Home Moving to South Africa About South Africa The cost of living in South Africa
Last update on May 04, 2020

The cost of living in South Africa are likely to differ to that of your home country. Use this guide to see if you can afford to purchase real estate in South Africa, attend school, set up utilities, dining out, and more.

The cost of living in the South Africa is higher than you might expect thanks to an emerging economy and the strengthening of the South African rand. However, South Africa is still a much more affordable country to live in than most European, Asian and North American countries.

This guide gives you an in-depth overview of living costs in South Africa including housing, healthcare, public transportation, groceries, childcare, taxes and entertainment.

The economy in South Africa is on the rise. Although the rand experiences a significant amount of fluctuation, banking, commerce and basic infrastructure rivals other developing countries. Industries including manufacturing, service, agriculture and mining are also flourishing and the rand is performing well against other currencies.

As a result, the cost of living in South Africa is not as cheap for expats as it used to be. Having said that, the general cost of living in South African cities is considerably cheaper than the majority of major cities around the world. Eating out, beer and entertainment can be as much as 50% lower in South Africa than they are in Europe, for instance. Clothing and consumer items, on the other hand, are only marginally less expensive.

Cost of living in South Africa

South Africa has made a lot of progress in the last 30 years or so: absolute poverty has been significantly reduced thanks to a series of community programs and social grants, while substantial investment has also seen a vast improvement in education, housing and basic infrastructure. However, many South Africans are still paid quite poorly. The average disposable income in South Africa is R156,206 per year, which is well below the OECD average of R439,120.

In Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey 2018, three South African cities ranked in the top 100: Durban was ranked the highest (87th), whilst Cape Town (94th) and Johannesburg (95th) were not far behind. For the same standard of living, your money goes a lot further in Durban than other South African cities.

Below is a breakdown of how much it costs to live in the largest South African cities compared to other major cities around the world.

Cost of living in South Africa: Johannesburg

  • 51% cheaper than New York
  • 48% cheaper than London
  • 38% cheaper than Paris
  • 42% cheaper than Tokyo
  • 43% cheaper than Los Angeles

Cost of living in South Africa: Cape Town 

  • 57% cheaper than New York
  • 55% cheaper than London
  • 46% cheaper than Paris
  • 50% cheaper than Tokyo
  • 50% cheaper than Los Angeles

Cost of living in South Africa: Durban 

  • 63% less expensive than New York
  • 58% more expensive than London
  • 51% more expensive than Paris
  • 54% less expensive than Tokyo
  • 52% more expensive than Los Angeles 

Cost of living in South Africa: Port Elizabeth 

  • 62% cheaper than than New York
  • 60% cheaper than London
  • 52% cheaper than Paris
  • 56% cheaper than Tokyo
  • 56% cheaper than Los Angeles

Cost of living in South Africa: Bloemfontein

  • 66% cheaper than New York
  • 64% cheaper than London
  • 57% cheaper than Paris
  • 60% cheaper than Tokyo
  • 61% cheaper than Los Angeles
Prices in South Africa: Locations

Cost of real estate in South Africa

Property prices in South Africa are significantly lower than most European countries, North America, Australia and much of Asia. Furthermore, foreigners are free to purchase property in South Africa with limited restrictions. The only condition is that property must be endorsed as non-resident even if you are living in the country full-time, as non-residents have to pay capital gains tax when you sell the property.

As of the end of 2018, house prices in South Africa remained well below the highs seen a decade earlier, with below-inflation growth of 3.7% year-on-year. First-time buyer properties in most areas can be purchased for well below R1,500,000.

Renting a house is also very affordable for expats living in the suburbs, but it is a different story in the city centre. You can find a three-bedroom house with a front and back garden for around R6,500–R15,000, whereas an equivalent apartment in the city is R7,000–R25,000.

Cost of living in South Africa: Utilities – water, gas, electricity

According to Numbeo, utility bills cost around R 1,200 per month. Utility costs cover water, electricity, gas and waste disposal.

Cost of living in South Africa: Utilities

Broadband and television costs are comparable to most European countries. Basic broadband packages in South Africa start at around R600 but can be as much as R1,500. Television licenses in South Africa are R270 for the first year and must be paid in full. After the first year, you can pay monthly at a rate of R 26.

Public transport prices in South Africa

South Africa has one of the least expensive transport systems in the world, although most people use taxis. The average monthly cost for transport is as low as R500–R650 for buses and trains. Public transportation is fairly limited in South African cities.

The average cost for a one-way journey is R16. Taxis are also inexpensive and range between R60 and R120 for short journeys. You have to phone ahead and order taxis ahead of schedule, though: taxis cannot just be flagged down in the street.

