Opening a bank account in South Africa

How to open a bank account in South Africa

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Can foreigners open a bank account in South Africa? This guide explains how to open a bank account in South Africa as a resident, plus conditions for non-resident bank accounts in South Africa.

One of the important steps required once you move to South Africa is to open a bank account in South Africa, which will be required for certain registrations and transactions.

In urban areas there is no shortage of banks, bureaux de change and automatic tellers. South Africa’s 'big four' banks are Absa Bank, First National, Nedbank and Standard Bank. Card systems are generally CIRRUS and NYCE, used for both credit and debit cards in South Africa. Sometimes South African ATMs might not work or are empty, meaning you can't withdraw the maximum limit per day, however, this is increasingly rare as the banking system in South Africa has greatly improved over the years.

Most large towns and all cities have branches of major South African banks, and international banks can be found in major cities as well. In these centres you can generally use all major credit cards but VISA and Mastercard are more widely accepted than American Express and Diners’ Club.  In small towns you may find some places only accept cash.

This guide provides information on the banking system in South Africa, including how to open a bank account as a resident in South Africa, as well as conditions for opening a non-resident bank account in South Africa.

This guide explains banking in South Africa for expats:

Can a foreigner open a bank account in South Africa?

The type of bank account you open in South Africa will depend on the visa you’ve been issued with. If you only have a tourist visa, you’ll need to open a non-resident bank account in South Africa. If you have either a temporary or permanent residency visa, however, you can open a resident bank account.

It’s possible to open a resident account while you’re still in your home country, although this can be a more complicated process as you’ll need to have your application form and the relevant documents signed by a lawyer or solicitor. Find a list of banks in South Africa.

Banking system in South Africa

The South African banking system can seem complicated at first, with everything from large banking corporations to locally controlled banks and international bank branches dotted around the country.

The largest banks in South Africa boast a significant network of branches and offer telephone and Internet banking services, which allow customers to manage their accounts around the clock.

South African currency

South Africa uses the Rand currency (ZAR), with money available in Rands (R) and Cents (C). Banknotes are printed in denominations of ZAR 200, ZAR 100, ZAR 50, ZAR 20 and ZAR 10 while coins come in denominations of ZAR 5, ZAR 2, ZAR 1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. The South African currency's banknotes display the country’s ‘big five’ animals – the rhinoceros, elephant, lion, buffalo and leopard – and have advanced security features such as watermarks, raised printing and a security thread to make them hard to forge. While currency of South Africa has been prone to bouts of weakness, it has recently enjoyed a period of economic strength.

Exchange rates: Rand (ZAR) per US dollar is around 0.8 (2017). The South African currency is low compared to tradition rates, for example, 7.38 (2010), 8.4234 (2009), 7.9576 (2008), 7.05 (2007), 6.7649 (2006).

The ISO 4217 currency code for the rand is ZAR, but you will also often see it simply abbreviated as 'R'. The exchange rate is favourable for many international currencies and banking is a relatively modern institution in South Africa. 

The 'big four' banks in South Africa

The largest sector of the South African economy is financial services, long percieved as being dominated by the country's 'big four' banks:

  1. Absa Bank
  2. First National Bank
  3. Nedbank
  4. Standard Bank
In 2017 it was reported however that a developmental bank is likely to be opened as a contender, with the aim of supporting the remaining 10% of the market currently unserved by the 'big four'. Watch this space. 

Can a foreigner open a bank account in South Africa

How to open a bank account in South Africa

If you have obtained a South African residence visa, you can typically open a bank account in the same way as South African citizens. Offical residents can open an account by completing an application form coupled with showing proof of residence, employment status and a declaration of any assets you’ve brought into the country. Bank accounts usually charge fees and you can typically find a range of deals or packages for South African bank accounts, such as free withdrawals.

While it’s sometimes possible to open a resident bank account in a South Africa before entering the country, it can be a more complicated process as some banks will require your application form to be signed by a notary, and possibly other requests. However, if you bank with a major international provider in your home country that has branches in South Africa (such as Barclays), it may be possible to open an account without this extra verification.

Choosing a bank in South Africa

With a wide range of accounts on offer, it pays to shop around before committing to a bank in South Africa. The majority of banks charge account fees, and transaction and withdrawal fees apply too in many cases. Helpfully, some providers offer calculators to help you choose the right type of account for you.

Branches usually open from Monday to Friday between around 9am and 4/5pm, and on Saturday morning between 9am and 11am/12pm.

Some major banks in South Africa include:

If you bank with an international provider, it might be possible to get an account in your home country that you can also use in South Africa. These options usually carry higher fees but can cut down on some inconvenience and allow you to obtain credit more easily as you’ll have a history with the lender.

See Expatica's guide to banks in South Africa for an extensive list of local and international banks available in the country.

