Currency in South Africa - A Full Guide 2024

Claire Millard
Ileana Ionescu
Last updated
December 4, 2023

Planning a trip to South Africa? Whether you’re heading there for work or pleasure, you’ll need to know how to pay your way as you travel.

This guide covers all you’ll need to know about the official currency in South Africa, where to get it and how to keep your costs down during your trip.

What is the currency in South Africa?

The official currency in South Africa is the South African Rand, which is issued and overseen by the South African Reserve Bank. If you’re buying your travel money online you may also see the official code being shown - ZAR. In stores and restaurants, South African Rand prices are likely to use the currency symbol R.

Once you’re in South Africa you’ll see costs of items shown in ZAR and you’ll need to start paying for things in local coins and notes which are often found in the following denominations:

banknotes - 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 ZAR and coins - 10, 20, 50 cents; 1, 2, 5 ZAR.

Can you officially pay in CAD when you are in South Africa?

You’re unlikely to be able to officially transact in CAD in South Africa, which is why it’s time to start getting used to ZAR and learning more about the currency exchange rates so you’ll know what you’re spending on your trip.

This guide will walk through all you need to know, including Canadian dollar/South African Rand rates and where best to get your travel money from.

South African Rand
Currency nameSouth African Rand
Central BankSouth African Reserve Bank
Best travel cards to take to South AfricaWise

ZAR coins and banknotes

Here’s a full rundown of the ZAR coins and banknotes you’ll need to be familiar with when you’re in South Africa.

ZAR banknotesZAR coins
banknotes - 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 ZARcoins - 10, 20, 50 cents; 1, 2, 5 ZAR

History of South African Rand currency

The South African Rand (ZAR) was introduced on 14 February 1961, just before the Republic of South Africa was established. The currency, which takes its name from the Witwatersrand ('ridge of white waters' in Afrikaans), the region where Johannesburg and South Africa's main gold deposits are located, replaced the South African Pound. The rand was a stable and widely used currency, becoming the currency of the Common Monetary Area in southern Africa. However, political turmoil and changes in domestic and international economic conditions have led to significant fluctuations in its value over time. Despite these challenges, the rand remains an important indicator of the African continent's economic climate due to South Africa's significant regional economic influence.

Is CAD accepted in South Africa?

As we’ve seen, the official currency in South Africa is ZAR. If you carry CAD with you on your trip, you’ll probably need to exchange it before you can spend.

Sometimes when you’re away on a trip abroad you’ll find that merchants will take payments in a selection of major foreign currencies. However, the chances are that where this is offered, you won’t get a good exchange rate for your CAD. Planning smart and convenient ways to spend in ZAR when you’re away is likely to mean you save on costs in the end.

Usually, having a few different ways to pay and get cash is the best option for travelers and tourists. That’s because you’ll have a back up plan in case one payment method isn’t accepted for any reason, and you can pick the method that’s best suited to the specific transaction. Having a multi-currency card from a provider like Wise, plus your normal bank debit card, and some local cash in ZAR should mean you’ve always got options. You can use your cash for small purchases and tipping, and make low cost payments and cash withdrawals with your multi-currency card, while keeping your bank card in reserve for emergencies.

Use a travel card on your next trip to South Africa

Using a travel debit card in South Africa is usually cheap, safe and convenient. A few providers in the UK offer multi-currency cards which come with a linked payment account that lets you convert, hold and spend in ZAR. That allows you to add a balance in CAD and switch over to ZAR to lock in the exchange rate and set your travel budget.

Once you have ZAR in your account there are no extra fees to make payments, and you’ll not have foreign transaction charges to worry about, either.

Here’s a quick overview of a couple of handy travel debit cards you may want to order and use in South Africa.

Wise travel card

Order a Wise travel card online or in the Wise app, to hold and exchange 40+ currencies and manage your money from your phone. You’ll be able to spend conveniently in ZAR - and all currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with no markup.

Card holders get some free ATM withdrawals available every month, and there’s no annual or monthly fees to pay, and no minimum balance requirement.

Read a full Wise review here

Go to Wise
Wise prosWise 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

❌ Card order fee applies

❌ ATM fees apply once you’ve exhausted your free monthly withdrawals 

What is the currency exchange rate for £ 1 CAD/ZAR?

It’s helpful to get to know the live CAD/ZAR rate so you can easily calculate how much things are costing you while you’re on your trip abroad. The rate you need to focus on is the mid market rate, which is the one banks and major currency services get when buying and selling currencies. This rate isn’t always passed on to customers. Instead you may find that the CAD/ZAR rate you get when exchanging travel cash includes a markup - an extra fee.

Find the CAD/ZAR mid-market rate from a currency conversion site or a website like this, so you can keep an eye on the market and compare the rates you’re offered as you travel against the mid-market rate easily.

Should I exchange CAD to ZAR before traveling to South Africa?

