Transport and Driving in South Africa

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Driving and public transport in South Africa is comparable to the United States. Public transport, even within the big cities, is limited – although efforts to improve this have been made – and virtually all expats moving to South Africa purchase a car. However, there are other ways to get around the country.

Driving in South Africa

Traffic in Johannesburg, South AfricaCars in South Africa are rather expensive, even though petrol prices are still fairly low compared to Europe. Diesel is widely available and typically cheaper as well as more economical than regular petrol.
South Africa’s road network is extensive and in good condition compared to the rest of Africa, however potholes can be a problem, and cause severe damage to cars.

South Africans drive on the left side of the road. Traffic, especially in the big cities, might be a bit more chaotic than expats are used to, but still very tame when compared to countries like India or Egypt. People generally stick to their lanes, and when traffic lights (or 'robots' as they are referred to in South Africa) aren't working, which does occur on a regular basis, the ensuing four-way-stop traffic is usually quite orderly. But don’t be surprised if minibus taxis illegally overtake on the left during heavy traffic.

Foreigners can legally drive in South Africa using their own country’s driver's licence, as long as it has a photograph of the driver, is still valid, and is in English. Some traffic cops will try to tell unsuspecting expats otherwise in hopes of eliciting a bribe, but if they stay firm and know their rights, there is nothing to fear.

Renting a car 

While an expat is still in the process of buying a car, or whenever they are travelling in other cities, renting a car in South Africa is a fairly inexpensive option. Most of the major international car rental companies are represented at airports and throughout the main cities. There are also several local car rental companies that might offer more competitive prices, especially for longer-term rentals. 


Air travel in South Africa

The easiest way to get around South Africa (and to its neighbouring countries) is by air. Domestic flights to all major cities are readily (and often affordably) available on the local airlines. South African Airways is the national carrier, while Kulula, Mango and Fly Safair offer low-cost options between major cities.
Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport is a modern and well-organised major hub for all of Southern Africa. Lanseria, a second, smaller airport on the northern outskirts of Johannesburg, offers daily flights to several destinations, often at a cheaper price, and Cape Town and Durban also have international airports.

If flying to the bush, transport by private plane is also an option. Expats should note that if they are interested in getting a private pilot’s licence, South Africa is the place to do it, with some of the best and most stable weather in the world, hardly any restricted airspace, and affordable instruction. 

Public transport in South Africa


Metrobus is the official bus service provider in Johannesburg but routes are limited. Unless someone lives in or near the city centre, which most expats stay away from, they won't be able to use the Metrobus system to get to work.

Cape Town has a rapid bus service called MyCiTi, which also offers a shuttle service from the airport to the city. Ordinary buses in Cape Town are run by Golden Arrow Bus Services and aren't particularly reliable. Those more interested in sightseeing than commuting should consider a bus tour. Cape Town's red Hop-on, Hop-off tour bus is a popular and inexpensive way to go sightseeing.

For intercity bus travel try companies such as Greyhound, Intercape and SA Roadlink.

Minibus taxis

Minibus taxis represent a cross between a bus and taxi service, and are used by some locals as their only form of public transport. There is an informal route system accompanied by various hand signals given by people waiting for a taxi at the roadside. Queues are often prohibitively long, space is cramped, they often don’t look very roadworthy and are prone to accidents. As a result, they are rarely used by expats.

Commuter trains

The high-speed Gautrain has been operating in the greater Johannesburg area since 2010 and has been a big success on the few routes available (between Sandton, Pretoria and O.R. Tambo International Airport) – it is clean, safe and on time. But unless one lives near one of the stations, it isn't a viable form of city-wide transport yet. There is a bus link from Montecasino in the northern suburbs, but since Johannesburg buses don’t have dedicated lanes, they are subject to the same traffic jams as cars.

Cape Town’s Integrated Rapid Transit (IRT) has been operational for a number of years and its route network is extensive. MyCiTi buses are designed to integrate with rail transport. IRT trains are not known for their punctuality but are inexpensive and take commuters along some of Cape Town’s most beautiful scenery.

Luxury trains

A wonderful way for expats to discover South Africa and its sweeping landscapes, if they have time, is by way of one of the luxury trains operating mainly between Johannesburg and Cape Town and a few other routes. It’s not the cheapest way to travel but a very comfortable one. Taking a car along is an option on some routes.

The Blue Train, Premier Classe and Rovos Rail are the most prominent luxury train providers.

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Our South Africa Expert

Sine's picture
Sine Thieme
Born in Germany, American citizen, lived in Johannesburg 2010-2013. Brentwood, TN
When it became clear that our family of six would have to relocate to Johannesburg, South Africa in 2010, I immediately knew... more

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