Requirements to open a bank account in South Africa

The requirement documents differ depending on your choice of bank account and whether you are opening a resident or non-resident bank account in South Africa. In general, you will need to present the following documentation.

South African bank account for residents

  • Passport/birth certificate
  • Work or study permit
  • Proof of address (such as a utility bill)
  • Three months of bank statements

Non-resident bank account in South Africa

  • Passport/birth certificate
  • Proof of address (such as a utility bill)
  • Three months of bank statements from your previous country’s bank
  • A certificate of introduction from your home country’s bank, signed by a bank official

Opening a bank account in South Africa if you are self-employed

Self-employed workers can find a variety of business bank account packages in South Africa. Business accounts are available for all kinds of needs, from those designed for basic day-to-day transactions to those that include merchant devices and accountancy software. If you have a small business, some banks may allow you to upgrade your personal account to take on business payments.

As with elsewhere in the world, obtaining credit or loans can be a tricky business if you’re self-employed, with banks requiring at least three years of financial records and six months of bank account statements.

Send money to South Africa bank account

Sending money from a South African bank account

South Africa has tight controls on international money transfers, and residents cannot transfer money out of the country without prior permission, unless they’re transferring to countries in the Common Monetary Area, which includes Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia.

Bank transfers can take up to a week, while SWIFT transfers (an international payment system used in South Africa) can usually be completed much quicker if you’re using a major bank in South Africa.

Transfer costs vary depending on commission, exchange rates and the complexity of the transfer. Some banks charge a flat fee for international transfers regardless of how much you’re sending and to where, while others can negotiate on fees if you’re transferring a large sum of money. If you want to cut out the banks, you can use a specialist currency dealer to handle the transfer, which sometimes offer benefits such as a better exchange rate or lower transfer fees.

Some of the banks with foreign exchange services include:

Debit and credit cards in South Africa 

Visa and Mastercard are the most common debit card types used with current accounts in South Africa. Both are recognised around the world and can be used in millions of locations from high street shops to online. Visa and Mastercard are popular primarily due to this coverage and their security features.

While American Express and Diners Club cards are among the credit card options in South Africa, they are less frequently used and are accepted in fewer places than Visa and Mastercard.

It’s also possible to pay using contactless technology operated by Mastercard Tap and Go and Visa payWave. Both of these services allow you to pay for transactions worth ZAR 200 or less by tapping your card on a reader. If your transaction costs more than ZAR 200, you’ll need to enter your four-digit PIN number. 

Expats moving to South Africa should note that the country normally uses four-digit PIN numbers for debit or credit cards. To avoid any payment complications, it is advisable to change the PIN of your foreign debit or credit card into a four-digit one when moving or travelling to South Africa.

ATMs in South Africa 

ATMs are fairly easy to locate in South Africa in cities and larger towns. Major South African banks have branches where you can withdraw cash at machines or over the counter. Cash machines charge a fee for withdrawals, and this is usually a flat amount regardless of how much you withdraw. How much you’ll pay depends on your bank; similar to elsewhere, some South African banks charge more if you use an ATM operated by a competitor.

Lost or stolen bank cards in South Africa 

If you’ve lost your bank card or have had it stolen, you’ll need to call a 24-hour call centre operated by your bank. You may need to pay a fee to have the card replaced if your account doesn’t come with insurance against lost cards. Replacement cards are usually sent to your home address or your local branch. While you’re waiting for your card to arrive you can access emergency cash at the bank, although this can also be subject to a charge. 

You can find details of how to report a lost or stolen card at some of the major South African banks by using the links below:

Non resident bank account South Africa

Phone and internet banking in South Africa

Internet banking in South Africa is very common, especially among the larger South African banks. Customers are usually given an online banking username and password, as well as a four or five-digit PIN number or CSP (Customer Selected PIN). When banking online in South Africa, you can conduct a range of tasks, including checking statements, making payments and applying for products such as additional accounts or foreign currency.

Some banks have mobile banking apps, which are available for devices with iOS or Android operating systems. These are usually slimmed-down versions of full internet banking services. One of the most advanced apps is provided by Standard Bank and allows customs to log in using touch ID, or to check their balance without logging in at all.

Telephone banking services are similar to internet banking in South Africa, and allow users to key in their password or PIN to access automated services or speak to an adviser at a call centre.

Cheques in South Africa

Cheques are no longer common in South Africa, having been superseded by debit and credit technology. Most places won’t accept cheques due to the increased prospect of fraud or forgeries when compared with other payment methods. 

Direct debits and standing orders

It’s possible to use direct debits to pay your bills in South Africa, and as in other countries you’re able to set up recurring or one off payments.

There are several ways residents in South Africa can transfer money or pay utility bills. The three most commonly used debit orders in South Africa are:

  • EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) – bank transfer system in South Africa available for customers of ABSA, Nedbank, FNB and Standard Bank;
  • NAEDO (Non-authenticated Early Debit Order) – uses paper or voice verification rather than PIN numbers;
  • AEDO (Authenticated Early Debit Order). An AEDO requires the account holder to enter their PIN to verify future dated payments.

