Read this travel money guide to learn how you can save on bank fees during your trip to South Africa.
South Africa is home to about 10% of the world’s plant species, and the South African constitution has officially recognised 11 different languages. However, the monetary system is a little less diverse. There’s only one currency in South Africa, the Rand (ZAR), and travel money options are limited.
If you’re preparing for a trip to South Africa, whether it’s for pleasure or business, it pays to find a travel money product that’s going to let you spend and withdraw Rand cheaply. Most Australian banking products charge like a wounded springbok when you make purchases and withdrawals in South Africa. Use this page about travel money for South Africa to find the right credit, debit or travel card to take with you. As well, you’ll find information about how to exchange your Australian dollars to South African Rand for less. A little preparation before you leave can save you hundreds in bank fees and a whole lot of stress.
Which option is right for your next trip?
$0 annual fee
0% foreign transaction fees
Eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, fees and charges apply
Bankwest Zero Platinum Mastercard
A platinum credit card that features 0% foreign transaction fees, complimentary travel insurance covers and no annual fee.
- $0 p.a. annual fee.
- 17.99% p.a. on purchases
- Cash advance rate of 21.99% p.a.
- Up to 55 days interest free
Compare travel cards for South Africa
What are the options for South African travel money?
Although plastic is widely accepted in South African towns and cities, it’s unrealistic to think you can get away with just making card payments in South Africa. ATM withdrawal fees should be a factor in your comparison of travel money options for South Africa.
ATM fees and withdrawing cash in South Africa
- Look for partnerships between Australian and South African banks. Westpac has an agreement with ABSA. ABSA is one of the big four banks in South Africa. This partnership means you won’t incur an international ATM fee if you use an ABSA ATM with a Westpac bank card. ABSA ATMs can be found all over the country.
Like most other travel cards, the Westpac travel card charges a flat fee of 20 Rand for each international ATM withdrawal. Using a travel card means you avoid the currency conversion fee, but you’ll still pay an international ATM fee. You can save on ATM fees using a debit or credit card, but you’ll still pay for currency conversion.
- Tip: Make sure you tell your card issuer about your travel plans. Credit card fraud is common in South Africa and your bank may block your card if you make a card payment or withdrawal in South Africa.
How much Rand should you bring on your trip?
$25 - $50 per night
2 star hotel
$50 - $90 per night
5 star hotel
$135 - $1,070
$10 - $22
Dinner at a midrange restaurant
$30 per person
5 star restaurant
$100 per person
$13 per person
|SkyDive Tandem –FreeFall Experience and Parachute Ride|
$203 - $330
$250 - $345 per person
*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
Exchange rate history
|Year||Average annual exchange Australian Dollar (AUD) to South African Rand (ZAR)|
*Exchange rates are accurate as of 5 September 2017Back to top
How travel cards, credit cards and debit cards work in South Africa
A quick summary of your travel money options in South Africa
|Travel money option||Pros||Considerations|
|Debit cards for travel|
|Prepaid travel money cards|
|Credit cards for travel|
This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.
How the different travel money products work in South Africa
Using prepaid travel cards
If you use a prepaid multi-currency travel card, you can load it with Australian dollars and convert the funds to a supported overseas currency at a locked-in foreign exchange rate.
If you’re spending in a loaded and supported currency, you’ll save on currency conversion fees and be protected from fluctuating currency exchange rates. The currencies you can spend in will vary from card to card, but the Westpac Global Currency card is currently the only Australian travel card that supports ZAR. So if you’re using another card, you’ll most likely incur a currency conversion fee when you make an ATM withdrawal or purchase in South Africa.
Even if you don’t have the supported or local currency on your card, you should still be able to use your travel card wherever Visa or Mastercard is accepted. If you don’t have the funds loaded on your card, the travel card will usually use a dropdown sequence to deduct the funds from your available currency wallets. Depending on the card you’re using, the currency order will be either flexible or set in a default order.
If your card is running low on funds, you can top up via an online transfer or BPAY. It can take between 24 hours and two business days for funds to appear in your account, so avoid bleeding your account dry before topping it up again.
Travel cards can be used to make overseas purchases at shops and ATM withdrawals, minus the fee for currency conversion, so long as you have the local currency loaded on the card. You can usually top up the card online or with BPAY and move funds into different currency wallets through the app or by accessing your account online.
- No currency conversion fee. Find a travel card that lets you convert Australian dollars to South African Rand without paying extra for the currency conversion.
