Best Ways to Take Money to South Africa in 2023
South Africa is a dream destination for many Australians. Whether you’re heading off on safari, looking for a relaxing tour of the winelands, or soaking up the vibrant buzz of the cities, you’re in for a wonderful trip.
Make sure your break to South Africa works smoothly by figuring out the best way to pay for things while you’re there in advance. This guide covers 4 popular ways to take money to South Africa, so you can pick the one that suits you best.
Best ways to take money to South Africa
In this guide we’ll walk through 4 of the most practical and popular ways to take money to South Africa, including our top picks for providers to look at, pros and cons. Here are the common ways to pay overseas that we’ll investigate:
Prepaid travel cards to use in South Africa
Ideal for: holding ZAR in a digital account for secure spending and withdrawals once you arrive in South Africa
Prepaid travel money cards usually come with a linked digital account you can manage from your phone. You’ll be able to add money in AUD before switching to ZAR in the provider’s app - or in some cases you’ll simply need to add your money in dollars and the card will convert it for you when you spend or withdraw.
Having a prepaid travel card can add some extra security when you’re travelling, as it’s not linked to your normal AUD account and the card can be managed with just your phone. That means you can set up transaction alerts to see when a card payment is processed, and freeze or block your card remotely if you ever need to. You’ll also have the reassurance that your digital account isn’t linked to your main everyday account - so even if you’re unlucky and your travel card is stolen, the thieves can’t get to your AUD funds. Just freeze your travel card, without impacting your normal bank account or card.
Learn more about our picks for the 6 best prepaid cards - there’s more on our top choice, Wise, next.
Wise - our pick for prepaid travel card
With this card:
- Hold and exchange 40+ currencies in your linked Wise account
- No annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement
- Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup
- Some free ATM withdrawals available every month
- Virtual and physical cards available
|Wise card pros||Wise card cons|
|✅ Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate
✅ No foreign transaction fees apply
✅ Free to hold and spend 40+ currencies
✅ Receive payments to your Wise account in a selection of global currencies
✅ No minimum balance or ongoing fees
|❌ 10 AUD fee to get a card in the first place
❌ Free ATM withdrawals are limits to 2 per month, to the value of 350 AUD. Fees of 2% + 1.5 AUD after that
❌ Express delivery fees if you want to get your card as soon as possible
Pros and cons of taking money to South Africa with a prepaid travel card
- Not linked to your main everyday account for improved security
- Some cards let you hold ZAR, so you can lock in the exchange rate before you travel
- Many cards have some free ATM withdrawals, keeping down cost and increasing security as you won’t need to carry lots of cash all at once
- Cards are available with no minimum balance or ongoing fees to pay
- Currency exchange may have better rates than a bank will offer
- You’ll be able to re-use your card for your next trip - often dozens of currencies are supported
- Not all cards support ZAR for advance exchange
- Exchange rates may include a markup on the mid-market rate
- ATM fees may apply, depending on the card you pick
- Some cards have inactivity fees which apply if you don’t use them regularly, or cash out fees if you close your account
Travel debit cards to use in South Africa
Ideal for: spending and ZAR cash withdrawals, with no interest or penalty fees
A travel debit card is as convenient as any other debit card, but usually offers a few specific benefits compared to using your normal bank debit card when you’re away. Firstly, a travel debit card can be safer for overseas use as it isn't linked to your AUD bank account. You might also be entitled to extra benefits such as complimentary wifi, insurance or airport lounge access, plus low or no foreign transaction fees.
Travel debit cards are commonly issued by specialist providers, and will be linked to a digital multi-currency account you can manage from your phone. Once you have a card you’ll need to add money in AUD, and depending on the specific card you select, you could switch to ZAR immediately, or let the card do the conversion for you when you spend.
We’ll go into more detail about our top pick for a travel debit card - Revolut - next, and you can also read more about the best travel debit cards in Australia here.
