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 have often had to contend with increases in petrol, electricity, food and other essential items. 
Expats who earn in the local currency will find that salaries do not stretch as far as they used to. At the same time, the cost of living in major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town is still far lower than major international destinations such as New York, London and Tokyo.
This means that expats who earn or have savings in a stronger foreign currency are likely to find that they have a more flexible financial situation than they may have had back home. 
Those who can afford it are, however, guaranteed a high quality of life in a country that is known for sunshine, fresh produce and good wine.  
As is the case in most destinations, the cost of living in South African cities is higher than in rural towns, and most expats will likely find themselves either moving to Cape Town or Johannesburg.

Cost of accommodation in South Africa

There is hardly a shortage of options for accommodation in South Africa, and it shouldn’t take long for an expat and their family to find a home that suits their budget and lifestyle.
Generally, the further away from the city someone finds a home, the less expensive it will be – although, some expensive suburbs on the periphery of Cape Town and Johannesburg exist as exceptions to this rule.
There are plenty of quieter areas which cater for people who prefer to live outside of the hustle and bustle of the city centres.  However, commuting between home, work and school could mean hours of travelling and a car is usually necessary in South Africa. 
Expats moving to Johannesburg will get more space for their money but a less spacious apartment or house in Cape Town can be within short distance of the beach, vineyards or the mountain (certainly a redeeming quality).
Given the weakness of the Rand, expats may find that buying a property in South Africa is an attractive proposition since purchases with stronger foreign currencies are likely to result in significant savings.
Real estate in Cape Town’s upmarket suburbs and along the Atlantic Seaboard are especially attractive to many overseas investors, since they are likely to have a good resale price.

Cost of food in South Africa

Groceries in South Africa will dominate a large chunk of an expat family’s budget alongside accommodation, transport and education. This has not been helped by price increases which are expected to continue to occur for some time.
Most families on a budget prefer to buy groceries from large supermarkets that stock a wide variety of local produce and imported goods, such as Pick ‘n Pay.  South African brands are usually much cheaper than imported goods and many of them are of good quality. 
Expats with nostalgic taste buds will also be pleased to know that there are retailers, such as the UK Emporium, which only stock items from overseas, but at a substantially increased price.

Cost of education in South Africa

There many excellent educational institutions to choose from in South Africa, but there is generally a vast difference in fees between reputable private schools and government facilities. 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

While public healthcare options are available, 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 payments to be made up front and in full. For this reason, it is recommended expats take out private health insurance in South Africa, whether as part of a local or international policy.
In terms of medical cover, there are plenty of reputable options on the market to choose from in terms of medical insurance and hospital plans, and finding a policy to suit an expat’s individual circumstances should be fairly easy. 

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 choose to buy their own vehicle. 
Car prices in South Africa are generally reasonable, and tend to be lower than in the United Kingdom, China and the USA but more expensive than in India. 
Expats can save money through buying a second-hand vehicle, but should be wary of pre-owned cars that are priced too cheaply. Cars that cost lost than 50 000 ZAR can often be expected to present an assortment of problems in the near future.
There are plenty of reputable agencies that offer pre-owned vehicles, with excellent warranties and assistance packages, so that in the long run it is possible to save quite a bit of money.
Given the extent to which cars are relied upon, most expats insure their vehicle in South Africa. There are competitively priced 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 by 2014 had risen to around 13 ZAR per litre.  
For these reasons, expats should choose their vehicle carefully, especially since they could end up paying as much for petrol as they do for monthly instalments.

Cost of living in South Africa chart (2014)

(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 2014)


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+


Dozen eggs ZAR 19
Milk (1 litre) ZAR 11
Rice (1 kg) ZAR 15
Loaf of white bread ZAR 10
Whole chicken ZAR 75
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro) ZAR 33

Eating out

Big Mac meal ZAR 45
Coca Cola (500ml) ZAR 10
Cappuccino  ZAR 17
Bottle of beer (local) ZAR 18
Three course meal at a mid-range restaurant ZAR 350


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile) ZAR 1.80
Internet (Uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)  ZAR 650
Basic utilities (Includes electricity, water and refuse) ZAR 1,800


Taxi rate/km ZAR 10
Bus fare in the city centre  ZAR 11
Petrol (per litre) ZAR 13

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