- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals South Africa Guide (PDF)
South Africa's banking system is sophisticated, making it easy and convenient to handle financial matters. There are numerous international and local banks in South Africa and each of these offer expats various options and competitive rates for managing their finances.
Money in South Africa
The currency in South Africa is the South African Rand, abbreviated as ZAR or R. The rand is subdivided into 100 cents.
Retail stores won't have trouble giving customers whatever change they need, and will happily take payment in the form of a debit or credit card, but street hawkers and small corner stores might battle to break large notes and may not have card machines.
Notes: 10 ZAR, 20 ZAR, 50 ZAR, 100 ZAR and 200 ZAR
Coins: 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1 ZAR, 2 ZAR and 5 ZAR
Banking in South Africa
The four major banks are Absa, First National Bank (known as FNB), Standard Bank and Nedbank. Banks are generally open from 8.30am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, closing at 11am on Saturdays, although branches in airports often have extended hours. All four major banks have good online and mobile banking systems for customers' day-to-day banking needs.
Opening a bank account
Opening a bank account in South Africa as an expat is quite a bureaucratic process. Requirements do differ from one bank to the next and it's often difficult to get clear information from the bank's website alone. Generally speaking, expats will need their passport and a valid work permit to open a South African bank account. In some cases, they will also require a letter from one's employer as proof of income.
Some expats opt to open an international bank account before relocating to South Africa. Although these may incur various charges, they do allow expats to carry out their basic banking until they are able to get a South African bank account. If an expat's existing bank back home has a large international presence, it should be fairly easy to make the necessary arrangements. Some banks with an international presence, such as Investec and Old Mutual, are actually based in South Africa.
Foreign citizens may wish to consult with their bank about offshore account options. Many expats choose to keep a bank account open at home for mortgages and other bills, open another account in South Africa for living expenses, and open a third offshore account for savings and for financial security.
ATMs are plentiful throughout the country and all of the main banks have their own ATMs, although certain brands may be lacking in smaller towns. Customers can use any ATM no matter which bank they belong to, although fees will be slightly higher for withdrawals from other banks' ATMs.
The four main banks also provide facilities to make some bill payments or cellphone airtime purchases at their ATMs, and certain machines also accept cash deposits.
Taxes in South Africa
An expat's tax obligations are to a large degree determined by their tax residency status. Those who are not residents for tax purposes are taxed on their South African income only. Residents for tax purposes are taxed on their worldwide income, but there are double-taxation agreements in place with some countries.
Expats are categorised as residents for tax purposes if they have been in South Africa for any of the following periods:
91 days or more in total during the year of assessment
91 days or more in each of the preceding five years
915 days or more in total during the preceding five years of assessment
Income tax rates in South Africa range from 18 percent to 45 percent.
For the latest advice, it's best to consult with an expat tax specialist.