- Dual card account. You get two cards when you apply for a travel card account, which will come in handy if one is lost or stolen while you’re on holiday.
- Locked-in rate. The exchange rate is locked in when you transfer funds between currency wallets, protecting you from negative currency fluctuations.
- Rewards. Some travel cards reward you with frequent flyer points when you spend in a foreign currency.
- Exchange rate. Travel cards are subject to the card provider’s cash rate. This is higher than the exchange rate offered to Visa and Mastercard debit and credit cards. There are travel card providers that use the better-value interbank rate, but these products are not common.
- Fees. You pay fees when you use the card, either to load or reload funds, to withdraw from an ATM or to transact in a currency not already loaded on the card. Some accounts also charge an inactivity fee. Even if you use a travel card from a bank with an international ATM alliance, you could still incur an international ATM fee. For example, there’s a fee for using a Westpac travel card to withdraw from an ABSA ATM.
Using credit cards
A credit card can be a good way to access a higher line of credit, which can come in handy when making large or emergency purchases on your holiday. However, if the card isn’t designed for overseas use, you’re likely to rack up fees as you spend.
- Financial freedom. Unlike a prepaid card or debit card that deducts from your savings, a line of credit could come in handy when making large or emergency purchases overseas.
- Rewards. Some credit cards come linked with a frequent flyer or rewards program, meaning you can earn points as you spend. Some cards even offer bonus points for purchases overseas.
- Extra features. Credit cards often come with extra features such as complimentary insurance and purchase protection. If you’re travelling overseas, you’ll need insurance anyway, so getting complimentary cover through your credit card could save you time and money.
- Currency conversion fees. If you’re spending overseas with an Australian credit card, you’ll rack up currency conversion fees of around 3% per purchase. Look out for a credit card that doesn’t charge currency conversion or foreign transaction fees to keep your costs low.
- ATM fees. Credit cards aren’t designed for ATM withdrawals, so you’re likely to incur a high cash advance fee when using your card for withdrawals overseas. You might also be charged a separate ATM withdrawal fee and local ATM fee depending on your card and the ATM you use.
- Temptation to spend. Having access to a line of credit might give you a false sense of financial security that tempts you to make unnecessary purchases. Remember that you have to repay every purchase (plus interest, in most cases) charged to your card.
If you’re thinking of using a credit card overseas, opt for one with low or no currency conversion or foreign transaction fees as well as other features, such as rewards or complimentary insurance that will benefit you on your trip.
Using debit cards
Most ATMs and EFTPOS machines in South Africa accept Mastercard and Visa debit cards. While there are benefits to accessing your own funds overseas, there are some drawbacks that come with using your debit card in South Africa.
- Withdraw funds. Unlike a credit card, debit cards are designed for ATM withdrawals and won’t charge you a high cash advance fee. Unlike Australian banks, South African ATMs don’t charge you a local ATM fee.
- Access your own funds. A line of credit can be good financial security, but accessing your own funds in your debit card gives you a more realistic idea of how you need to manage your travel budget.
- Travel-friendly debit cards. While some Australian debit cards will incur currency conversion and foreign transaction fees, others are designed for overseas use and will avoid these costs.
- ATM withdrawal costs. While you won’t be charged a cash advance fee, you might be charged overseas ATM withdrawal costs. To avoid these costs, look out for cards that belong to an ATM alliance that won’t charge you when making withdrawals overseas.
- Currency conversion fees. If your card isn’t designed for overseas use, you’ll collect currency conversion fees when you spend or withdraw money in a foreign currency.
Using traveller's cheques
Traveller’s cheques are safer than cash. They can be replaced if lost and you need photo identification to cash your cheques. The downside is convenience and cost: You need to visit a bank in South Africa to cash your cheques. Different banks charge different commissions and the exchange rate can vary from bank to bank as well.Back to top
The South African Rand
South African banknotes come in denominations of 10 Rand, 20 Rand, 50 Rand, 100 Rand, 200 Rand. The coins available are 1 Rand, 2 Rand and 5 Rand. 1R, 2R, 5R. Small coins are 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents. Prices are rounded down to the nearest 5 cents and the notes are easily distinguished by colour.
Find cash and ATMs in South Africa
The main banks in South Africa are:
- Standard Bank
What you need to know about withdrawing cash from a South African ATM
Unlike banks in Australia, South African banks do not charge you to use their ATMs. So you can save on ATM withdrawal fees altogether by choosing a card that doesn’t charge for international ATM withdrawals.
