic ruins. Places like Carthage are fun to explore and walk around in your free time, and there are archaeological museums if that’s what you’re interested in. If you don’t speak Arabic, you might want to learn at least a few key phrases. People do speak English, especially in cities, but not everyone. Tunisia is also pretty safe. Women do have some experiences with harassment, but maybe not as much as other countries, as Tunisia’s government passed a law giving penalties for sexual harassment in 2017.
The tourist visa for Tunisia allows for stays up to 90 days, and is free for people with U.S. passports. Longer than that, though, and you will need to fill out another application and pay for another type of visa. The visa application is now online.
Internet speed in some places in Tunisia is slower than in other countries, which does make it harder for remote working, but there are places with faster internet. It is possible to buy small modems to bring with you and use for work, or buy data plans. Cafes do typically have internet access, and there are also “co-working” spaces with internet.
If you’re looking to stay longer than two weeks, Tunisia has many options. Hotels are the most expensive, but there are renting options from locals in Facebook groups and hostels. For transportation, Tunis has a large public transportation system consisting of buses and light rail/metro. To move around within Tunisia, there are trains, buses, and domestic flights in addition to cars.
The average cost of living in Tunis for a digital nomad is $1000-$1200 a month. Tunisia’s currency is the Tunisian dinar, and is about 2.76 dinar to 1 USD.
Jordan is a great destination for digital nomads. With amazing places to visit like Petra or Aqaba or even Amman, Jordan makes an amazing country for digital nomads to work remotely from. Jordan has a lot of places to visit, food to try, and sites to explore. You can visit other cities like Aqaba, float in the Dead Sea, and get lost in Petra. Many Jordanians in Amman speak English, but it isn’t a bad idea to learn a couple of phrases in Arabic. Overall, Jordan is safe, but women have experienced harassment.
In Jordan, the visa process is simple. You can get a visa at the border (except for the King Hussein/Allenby Bridge border) for single entry, two entries, or multiple entries. The single-entry visa is $56.50 and is valid for 30 days. The prices of the visas increase from there. If you want to stay longer than 60 days, you have to register at a police station.
For internet access, there are many cafes in Amman that have internet. In addition, data plans are available to buy and are somewhat cheap. Fast internet (aka fiber optics internet) is available in many places to stay, but not all.
For stays longer than a few weeks, Airbnb, hostels, and renting from locals is available. Hotels, as in other countries, are the most expensive options for long-term stays. To get around in Amman, taxis are probably the best option. Public transportation exists, but is hard to navigate as a foreigner.
The cost of living in Jordan is more expensive than Morocco or Tunisia, although the food is cheaper than in the U.S. On an average, the cost of living is about $1330/month. Jordan’s currency, the Jordanian dinar, is 0.71 to 1 USD.
Egypt has many places to visit and stay in; you don’t have to stay in Cairo and only see the pyramids. There is Alexandria, Luxor, Dahab, and more. Not every place in Egypt has Ancient Egyptian sites, but there are places that have beaches and are fun to explore. Similarly to the other countries on this list, you might want to learn a couple of useful phrases in Arabic, because not everyone will speak English. Some people do, but others speak Arabic. Egypt is relatively safe, but women should be careful as harassment and cat-calling is pretty common.
The visa process for Egypt is different than the other countries. A tourist visa for someone from the U.S. costs $25 and is good for 30 days only. Beyond that, you will probably have to get the visa before traveling, which is available either online or at an embassy. However, if you are already there, you will have to go to the police center in Cairo to extend and pay the extension fees.
Internet in Egypt is typically pretty slow. It would be hard for digital nomads to use the internet, but in some places, like in Dahab, Egypt, there are good spots for internet. Beyond that, though, it might be better to get a modem, or find a “coworking space” to work in.
Hostels are good options for long term stays. There are other options for renting as well, but definitely do your research. If you want to travel within Egypt, there are quite a few options, like trains, buses, and more. Within a certain area (like Cairo), taxis are a good option.
As for cost of living, Egypt is much cheaper than the U.S. The average cost of living for a single person in Egypt is $750/month, with some variance in cities. The Egyptian pound is about 15.71 to 1 USD.
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