Travel money South Africa 2021: How to pay & how much to bring

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Travel money guide: South Africa

How to manage your travel money when traveling to South Africa

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South Africa has something for every kind of traveler, from wineries, hiking trails to surfing. One thing is certain — you’ll never be bored in South Africa. You’ll find that you’ll get a lot of South African rand for your dollar for any adventure you’re looking for.

We’ll help you decide on the right credit cards and the best ways to save on exchange rates and currency conversion fees.If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, decide the best way for you to exchange your USD for South African rand. Let us help you find the right credit card to save on exchange rates and currency fees to save you stress — and money.

Our picks for traveling to South Africa

American Express® Gold Card logo

Our pick for travel credit card

American Express® Gold Card

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5
Transferwise Multi-currency logo

Our pick for multi-currency debit card

Transferwise Multi-currency

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.5/5
SoFi Money logo

Our pick for 0% transaction fee debit card

SoFi Money

★★★★★
Finder rating: 4.6/5

Travel card, debit card or credit card?

It’s fairly easy to find ATMs throughout the cities in South Africa, and credit cards are widely accepted. However, if you plan to leave the city for the rainforests or go on a hike, plan to bring cash.

Bank of America customers can look for ABSA banks, one of the larger banks in South Africa and a member of the Global ATM Alliance. This means you won’t pay an international ATM fee each time you withdraw money.

  • Tip: Make sure you tell your card issuer about your travel plans. Credit card fraud is common in South Africa and your bank may block your card if you make a payment or withdrawal in South Africa.

These are your options for spending money in South Africa

Using a credit card

Credit cards give you the most purchasing power on expensive items like hotels and flights. Find yourself a credit card that waives foreign transaction fees. Carrying a credit card gives you the added benefit of travel insurance and discounts, depending on your provider. For added savings, take advantage of the interest-free period by paying your balance in full each month.

Cards that offer travel perks and waive fees often charge an annual fee, so make sure the fee is worth it before you bring it along on your travels. If you’re ever in a jam, credit cards also offer cash advances, though we don’t recommend it. You’ll pay high fees and interest rates apply the moment you get your money.

Pros
  • Use for big ticket purchases
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • May come with benefits like travel insurance
  • Interest-free days when you pay your account in full
  • Emergency card replacement
Cons
  • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal

Using a debit card

A debit card could be a good travel money choice to take to South Africa. Most ATMs and EFTPOS machines in South Africa accept Mastercard and Visa debit cards and don’t charge a local ATM fee. You’ll have access to cash each time you come across an ATM, without carrying lots of cash on you all at once. And because you’re spending your own money, you avoid interest charges.

  • Tip: A debit card can be used to shop over the counter, online and for ATM withdrawals in South Africa.
Pros
  • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
Cons
  • International ATM and currency conversion fees
  • No access to cash advances

Using a prepaid travel card

Travel cards can lock in conversion rates once you load USD. Use it for purchases without worrying about rates each time you spend — debit and credit cards often charge 3% for each transaction.

Where you save in the conversion rates you may pay in fees. You’ll pay fees each time you load the card, ATM withdrawals and sometimes even an inactivity fee.

  • Tip: Banks that provide travel cards make money by applying a higher margin to the exchange rate. You can get a better rate using a debit card or credit card.
Pros
  • Lock in exchange rates
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards.
  • Reloadable online
Cons
  • Come with lots of fees for loading and reloading, inactivity and ATM withdrawals.
  • Businesses won’t accept prepaid cards

Using traveler’s checks

Security is the main advantage of using traveler’s checks. Each check has a unique serial number and can only be cashed with photo identification. Fees are the main disadvantage. You need to visit a South African bank to cash traveler’s checks — and pay a commission. You’re better off using a debit or travel card which lets you make cheap or free ATM withdrawals to get South African rand.

