Banking, Money and Taxes in South Africa

South Africa's banking system is sophisticated. There are numerous international and local banks in South Africa and each of these offer expats various options and competitive rates for managing their finances.


Currency in South Africa

The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand, abbreviated as ZAR or R. The Rand is subdivided into 100 cents.

Retail stores won't have trouble giving customers whatever change they need, and will happily take payment in the form of a debit or credit card, but street hawkers and small corner stores might battle to break large notes and may not have card machines.

Notes: 10 ZAR, 20 ZAR, 50 ZAR, 100 ZAR and 200 ZAR
Coins: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1 ZAR, 2 ZAR and 5 ZAR


Banking in South Africa

​The four major banks are ABSA, First National Bank (known as FNB), Standard Bank and Nedbank. Banks are generally open from 8.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and till 11am on Saturdays, although those in airports often have extended hours. All four have good online and mobile banking systems for customers' day-to-day banking needs.

Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in South Africa. American Express and Diner's Club are accepted in major centres and tourist spots but are often not accepted outside of these. Bureaux de change are also readily available in cities. 

Opening a bank account

Opening a banking account in South Africa as an expat has become quite a bureaucratic process. Requirements do differ from one bank to the next and it's often difficult to get clear information from the bank's website alone. Generally speaking, expats will need a valid work permit to open a South African bank account and in some cases they will also require a letter from their employer.Things are even more tricky for those looking to get a credit card especially without a credit record in South Africa.

For these reasons, some people opt to open an international bank account before relocating to South Africa. Although these may incur various charges they do allow expat's to carry out their basic banking until they are able to get a South African bank account. If an expat's existing bank back home has a large international presence, it should be fairly easy to make the necessary arrangements. Some banks with an international presence, such as Investec and Old Mutual, are actually based in South Africa.

Foreign citizens may wish to consult with their bank about offshore account options. Many expats choose to keep a bank account open at home for mortgages and other bills, open another account in South Africa for living expenses, and open a third offshore account for savings and for financial security.

ATMs

ATMs are plentiful throughout the country and all of the main banks have their own ATMs, although certain brands may be lacking in smaller towns. Customers can use any ATM no matter which bank they belong to, although fees will be slightly higher for withdrawals from other banks' ATMs. ATMs are used for both debit and credit cards.

The four main banks also provide facilities to make some bill payments or cell phone airtime purchases at their ATMs, and certain machines also accept cash deposits.


Taxes in South Africa

For tax purposes, many expats remain non-residents in South Africa. Residents are taxed on their worldwide income, whereas non-residents are only taxed on their South African-based income. 

An expat will be taxed on their worldwide income if they are in South Africa for:

  • 91 days or more on aggregate during the year of assessment, and

  • 915 days or more in total during the preceding five years of assessment, and

  • 91 days or more on aggregate in each of the preceding five years.

For the latest advice, expats should consult with both a South African accountant and an accountant in their home country.