Revolut - our pick for travel debit card
With this card:
- Hold and exchange 25+ currencies
- Choose the account plan that suits your needs and spending, including some with no monthly fees
- Some no- fee ATM withdrawals and currency exchange with the mid-market rate, based on the account tier you choose
- Extra perks like accounts for under 18s, plus cash back on card spending for top tier account holders
- Travel benefits offered for some account plans
|Revolut card pros||Revolut card cons|
|✅ Hold and exchange 25+ currencies
✅ Choose from different account tiers to suit different customer needs
✅ Get some no fee ATM withdrawals every month, depending on the plan you pick
✅ Get some currency exchange every month which uses the mid-market rate - limits vary by account plan
✅ No card order fee
|❌ Ongoing fees apply for some account tiers
❌ Out of hours fees push up currency exchange costs on the weekend
❌ ATM fees of 2% apply once you exhaust your no fee withdrawals
Pros and cons of taking money to South Africa with a travel debit card
- Pick from different travel debit cards, depending on your preferences and spending
- Cards often have some low cost, or free, ATM withdrawals and currency conversion
- No interest to pay, and no bill to clear at the end of the month
- Many cards from specialist services are linked to multi-currency accounts you can use on future trips too
- Secure as your card is not connected to your main AUD account, and can be frozen from the provider app
- Some transaction fees usually apply
- You may pay a fee when converting from one currency to another, which may be split out transparently, but which is often just rolled up in the exchange rate you get
- Some cards have monthly fees to pay to get full feature access
Taking cash to South Africa
Ideal for: day to day spending in markets, small stores and taxis, also useful for tipping
Cash is very commonly used in South Africa, so you’ll want to carry some rand while you’re there for day to day spending.
You can get your travel money in several different ways: you can buy ZAR online before you leave, can carry AUD to exchange on arrival, or make ATM withdrawals from time to time. Bear in mind that carrying a lot of cash isn’t safe, so keeping a small amount of cash on you and then using ATMs when you see them in cities and tourist resorts is usually the best option.
|Cash pros||Cash cons|
|✅ Major providers like Travelex sell ZAR you can get delivered to your home
✅ In small merchants and remote areas cash will be the only accepted payment method
✅ Convert in advance so you know exactly what you have to spend
✅ Use travel debit cards to make cash withdrawals when you can, which often offer better rates than buying cash
|❌ Carrying a lot of cash isn't safe - tourists are often targeted by petty thieves
❌ You’ll struggle to find exchange services in many more remote locations
❌ Exchange rates vary widely and usually include a markup - an extra fee
Do I need cash in South Africa?
Yes. You’ll need some cash in ZAR for small payments and purchases, for tipping and if you take a taxi. In more remote places and with smaller merchants, cash may be your only payment option.
How to buy South African rand on arrival in South Africa?
Australian dollars in cash can be exchanged to ZAR on arrival in South Africa. You’ll find plenty of currency exchange stores in the larger cities, but bear in mind that you’ll struggle in more remote areas. In this case you might end up needing to exchange your money with your hotel, which usually means paying a high fee.
How to buy South African rand in Australia?
You can exchange AUD to South African rand in cash in Australia with a provider like Travelex to get organised before you travel. Don’t forget that fees and exchange rate markups may apply, and as we’ve already mentioned, carrying too much cash at one time is usually not a smart plan for security reasons.
Best place to get South African rand from
There’s no single best place to get your travel cash. For many travellers, carrying small amounts of ZAR and AUD in cash, and making some cash withdrawals as and when needed offers both security and convenience.
Travel credit cards to use in South Africa
Ideal for: secure spending and the opportunity to earn extra travel perks, rewards or miles
A travel credit card can be a good alternative to a standard credit card, specifically for making travel bookings and spending while you’re away. Credit card payments are safe, and depending on the card you pick you might get reward points, cashback or miles when you spend. It’s also well worth looking out for a card with low or no foreign transaction fees as this can keep down the overall costs. However, you may still need to pay annual fees, interest and cash advance charges, so do look at the card’s fee schedule carefully before you sign up.
Remember in particular that you’ll need some cash in South Africa, but making an ATM withdrawal with a credit card can be very pricey. You’ll usually be charged a cash advance fee and interest which accrues instantly. On the other hand, a travel debit card could let you use ATMs with no fees and good exchange rates, so having both to hand when you’re in South Africa may keep down your overall costs.
Learn about the best travel credit cards in Australia here, and read on for more on our top pick.
