Compared to other expat destinations around the world, the cost of living in South Africa is low. But with a local currency that tends to be weak and rather volatile, expats who earn or have savings in a stronger foreign currency will be in a far better position than those being paid in South African rand. Local salaries may also be slightly on the low side in some industries, particularly in Cape Town.

That said, even if a little penny-pinching is necessary here and there, those who can afford it are sure to enjoy an exceptionally high quality of life in a country known for its sunshine, fresh produce, good wine and unrivalled landscapes.

In Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2022, Johannesburg ranked 193rd and Cape Town ranked 194th out of the 227 cities surveyed worldwide. This is roughly on par with the cost of living in other African countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Gambia, and is still far lower than major international destinations like New York, London and Tokyo.

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 options for accommodation 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 CBD someone finds a home, the less expensive it will be (the CBD in Johannesburg now being Sandton). There are plenty of quieter areas for expats who'd prefer to live outside the city's hustle and bustle. Most expats buy a car, although commuting between home, work and school can take hours during peak traffic.

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

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


Cost of transport in South Africa

Even in major centres like Cape Town and Johannesburg, the main form of transport is driving. Cars are relatively expensive, but petrol is cheap relative to European prices. Very few parts of the country have reliable bus or train routes, and mini-bus taxis, the most widely used mode of public transport, have garnered a reputation of being dangerous and uncomfortable.


Cost of groceries 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 local supermarkets that stock a wide variety of local produce and imported goods. South African brands are usually cheaper than imported goods, and many of them are good quality.

Expats who'd like a taste of home will also be pleased to know that some retailers stock items from overseas, although these can be expensive.


Cost of education in South Africa

Expat parents will have several excellent schools in South Africa to choose from, but there's a big difference between private and public school fees. Most expats send their children to private or international schools, but the costs at these can be exorbitant.

In terms of public schools, quality varies widely. Generally speaking, public schools whose fees are on the higher side will offer a better standard of education owing to the additional resources they have on hand. While their fees are a little more expensive than regular public schools in South Africa, they're still well below the price of private or international schooling.


Cost of healthcare in South Africa

Though doctors are exceptional and highly trained in the public sector, public healthcare facilities are of poor to middling quality, and waiting times are long. For higher standards, better staff-to-patient ratios and more comfort, expats tend to prefer private healthcare in South Africa.

Routine costs are typically affordable, even for people who don't have health insurance. Fees can quickly add up, though, particularly when specialists are consulted or the need for emergency care arises.

Private care providers may ask for payment upfront, 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 Johannesburg in September 2022.

Accommodation 

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

ZAR 13,500

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

ZAR 12,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

ZAR 6,600

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

ZAR 6,300

Shopping

Eggs (dozen)

ZAR 36

Milk (1 litre)

ZAR 18

Rice (1kg)

ZAR 25

Loaf of white bread

ZAR 15

Chicken breasts (1kg)

ZAR 82

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

ZAR 51

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

ZAR 69

Coca-Cola (330ml)

ZAR 16

Cappuccino 

ZAR 31

Local beer (500ml)

ZAR 35

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

ZAR 600

Utilities

Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

ZAR 1.78

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

ZAR 805

Basic utilities (per month for small household)

ZAR 2,000

Transport

Taxi rate (per kilometre)

ZAR 15.75

Bus/train fare in the city centre

ZAR 30

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

ZAR 21

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