The cost of living in South Africa is cheap by international standards, yet prices have been slowly rising in recent years. A tough economy, high unemployment and the fluctuating Rand have pushed prices up, particularly for fuel and utilities and there is a noticeable divide between rich and poor across the country.
Prices for food and accommodation tend to be higher in the larger cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, where jobs are easier to find and salaries higher. While the cost of living is cheap in South Africa compared with other developed countries, it is relative to the average monthly disposable salary of R16,190 (£752).
Accommodation costs have risen sharply in South Africa in recent years, particularly in the Western Cape and larger cities. However, property prices and rents remain cheap in comparison to Europe, Australia and USA. There are many different types of property on offer in South Africa - from city centre apartments to rambling country houses with land - at affordable prices. South Africans are a nation of homeowners and owning a property is seen as a sign of status. There are no restrictions for foreign nationals buying property in South Africa, yet potential buyers should take into account estate agents fees, taxes and registration costs associated with buying a house.
Many South Africans are unable to get onto the property ladder, so the country has a flourishing rental market. Rents are more expensive in the cities and along the tourist routes and coastline. Short-term rents (up to three months) are widely available and properties are advertised through the South African Tourist Board. Long-term rental properties can be found in newspapers, through estate agents and online, although it’s a good idea to be in South Africa when searching for rental accommodation.
Tenants generally pay a security deposit upon signing a rental lease agreement in South Africa. The deposit can be one to three month’s rent in advance and by law the landlord or estate agent must place the deposit in an interest-bearing account. Landlords can deduct money from this account to cover damages when the tenant leaves.
Homeowners in South Africa must pay a property-related tax called the ‘municipal tax’. Payments are calculated based on the market value of the property and has sparked controversy in recent years due to poorer homeowners paying more than their wealthier counterparts. Owners and tenants are also required to pay monthly refuse collection and sewerage charges.
Utility rates differ according to area in South Africa but are generally lower than in Europe and the USA. Electricity charges are based on usage and South Africa uses 230V mains electricity. The largest electricity provider, Eskom, is state-run and has a reputation for being unreliable, with residents experiencing frequent blackouts and inflated prices.
Gas is not supplied to households in South Africa and most residents cook and heat their homes with electricity. However, there is now a growing trend in using LPG gas canisters in the home, which are supplied by Eskom and offer a cheaper alternative to rising electricity prices. Water rates are managed by the South African Association of Water Utilities (SAAWU). Charges are imposed on a sliding scale according to consumption and prices are kept at a low level. Tap water is safe to drink in urban areas but is best avoided in rural areas. Expats moving to South Africa can expect to pay an average R1069 (£50.65) per month for basic utilities (electricity, heating, water, refuse and sewerage).
South Africa has a telecommunications network coverage of around 99.9% and Internet access is fast and reliable in urban areas. Phone and broadband packages are often charged at a flat rate and you can expect to pay around R733 (£34) per month for a 10mbps connection.
If you own a television in South Africa, by law you must pay a TV licence fee of R265 (£21), per year, which is used to fund programming at the South African Broadcasting Association (SABC).
Healthcare and medical costs
South Africa has a two-tier system of public and private healthcare. The public healthcare sector is chronically understaffed and of poor quality, while the private healthcare sector has modern hospitals, facilities and highly trained medical professionals. There is a large gap in the quality of services between the two systems, with wealthy South Africans able to afford private healthcare and poorer communities having less access to suitable medical treatment.
Public healthcare in South Africa is billed through the Uniform Patient Fee Schedule (UPFS) and differs according to the patient, their health needs and financial situation, but the cost of hospital treatment or visit to a GP is generally very low. The South African Government is currently fast-tracking a National Insurance scheme which it hopes will make the system more equitable and raise standards. A private health insurance policy is a must for expats moving to South Africa and is relatively cheap. Popular choices for insurance for non-South Africans are Bupa Global or South Africa’s largest provider, Discovery Health.
South Africa has regulated prescription medicine prices and a Single Exit Price (SEP) states the maximum price a medicine can be charged at. Pharmacists often charge a dispensing fee on top of prescriptions. More information about prescription medicines in South Africa can be found here.
South Africa has numerous large shopping malls in urban areas and chain department stores such as Woolworths which sell everything, from food to clothing. There are a variety of large supermarket chains such as Shoprite and Pick n Pay, and traditional markets selling fresh produce in urban and rural areas. Some of the larger supermarket chains now offer online shopping and delivery services. Food and clothing are relatively cheap by international standards, with prices for clothing and homeware being higher in the more exclusive department stores and boutiques. Most shops are open between 9am and 6pm, with limited opening hours on Sundays and public holidays.
Most goods and services in South Africa are subject to VAT (Value Added Tax), which is currently set at 14%.
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment in city centre – R4937.20 (£229) per month
- Rent on 1-bedroom apartment outside city centre – R4158.58 (£193) per month
- Price of apartment in city centre – R11813.39 (£549) per square metre
- Price of apartment outside city centre –R9386 (£436) per square metre
- Loaf of bread – R11.33 (£0.50)
- Milk (1 litre) – R12.18 (£0.56)
- Bottled water (1.5 litre) – R13.13 (£0.61)
- Draught beer (0.5 litre) – R14.83 (£0.69)
- Packet of cigarettes – R35 (£1.62)
- Petrol (1 litre) – R12.97 (£0.60)
- Cinema ticket – R60 (£2.80)
Source: www.numbeo.com (accessed November 2015)
Budgeting and Savings