28 Degrees - our pick for travel credit card
With this card:
- Order online and start spending with your virtual card instantly if approved
- No annual or monthly fees
- No foreign transaction or currency conversion fees
- Make ATM withdrawals overseas - fees apply for this service
- Unlock perks like discounts on travel bookings and internet roaming packages
|28 Degrees pros||28 Degrees cons|
|✅ No annual or monthly fees
✅ No foreign transaction fees - your payment is converted to AUD using the Mastercard exchange rate
✅ Repay your bill in full monthly to avoid interest or penalty fees
✅ Travel perks and partner discounts available
|❌ Cash advance fee of 3% or 4 AUD (whichever is greater), plus interest, when making an ATM withdrawal
❌ Interest charges apply if you don’t repay your bill in full monthly
❌ Subject to eligibility and credit checks
Pros and cons of travel credit cards to South Africa
- Convenient and safe way to pay, accepted in major hotels and retail chains
- Earn rewards and discounts, or get travel perks - depending on the card you pick
- Some cards have low or no foreign transaction fees
- Credit cards are useful as a payment guarantee in some situations
- Cards won’t be accepted by smaller merchants and in markets
- Interest and fees usually apply if you don’t pay back your bill immediately
- Cash advance fees and interest mean that using your card at an ATM is expensive
- Eligibility rules and credit checks apply
Travel requirements from Australia to South Africa
You can stay in South Africa as a tourist for up to 90 days if you have an Australian passport.
Entry requirements can change rapidly, so checking before you travel is always advised. Check the government’s Smart Traveller website to learn more.
Does South Africa accept Australian dollars?
No. You won’t be able to spend AUD anywhere in South Africa. If you’re carrying dollars with you you'll need to exchange them for South African rand when you arrive.
Best currency to take to South Africa
You’ll only be able to spend in South African rand in South Africa, so you can choose to either carry AUD in cash with you and convert on arrival, or to order your travel cash in South African rand before you leave. Bear in mind that exchange offices will be hard to find in more remote areas.
How much money do I need per day in South Africa?
Lots of people head to South Africa for a luxury trip of a lifetime. Some trips - such as safari - are pretty costly - but there are options in South Africa to suit all budgets. You’ll be able to find accommodation at a range of pricepoints, and if you’re on a budget, the good news is that day to day life in South Africa is often pretty cheap. To give a flavour, a 3 course lunch for 2 will set you back under 50 AUD on average, a cheap lunch for one will be around 12 dollars - and a domestic beer will be less than 3 dollars.
Do some detailed research to see how much things are likely to cost based on your plans and where you’re headed, so you can set your budget. Get more detailed cost information by city, from Numbeo.com.
How much does it cost to fly from Australia to South Africa?
Flight costs vary widely depending on where in Australia you’ll leave from and when you’re heading to South Africa. At the time of writing (September 2023), the very cheapest flight deals are in the region of 1,700 AUD return. However, these flights may not have the most convenient connections - which can make the overall travel time very long.
In South Africa travelling prepared with a variety of ways to pay is definitely the smartest move. Cards won’t always be accepted, so you’ll need a mix of cards and cash to get by conveniently.
Carrying lots of cash isn’t safe, so for most travellers, using a card to make ATM withdrawals in ZAR as and when you need to makes sense. You could also find this approach saves you money if you get a travel card - such as a prepaid travel card from Wise or a travel debit card from Revolut. Not only will you get a good exchange rate, many travel cards have some free ATM withdrawals overseas, for a great combination of cost and convenience.
Use this guide to decide which option to take money to South Africa will work best for you, based on your own preferences and needs.
FAQs - Best ways to take money to South Africa
Should I exchange money before I travel to South Africa?
You’ll need to have some cash in South Africa, so you can exchange in advance or make an ATM withdrawal on arrival at the airport. Using an ATM can also be cheaper than advance exchange, particularly if you have a travel card from a provider like Wise or Revolut.
Can I withdraw South African rand from a local ATM?
You can’t withdraw South African rand at an ATM in Australia, but you can use a travel card to make an ATM withdrawal on arrival in South Africa. This is often one of the most convenient ways to arrange your travel cash for South Africa.
Are prepaid travel cards a good way to take money to South Africa?
Travel prepaid cards from services like Wise are a safe way to spend when abroad. With Wise you’ll also get mid-market exchange rates and low, transparent fees which can bring down the costs of your trip.
Can I use cash in South Africa?
Yes. Cash is unavoidable as it’s the only payment method accepted by many smaller merchants. Carry some cash at all times, and make ATM withdrawals as and when you need to so you never run short.