Use our guide to the cost of living in South Africa to work out what to budget for food, housing, transport, and more.
South Africa is an exciting place to live, with three capital cities (including Johannesburg and Cape Town). However, the country’s complicated history has led to stark inequality among its population.
While the South African rand does fluctuate, it tends to have strengthened over the past 25 years. That said, the cost of living for expats in South Africa is generally affordable than that of many countries in Europe.
- General cost of living and standards of living in South Africa
- Wages and salary in South Africa
- Housing costs in South Africa
- Domestic bills in South Africa
- Healthcare costs in South Africa
- Childcare costs in South Africa
- Study costs in South Africa
- The cost of food and drink in South Africa
- Transport costs in South Africa
- Leisure activities in South Africa
- Taxation and social security in South Africa
- Assistance with living costs in South Africa
General cost of living and standards of living in South Africa
South Africa has made a lot of progress to improve citizens’ welfare 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. That said, it performs poorly among the OECD’s Better Life Indicators.
For example, the country ranks 39th out of 39 countries for social inequality. Recent statistics are hard to come by, but there are generally large differences in poverty rate according to race, gender, and education. The highest poverty rates are among black South Africans and people with a lower education level.
In Mercer’s Quality of Living Survey, three South African cities rank in the top 100: Durban was ranked the highest (88th), while Cape Town (95th) and Johannesburg (96th) were not far behind.
Numbeo estimates that a family of four would need R30,775 per month, excluding rent, while a single person would need around R8,875.
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 Johannesburg
- 68% cheaper than New York
- 60% cheaper than London
- 53% cheaper than Paris
- 52% cheaper than Tokyo
- 59% cheaper than Los Angeles
Cost of living in South Africa: Cape Town
- 68% cheaper than New York
- 60% cheaper than London
- 53% cheaper than Paris
- 51% cheaper than Tokyo
- 59% cheaper than Los Angeles
Cost of living in Durban
- 61% less expensive than New York
- 65% less expensive than London
- 60% less expensive than Paris
- 58% less expensive than Tokyo
- 64% less expensive than Los Angeles
Cost of living in South Africa: Bloemfontein
- 7`1% cheaper than New York
- 64% cheaper than London
- 59% cheaper than Paris
- 57% cheaper than Tokyo
- 63% cheaper than Los Angeles
Wages and salary in South Africa
Many South Africans are still paid quite poorly. The average disposable income in South Africa is R175,942 per year, which is well below the OECD average of R510,036.
Housing costs in South Africa
Rental costs in South Africa
Renting a house in South Africa is very affordable for expats living in the suburbs. However, prices can vary greatly if you live in the city center. Monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of Johannesburg can cost R4,000 to R11,000. Meanwhile, a suburban flat will cost you under R8,000 a month.
The price of your rent or property will vary according to where you live. Rent for a larger home of three bedrooms in or near Johannesburg can cost R8,500 – R30,000.
Property prices 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 selling the property.
The average asking price in Johannesburg is R1,370,000, while the average sale price of a home is R1,050,000. According to Numbeo, homes cost R14,136 per square meter. in the city center, and R11,983 outside it.
Domestic bills in South Africa
Utilities in South Africa
According to Numbeo, utilities in South Africa cost around R1,700 per month. Utilities mostly account for electricity and water. Most electricity comes from Eskom, which has several tariffs. As an example of water costs, in Cape Town you’ll pay around R433 for 10,500 liters, including sanitation. Bear in mind that prices can rise significantly during droughts.
Telecommunications in South Africa
Broadband and television costs are comparable to those of most European countries. Basic broadband packages in South Africa start at around R500 but can be as much as R1,500. Television licenses in South Africa are R265 for the first year and must be paid in full. After the first year, you can pay monthly at a rate of R28.
Healthcare costs in South Africa
South African healthcare is divided into two sectors: public and private. Public healthcare is mostly subsidized, and the South African government is currently carrying out reforms in health to ensure free healthcare in the country. However, there is still a large discrepancy between the quality of public and private healthcare, so it’s usually advisable to take out private health insurance.
The cost of private health insurance varies considerably, but you might be able to get it through your employer. 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 costs in South Africa
Parents that work full-time have plenty of childcare options in South Africa. Preschool in South Africa is not compulsory, but there are plenty available. Most of these preschools are privately run but are subsidized by the government. Prices vary – check your region’s education department to find out more information including fees.
Hiring a nanny is another option. Their prices depend on your children’s age, the nanny’s experience, and where you live. An example of a price could be around R325 for a day or night nanny for a single shift, or R3,750 as a monthly rate.
It is also possible to hire an au pair to look after your children. Depending on the agency you use, the price might differ. You can expect to pay R50–R90 per hour according to your au pair’s experience. In addition, if your au pair can drive and has their own car, you can expect to pay more. If your au pair lives with you, their salary might be lower, but you’ll need to factor in household costs for them.
