Avoid foreign transaction fees with the right travel card.
South Africa is one of the most popular countries for tourism throughout the whole of Africa. Millions of people from overseas arrive every year to enjoy the national parks, beaches and picturesque rural landscapes, as well as major cities such as Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg.
The booming tourism industry means that credit cards are widely accepted across the nation.
Mastercard and Visa are widely accepted credit cards in South Africa. American Express cardholders may find less businesses accept their cards.
Our pick for use in South Africa
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All credit cards in the table below have no foreign transaction fees. Using them will help you avoid paying extra fees on purchases made abroad.
If you often travel to South Africa, you could save money with the following cards:
- United℠ Explorer Card
- United MileagePlus® Club card
- Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express
United Airlines and South African Airways are both members of the Star Alliance. This lets you earn and redeem United miles on a South African Airways flights between the US and South Africa.
Potential credit card fees in South Africa
There are two main types of fees you could incur using a credit card abroad:
- Foreign transaction fees. If your card comes with foreign transaction fees, you could pay a fee of up to 3% on every purchase made abroad.
- Currency conversion fees. Instead of paying in local currency, a merchant could let you pay in US dollars. This is known as a Dynamic Currency Conversion and it comes with additional fees and poor exchange rate.
Can I incur both fees?
Yes. Avoid this by paying in local currency and get a credit card without foreign transaction fees.
Which credit card issuers are accepted in South Africa?
While some merchants accept American Express or Discover cards, Visa and Mastercard are accepted more commonly.
For cash withdrawals, look for Standard Bank ATMs for Discover cards. Amex cardholders can choose from ATMs of Nedbank and from smaller banks’ ATMs.
Should I use my credit card to get cash in South Africa?
Most hotels, restaurants and shops in Cape Town, Johannesburg or any other major city in South Africa, accept credit cards. That said, it’s always a good idea to also carry cash for smaller establishments.
If you use a credit card to make a cash withdrawal, there will be additional cash advance fees or an APR. Use a debit card to avoid these fees.
Do taxis in South Africa accept credit cards?
Some taxis do, but not all. If you prefer paying with a credit card, consider a ridesharing app such as Uber or Taxify and pay with your card through the app.
Chip and PIN credit cards
South Africa has adopted the chip and PIN technology in the past few years. This means you’ll need a PIN for an ATM cash withdrawal. Ask your bank to assign one to your card before leaving the US.
Is it safe to use my credit card in South Africa?
South Africa is known for credit card fraud. One of the popular frauds is someone offering you assistance to use an ATM while they steal your card and information. Follow these tips to improve your safety:
- Select ATMs with care. Stick to ATMs attached to banks. These are less likely to be tampered with and you can easily retrieve your card if the machine eats it.
- Take two cards. Having a backup can ensure you have coverage if something happens to your primary card.
- Keep your card in sight. Avoid card cloning or misuse by watching your card every time you pay.
How to prepare before traveling to South Africa
- Get a credit card without foreign transaction fees.This will save you up to 3% of the amount of every transaction you make. That’s $150 for every $5,000 spent abroad.
- Visa and Mastercard are universally accepted. Discover and American Express are also widely accepted, but also carry cash just in case.
- Notify your bank before you travel. Otherwise, your bank could interpret charges abroad as fraudulent and block your card.
- Get your bank’s phone number. Simply call to resolve issues with your card.
- Get a backup card. Make sure you keep it safe. Sometimes, it can be your only access to funds.
- Get some cash. Use it for incidentals and for smaller shops where credit cards aren’t accepted.
South Africa is known for credit card fraud, but you can still use your card safely if you exercise caution. Consider making a cash withdrawal for places that don’t accept credit cards.
Consider using a debit card for cash withdrawals to avoid cash advance fees and an APR. For all other purchases, make sure you use a credit card without foreign transaction fees.
See more guides on using a credit card in other countries.