- Australian alliances with South African banks
Westpac has a partnership with South African bank ABSA. ABSA is one of South Africa’s big four banks. You can withdraw your money for free if you hold a Westpac, St.George, Bank of Melbourne or BankSA product and withdraw from an ABSA ATM. The only additional charge is the currency conversion fee (if applicable). ABSA branches can be found in all South African provinces and cities. Be wary of third-party ATMs though, as you’ll pay to withdraw from these machines.
- ATM withdrawal limits
The maximum amount you can withdraw from an ATM in South Africa is approximately 3,000 Rand per withdrawal. You may be able to withdraw more than this if you visit a bank branch and supply photo identification to the teller. You can make multiple withdrawals up to your card provider’s daily withdrawal limit.
- Getting your money changed in South Africa
You may be approached to get your money changed by a street vendor in South Africa. Although the rates they can give you may seem attractive, there’s a good chance you’re going to get ripped off. Plus, there’s an inherent danger in flashing large amounts of money around on the street.
Get your money changed at currency exchange offices, banks or make withdrawals from a reputable ATM. You may want to get a sum of money changed to Rand before you leave Australia so you at least have a little bit of cash on you at the airport. ZAR is a frequently traded international currency and you may be able to find rates from foreign currency exchange business like Travelex or OzForex that are comparable to the rates you can get when you change your money when you arrive.
Arguably, the best way to get South African Rand is to make an ATM withdrawal. This transaction is subject to the interbank rate, plus a small margin from the card issuer. The interbank rate is the exchange rate banks and large financial institution use to buy and sell foreign currency. Changing cash on the street will give you the tourist rate, whereas using an ATM gives you something close to the interbank rate.
- Use a mix of travel money options for the best result
Take a mix of travel money options to transact in South Africa conveniently and cheaply. For example, take a credit card for emergencies, but keep your debit or prepaid card on hand for ATM withdrawals and day-to-day purchases. Transaction accounts cost nothing to open, so it’s not too much to ask to apply for a dedicated travel account. Consider your financial situation and how you’ll be spending your money on your trip to decide on the best combination.
- Which product gives you the best rate?
Unless you’re transferring massive amounts of money, the difference in foreign exchange rates between credit cards, debit cards and travel cards is negligible. The real savings come by avoiding international and local ATM fees. Since South African banks don’t charge ATM fees, concentrate on avoiding the card provider’s international ATM fee to save money in South Africa.
Finding travel insurance for South Africa
Travel insurance is a must-have for any overseas journey, especially in South Africa. A comprehensive travel insurance policy is essential and the minimum cover you need for your trip.
Some credit cards offer complimentary international travel insurance when the cost of a ticket is charged to the account, but these policies have a number of exclusions. General insurance will cover you for medical costs but not cover specific types of activities with an inherent degree of risk. You’ll need extra cover for adventure activities such as rock climbing, abseiling and certain water activities like rafting. Compare travel insurance before you leave Australia and apply for a policy that will cover you for general misadventure as well as specific activities.
Travel insurance can cover you for:
- Lost and stolen items such as cameras, luggage or jewellery
- The cost of replacing lost or stolen travel documents
- Overseas emergency medical expenses
- Injury resulting from specific activities
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Frequently asked questions
What are the business hours for South African banks?
Generally, banks in South Africa have similar hours to banks in Australia. Banks open Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 3.30pm. On Saturday, banks usually open at 9am and shut at 11am. You may be able to find banks in shopping centres and airports with extended hours.
Is it compulsory to tip in South Africa and how much should I tip?
While it’s not compulsory to tip in South Africa, it’s common to give extra small change to people providing a service such as carrying bags or serving drinks. When you’re at a restaurant, it’s standard to give up to an extra 15% of the total bill. Tour guides and rangers in parks depend on tips to make a liveable income. A tip is common in these situations.
Is it better to use a card with no currency conversion fees or a card that doesn’t charge for ATM withdrawals?
This snapshot doesn’t factor in travel card load and reload fees nor card application fees and interest charges.
|No currency conversion fee debit card||No international ATM fee debit card||Travel card||No currency conversion fee credit card||No international ATM fee credit card|
- The currency conversion fee is 3%
- The international ATM withdrawal fee is $5
- There is no local ATM operator fee
- The transaction amount is $300
- ZAR loaded onto the travel card
- 20 Rand travel card ATM withdrawal fee
- 2% credit card cash advance fee