  • Tip: Traveler’s checks are good for locking in a good exchange rate. So if you watch the forex market, get them while the getting’s good.
Pros
  • Security
  • Cash at any bank
Cons
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
  • Not accepted by many merchants
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
American Express® Gold Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 6 months
4x at restaurants including delivery and Uber Eats; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points) and 3x points on directly-booked flights
$250
Earn up to 4x points on select purchases, a bevy of travel perks, and a welcome offer worth up to $600 with this upper-mid tier travel card. Terms apply, see rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $750 through Chase Ultimate Rewards. Plus up to $50 statement credit towards groceries.
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on up to $1,000 on groceries until April 30, 2021, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
Earn a signup bonus worth $750 plus up to $50 statement credit towards groceries with this popular travel card.
The Platinum Card® from American Express
75,000 points after spending $5,000 in your first 6 months, plus 10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 in combined purchases in the same timeframe
10x points at US gas stations and US supermarkets on up to $15,000 combined in the first 6 months, 5x points on directly-booked flights on up to $500,000 annually, then 1x points after that and on other purchases
$550
One of the most valuable premium travel cards, featuring two welcome offers worth up to $4,500, multiple travel credits and unrivaled lounge access. Terms apply, see rates & fees
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South African currency

South African banknotes have a portrait of Nelson Mandela on the front and come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200. You can easily tell these notes apart by their bright colors.

5 South African rand10 South African rand20 South African rand
50 South African rand100 South African rand

The main banks in South Africa are:

  • ABSA
  • Nedbank
  • FNB
  • Standard Bank
  • Bidvest
  • Capitec

What you need to know about getting cash in South Africa

Unlike banks in the US, South African banks do not charge you to use their ATMs. So you can save on ATM withdrawal fees altogether by choosing a card that doesn’t charge for international ATM withdrawals.

  • Global ATM Alliances with South African banks
    Bank of America has a partnership with South African bank ABSA, one of South Africa’s big four banks and are common around the region. IF you hold a Bank of America bank card, you won’t be charged an ATM fee.
  • ATM withdrawal limits
    The maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM in South Africa is 3,000 rand or about $200 at a time. To get more money visit a bank branch and show an ID.
  • Getting your money changed in South Africa
    You may be approached to get your money changed by a street vendor in South Africa. Although the rates tend to be better than banks, this is dangerous and illegal. There’s a good chance you could be robbed or cheated. It’s best to exchange your currency at banks or ATMs or you can always send your money to South Africa ahead of time with a money transfer service and have it waiting to be picked up when you arrive.
  • Which product gives you the best rate?
    You won’t find a big difference in foreign exchange rates between credit, debit and travel cards. The real savings come by avoiding international and local ATM fees. Since South African banks don’t charge ATM fees, try to get a card that waives foreign exchange and international ATM fees to save money on your withdrawals.

Live Rate

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ATMS in South Africa

Cash pickup services in South Africa

Min. Transfer Amount Transfer Speed Online Transfer Fee Rate Amount Received Description CTA Details
$1 Within an hour USD 3.99 15.288 ZAR 15,227 WorldRemit sends money to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposits, cash pick-ups or mobile top-ups. Go to site Show details
$10 Within an hour USD 1.99 15.057 ZAR 15,027 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Remitly has quick, affordable transfers around the world, with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Within an hour USD 8.00 15.019 ZAR 14,899 MoneyGram has fast cash pick-up transfers to more than 350,000 agent locations worldwide. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 14.98 ZAR 14,681 Western Union sends money online to friends and family in 200+ countries around the world. Show details

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Disclaimer: Exchange rates change often. Confirm the total cost with the provider before transferring money.

What should you budget for your trip to South Africa?

Once to get to South Africa, you’ll find you can get by on less than $40 a day if you budget your money right. Save money by pitching a tent outside the hostel or cook your own food. For those interested in a little less rugged experience, plan to spend between $100–$250 a day. All prices are in US dollars.

Cape CityBudgetMidrangeLuxury
AccommodationBudget rooms or hostels
$20–$40
2 star hotel
$45–$90
5 star hotel
$100–$500
MealsFast food
$10–$15
Dinner at a midrange restaurant
$20 per person
5 star restaurant
$80 per person
ActivitiesBoat trip
$10 per person
Cape Peninsula full day tour
$76
Full day Safari
$220

Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Exchange rate history

Historically, the US dollar has been stronger against the rand. And over the past decade, the dollar has increased in strength — in 2007, the annual average exchange rate was 7.05 rand to the dollar.

Frequently asked questions

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