South Africa - Banking, Currency and Budgeting Information
Automated teller machines (ATM's) are situated in all towns and shopping centres and are available 24-hours a day.
The monetary unit is the Rand (R) which equals 100 cents. (International symbol is ZAR). Bank note denominations are R200, R100, R50, R20, and R10.
The best system is always to have some cash South African Rand whilst conserving these by using credit cards where you can. Normal banking hours are 08.30-15.30 weekdays and 08.30-12.00 on Saturdays, depending upon the town.
Banks will cash traveler's cheques or give cash advances on credit cards, though the clearance required for a cash advance may take 30 minutes or so. In the remoter areas cash is essential. Wherever you are, petrol stations always require cash.
Few, if any, of South Africa's attractions are intrinsically expensive. Many are protected in national parks, which are very reasonably priced. Private lodges, and operators who run trips to the remote areas of the country can be more expensive.
In all these cases you are paying for some combination of high levels of luxury, the skills of first-class guides, and the logistics of finding comfort in such remote places. By African standards, the prices of South Africa's private lodges and safari operations remain reasonable. Much better value than equivalent operations in any other African country. This is partially because the economy is tied to the low-value South African Rand.
The main additional expense is petrol if you are driving, for which assume at least R11 per litre, depending on whether you are inland or at the coast. The roads in the countryside are usually open and easy, so expect to cruise at very economic speeds although some roads are suffering frm lack of maintenance. It can be a good idea to ask your host about road conditions so as to select the best route.
How to take your money
South African Rands are useful for buying petrol and small items, while more and more businesses accept credit/debit cards. Many travelers take most of their money as traveler's cheques (sterling or US dollars).
Banks in the cities will cash any travelers' cheques, but American Express, Visa, MasterCard and Diners are well recognised, and prompt replacements are issued if cheques are stolen.
Drawing money at a bank via credit cards is easy, but it will take a few minutes longer than changing travelers' cheques.
Tourists can have their sales tax (Value Added Tax or VAT) refunded at the port of exit provided the value of purchases exceeds R250.
VAT is currently 14% and levied on most items.