Compared to other expat destinations around the world, the cost of living in South Africa is low. With a local currency that tends to be weak and rather volatile, if you earn or have savings in a stronger foreign currency, you will be in a far better position than if you are paid in the South African rand. Local salaries may also be slightly on the low side in some industries, particularly in Cape Town.

That said, even if a little penny-pinching is necessary here and there, if you can afford it, you're sure to enjoy an exceptionally high quality of life in a country known for its sunshine, fresh produce, good wine and unrivalled landscapes.

In Mercer's Cost of Living Survey for 2023, Johannesburg ranked 205th and Cape Town ranked 210th out of the 227 cities surveyed worldwide. This is roughly on par with the cost of living in other African countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Gambia, and is still far lower than major international destinations like New York, London and Tokyo.

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 you to find a home that suits your budget and lifestyle.

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

If you move to Johannesburg, you will get more space for your money, while a less spacious apartment or house in Cape Town may be within a short distance of the beach, vineyards and 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 such as Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard.

Cost of transport in South Africa

Even in major centres like Cape Town and Johannesburg, the main form of transport is driving. Cars are relatively expensive, but petrol is cheap relative to European prices. Very few parts of the country have reliable bus or train routes, and mini-bus taxis, the most widely used mode of public transport, have garnered a reputation of being dangerous and uncomfortable.

Cost of groceries in South Africa

Thanks to ever-increasing prices, groceries in South Africa will dominate a large chunk of your 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.

If you'd like a taste of home, you'll also be pleased to know that some retailers stock items from overseas, although these can be expensive.

Cost of entertainment and eating out in South Africa

South Africa offers a vibrant and diverse entertainment scene that caters to a range of tastes and budgets. Dining out is a popular activity, with options ranging from affordable street food to high-end restaurants. The price of a meal can vary greatly depending on the location and the type of establishment.

Entertainment options are plentiful and varied. From live music and theatre to cinemas and sports events, there is something for everyone. Johannesburg and Cape Town, in particular, are hubs for cultural and social activities, hosting numerous festivals, live shows, and art exhibitions throughout the year.

Due to the favourable exchange rate for many foreign currencies, both dining and entertainment can be less expensive compared to similar experiences in Europe or North America. However, it's important for you to keep in mind the local inflation rate, as this could affect prices over time.

Cost of education in South Africa

You will have several excellent schools in South Africa to choose from, but there's a big difference between private and public school fees. Most expats send their children to private or international schools, but the costs at these can be exorbitant.

In terms of public schools, quality varies widely. Generally speaking, public schools whose fees are on the higher side will offer a better standard of education owing to the additional resources they have on hand. While their fees are a little more expensive than regular public schools in South Africa, they're still well below the price of private or international schooling.

Cost of healthcare in South Africa

Though doctors are exceptional and highly trained in the public sector, public healthcare facilities are of poor to middling quality, and waiting times are long. For higher standards, better staff-to-patient ratios and more comfort, you might prefer private healthcare in South Africa.

Routine costs are typically affordable, even for those who don't have health insurance. Fees can quickly add up, though, particularly when specialists are consulted or the need for emergency care arises.

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 April 2024.

Accommodation (monthly rent)
Three-bedroom apartment in the city centreZAR 14,550
Three-bedroom apartment outside the city centreZAR 12,200
One-bedroom apartment in the city centreZAR 7,850
One-bedroom apartment outside the city centreZAR 6,500
Food and drink
Dozen eggsZAR 50
Milk (1 litre)ZAR 20.65
Rice (1kg)ZAR 30
Loaf of white breadZAR 18.40
Chicken breasts (1kg)ZAR 55
Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)ZAR 55
Eating out
Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurantZAR 815
Big Mac MealZAR 90
Coca-Cola (330ml)ZAR 19.65
CappuccinoZAR 40
Bottle of beer (local)ZAR 25
Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)ZAR 1.80
Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)ZAR 690
Basic utilities (average per month for a standard household)ZAR 2,400
Taxi rate/kmZAR 20.70
City-centre public transport fareZAR 40
Gasoline/Petrol (per litre)ZAR 25

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