Finder is committed to editorial independence. While we receive compensation when you click links to partners, they do not influence our opinions or reviews. Learn how we make money.

Travel money guide: South Africa

How to manage your travel money when traveling to South Africa

Updated

Get credit card suggestions Compare travel cards
Exchange currency online Compare cash pickup

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.

What are the options for South African travel money?

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.

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.

Cape CityBudgetMidrangeLuxury
sleepBudget rooms or hostels
$20–$40

2 star hotel

$45–$90

5 star hotel

$100–$500

food

Fast food

$10–$15

Dinner at a midrange restaurant

$20 per person

5 star restaurant

$80 per person

skydive

Boat 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.

Travel money options in South Africa

Back to top
Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards
  • Use at stores and hotels, online and ATMs
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Spending your own money means avoiding interest charges
  • International ATM and currency conversion fees
  • No access to cash advances
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Lock in exchange rates
  • Protected by PIN & chip
  • Emergency card replacement and backup cards.
  • Reloadable online
  • Come with lots of fees for loading and reloading, inactivity and ATM withdrawals.
  • Businesses won’t accept prepaid cards
Credit cards
  • 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
  • Fees and interest for cash withdrawal
Traveler’s checks
  • Security
  • Cash at any bank
  • Fees for purchasing and cashing checks
  • Not accepted by many merchants
  • Currency exchange rate varies over time
Cash
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • High risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products on the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

How the different travel money products work in South Africa

Using prepaid travel cards

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.

Using credit cards

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.

Using a credit card in South Africa

Using debit cards

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.

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.
Our pick for a prepaid travel card
Travelex Money Card

Back to top

Compare travel credit cards

Name Product Welcome offer Rewards Annual fee Filter values
Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
80,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months, a value of up to $1,000 through Chase Ultimate Rewards
5x points on Lyft, 2x points on travel and dining and 1x points on all other purchases
$95
This popular travel card's signup bonus is worth up to $1,000. Get even more value out of your travel, dining, and Lyft rewards by transferring them to miles.
American Express® Gold Card
35,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
3x points on directly-booked flights; 4x at restaurants; 4x at US supermarkets on up to $25,000 annually (then 1x points)
$250
Earn 4x points at restaurants worldwide. Rates & fees
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
50,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first 3 months
10x points on Lyft rides, 3x points on dining and travel after earning your $300 travel credit and 1x points on all other purchases
$550
Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months
Hilton Honors American Express Card
75,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months
7x points on Hilton Honors purchases, 5x at US restaurants, US supermarkets and US gas stations, 3x on all other purchases
$0
Earn 75,000 Hilton Honors Bonus Points after you spend $1,000 in purchases on the card within your first 3 months of card membership. Rates & fees
Luxury Card Mastercard® Titanium Card™
N/A
1x points on all purchases with 2% point value when you redeem for airfare and 1% for cash back
$195
Enjoy unique excursions, privileged access to exclusive events and insider opportunities.
loading

Compare up to 4 providers

The South African rand

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.

south-africa-10south-africa-20
south-africa-50south-africa-100
south-africa-30

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.
Back to top

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 16.206 ZAR 16,141 Use promo code 3FREE to send your first 3 transfers with no fee. Send to 110+ countries for bank-to-bank deposit, cash pickup or mobile top-up. Go to site Show details
$0 1 - 2 days USD 1.99 15.961 ZAR 15,929 Special offers like free transfers and better exchange rates available for new customers.
Quick, affordable transfers around the world with both express and economy options.
Go to site Show details
$1 Same day USD 8.00 15.92 ZAR 15,793 Easily transfer cash to more than 350,000 locations around the world. Show details
$1 3 - 5 days USD 20.00 15.88 ZAR 15,562 The biggest name in money transfers can get your funds to friends, family, or businesses in almost every corner of the globe. Show details

Compare up to 4 providers

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

Frequently asked questions

Back to top

Read more on this topic

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder.com provides guides and information on a range of products and services. Because our content is not financial advice, we suggest talking with a professional before you make any decision.

By submitting your comment or question, you agree to our Privacy and Cookies Policy and finder.com Terms of Use.

Questions and responses on finder.com are not provided, paid for or otherwise endorsed by any bank or brand. These banks and brands are not responsible for ensuring that comments are answered or accurate.
Go to site