The value of the rand versus most western currencies makes South Africa a great value for travelers!
Most places I visited in South Africa accepted credit cards, but there’s always a need for cash when traveling.
The South African Rand (ZAR) has been trading during the last year between 13 and 15 rand to the US dollar; on my most recent trip it hovered around the 14 mark for the entire time.
Bills come in 5 denominations: 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 rand.
The current series of bills all feature Nelson Mandela on the front, and the reverse features one of the Big 5 animals.
As with many banknotes around the world, the larger the denomination, the larger the size.
Banknotes issued prior to the current Mandela series are still valid, and you’ll see them occasionally. The sizes are the same and the colors are similar, but the older notes feature the animals on the front.
On a side note, the bills feature all of South Africa’s 11 official languages: English on the front of all of the bills with 2 other languages on the back of each note.
The largest bill, R200, is worth about US $14, so large purchases require a lot of bills!
Coins come in 6 denominations, 10, 20, and 50 cents, and 1, 2, and 5 rand. There are currently 2 types of 5 rand coins circulating, and they’re slightly differently shaped and sized, but both are acceptable anywhere, even in vending machines.
I probably shouldn’t call this section “exchanging money,” because I never visited a currency exchange in South Africa. For years I’ve exclusively used ATMs when traveling, and you’ll find ATMs everywhere in South Africa!
There are 5 major banks in the country: ABSA, Standard Bank, Nedbank, Capitec Bank, and FNB. Usually in shopping centers you’ll find a bank of ATMs all together.
I don’t recall paying any ATM fees when I first visited South Africa in 2015, but in 2016 I noticed 2 banks were charging fees to non-customers. Standard Bank wanted R50 per withdrawal and ABSA wanted R40. FNB, Nedbank, and Capitec remained free.
I guess if I were in a pinch I would pay the fee – it’s about US$3.50 at Standard Bank – but to be honest it’s usually not hard to find another bank’s ATM nearby.
Every ATM I used seemed to have a different maximum withdrawal per transaction – some as low as R2,000, and some as high as R5,000. If you use a bank that doesn’t charge you for ATM withdrawals (such as Charles Schwab or Capital One 360), the maximum really doesn’t matter – it will just take a little longer to complete additional transactions.
A warning about safety: I’ve read about scams where people will stand near ATMs and “assist” people with their transactions, and either swap out your card for another, or even blatantly take the money as it’s dispensed. Although I’m sure this has happened before, I was never approached, nor did I ever see anyone acting suspicious near an ATM, and I used them at shopping centers, gas stations, airports, and stand-alone banks in various parts of the country. Nevertheless, it’s good to be super vigilant and extract yourself from a situation that looks like it could develop into a problem.
Take normal precautions when using ATMs, don’t flash cash around when you’re on the street, and you should be fine.This entry was posted in Africa, South Africa, Travel Money