With nearly one in five NAEDO transactions ending up unpaid, the South African Reserve Bank has developed a new payment method called Authenticated Collections to cut down on the number of fraudulent payments. From September 2016, the debit order industry has two years to move over to the new bank system in South Africa.

Click to the top of our guide to opening a bank account in South Africa.


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Updated 2017.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • V posted:

    on 24th June 2014, 14:41:09 - Reply

    So this article is setting up people to be on South Africa's corporations, hence, banks hit list?

    The banking systems, the insurance systems, the service provider systems are the foundation that has created the crime among the civilians of South Africa. From the beginning of time insurance companies worked together with the banks of South Africa in network in creating a crime syndicate to become wealthy.
    All these corporations have laid the foundation for these criminal activities, hence the reason why South Africa offers a University degree for Technical Science and their employees in certain rankings are required to have these certificates; these corporations create their criminals from inside done to the syndicate thieves on the street - car thieves for insurance schemes, tracker companies place their victims on a list, while syndicate criminals are hired as car hijackers, car-parts are on high demand vehicles used for resale through corporations (car companies) its the reason why banks only finance cars with insurance under two years, then there is the insurance payouts on life-covers and property that results in murder, whereby these corporations would have a list of people and families setup to be randomly
    killed for estate duties and insurance through their hired syndicate programs, and cellphone service providers have personal details of the civilians and again these systems setup for corporation fraud. (example, if there are over 5 million that assists these service provider from banking to cellphone account holders, if 100 thousand of those civilians are target by a corporation planned syndicate "fraudulent activity" for an 'X'-amount to be raised, then that is 100 thousand x (multiply by) the 'X' amount gained by the corporations.
    Its a numbers game and the civilians who support these corporations come in numbers while trying to create their lives through the number system - its an accepted game for these corporations and the victims preyed upon are the Civilians, monitored from their accounts and defrauded through the information in the data systems of the banks, currently FICA is setup to monitor everyone's activity, the massacres of murder and crime related activity, stolen vehicles etc. has always been estate duty that controlled civilians lives, these corporations created these criminals and now it is gone out of control, that victims are setup on every level.
    The whole system of South Africa, (Corporations) banking to service providers are all setup for fraud, These companies can't control the rate of the activity of crime any longer because there are more greedy employees on board that see the system for what it is, creating them outlawed in services offered. What needs to happen is that South Africa's corporate systems, the banking systems to service providers; 'needs' to collapse to then be restarted to serve its nation on a secure moral safe platform to then build a steady foundation. In the meantime as this building of corporations stands, the building is crumbling from hidden places and as much as they try to repair the exterior, there is always going to be leak that reveals the fate of this systems, as destructive in the activity of the Corporations. Everything is wasteful, the civilians are setup to create wasteful lives, they study, they get employed, they build their lives with living expenses, bank accounts that qualify for vehicles and homes; and then they murdered for off for a life they tried to create because of insurance and estate duties. The sad part is they teach their next generation that it is an accepted way. Lives created to then be destroyed for the fun of it, to maintain the lives of greedy 'elites' sustaining their high currency lives and the poor South African nations need to pay for this, the system that always controlled the country from Europe from Apartheid systems to now this upgraded version of keeping control of the country of its people.
    The Homecoming Revolution International Expo's funded by FNB for calling expats back to South Africa for 'job creation', really? Is South Africa not already sitting with many unemployed people as it is? What do they want with these expats the funds and security they come with when they move back to South Africa as they required to transfer their international funds in South Africa's banking systems, why? So they can add to the funded system of the wealth to these banks by being eventually murdered off, their wealth stolen and then the country gets blamed, as South Africa's crime rate..... Really???
    Internationally famous people are targeted by the same system (stars are literally being murdered for their wealth) again its all connected to the Cabals banking systems that created the global matrix in banking and funded related institutes. People are made to be enslaved by the service providers of all kinds then they are setup to be victims for insurance aid and schemes, which is the viral fraudulent activity that is going on from theft to murder of the supporters of these service providers. The sad part of this game is they are on a list to be victims of these systems.
    Some already know this and title it ‘that is life’ and others just choose to turn a blind eye, in the meantime the rest pretend like they actually don’t know and try to be treated differently, that they are not victims – it’s just the hackers and the fraud-ers they say; but they fail to question who created such smart people to outsmart the civilians?
  • Shane posted:

    on 30th January 2014, 07:40:10 - Reply

    South African banking systems are some of the best in the world, a lot of European countries actually adopted the SA systems. 

  • Rudi posted:

    on 12th February 2013, 16:29:43 - Reply

    I have only come accross 2 faulty ATM machines since the inception of ATM facilities in RSA.