While its natural beauty has helped its rise to global prominence, residents also have to live with the ever-increasing cost of living in South Africa. Largely as a result of its weakness and instability against foreign currencies, consumers who live in South Africa often have to contend with price increases for petrol, electricity, food and other essential items. 

In Mercer's Cost of Living report for 2019, Johannesburg ranked 185th and Cape Town ranked 180th out of the 209 cities surveyed worldwide. This is roughly on par with the cost of living in other African countries such as Mozambique and Rwanda and is still far lower than major international destinations like New York, London and Tokyo.

Salaries don't stretch as far for expats who earn in the local currency. However, expats who earn or have savings in a stronger foreign currency are likely to find their financial situation is more flexible than it was back home. Those who can afford it are guaranteed a high quality of life in a country that is known for sunshine, fresh produce and good wine.  

As is usually the case, the cost of living in South African cities is higher than in rural towns, and most expats either move to Cape Town or Johannesburg.

Cost of accommodation in South Africa

There's an abundance of options for accommodation in South Africa, and it shouldn’t take long for expats to find a home that suits their budget and lifestyle.

Some peripheral suburbs in Cape Town and Johannesburg are an exception, but generally the further away from the city someone finds a home, the less expensive it will be. There are plenty of quieter areas for expats who'd prefer to live outside of the city's hustle and bustle. Most expats buy a car, although commuting between home, work and school can take hours during peak traffic. 

Expats moving to Johannesburg will get more space for their money, but a less spacious apartment or house in Cape Town may be within short distance of the beach, vineyards or the mountain.

Given the weakness of the South African rand, buying a property in South Africa is an attractive proposition for many expats, especially in upmarket areas like Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard.

Cost of food in South Africa

Thanks to ever-increasing prices, groceries in South Africa will dominate a large chunk of an expat family’s budget alongside accommodation, transport and education. Most families on a budget prefer to buy groceries from local supermarkets that stock a wide variety of local produce and imported goods. South African brands are usually cheaper than imported goods and many of them are good quality. 

Expats with nostalgic taste buds will also be pleased to know that some retailers stock items from overseas, although these can be expensive.

Cost of education in South Africa

Expat parents will have several excellent schools in South Africa to choose from, but there's a big difference between private and public school fees. Given that most expats send their children to private or international schools, the cost of education in South Africa is relatively high.

Expats who want to spend less on school fees without compromising on quality of education should look at sending their child to one of the country's former 'Model C' schools. These are high-quality public schools with good reputations. Their fees are a little more expensive than regular public schools in South Africa but are still well below the price of private or international schooling.

Cost of healthcare in South Africa

Most expats opt for the higher standards and better staff-to-patient ratios of private healthcare in South Africa

Routine costs are generally affordable, even for people who don't have health insurance. Fees quickly become expensive, however, when consulting specialists or heading to the emergency room.

Private care providers may ask for payment upfront, so it's a good idea to take out private health insurance in South Africa.

Cost of living in South Africa chart 

Prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Johannesburg in January 2020.


Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

ZAR 13,000 - 15,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside city centre

ZAR 10,000 - 12,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

ZAR 6,000 - 10,000

One-bedroom apartment outside city centre

ZAR 5,000 - 7,000


Eggs (dozen)

ZAR 31

Milk (1 litre)

ZAR 16

Rice (1kg)

ZAR 20

Loaf of white bread

ZAR 14

Chicken breasts (1kg)

ZAR 75

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

ZAR 45

Eating out

Big Mac Meal

ZAR 55

Coca-Cola (330ml)

ZAR 15


ZAR 30

Local beer (500ml)

ZAR 28

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant

ZAR 500


Mobile-to-mobile call rate (per minute)

ZAR 1.80

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month) 

ZAR 960

Basic utilities (per month for small household)

ZAR 1,100 - 1,400


Taxi rate (per kilometre)

ZAR 15

Bus/train fare in the city centre 

ZAR 30

Petrol/gasoline (per litre)

ZAR 17

Expat Health Insurance


Cigna Global

With 86 million customer relationships in over 200 countries, Cigna Global has unrivalled experience in dealing with varied and unique medical situations and delivering high standards of service wherever you live in the world.

Get a quote from Cigna Global


Moving Internationally?

Sirelo has a network of more than 500 international removal companies that can move your furniture and possessions to your new home. By filling in a form, you’ll get up to 5 quotes from recommended movers. This service is free of charge and will help you select an international moving company that suits your needs and budget.

Get your free no-obligation quotes now!