Cost of Living in South Africa

► Buy the Expat Arrivals South Africa Guide for Kindle or PDF

Food in South Africa - biltongSunny South Africa - the land of wine, sun, song, and ever increasing costs. A stronger South African Rand means that expats may find the cost of living in South Africa higher than they may have anticipated. Although life in the "rainbow nation" will be far cheaper than in New York City, London, Hong Kong and other Western or Asian superpowers, those receiving payment in foreign currency should be aware that the US Dollar, the British Pound and the Euro won't stretch as far in South Africa as they used to. In the 2012 Mercer Cost of Living Survey, Johannesburg listed at 154, and Cape Town at 179 out of 214 countries polled.

Furthermore, escalating food and fuel prices are rapidly eating into the previously reasonably priced South African lifestyle. To make matters worse, constant electricity price hikes mean that the cost of keeping on the lights will more than double in the next three years.

As is the case in most destinations, the cost of living in cities is higher than that in rural towns, and most expats will likely find themselves settling in one of South Africa's largest metropolises – Cape Town or Johannesburg.

The cost of accommodation in South Africa

There is hardly a shortage of accommodation options in South Africa, and it won't take long before even the most unorthodox expat family finds a home that suits their budget and lifestyle.

Generally, the farther away from the city that you choose a home, the less expensive it will be, although some exceptionally expensive suburbs on the periphery of Cape Town and Johannesburg exist as exceptions to this rule.
For those who prefer to live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centres, there are quieter areas which cater for people who prefer country air. However, commuting from home to work and school could mean an hour or more in the car each way. 

In Johannesburg, expats will get more space for their money than in Cape Town, but in Cape Town, a less spacious apartment or house can still be five minutes from the beach or two minutes from the mountain (certainly a redeeming quality).

Be prepared to fork out the following, or similar, on monthly home rentals in upmarket areas:
  • A two-bedroom luxury apartment in Cape Town city centre 15,000 ZAR
  • A two-bedroom apartment in Johannesburg city centre 6,000 ZAR
  • A three-bedroom house in an upmarket Johannesburg suburb 13,000 ZAR
  • A three-bedroom luxury house in an upmarket Cape Town suburb 25,000 ZAR
With property prices at an all-time low, expats may find it preferable to purchase a property than to find a rental home, as the prices could be very similar.

Food costs in South Africa

Alongside accommodation, transport and education costs, groceries will dominate the next largest chunk of a family budget. There has been a large increase, of roughly eight to 10 percent, in the cost of food in the last two years, and the prices continue to skyrocket.

A typical food bill for a family of two adults and two school-going children who take lunch to school every day, eat a home-cooked meal at night, and only indulge in luxury items such as sweets, chocolates and ice creams every so often, will amount to about 5,000 ZAR a month and upwards.

Most families on a budget prefer to buy groceries from large supermarkets that stock a wide variety of different brands, including local produce and imported goods, such as Pick ‘n Pay. Local produce and South African brands are substantially cheaper than imported goods. The local quality is excellent, and it won’t take long before some South African brands become household favourites. There are also retailers that cater to the nostalgic expatriate taste buds, such as the UK Emporium, that only stocks items from the United Kingdom, but at a substantially increased price.

Education costs in South Africa

According to the 2011 Xpatulator Cost of Living survey, the cost of education in South Africa is high. Out of 300 countries polled, Johannesburg claimed the 45th highest costs in the world, and Cape Town claimed the 68th highest costs.

Expats have many excellent educational facilities to choose from in South Africa, but there is a vast difference in fees associated with the much-coveted private schools and the ill-reputed government facilities.

Expect to pay anything from 30,000 ZAR per annum per child at private education facilities; tuition for the most prestigious facilities can be as much as 100,000 ZAR per annum.

The costs of healthcare in South Africa

Both public and privately funded healthcare options are available in South Africa. Most expats will opt for private healthcare, as the standard is better and the ratio of staff to patients is substantially higher than in government facilities. 

