The currency is the Rand (ZAR), and it is divided into 100 cents. South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the Rand can be used in Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland. Change, in these countries, is usually given in local currency.
Credit cards & traveller’s cheques
South Africa has a sophisticated financial sector. MasterCard and Visa credit cards can be used almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club can sometimes be problematic.
Traveller’s cheques can be exchanged at all banks (which are found throughout the country) and you will get refunded if they are stolen. However, you cannot pay with traveller's cheques in shops.
When travelling in rural areas, it is usually advisable to carry some cash. Many of the smaller, particularly farm based accommodation venues will not have credit card facilities.
Cash machines (ATMs)
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a high value notes. ATMs take Cirrus, Maestro and most major credit and debit cards.
It is best to use ATMs that are inside shopping malls or similar buildings. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams. The till points at some major retail stores act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.
VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa. By law, advertised retail prices must include VAT, except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders can claim back VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250. VAT Refund offices are found at all the major airports.
Cost of living for travellers
Africa accounts for about 75% of South Africa’s international tourists, of which the majority are from neighbouring countries. Travel is often by road and expensive because of the distances involved. The majority of non-African travel is from the United Kingdom, the USA and Europe. Although these routes are aggressively competed for by the airlines, and sometimes deeply discounted, it is still expensive to get to South Africa.
The good news is that once here, travel costs are reasonable. In the cities, you can expect to pay from R400 to R600 per person for reasonable accommodation in bed and breakfast establishments. Starting prices for hotels will be approximately twice that for modest establishments, although this is a gross generalisation. In the countryside, bed and breakfasts start at around R200 to R300 per person, but budget travellers can sometimes do better than this. Of course, as elsewhere in the world, there is almost no upper limit to the luxury end of the spectrum.
Budget air travel is reasonable, but not on the scale of the European budget airlines.
Car rental is on the expensive side, because of the relatively high cost of motor vehicles in the country, but fuel is reasonably priced by global standards.
Eating out is reasonably priced, as are food prices in supermarkets for self caterers.