Cost of living in South Africa: Your guide

Gert Svaiko

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.

And, if you want to manage your money easily in both South Africa and the UK, check out the Wise account. Wise lets you manage your money in multiple currencies – including British pounds and South African rand – always at the mid-market exchange rate.

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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’s the average wage in South Africa?

The salary you can get 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 what’s the salary you can expect.

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

Salary averages for JohannesburgAverage salary¹
Graphic designer£18,496
Web Designer£22,071
UX Designer£25,628
Salary averages for Cape TownAverage salary²
Graphic designer£13,338
Web Designer£16,229
UX Designer£20,716

Cost of living in South Africa compared to the UK

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.

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 Johannesburg and Cape Town being the only cities in South Africa to appear in the Mercer’s Cost of Living Index, at positions 193 and 194, respectively.³

To get an idea of different living expenses in South Africa, here’s a roundup of some key costs (in GBP) 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, UK⁴£2,057£70£160
Manchester, UK⁴£922£60£71
Edinburgh, UK⁵£1,007£60£60
Johannesburg, South Africa⁵£306£31.10£57.80
Cape Town, South Africa⁶£529.60£26.70£25
Durban, South Africa⁶£283.80£26.70£32.90

One major factor that adds expense for expats moving to South Africa, is the cost of converting British pounds to South African rand. Even if your bank says it offers fee-free money exchange, its cut can be rolled up in the exchange rate it uses.

You could get a better deal by using an exchange service like Wise, which applies the fair mid-market exchange rate with no margin added on top and no hidden fees. Wise provides a fair service and low, transparent fees to transfer your money, so this might be a much better deal than sending money with your home bank.


Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.

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 (in GBP) - excluding rent - in some of South Africa’s major cities.

Total living expenses in JohannesburgAverage cost per month
1 person, per month (without rent)£481.90
4 person family, per month (without rent)£1,670.00
Utilities, basic, for 915 sq. ft flat£87.30
Total living expenses in Cape TownAverage cost per month
1 person, per month (without rent)£418.50
4 person family, per month (without rent)£1,456.80
Utilities, basic, for 915 sq. ft flat£58.60
Total living expenses in DurbanAverage cost per month
1 person, per month (without rent)£429.80
4 person family, per month (without rent)£1,438.10
Utilities, basic, for 915 sq. ft flat£104.90

How expensive is housing and rent 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 JohannesburgAverage monthly cost
Small flat£407 - £584
Medium flat£546 - £761
Large flat£684 - £922
Rental cost in Cape TownAverage monthly cost
Small flat£438 - £769
Medium flat£646 - £999
Large flat£845 - £1,307

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.

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

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 400 places in the Shanghai ranking of world universities,⁹ 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 Town, using the student fee handbook (downloadable link for 2023) - and start to figure out the cost of living in South Africa for international students.

South Africa is a remarkable expat destination, whether you’re considering to live there, study in one of the South African universities, or just looking to spend a year or two exploring somewhere new.

After reading this article, you should have an idea of the everyday costs you can expect. Of course, the level of the expenses depend on largely where you decide to move or vacation. Either way, you’re set to plan your budget. Good luck!

And, if you’re looking for ways to manage your finances in multiple countries, check out the Wise account. You can send and hold money in 50 currencies, and spend in 175 countries around the world using the Wise card.

Register with Wise today

Please see the Terms of Use for your region or visit Wise fees & pricing for the most up-to-date information on pricing and fees.

Sources used:

  1. Teleport - Salaries in Johannesburg
  2. Teleport - Salaries in Cape Town
  3. Mercer - Cost of living index 2022
  4. Numbeo - Cost of living in London and Manchester
  5. Numbeo - Cost of living in Edinburgh and Johannesburg
  6. Numbeo - Cost of living in Cape Town and Durban
  7. Teleport - Quality of life in Johannesburg
  8. Teleport - Quality of life in Cape Town
  9. Shanghai Ranking - Academic Ranking of World Universities 2022

Sources last checked on date: 28-Mar-2023

*Please see terms of use and product availability for your region or visit Wise fees and pricing for the most up to date pricing and fee information.

This publication is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from Wise Payments Limited or its subsidiaries and its affiliates, and it is not intended as a substitute for obtaining advice from a financial advisor or any other professional.

We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether expressed or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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