Handling currency in South Africa

Handling currency in South Africa
Travel Tips

For first-time travellers to South Africa, there are a number of important considerations that should be made when it comes to managing currency abroad. Port Elizabeth, often referred to as the ‘Friendly City’ or the ‘Windy City’, has a population of over 1.5 million and is particularly popular among tourists. To have the best possible time here, it’s important that travellers manage their currency sensibly.

George Adams, head of retail at Travelex, explained how holidaymakers and business travellers can be fiscally responsible while they visit the country. For people who have never travelled to South Africa before, Mr Adams suggests that they purchase all of their foreign exchange (FX) in one go to cover their full travel budget.

He said: “By purchasing all FX at once, they will ensure they will get the best value as discounts are often offered for higher amounts.  If they purchase FX at different places, they will incur minimum fees and commission costs each time, which may work out more expensive overall.”

The Rand, denoted by “R” or “ZAR”, is the official currency of South Africa. Mr Adams urged travellers to only convert their money once they are in the country. He expanded: “In other countries, the Rand is an ‘exotic’ currency and harder to source, therefore the margins and fees are more than on the major currencies like the GBP, USD ad EUR. We would therefore recommend customers purchasing all their FX in South Africa.”

Payment by card in the country is primarily reserved for larger purchases, so it’s recommended that travellers only use them to cover expenses from hotels or high-street shopping. In instances where payment is required for refreshments or taxis, cash is always preferable.

Mr Adams suggested that all visitors to the country should take a prepaid cash passport from Travelex with them. The card is protected by a VISA chip and pin, and can be preloaded with the Rand currency before you leave your home country.

It’s important to be aware that ATM machines aren’t as widely available as they are in other parts of the world; therefore, cash should always be carried as a payment alternative. On the plus side, ATM machines in South Africa have a fixed withdrawal fee that’s cheaper than the major banks cards; a USD cash passport from Travelex will only incur a fixed fee of two dollars, regardless of how much you draw out. Direct payments using the card are recommended as they incur no transaction fees.

Port Elizabeth may be known as the ‘Friendly City’ but it is still a high crime region that requires travellers to be cautious and sensible. Important documents should be left in a safe place and currency should be spilt among the group and stored in bags that aren’t easily targeted by pickpockets.

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