The official currency in South Africa is the rand or ZAR. It takes its name from Witwatersrand, the ‘ridge of white waters’ upon which Johannesburg is built. One rand is worth roughly 6p, so a R100 note is just under £6, though of course exchange rates fluctuate daily. Notes range from 10 rand up to R200. They bear the images of Nelson Mandela and the Big Five game animals to spot on safari. There are also coins ranging from one cent through 10c (worth about half a penny) to 50c.
The best way of picking up your holiday spending money is to get it before you fly by ordering it from a local Thomas Cook branch in the UK. You can then pick it up at your convenience or even have it delivered to your door.
If you don’t have time before you leave, there are plenty of places to exchange money in South Africa. From the minute you step off the plane, you’ll see banks, money exchanges and ATMs. Don’t be tempted to change money with unlicensed traders in the street. They may say they offer a good deal but you risk getting cheated or robbed, so stick to the many banks and established exchanges. Hotels may also swap your money for you.
You’ll also be able to withdraw rand from a local cash machine, as there are plenty of ATMs around the country, even in rural towns. But make sure you’re aware of any charges and limits your bank may have. Some may charge you to withdraw in a foreign country, or in a different currency, so make sure you check before you head out on holiday.
You may want to look into another safe alternative called a Cash Passport. This prepaid travel card means you’re protected if things get lost or stolen. It can be used at cash machines, and with chip and pin and credit card readers worldwide, so it’s very convenient. Of course, you always have the option of travellers’ cheques. Few businesses accept them as direct payment today, but they’re still a great way to pick up a bargain exchange rate by changing them for cash at a bank when you need it. They are also secure and can be quickly cancelled and re-issued if lost or stolen.
Credit cards like MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted in most places, though be on the alert for fraud. But you’ll still want some cash for markets and tipping. Occasionally, sterling and dollars may be taken when doing a deal in tourist areas, but the locals much prefer rand.
If you cross any borders during your holiday, it’s worth noting that the rand is also accepted in the Common Monetary Area which includes Swaziland, Lesotho and Namibia.