Money & Exchange in South Africa
Here is some useful information about the South African money and exchange rate to help you get an idea of what to expect before you travel.
Remember to be vigilant with you money and cards, just like anywhere else in the world. Otherwise, come and enjoy our world class food, wine, accommodations and tours at a fraction of the cost of the USA
- The unit of currency in South Africa is the rand (R), or (ZAR)
- 100 cents (c) equals R1.
- Bills come in R10, R20, R50, R100, and R200 denominations, which are differentiated by color and animal print of the big five animals on each.
- R10 = Rhino
- R20 = Elephant
- R50 = Lion
- R100 = Buffalo
- R200 = Leopard
- Coins are minted in 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2, and R5 denominations.
The rand fluctuates and had a big drop over the past 2-3 years. as of January 2017 it sits around the R14 to $1.
Cash allowed through customs
You may not take more than R25,000 or foreign currencies to the value of US$10,000 in cash in or out of South Africa. For more information you can contact the South African Reserve Bank. To avoid administrative hassles, keep all foreign-exchange receipts until you leave the region, as you may need them as proof when changing any unspent local currency back into your own currency.
Best exchange rates
Even if a currency-exchange booth has a sign promising no commission, rest assured that there’s some kind of huge, hidden fee. And as for rates, you’re almost always better off getting foreign currency at an ATM or exchanging money at a bank.
Use one of these two websites for accurate South African Rand (ZAR) conversions
Drinks & Beverages
A bottle of good South African wine costs about the equivalent of $4 (R50) at a bottle store and even as low as $2.5 (R35) for an export quality wine. This is because South Africa is one of the top wine producing countries in the world. So don’t mistake cheap for bad quality in the case. Restaurants put about a 300% markup on the retail value of bottle stores, so you are looking at about $11 (R150 or $6.5 (R90) for the same bottles when buying them at a restaurant. A 6 pack of beers is about $5 (R65) at the bottle store and $2 (R30) per 330ml bottle at a pub or restaurant.
Meals and food
Meals average at about $6.5 (R90) for a high quality burger and fries (not MacDonald’s crap) and a meal at a prestigious restaurant won’t set you back more than $50 per person; an average restaurant, with wine, might be about $40 for two.
Double rooms in the country’s finest hotels may cost $400 a night, but $200 is more than enough to secure high-quality lodging in most cities, and charming, spotless B&Bs or guesthouses with full breakfasts can be less than $80 in many areas.
Not everything in South Africa is cheap. Expect to pay international rates and more to stay in one of the exclusive private game lodges in Mpumalanga, Limpopo Province, or KwaZulu-Natal—with a fly-in charter figured into the price, expect to pay between $2,000 and $3,000 per couple per night. Flights to South Africa are expensive, but the rash of new low-cost carriers makes popular domestic routes less expensive, with most trips less than $150 one way. Taxis are uncharacteristically expensive, compared with other vacation needs.
My Cape Town photography tours are very affordable, starting at $89 for a half day tour around some of the best and secret locations of Cape Town. Have a look at my what photography gear you can bring along to take some great photos.
Public medical facilities do exist and are free, if not very cheap, although the standard is very low. Make sure to have comprehensive medical travel insurance so that you can be placed into a private hospital, as these fees are very expensive
MasterCard, Visa, and American Express are accepted almost everywhere, but Diners Club and Discover are not.
Before you travel to South Africa
Remember to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often, otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip.
Record all your credit-card numbers, as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen. Keep this in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. MasterCard, Visa, and American Express all have general numbers you can call collect if you’re abroad. Remember to make a backup copy of your passport and/or visa as well
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.
- American Express (800/528–4800 in the U.S.;. www.americanexpress.com.)
- Diners Club (0860/346–377; 011/358–8500 Outside S.A. www.dinersclub.com.)
- MasterCard (800/990–418 or. www.mastercard.com.)
- Visa (0800/990–475 toll-free in South Africa; 1303/967–1090 collect from abroad. www.visa.com.)
South Africa has a modern banking system, with branches throughout the country and ubiquitous ATMs, especially at tourist attractions, in gas stations, and in shopping malls.
Banks open at 9 in the morning weekdays and close at 3:30 in the afternoon; on Saturday they close at 11 in the morning, and they are closed Sunday (with the exception of Standard Bank branches in shopping malls, some of which are open on Sunday, 9:30–1).
Many banks can perform foreign-exchange services or international electronic transfers, but you will always get a better exchange rate from an ATM. The major South African banks are ABSA, First National Bank, Nedbank, and Standard.
If your card gets swallowed, stay at the ATM and call the help line number displayed. If possible, withdraw money during the day and choose ATMs with security guards present or those inside stores. ATM crime in South Africa does happen so please be aware.
At the airport and hotels a tip of R5 to R10 per luggage is acceptable, although you are in no way obliged to use the porters.
Parking attendants, some official, some not, usually receive between R1 and R5 depending on the parking duration. In restaurants it is usual to tip 10% if the service is good and more if you feel the service was excellent. For guides anything from R100 and up is appreciated depending on the level of service and expertise.