Cost of living in South Africa: Your guide

Zorica Lončar
7 minute read

South Africa offers stunning natural scenery making it a great destination for people looking to enjoy an outdoors lifestyle. You’ll also find vibrant cities, fascinating culture, and great wine and cuisine - along with a relatively low cost of living. It’s no surprise that so many expats fall in love with South Africa.

Whether you’re retiring, temporarily relocating, or moving to South Africa for good, you’ll want to know a bit about the costs of everyday life so you can plan your budget. This article has you covered.

We’ll also touch on a smart way to manage your money as an expat, with fast low cost international payments from Wise, and the free Wise multi-currency account.

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The currency in South Africa

The official money in South Africa is the South African rand, which is also shown using the currency code ZAR. The rand is a floating currency - which means the value of ZAR against other currencies goes up and down all the time.

This can make it tricky to keep up with the cost of buying rand - but you can compare the value of ZAR with your home currency easily using a reputable currency converter tool. Currency converters like this help you find the mid-market exchange rate for your currency pairing - the rate banks and currency services use when buying and selling currency on global markets.

To give a picture, here’s the mid-market value of South African rand against some major world currencies at the time of writing:

$1000 = ZAR16,204

£1000 = ZAR21,141

€1000 = ZAR19,191

A$1000 = ZAR11,555

Understanding the mid-market exchange rate is important when you convert currency or send international payments. This is because banks and currency exchange services often add a markup or margin to the exchange rate offered to customers. This is an extra fee - but it can be tricky to spot.

Comparing exchange rates on offer can help you find the best available deal when converting your currency to rand, or sending money home. Choosing a provider which uses the mid-market exchange rate for payments, and charges fair, transparent fees can mean you save money overall.

Get the real, mid-market exchange rate with Wise

Although it’s common for banks to add a markup to the exchange rate they offer customers, there are other options out there. Wise uses the mid-market exchange rate for all currency conversions, and charges low transparent fees which can mean you save money.

All transactions are carried out online or from your mobile device, for simple and convenient currency exchange and international payments. Leaving you with more time and money to enjoy your new home in South Africa.

You might be able to benefit even more with a free Wise multi-currency account. You’ll be able to hold dozens of currencies all in the same place, switch between them when you need to, using the mid-market exchange rate, and send and receive payments easily all over the world. See if you can save with Wise, today.

Join Wise for free

Cost of living in South Africa compared to the UK

Before you move, you’ll want to know a bit about how much life will cost in South Africa. While the cost of living in South Africa is very reasonable, it does vary from city to city, with Cape Town and Johannesburg being the only cities in South Africa to appear in the Mercer Cost of Living Index¹, at numbers 187 and 192 respectively.

The good news is that whether you’re trying to get an idea of grocery prices in South Africa, or need specific city details, like the average cost of living in Durban or Cape Town, aggregate sites like Numbeo are there to help.

You’ll be able to find a broad range of information about prices in South Africa by visiting the Numbeo site. We’ve also provided a roundup of some key costs below compared to major UK cities, to start you off:

Comparing basic cost of living1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent)Meal for 2 (mid-range restaurant, three courses)Transportation (monthly pass)
London, UK²ZAR36,730.12ZAR1,270.31ZAR3,178.78
Manchester, UK³ZAR17,656.63ZAR1,270.31ZAR1,477.43
Edinburgh, UK⁴ZAR16,982.73ZAR1,270.31ZAR1,185.63
Johannesburg, South Africa⁵ZAR6,771.15ZAR600ZAR1,100
Cape Town, South Africa⁶ZAR10,732.97ZAR600ZAR550
Durban, South Africa⁷ZAR5,317.24ZAR500ZAR750

Major cities in South Africa

The largest cities in South Africa are Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban - each offering a unique combination of culture, activities and natural surroundings.

Johannesburg - as the largest city in the country and a major financial hub - is a big draw for expats looking to advance their careers by working in South Africa.

Cape Town offers an attractive Meditarranean climate, pristine coastlines and access to stunning natural scenery, while warmer Durban boasts great beaches.

All 3 cities have their own unique culture and history, with diverse populations, as well as large numbers of tourists and growing expat communities.

What are general living expenses like in South Africa?

While rental prices can vary widely according to location, personal preference and style, you can’t get away from the daily costs of life.

Here’s a breakdown of the average costs of living - excluding rent - in some of South Africa’s major cities.