Because South Africa sees many tourists from the UK every year you might find you’re better off if you exchange your currency when you get to South Africa rather than worrying about getting your cash sorted out before you leave.

Get familiar with the exchange rates offered locally to you, and online, so you can decide whether it’s worth switching some funds in advance of travel, using a card to pay while you’re away, or converting cash on arrival. Both in the UK and in South Africa, steer clear of exchanging currency at the airport. A captive market means that CAD/ZAR rates are often worse in the airport than in city centers.

When you’re in South Africa you’re going to need ZAR in cash for some of your spending - particularly when tipping or making smaller value purchases. Buying your ZAR travel money in advance can get you better CAD/ZAR exchange rates, and saves you wasting precious time shopping around for a good deal once you arrive in South Africa.

Tips for exchanging money in South Africa

At merchants and ATMs, make sure you’re charged in ZAR. If you’re asked if you’d rather pay in CAD instead, say no. That’s a sign of dynamic currency conversion, which usually means extra costs. ATMs are widely used in South Africa so withdrawing money in target-currency is easy, particularly in big cities and Cape Town.

Best place to exchange currency in South Africa

You can get your ZAR in South Africa in a couple of ways.

You’ll be able to use a travel debit card from a provider like [wise-affiliate-name-links] to make convenient payments and cash withdrawals and to convert funds online.

Or if you prefer an offline solution you can carry some cash in CAD to exchange when you arrive. Currency exchange providers are often in airports and hotels, although the exchange shops in a city center are likely to be cheaper overall.

How to pay in South Africa?

You’ll need to have ZAR to spend in South Africa. However, generally having a few different payment methods is a good plan. That means that if a merchant won't accept one, you’ve got a back up. It’s also reassuring to know you have a different way to pay if you were unlucky enough to have a card or some travel cash stolen. Here are your key payment options in South Africa.

1. Debit or credit card

Card payments can be helpful in shops, restaurants and hotels but there will be places where cash is also important. Order a travel card from a provider like Wise for cheap and fast transactions, including card payments and cash withdrawals as and when you need travel money in ZAR.

2. ZAR cash

  • Cash is widely used in South Africa, so it’s worth having some with you at all times. You may want to exchange money to ZAR before you leave, but it’s also usually convenient to make ATM withdrawals locally once you arrive in South Africa.

  • You’ll usually find you can use a card to make payments in South Africa, but carrying some cash in ZAR is also reassuring. It’s often easier for tipping and making smaller purchases, plus you’ve got a nice backup if your card is ever out of action for some reason.

  • It’s a smart idea to have both a card and some cash in ZAR when you’re in South Africa. Some merchants will prefer cash, but having a card for higher value payments and in busier more tourist places is also convenient. Consider using a travel card from a provider like Wise alongside your cash for flexibility.

Paying for the trip in CAD

If you’re paying for things in South Africa with a CAD bank card you might find a foreign transaction fee is added. This pushes up your costs when you spend in a foreign currency, and can be tricky to calculate.

Travel debit cards don’t always work this way. When you make purchases in South Africa using the [wise-affiliate-name-links] card you can either choose to convert your account balance to ZAR in advance in the Wise app, or just leave your balance in CAD and let the card handle the transaction when you pay. You’ll always get the lowest available fee and there are no extra foreign transaction charges.

Conclusion - Currency in South Africa

You won’t be able to pay in CAD when you visit South Africa - so learning about the currency you need is essential. Whether you decide to use a travel debit card from a service like [wise-affiliate-name-links], or stock up on ZAR in cash in advance, knowing the mid-market exchange rate can help you get the best available deal. Use this guide to learn all you need to know about the options, rates and fees for exchanging CAD to ZAR, and make your money go further while you’re away.

The official currency in South Africa is ZAR. You can’t usually pay in CAD in South Africa, so you’ll need to plan in advance to get your travel money sorted. Consider ordering a travel debit card from a service like Wise, for low cost conversions to ZAR and convenient spending and withdrawals - and remember that knowing the CAD to ZAR mid-market exchange rate is essential to check you’re getting a fair deal on currency exchange.

FAQ - Currency in South Africa

What is the currency in South Africa called?

The official currency in South Africa is the South African Rand. You may also see the code ZAR and the currency symbol R.

What's the currency in Cape Town?

The official currency in Cape Town is the South African Rand. You’ll only be able to spend in ZAR while you’re there.

What is the old South Africa currency?

Today the currency in South Africa is the South African Rand. If you’re worried about currencies changing, why not get a travel debit card from a service like [wise-affiliate-name-links] which will automatically pick the currency needed in your destination when making a payment - with no penalties or inflated fees.

What is the best currency to take to South Africa?

You’ll only be able to spend in ZAR while you’re in South Africa. Carrying some money in cash and using a travel debit card from a service like [wise-affiliate-name-links] is usually the best way to spend while you’re away from home.