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Money in South Africa: a traveller's guide

Sam Botes

Contributing writer

Currency: South African rand

Symbol: R

Currency code: ZAR

South Africa is a diverse country that caters to travellers with different budgets. While some aspects of travel can be affordable, others may be more expensive. 

Accommodation and transportation costs may vary depending on the region and season. Additionally, activities such as wildlife safaris or wine-tasting tours might come with higher price tags. 

However, South Africa offers a wide range of options for all budgets, including affordable guesthouses, local eateries, and free or low-cost attractions.

Best ways to pay: Cash and card

In South Africa, both cash and card payments are widely accepted. Carrying a mix of cash and cards is recommended to ensure convenience and flexibility. Many establishments, especially in urban areas, accept major credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard.

However, it's advisable to have some cash on hand, particularly when visiting remote areas or small towns where card acceptance may be limited. ATMs are readily available across the country for cash withdrawals.

Digital Payments in South Africa

Digital payment options, such as mobile payment apps and contactless card payments, are increasingly popular in South Africa. Services like Yoco, SnapScan, Zapper, and Samsung Pay allow users to make secure and convenient payments using their smartphones.

Ensure that your payment app is compatible with local merchants and establishments before relying solely on digital payments.

Tipping in South Africa

Tipping is customary in South Africa, and it's important to acknowledge good service. In restaurants, a gratuity of 10-15% of the bill is typical. It's alo advisable to tip hotel staff, tour guides, and taxi drivers based on the quality of service provided.

However, tipping is discretionary, and if the service was unsatisfactory, you may choose not to tip or adjust the amount accordingly.

Using ATMs in South Africa

ATMs are widely available throughout South Africa, offering convenience for cash withdrawals. However, it's important to be cautious while using ATMs, especially in crowded or secluded areas. 

Avoid using ATMs during late hours and be vigilant of your surroundings to prevent any potential safety risks.

Note that some ATMs may have withdrawal limits or charge additional fees, and your bank may also add some charges (it's advisable to check with your bank beforehand).

How to save money while travelling in South Africa

To make the most of your budget in South Africa, consider these money-saving tips:

  • Opt for local eateries and street food to experience authentic cuisine at lower prices.

  • Take advantage of happy hours and specials offered by restaurants and bars.

  • Use public transportation or shared rides instead of taxis to cut down on transportation costs.

  • Plan your activities in advance and look for discounted packages or combination tickets.

  • Consider visiting popular attractions during off-peak seasons to benefit from lower prices.

  • Shop at local markets for unique souvenirs and negotiate prices where appropriate.

  • If you are self-catering, shop at the local supermarkets: the most common ones are Woolworths, Pick ‘n Pay, Checkers, and Spar.

Avoiding common scams in South Africa

Always stay alert and be aware of common scams. Here are some tips to protect your finances:

  • Be cautious of strangers offering unsolicited assistance or attempting to distract you, especially at ATM machines.

  • Use reputable currency exchange offices or banks for exchanging money to avoid counterfeit currency.

  • Make sure your credit or debit card is always with you. Do not let a waiter, shop person, or petrol attendant leave with your card to go and swipe it elsewhere. Cards are quickly and cleverly cloned when this happens.

  • Avoid displaying large sums of cash in public and be discreet while making transactions.

  • Be cautious of credit card skimming devices and only use ATMs located in secure and well-lit areas.

  • Research and book accommodations, tours, and activities through reputable and verified websites or travel agencies.

  • Do not draw large sums of money, even if you go inside the bank. Sometimes there are people working on the inside who will alert people on the outside of large withdrawals and unfortunately you may end up being robbed.

Typical prices in South Africa

To give you an idea of the cost of certain items in South Africa, here are a few items that travellers may need to buy:

  • Bottled water: Prices range from 10 to 20 South African Rand (ZAR) per 500ml bottle.

  • Restaurant meal: A mid-range restaurant meal for one person can range from 100 to 250 ZAR, excluding drinks.

  • Entrance fees to attractions: Prices vary, but expect to pay around 100 to 300 ZAR per person for entrance to popular attractions.

  • Local SIM card: A prepaid SIM card with data and call credit can cost around 50 to 100 ZAR, depending on the provider.

  • Souvenirs: Prices for souvenirs such as keychains, magnets, or traditional crafts can range from 20 to 200 ZAR, depending on the item and quality. This can increase if you are looking for new brands, diamonds, and jewellery.

  • A day tour: You can expect to pay around 800 - 1,000 ZAR per person for a scheduled tour with other travellers. If you want to book a private tour you’re looking at around 10,000 ZAR for a family of four.

  • Local beer: A bottle of local beer at a bar or restaurant can cost around 20 to 40 ZAR.

  • A loaf of bread in a supermarket will cost 20 ZAR.

  • A can of Coca-Cola is 12 - 18 ZAR, depending where you buy it.

Note: The prices provided above are approximate from May 2023 and subject to change. It is recommended to check current prices and exchange rates before your trip.

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Sam Botes

Author - Sam Botes

Sam is a freelance writer, social media manager and mother of three, with over two decades' experience in travel and tourism. Safaris are her ultimate adventure and next on the list is Antarctica.

Last Updated 6 June 2023

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