Total living expenses in Johannesburg⁵Average cost
1 person, per month (without rent)ZAR9,389.56
4 person family, per month (without rent)ZAR32,914.84
Utilities, basic, for 85m² apartmentZAR1,493
Total living expenses in Cape Town⁶Average cost
1 person, per month (without rent)ZAR8,700.46
4 person family, per month (without rent)ZAR30,569.89
Utilities, basic, for 85m² apartmentZAR1,195.33
Total living expenses in Durban⁷Average cost
1 person, per month (without rent)ZAR8,348.41
4 person family, per month (without rent)ZAR28,273
Utilities, basic, for 85m² apartmentZAR1,535.10

What are the average salaries in South Africa?

The salary you can command for any given job will vary widely from place to place. If you’re planning on working in South Africa, it’s well worth checking if your skills are in demand there - and how much the median salary for your chosen role might be.

To help you build a picture, check out the average salaries by selected role and location, below:

Salary averages for Johannesburg⁸Average salary
Graphic designerZAR391,148
Web DesignerZAR466,775
UX DesignerZAR542,040
Salary averages for Cape Town⁹Average salary
Graphic designerZAR280,812
Web DesignerZAR341,670
UX DesignerZAR436,126

How expensive is housing and accommodation in South Africa?

Rent is a big driver of overall cost of living, no matter where in the world you choose to call home. South Africa has relatively low rental prices compared to many places in the UK, which means you might be able to find a great place for an affordable price.

Here’s a rundown of the average rental prices for the 2 largest cities in South Africa.

Rental cost in Johannesburg ¹⁰Average monthly cost
Large apartmentZAR17,878.41
Medium apartmentZAR13,815.14
Small apartmentZAR10,564.58
Rental cost in Cape Town¹¹Average monthly cost
Large apartmentZAR22,649.20
Medium apartmentZAR17,878.41
Small apartmentZAR12,618.84

How much are travel and transportation costs in South Africa?

In the major cities, you’ll find cheap and extensive public and commuter bus networks which make getting around easy enough. However, services may be limited in evenings and at the weekends - and some routes and providers have poor safety records.

Shared taxis - both cars and minibuses - are also available both within cities and on routes connecting towns. However, these can also have safety issues as crime and accidents are not uncommon.

Private taxis are available, along with Uber in some major South African cities, and tend to be a safer, more convenient option to travel shorter distances. Or, if you’re making South Africa your home for a longer period, you might consider buying a car - which gives flexibility in the cities but also makes it easier to get out exploring in more remote areas.¹²

For longer distances, and to travel within the country, you’ll have a choice of driving, or taking long distance buses, trains and flights.¹³

As you’d expect, flights are the fastest way to get around - followed by buses for most routes. Choosing budget airlines can mean that flying is a competitive option, although buses and trains are usually the cheaper bet. The train can be an attractive option for more adventurous travellers - especially if there’s an overnight route available.

Study costs in South Africa

If you’re looking for an adventure while you study, South Africa could be for you. Both the University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand hold top 300 places in the Shanghai ranking of world universities, with these and several other universities open to international student applications.

The cost of study at universities in South Africa depends on the courses and study level selected - but you’ll be able to build a picture of the fees for your specific situation before you select a University.

For example, you can estimate the fees for studying your chosen courses at the University of Cape Town¹⁴, using the student fee handbook - and start to figure out the cost of living in South Africa for international students using online resources such as Numbeo.

Send money to and from South Africa with the real, mid-market exchange rate

No matter what you’re planning on doing in South Africa, as an expat there are likely to be times you need to send and receive international payments, or switch your money from one currency to another.

Choosing the right provider for currency services can mean your money goes further, cutting excessive fees and ensuring you get the best available exchange rate.

Sending money abroad with Wise means you’ll get the mid-market exchange rate every time, with low transparent fees.

You can also make managing money across borders even easier, with the free Wise multi-currency account. Hold, send and receive dozens of currencies - with fast, safe services available online and via your mobile device, 24/7.

Make your money go further with Wise - and have even more to spend on enjoying South Africa.

Join Wise for free


Mercer’s cost of living index 2020

Numbeo - cost of living in London

Numbeo - cost of living in Manchester

Numbeo - cost of living in Edinburgh

Numbeo - cost of living in Johannesburg

Numbeo - cost of living in Cape Town

Numbeo - cost of living in Durban

Teleport - salaries in Johannesburg

Teleport - salaries in Cape Town

Teleport - cost of living in Johannesburg

Teleport - cost of living in Cape Town

Lonely Planet - local transport

Rough Guides - getting around South Africa

University of Cape Town - fee structure

All sources checked on October 27th, 2020

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