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Money, Banking and Tax in South Africa

South Africa’s banking system is recognised as one of the most advanced in the world, with online banking that outshines both the UK and USA. You’ll also find excellent access to ATMs (cash points) in all cities, and the vast majority of hotels, restaurants and major stores accept credit and debit cards.

Opening a bank account before moving to South Africa avoids a lot of moving-related stress, so it’s recommended if you can. Many banks offer online account facilities and international options. You will need to obtain all relevant documentation though, which can be tricky – particularly when it comes to bills and other proof of address documents.

Currency

Money, banking and taxes in South Africa

The South African Rand (ZAR) is the local currency and is made up of 100 cents.

Notes: R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. All notes feature Nelson Mandela, and on the reverse is one of the Big 5: R10 - Rhinoceros, R20 - Elephant, R50 - Lion, R100 - Buffalo, R200 - Leopard
Coins: R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c.

2c and 1c coins are no longer minted, but there are still some in circulation and they’re accepted, although they won’t buy you very much! Stores that price goods with odd cents will generally round your total purchase down to the nearest 5 or 10c.

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Banking in South Africa

In terms of general banking, various account options are available, depending on your status as a resident. Most payments are now handled electronically and it’s simple to set up new beneficiaries, arrange direct debits, or even do some basic share trading from mobiles, tablets and computers.

Setting up a bank account

Banks require identification and proof of address to open an account, as well as confirmation of employment and banking history – a letter from your current bank, or statements - the specifics depend on the bank and the type of account you want to open.

Major banks are: ABSA, Standard Bank, First National Bank (FNB), and Nedbank. A fifth bank, Capitec, has become a lot more popular recently and provides simple banking with low charges and extended branch opening hours. Its ATMs are less prevalent than other banks, but the presence is increasing.

International finance houses such as Bidvest Bank and Investec offer excellent products for expats, professionals, and investors.

General banking hours:

Monday – Friday

09:00 – 15:30

Saturday

09:00 – 12:00 or 13:00

Sunday

Closed

Debit and credit cards

When you open an account, you will receive a debit card which can also be used at ATMs. Credit cards must be applied for separately. All banks have a variety of credit card options, and many are linked to airline miles and other rewards programmes.

Private medical aid (South African health insurance) is essential when you live in South Africa, and many of these organisations also offer credit cards. Administered and backed by recognised financial institutions, these offer savings on health and fitness products, gym memberships and more.

It’s really worth looking around to find the card(s) that best suit your lifestyle – and that accumulate miles with your preferred airline partner!

Remember that petrol stations and toll roads will only accept Visa and MasterCard (or cash) and will not accept debit cards.

Cheque books are available but their use is decreasing and many stores don’t accept cheque payments. Online banking, debit or credit cards are far simpler.

Chip and pin

All debit and credit cards issued in South Africa now have a chip and require a PIN number to be entered. Some older credit card machines are still the “swipe and sign” variety and although these are being phased out, you’ll probably encounter one or two.

Loans and mortgages

Vehicle finance, home loans (mortgages) and other loans can be applied for through all banks, and again it’s worth shopping around and comparing offers. You’re free to use as many different banks as you like!

Interest rates, overdrafts, bank charges, and other details will be confirmed by your bank, according to your specific account and requirements.

ATMs

ATMs (or cashpoints) are easily accessible in cities, towns, and even at many garages (petrol stations). As in most countries, some can accept cash and cheques, and even provide full banking services, while others (often labelled as Cash Machines) are for simple cash withdrawals and balance enquiries only.

Bank charges on ATM withdrawals vary but in general, using your own bank’s ATMs is free and you’ll be charged R10 – R20 for using another bank’s ATM. Some accounts limit free ATM transactions though, so be sure to check the terms when you sign up.

International money transfers

International payments and money transfers can be arranged through your bank and are relatively simple, although they do carry charges. It’s also relatively simple to arrange international accounts, foreign exchange, and other transfer options.

Taxes in South Africa

South African Revenue Services (SARS) oversees all tax and is relatively efficient in doing so. Company tax and personal income tax are calculated separately

Online tax returns (e-filing) are popular for simple tax returns, but accountants are widely available should you prefer to hire a professional.

Taxable earnings

Your employer will calculate and deduct the tax payable according to your salary (usually paid monthly) and will provide documentation towards the end of the financial year (28 February).

They will also deduct a UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) contribution of 1% of total salary.

Personal tax is calculated on your total income, less deductions such as pension, medical aid contribution, and other expenses. In some instances a company may contribute part of your medical aid payment and/or retirement funding.

If you are able to claim tax exemption for expenses such as travel and entertainment, you must keep receipts and records of every item.

Other income that may be taxable includes interest on investments, certain capital gains, annuities, Directors’ fees, etc.

Tax rates/brackets (as per www.sars.gov.za) for the tax year ending 28 February 2016

​Taxable income (R)

​Rates of tax (R)

​0 - 181 900

​18% of each R1

​181 901 - 284 100

​32 742 + 26% of the amount above 181 900

​284 101 - 393 200

​59 314 + 31% of the amount above 284 100

​393 201 - 550 100

​93 135 + 36% of the amount above 393 200

​550 101 - 701 300

​149 619 + 39% of the amount above 550 100

​701 301 and above

​208 587 + 41% of the amount above 701 300

Different rates apply if you are over 65 – please consult SARS for full details.

Municipal rates and taxes

You (or your landlord if you’re renting) will receive a monthly bill from the relevant local municipality for “rates”, water, electricity, and garbage collection.

Rates are the SA equivalent of UK Council Tax, and are calculated according to the size and value of each property.

Water and electricity are calculated on usage.

Payment is usually made by the owner or agent and then billed to the tenant, according to the terms of the rental agreement.