Money in South Africa
A currency is the ZAR (rand), divided into 100 cents (c). The banknotes are available in denominations ranging from R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10.The higher denomination notes are slightly larger than the lower denomination notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and watermark. Note that a new series of banknotes was introduced in 2012 and currently both the old and new series are in circulation and legal tender.
The coins have denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins ceased in 2002, although the coins still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions would be rounded up with the next smaller 5c in order to avoid a need for 2c or 1c coins. Remember there are two different types of R5 coins available in circulation: one is a silver coin while the other is a silver bronze coin. They are both legal tender.
South Africa is part of the Common Monetary Area of Southern Africa and the rand can be used in Namibia (where the rand and the Namibian dollar are the official currency), Lesotho and Swaziland (where the rand is widely accepted, but not the official currency).
Traveller’s cheques are a safe way to carry money. You can exchange them at any bank (which are all over the country, even in rural areas) and you will be reimbursed if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you can’t pay with them and need change when you exchange them for rands. Use ATMs instead, if possible.
(ATMs), which are connected to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and usually dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high-value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card, as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs. South African banks’ ATMs do not charge any fees beyond those charged by your own financial institution.
It is best to only use ATMs that are located in a shopping centre or other building. Always make sure that no one is watching you enter your PIN and be alert to scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and do not give it back after you enter the PIN). Do not accept help from strangers when withdrawing money from an ATM. If you are approached and offered unwanted help, it is better to cancel the transaction immediately and go to another ATM. The cash registers of some larger retail outlets (e.g. Pick ‘n Pay) also function as ATMs; just tell the cashier that you want to withdraw money.
VISA and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club which are also accepted, although not so widely.
Most retail outlets accept credit cards and pin-based debit cards as payment methods. Although South Africa has started to move towards a chip-and-PIN credit card system like in Europe, most shops still operate on the traditional credit card system, where the user simply signs the receipt after the transaction has been authorised. Therefore, credit card users from countries that also still use this system (such as the USA) will have no problems using their credit cards in South Africa, provided they have informed their bank in advance of their travel plans.
Value Added Tax (VAT) is levied on almost all products in South Africa at 14%. By law, advertised prices should include VAT unless specifically stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders can reclaim VAT on products purchased in South Africa and brought out of the country, provided the total value of the goods exceeds R250. Detailed information on the procedure to follow is available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and on their new website TAX Refund for tourists [www]. The VAT Refund Administrator’s offices are located both in Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and at Cape Town International Airport. Refunds are credited to a Travelex Visa card that you receive. It is issued in US dollars or Euros, the conversion fees associated with this card may result in you receiving up to 10% less than you thought. The cards can only be used outside South Africa.
Prices in South Africa
Petrol and diesel
Liquid fuel prices in South Africa are regulated and set monthly by region. Generally, fuel near the ports (Durban, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth) is cheaper.
The most expensive toll booth in South Africa is the Swartruggens toll booth on the N4 between Swartruggens and Zeerust, costing R71 for a normal car. Overall, the toll costs just under R100 between Pretoria and Nelspruit or between Johannesburg and Cape Town. If you drive from Beitbridge to Cape Town on the N1, you can expect to pay up to R270.
- You can buy two McDonald’s burgers (one hamburger, one cheeseburger and one chicken burger) for around R22 (Jan 2013)
- A sit-down lunch in an average restaurant costs between R80 and R150 per person. (Jan 2013)
- A decent 30 cm pizza costs between R55 and R75 (Jan 2013)
Shopping in South Africa
Prices in shops are fixed, but prices at open markets or street vendors are open to barter.
South Africa is not a place where you can find bargains for most goods. For example, most ordinary consumer goods, electronics and appliances are now all made in China, while most luxury goods are made in Europe. This means that built into prices in South Africa is the cost of transporting them there. However, South Africa is an excellent destination for buying African art, curios and souvenirs, which are much harder to come by outside of Africa.
Tipping in South Africa
Tipping is the norm in restaurants. In fact, most of these establishments pay their staff the legal minimum wage and rely on customers’ tips to bring the staff’s income to a living wage level. Tips of around 10 % of the bill are considered normal.
A small amount, usually around R5, is occasionally given to petrol pump attendants for additional services, such as cleaning the windscreen. Toilet cleaners at petrol stations on main roads are sometimes tipped if they provide a good service and keep the facilities clean. “Car guards” who claim to “look after” the parked car are often given a small tip if they are uniformed and authorised; however, those without uniforms are usually considered a nuisance and tipping is not compulsory, although they often harass motorists who demand payment.
The 10 % tipping rule also applies when you take a taxi. Since most taxis only use cash, it is better to ask how much you have to pay for the ride before you get in. This way you make sure you always have enough to tip the driver.
Finally, when checking into your hotel, it is customary to also tip your porter. The generally accepted rule is to give them R5 per piece of luggage they handle.