Cost of Living in South Africa

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Food in South Africa - biltong
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 against the US Dollar and the Euro, consumers who live in South Africa often have to contend with price increases for petrol, electricity, food and other essential items. 
 
Salaries don't stretch as far for expats who earn in the local currency. But the cost of living in Johannesburg or Cape Town is still far lower than major international destinations like New York, London and Tokyo.
 
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. 
 
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 taste buds 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. 
 

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 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, which makes it a good idea to take out private health insurance in South Africa.
 

Cost of transport in South Africa

 
transport in cape town
Although there have been significant improvements in recent years, public transport  in South Africa is generally considered to be unreliable and most expats buy their own vehicles – a decision they should consider carefully. 
 
Expats can save money through buying a second-hand vehicle, but should be wary of pre-owned cars that are too cheap. Cars that cost less than 50,000 ZAR often present problems shortly after they've been bought.
 
There are plenty of reputable pre-owned vehicle dealers, with excellent warranties and assistance packages, which makes it possible to save in the longer run.
 
Given the extent to which cars are relied upon, most expats insure their vehicle in South Africa. There are numerous packages to choose from, from basic plans that cost a few hundred rand a month to more comprehensive, more expensive packages. Even basic car insurance packages can include roadside assistance, legal assistance and emergency services.
 
It may also be wise to consider the availability of spare parts before buying a vehicle. Some Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW vehicles are manufactured in the country and are cheaper to maintain.
 
Repeated surges in fuel prices means that owning a car can be expensive, especially for expats who drive a lot. In 2009, a litre of fuel cost around 6 ZAR and peaked around 13 ZAR per litre in 2014.  
 

Cost of living in South Africa chart 

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider and the list below shows average prices. Prices vary across South Africa – these are average costs for Johannesburg in 2015.

Accommodation 

Furnished two bedroom house ZAR 11,000+
Unfurnished two bedroom house ZAR 8,500+ 
Furnished two bedroom apartment ZAR 10,000+
Unfurnished two bedroom apartment ZAR 7,000+

Shopping

Dozen eggs ZAR 24
Milk (1 litre) ZAR 12.50
Rice (1 kg) ZAR 19
Loaf of white bread ZAR 12.50
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) ZAR 35

Eating out

Big Mac meal ZAR 50
Coca Cola (500ml) ZAR 11
Cappuccino  ZAR 19
Bottle of beer (local) ZAR 19
Three course meal at a mid-range restaurant ZAR 300

Utilities/household

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) ZAR 1.80
Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)  ZAR 700
Basic utilities (Includes electricity, water and refuse) ZAR 1,800

Transportation

Taxi rate/km ZAR 10
Bus fare in the city centre  ZAR 12
Petrol (per litre) ZAR 13

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