Grocery prices in South Africa

Grocery prices in South Africa

Prices for general foodstuffs in South Africa is quite affordable for expats that earn a reasonable salary. The average grocery bill for essentials is estimated to be around R2,300–2,900.

Because most fruit, vegetables and meat are sourced locally, prices are kept low. Luxury items and imported foods, including potatoes, are priced slightly higher and can increase the cost of your shopping bill.

Prices in South Africa: Education

For most expats, the cost of educating your child at a private school in South Africa is probably less expensive than in your own country.

It should be noted that many schools in South Africa allow you to choose how often your child attends school; half day, full day or for three-quarters of the day. This structure also affects costs. South Africa only has 23 public universities and the cost of an education in the country is considerably higher than many European countries. However, students should also factor in general living costs, which are considerably lower in South Africa than in Europe or North America.

Universities fees in Cape Town in 2019 range from R51,000 per year to R82,000, depending on the course. International students also need to pay a flat course fee of R37,800.

Healthcare costs in South Africa 

The healthcare system is at odds in South Africa. Despite a recent wave of government reforms, healthcare for most South Africans is unaffordable. Yet it is highly advisable for expats to take out private healthcare for the entire family.

Cost of living in South Africa: Healthcare

The cost of private health insurance varies considerably. On average, healthcare insurance ranges between R 1,100 and R 2,200 per month for a family of four.

When you take out health insurance, read the policy carefully to determine what it covers. Avoid companies that reserve the right to cancel a policy if you have a critical illness or reach a certain age. Most insurance policies only cover you for five years.

Childcare prices in South Africa

Parents that work full-time have plenty of childcare options in South Africa. The most cost-effective method is to hire a nanny. They charge between R5,500–R13,000 per month depending on their age, experience and where you live. Some nannies, or night nurses, can also take care of your child overnight for R320–R430, which is less expensive than a babysitter that charges between R50–70 an hour.

It is also possible to hire an au pair to look after your children. Au pairs that work fewer hours demand a higher hourly rate to compensate for the loss of earnings. Au pairs must also be offered a room and meals.

Travel expenses on behalf of the family should also be remunerated. Rather than calculating the exact amount, a set amount of R3–R5 per kilometre is common.

Prices in South African restaurants

The cost of dining out is relatively inexpensive compared to many other countries around the world. Of course, the cost of a meal depends where you choose to eat, as there are high-end restaurants in South Africa that can be costly yet still around half the price you would pay for a comparable meal in Europe, Australia, North America and most countries in Asia.

It is possible to enjoy a gourmet four-course meal for around R575–R650 per person. Wine is also inexpensive and good quality in most restaurants, but it is a custom to allow diners to bring your own bottle and charge a corkage fee of around R40.

Prices in South African restaurants

In general, a lunchtime meal will cost no more than R115. Fast foods such as a McDonald’s value meal is under R75 and sandwiches are around R43. Evening meals in an inexpensive mid-range restaurant will cost on average between R215 and R500.

Cost of living in South Africa: Taxes

If you have been living and working in South Africa for more than 183 days, you are eligible to pay personal income tax on your personal income. This includes a monthly salary and income you receive from overseas capital such as rent.

Tax calculations in South Africa are complex. Each tax bracket has to pay a set taxable rate and then a percentage of earnings over the amount set by each tax bracket. Tax rates in South Africa range from 18% to 45% depending as follows:

  • Up to R195,850: 18% of taxable income
  • R195,851–R305,850: 26% (R35,253 plus 26% of taxable income above R195,850)
  • R305,851–R423,300: 31% (R63,853 plus 31% of taxable income above R305,850)
  • R423,301–R555,600: 36% (R100,263 plus 36% of taxable income above R423,300)
  • R555,601–R708,310: 39% (R147,891 plus 39% of taxable income above R555,600)
  • R708,311+: 41% (R207,448 plus 41% of taxable income above R708,310)
  • R1,500,001+: 45% (R532,041 plus 45% of taxable income above R1,500,000)

For more information about your potential tax liabilities in South Africa, see our comprehensive guide here.

Social security and pension prices in South Africa 

The social security system in South Africa is complex. Payments cover pension, sickness, maternity, old age care, war veterans, disability and death. The current rate stands at 2% and is paid by employers. However, workers have the option to take out their own pension plan to save for retirement.

Drawing social security is means-tested, based on the duration of time that you worked in South Africa and the amount paid in relation to your earnings. For more detailed information about the social security system in the South Africa, read more in our comprehensive guide.

For more information on economic indicators such as consumer inflation and taxation news, consult Statistics South Africa.