Best ways to spend travel money in South Africa: Debit & prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, if you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to South Africa.

South Africa is home to about 10% of the world’s plant species, and the South African constitution has officially recognised 11 different languages. However, the monetary system is a little less diverse. There’s only one currency in South Africa, the Rand (ZAR), and travel money options are limited.

If you’re preparing for a trip to South Africa, whether it’s for pleasure or business, it pays to find a travel money product that’s going to let you spend and withdraw Rand cheaply. Most British banking products charge high fees when you make purchases and withdrawals in South Africa.

Use this page about travel money for South Africa to find the right credit, debit or travel card to take with you. As well, you’ll find information about how to exchange your British pounds to South African Rand for less. A little preparation before you leave can save you hundreds in bank fees and a whole lot of stress.

Travel money options for South Africa

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Although plastic is widely accepted in South African towns and cities, it’s unrealistic to think you can get away with just making card payments in South Africa. ATM withdrawal fees should be a factor in your comparison of travel money options for South Africa.
  • 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 card payment or withdrawal in South Africa.

How much Rand should you bring on your trip?

The main banks in South Africa are:

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

What you need to know about withdrawing cash from a South African ATM

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.

  • ATM withdrawal limits
    The maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM in South Africa is approximately 3,000 Rand per withdrawal. You may be able to withdraw more than this if you visit a bank branch and supply photo identification to the teller. You can make multiple withdrawals up to your card provider’s daily withdrawal limit.
  • 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 they can give you may seem attractive, there’s a good chance you’re going to get ripped off. Plus, there’s an inherent danger in flashing large amounts of money around on the street.
    Get your money changed at currency exchange offices, banks or make withdrawals from a reputable ATM. You may want to get a sum of money changed to Rand before you leave the UK so you at least have a little bit of cash on you at the airport. ZAR is a frequently traded international currency and you may be able to find rates at home that are comparable to the rates you can get when you change your money when you arrive.
    Arguably, the best way to get South African Rand is to make an ATM withdrawal. This transaction is subject to the interbank rate, plus a small margin from the card issuer. The interbank rate is the exchange rate banks and large financial institution use to buy and sell foreign currency. Changing cash on the street will give you the tourist rate, whereas using an ATM gives you something close to the interbank rate.
  • Use a mix of travel money options for the best result
    Take a mix of travel money options to transact in South Africa conveniently and cheaply. For example, take a credit card for emergencies, but keep your debit or prepaid card on hand for ATM withdrawals and day-to-day purchases. Transaction accounts cost nothing to open, so it’s not too much to ask to apply for a dedicated travel account. Consider your financial situation and how you’ll be spending your money on your trip to decide on the best combination.
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