Kenya is missing out on the global rise in young professionals that work from the comfort of their computers for companies abroad – also known as ‘Digital Nomads.’
The estimated number of digital nomads globally hit 40 million in 2023 and is expected to rise to over 60 million by 2030. These middle to high income earners often move to countries such as Costa Rica, Portugal, and Mexico.
Globally, there are over 50 countries that have introduced digital nomad visas with most of whom being in Europe and Central America. Currently, there are four African countries with a digital nomad framework including Mauritius, Seychelles, Cape Verde, and Namibia.
The economic opportunity
It is not a lie to say that Kenya is not experiencing its best economic times currently; so it is prudent that we find ways where we can help improve the economy.
Digital nomads are middle-to-high income earners largely making money in US Dollars, British Pound, and Euros. When leaving their countries (mostly US, Canada, UK, etc.), they are looking for beautiful places to live and travel which also have a lower cost-of-living than their home countries.
When traveling, digital nomads tend to spend lots of money on accommodation, food, transportation, and leisure activities. The more people spending money in these areas has a direct positive impact on both the private and public sectors. When the private sector is making more money, they spend more money at other businesses and pay more in taxes.
Building a framework
At the moment, there is no legal framework for these digital nomads besides the prohibitively expensive work permit. However, most digital nomads would never be able to obtain a work permit because they do not work for companies operating in Kenya – leaving a segment of big spenders completely omitted.
Kenya could launch a digital nomad visa to better include these individuals. Most digital nomad visas across the world are for 1-year and have options to renew up to a certain number of years.
For example, Kenya could launch a 1-year, multi-entry digital nomad visa costing $250 per year that is renewable up to 3-5 years. This visa would allow them to live, work, and spend in the country and could include requirements such as a minimum income qualification.
Some countries have even gone so far as to build special tax structures for digital nomads while others allow them to not pay taxes for a particular period of time.
There are a host of other benefits that could be offered to digital nomads and further increasing Kenya’s competitiveness among other countries offering these visas. One benefit could be the ability to open a local bank account or even own a vehicle.
Digital nomads are typically social media savvy – constantly sharing pictures and experiences with their friends and family abroad. This would be a good thing for Kenya.
If you have people constantly talking about the country’s beauty, food, and people on social media, that drives others to want to visit Kenya. With tourism making up such a large portion of GDP, foreign exchange and job opportunities in Kenya, free promotion of the country would bolster the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife’s mission to support the sector.
Countries often make a huge PR push when launching digital nomad visas. By not having many countries in Africa competing for digital nomads, Kenya stands to benefit deeply from the promotion of the visa and the country. After the catastrophic roll-out of the ETA earlier this year, a proper roll-out of a digital nomad visa could help recharge the narrative on traveling to Kenya.
Are there any downsides to a digital nomad visa? Yes.
Of course, within any system there is the opportunity for abuse but what is more striking is that if the number of digital nomads becomes too significant a portion of the population, it could drive housing prices in particular neighborhoods like Kileleshwa and Kilimani even higher.
Despite this, in a time when the country is searching for ways to improve its economy, the potential of a digital nomad visa could play a role in that push.