Cape Town isn’t a huge city by global standards but it’s still one in which getting around by car is the most convenient – especially when you’re new to the city and need to get your bearings or are looking around potential new homes. But buying a car probably isn’t a top priority when you first arrive in a new country so for the first few months you’ll probably find yourself renting. Car hire in Cape Town is pretty much the same as in any other city – companies like Budget, Hertz and Europcar all operate there – but there are a few things that a new arrival needs to know before renting an automobile.

Car hire tips

Air conditioning is essential due to the high temperatures – especially in summer. Convertibles are best avoided (see below). Out of town roads in South Africa tend to be badly maintained so a car with good suspension is recommended if you’re going further afield than the city centre. Paying for zero excess will help with any damage that occurs as a result of bad roads. There are quite a few uninsured drivers on the road in SA so getting fully comprehensive insurance is recommended. Unlimited mileage might be a boon since distances tend to work out longer than calculated. Check your hire car is in good condition (especially the tyres) and opt for a 24-hour breakdown recovery service.

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Cape Town driving tips

In South Africa you drive on the left and pass on the right. Slower drivers keep left so that they can be overtaken. The speed limit on national highways is 120 km/h, on secondary roads 100 km/h and in urban areas 60 km/h (unless otherwise indicated). There are also some peculiarities to driving in Cape Town which newly arrived expats would do well to acquaint themselves with: Carjacking and smash and grab robberies are not uncommon in Cape Town. Keep your vehicle doors locked – especially at traffic lights (known locally as ‘robots’) – and never openly display valuables in your car. This is also the reason to avoid convertibles. Avoid driving at night. There are quite a few unroadworthy vehicles on the road in Cape Town without adequate lights. Pedestrians will also cross highways at night. Always carry a spare tyre. As well as bad road surfaces many streets are littered with broken glass or scraps of metal. Parking attendants – both official and unofficial – operate throughout Cape Town. These guards will look after your car for a few rands per hour so always carry some cash with you. Treat out-of-order traffic lights like a four-way junction i.e. give way to the right and be careful.

South African driving licence

New permanent residents can drive on their foreign driver’s licence for up to a year but car hire companies might request an international driver’s permit in addition to your foreign licence for insurance purposes. You can convert your foreign licence into a South African driving licence as long as it is accompanied by a letter of validity from your home embassy, is translated into one of the official South African languages and has your picture and signature. You need to go to a driving licence test centre (DLTC) with the above, proof of your residency, proof of ID and four passport sized photos. You’ll be able to convert your licence without taking a driving test but you will need to pass an eye test.