Study costs in South Africa
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.
The cost of food and drink in South Africa
Groceries in South Africa
The general cost of groceries in South Africa varies dramatically across different income groups. BFAP suggests that a ‘moderate-cost healthy food basket’ including staple foods, proteins, fruit, and veg, costs about R3,618 per month.
Here are some average prices of typical items from Numbeo:
- One liter of milk – R16
- Loaf of fresh white bread – R14
- One kilogram of rice – R26
- One kilogram of apples – R23
Restaurants in South Africa
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 high-end restaurants in big cities still charge high prices.
In general, an inexpensive restaurant charges about R150 for a meal. Meanwhile, a budget fast food meal costs around R60.
Beer, wine, and spirits in South Africa
If you want to drink with a restaurant meal, you can expect to pay R30 for a half liter of domestic beer and R40 for a 33cl bottle of imported beer. Wine can cost up to three times as much from a restaurant than from a supermarket. In addition, it costs more in Western Cape, home to South Africa’s wine industry.
Supermarket prices are lower across the board for alcohol. A bottle of wine costs, on average, R75, while beer fetches R12–R45.
Coffee in South Africa
A cappuccino in most South African cities costs about R29. This is about a third of the price you’d pay in London or Paris, and also cheaper than neighboring Botswana and Zimbabwe. It’s about the same as the cost in Windhoek in Nambia.
Transport costs in South Africa
Public transport in South Africa
Public transport in South Africa is variable, depending on where you live. However, there are plenty of options if you live in a larger city, and South Africa has the largest rail network on the continent.
Metro rail prices are determined by region and vary according to how far you travel. A single metro ticket for a short journey in Gauteng costs R7.50, while a longer distance (135–200km) costs R12.50. You can also buy monthly tickets to save some costs.
Long-distance and commuter trains cost considerably more. For example, if using the Gautrain, the Gauteng commuter rail network, you can calculate your fare online.
South African cities have two types of public road transport: minibus taxis and buses. Minibus taxis are often the cheapest way to travel (as little as R13.13), but are not always the safest. On the other hand, bus costs are variable – some are run by the local municipality, while others are organized by private companies. Fares can cost around R7.40–R27.90 depending on when you travel and how far.
Private transport in South Africa
If you decide to travel by taxi, you can expect to pay, on average, R20 to start the taxi and R12 for each kilometer. Usually, you’ll need to head to a taxi stand or book in advance.
Thinking of buying your own car to drive in South Africa? A Volkswagen Golf will set you back about R300,000, while a Toyota Corolla Sedan costs around R337,000. Gasoline prices are around R17 per liter.
Leisure activities in South Africa
Clothing in South Africa
You can expect to find clothing prices slightly cheaper in South Africa than in Europe, Asia, and North America. A pair of mid-range jeans will set you back about R780, while a summer dress in a chain store costs about R500.
Hobbies in South Africa
Gym costs in South Africa are generally cheaper than abroad, but this varies according to your gym’s facilities and type of membership. Usually, you can expect to pay about R550 per month. Meanwhile, if you want to save on monthly costs, a pair of running shoes costs about R1,400.
If you’re a movie buff, you can catch an international cinema release for about 100R. This is in line with neighboring countries, but far cheaper than Europe, Asia, and North America.
Taxation and social security in South Africa
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% as follows:
- Up to R216,200: 18% of taxable income
- R216,201–R337,800: R38,916 plus 26% of taxable income above R216,200
- R337,801–R467,500: R70,532 plus 31% of taxable income above R337,800
- R467,501–R613,600: R100,739 plus 36% of taxable income above R467,500
- R613,601–R782,200: R163,335 plus 39% of taxable income above R613,600
- R782,201–R1,656,600: R229,089 plus 41% of taxable income above R782,200
- R1,656,601+: R587,593 plus 45% of taxable income above R1,656,600
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.
Assistance with living costs in South Africa
There is financial help and other support available for those struggling to afford living costs in South Africa. However, these payments are not always generous. They include:
- Old age pensions – For citizens, permanent residents, and refugees living in South Africa. Up to R1,890 or R1,910 a month depending on your age.
- Child support grant – Citizens and permanent residents on under R52,800 per year (R105,600 combined for couples) can receive R460 per month per child.
- Social relief or distress – Emergency food parcels, vouchers, or cash following disasters or crises. These include benefits for those affected by COVID-19.
- Care dependency grant – R,1890 per month for citizens and permanent residents earning below R223,200 (R446,400 combined for a couple) who are caring for a child with a severe disability.
- Disability grant – Citizens, permanent residents, and refugees with a disability that causes them to be unable to work for longer than six months can claim R1,890 per month.
There are further grants and support available for war veterans and those needing care – check the South African government website for more information.