Day-to-day costs are affordable, even if you don't have health insurance, but fees can quickly escalate and become prohibitively expensive if specialists need to be consulted or a reason to head to the emergency room.  Private care providers may ask for payments to be made in full, on the day. For this reason, it's recommended expats take out private South African or international health insurance.
Fees for a general consultation cost anything from 250 ZAR and up. For a single appointment with a dentist, rather than an oral hygienist, expect to pay about 500 ZAR.
A comprehensive health plan for a family of four that covers most day-to-day expenses and any hospital costs in the event of an emergency, costs anything from 5,500 ZAR per month, depending on the package. A hospital plan for the same family of four, that will only cover costs incurred during a hospital visit, will start at around 3,000 ZAR per month. In terms of comprehensive medical insurance, there are plenty of reputable options on the market to choose from, and it won’t be difficult finding one that will suit the family and the pocket.

The cost of transport in South Africa

transport in cape townIt is really not an option to consider the public transport system in South Africa, it is both chaotic and unreliable. Though improvements are under way, expats will need to purchase their own vehicle.

Car prices can be reasonable, depending on personal taste, and it may not always be necessary to purchase a new vehicle. That said, expats should be wary of pre-owned cars that are priced too cheaply. If you spend less than 50,000 ZAR on a vehicle, you can expect to encounter an assortment of problems in the near future.

There are plenty of reputable agencies that offer pre-owned vehicles, with excellent maintenance and roadside assistance packages, and extra warranties, so that in the long run, one could save quite a bit of money.

A pre-owned luxury Volkswagen sedan can cost anything from 100,000 ZAR. If purchasing a new Volkswagen sedan, expect to pay 160,000 ZAR and up.

It’s essential to insure a vehicle in South Africa. There are competitively priced packages to choose from, with payments start from as little as 150 ZAR per month. However some plans can rise well above 1,000 ZAR a month, so shop around before making a commitment. Even basic car insurance packages can include roadside assistance, legal assistance and emergency services.

Expats may also need to have a good look at the running costs and the availability of spare parts before buying a vehicle. Some Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW vehicles are manufactured in the country and are therefore better value and are cheaper to maintain.

The massive surge in fuel prices means that owning a car can be as expensive as maintaining a second home.
In 2009 a litre of diesel cost 6.40 ZAR and a litre of unleaded petrol cost 5.68 ZAR. In 2012 those costs have risen to more than 11 ZAR. In short, choose your vehicle carefully. A “gas guzzler” can end up costing you nearly as much in petrol as in monthly payments.

Cost of Living in South Africa Price Chart (2012)

*All prices are in South African Rand (ZAR)
Accommodation (monthly rent in good area)
Furnished 2 bedroom house in Johannesburg R10,000
Furnished 2 bedroom luxury apartment in Cape Town R15,000
Room in shared apartment R2,500
Food and Drink
2 litre milk R18
500g cheese R43
Bread (white) R9
12 eggs (Free Range) R27
1kg sugar R10
500g ground coffee R60
Tea bags (25) R8
2 litre Coca-Cola R14.50
1 litre mineral water (Evian) R20
1 litre olive oil R85
1.5 kg apples R15
1 kg tomatoes R14
Beef Filet/per kg R140
1kg chicken (frozen) R33
1 Hake (fresh white fish) per kg R73
Milk chocolate bar (Toblerone - 100g) R25
Beer per can R8
Bottle of wine (budget/white) R30
Cigarettes (20) R35
2kg laundry detergent R65
400ml dishwashing liquid R13
Bath soap R7
Toothpaste R12
400ml shampoo R60
Deodorant R20
Telephone line (prepaid) R280
Mobile/cell phone (budget) R300 to 400
Mobile/cell phone (Blackberry) R2,000
Electricity costs - house (2 to 3 bedroom) R1,200
Water - house (2 to 3 bedroom) R600
Eating out and entertainment
Three-course restaurant meal with wine (upmarket) R350 per head
Fast-food meal R36
Coffee in café R16
Club Entry (upmarket) R50
Cinema Ticket R45 (Adult)
Beer in bar R17
Taxi per km R10
Annual Gym Membership R600 (joining fee) + R80 (card fee) + R450 per month
Male Haircut R120
Female Haircut R250
Manicure R170
Pedicure R220


Become our local expat expert for your area!

Expat Arrivals is looking for contributors to make this the ultimate guide for international expats.

If you are an established expat who could make time to write useful information for expats in your city and answering forum questions from new and prospective expats, please contact us.

As our local expert you can have your profile showing on each page you publish, and will have an option to promote your website or blog.

Got a question about your new country?

Search Expat Arrivals

You may login with either your assigned username or your e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.
, after login or registration your account will be connected.
Login with your Facebook account (Recommended)