Cost of Living in South Africa

While its natural beauty has helped its rise to global prominence, residents also have to live with the ever increasing cost of living in South Africa.

Largely as a result of its weakness and instability against foreign currencies, consumers who live in South Africa often have to contend with price increases for petrol, electricity, food and other essential items. 

In Mercer's Cost of Living report for 2016, Johannesburg ranked 205th and Cape Town  ranked 208th out of the 209 cities surveyed worldwide. This is roughly on par with the cost of living in Nambia, Tunisia or Malawi, and is still far lower than major international destinations like New York, London and Tokyo.

Salaries don't stretch as far for expats who earn in the local currency. However, expats who earn or have savings in a stronger foreign currency are likely to find their financial situation is more flexible than it was back home. Those who can afford it are guaranteed a high quality of life in a country that is known for sunshine, fresh produce and good wine.  

As is usually the case, the cost of living in South African cities is higher than in rural towns, and most expats either move to Cape Town or Johannesburg.

Cost of accommodation in South Africa

There's an abundance of accommodation options in South Africa, and it shouldn’t take long for expats to find a home that suits their budget and lifestyle.

Some peripheral suburbs in Cape Town and Johannesburg are an exception, but generally the further away from the city someone finds a home, the less expensive it will be. There are plenty of quieter areas for expats who'd prefer to live outside of city's hustle and bustle. But most expats buy a car and commuting between home, work and school can take hours during peak traffic. 

Expats moving to Johannesburg will get more space for their money but a less spacious apartment or house in Cape Town may be within short distance of the beach, vineyards or the mountain.

Given the weakness of the Rand, buying a property in South Africa is an attractive proposition for many expats, especially in upmarket areas like Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard.

Cost of food in South Africa

Thanks to ever-increasing prices, groceries in South Africa will dominate a large chunk of an expat family’s budget alongside accommodation, transport and education. 

Most families on a budget prefer to buy groceries from supermarkets that stock a wide variety of local produce and imported goods, like Pick ‘n Pay or Checkers. South African brands are usually cheaper than imported goods and many of them are good quality. 

Expats with nostalgic tastebuds will also be pleased to know that some retailers stock items from overseas, but at increased prices.

Cost of education in South Africa

There many excellent schools to choose from in South Africa, but there's a big difference between private and public school fees. Given that most expats send their children to private or international schools, the cost of education in South Africa is relatively high.

Expats who want to spend less on school fees without compromising on quality of education should look at sending their child to one of the country's former "Model C" schools. These are high-quality public schools with good reputations. Their fees are a little more expensive than regular public schools in South Africa, but are still well below the price of private or international schooling. It is worth noting that these public schools tend to be overscribed and priority is often given to locals, those living close to the school and students with good grades - therefore this is not a viable option for most expats.

Cost of healthcare in South Africa

Most expats opt for the higher standards and better staff-to-patient ratios of private healthcare in South Africa. 

Routine costs are generally affordable, even for people who don't have health insurance. Fees quickly become expensive, however, when consulting specialists or heading to the emergency room.  

Private care providers may ask for payment up front, so it's a good idea to take out private health insurance in South Africa.

Cost of living in South Africa chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Johanneburg in May 2017.


Furnished two-bedroom house

ZAR 20,000 - 28,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom house

ZAR 15,000 - 24,000

Furnished two-bedroom apartment

ZAR 15,000-18,000

Unfurnished two-bedroom apartment

ZAR 10,000-13,000


Eggs (dozen)

ZAR 23

Milk (1 litre)

ZAR 14

Rice (1kg)

ZAR 19

Loaf of white bread

ZAR 13

Chicken breasts (1kg)

ZAR 65

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

ZAR 39

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

ZAR 50

Coca-Cola (330ml)



ZAR 20

Bottle of local beer

ZAR 25

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

ZAR 350


Mobile to mobile call rate (per minute)

ZAR 1.80

Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

ZAR 800

Basic utilities (per month for small household)

ZAR 1,800 - 2,500


Taxi rate (per kilometre)

ZAR 12

Bus/train fare in the city centre 

ZAR 13

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

ZAR 13