The cost of living in South Africa: How does it compare? (2022)

cost of living in south africaThe cost of living in South Africa is renowned for being more affordable than many other major countries in the world.

But just how much more affordable is it?

That’s the question we’re looking to answer today. We’re going to do this by comparing South Africa’s cost of living to that of four other nations – the UK, the USA, Germany, and the  Netherlands.

How does the comparison work?

To give you a realistic idea of how South Africa’s cost of living compares to the countries on our list, our comparison will look at the cost of seven everyday expenses:

  1. Rent
  2. Utilities
  3. Groceries
  4. Schooling
  5. Clothing
  6. Transport
  7. Restaurants

We’ve pulled all the costs from Numbeo, which is the “world’s largest cost of living database”. The costs are crowdsourced, so keep in mind that costs are averages.

To keep things simple, we’ve converted all costs into rands. You can, however, look at the pound, dollar, and euro costs on each country’s Numbeo page:

Let’s dive into the comparison

As explained above, we’re comparing rent, utilities, groceries, clothing, cars and the cost of petrol, and schooling today.

On average, consumer prices in South Africa are lower than in the UK, USA, Germany, and the Netherlands.

The biggest difference is between South Africa and the Netherlands. South Africa’s consumer prices are 43.13% lower.

What about purchasing power?

You can’t do a living cost comparison without also looking at purchasing power.

Purchasing power is important because, all else being equal, inflation decreases the number of goods or services you would be able to purchase. So says Investopedia, that defines purchasing power as “the value of a currency expressed in terms of the number of goods or serves that one unit of money can buy.”

In other words, purchasing power is “the financial ability to buy products and services”.

On average, South Africa’s local purchasing power is:

  • 12.12% lower than in the UK
  • 26.33% than in the USA
  • 23.82% lower than in Germany
  • 11.29% lower than in the Netherlands

Let’s see how this looks in practice. We’ll start with rent which is the biggest monthly expense for most people.

1. Rent

Rent in South Africa is significantly more affordable than in any of the comparison countries. According to Numbeo, on average:

  • Rent in the UK is 90.45% higher than in South Africa.
  • Rent in the USA is 151.73% higher than in South Africa.
  • Rent in Germany is 65.10% higher than in South Africa.
  • Rent in the Netherlands is 114.81% higher than in South Africa.

Let’s break it down by looking at the rental prices of 1-bedroom and 3-bedroom apartments both in the city and in the suburbs:

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Apartment (1 bedroom) in City Centre 6,872.13 15,840.59 20,875.89 12,873.01 18,818.48
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 5,971.67 13,068.18 16,952.54 9,657.63 14,785.97
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre14,690.99 25,890.57 34,274.51 24,400.5628,992.54
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre12,022.99 20,709.75 27,725.42 18,437.32 22,578.61

Are you keen to further explore South African rental prices? Use Property24 and IOLProperty, two of SA’s top property websites, to search for apartments and houses in specific cities or suburbs.

2. Utilities

Whether you rent or own, you’ll have utilities to budget for. We’re specifically going to look at the costs of basic household utilities such as water and electricity and internet.

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment1,729.173,254.942,589.193,983.152,884.09
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) 878.05643.691,026.05579.56705.03

As you can see from the information above, South Africa’s internet costs are high. South Africans can also tell you that our mobile data costs are high too. It’s not cheap staying connected in SA, unfortunately.

Please note: Fuel prices change often. You can get the latest price on the AA’s website.

3. Groceries

Let’s start by looking at the average cost of a basket of groceries in SA and our comparison countries:

As you can see, South Africa is the most affordable place to shop for your family.

Now let’s look at the prices of the individual items we put in our basket:

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
1L Milk16.2819.3513.37 15.7217.31
Loaf of Fresh White Bread14.2820.4942.7224.1833.99
1kg White Rice22.3723.27 60.8433.6034.07
12 Eggs30.0640.5935.51 41.83 32.64
1kg Local Cheese111.77116.85170.85172.67 194.25
1kg Chicken Fillets72.76113.03143.50121.95135.86
1kg Beef Round111.92170.93199.12 184.48410.49
1kg Apples23.4938.43 70.1741.7842.74
1kg Bananas21.9222.6124.0028.8920.82
1kg Oranges23.66 35.3661.3434.72 24.29
1kg Tomatoes21.7437.7666.1325.0036.67
1kg Potatoes18.59 22.5639.7523.4319.59
1kg Onions17.5320.3539.4622.5617.35
Lettuce16.1514.7825.5817.8212.88
TOTAL:522.52696.36992.34788.63990.27

4. Schooling

Parents coming from the UK, USA or the Netherlands will spend significantly less on preschool fees. While not as much, German parents will also spend less on preschools in SA – roughly 40% each month.

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Preschool (or Kindergarten), Full Day, Private, Monthly for 1 Child3,269.93 19,773.40 14,480.75 5,716.31 25,830.33
International Primary School, Yearly for 1 Child 74,360.59 273,644.47 240,643.20 212,380.09 124,579.17

The picture looks similar for primary school, although German parents don’t save as much in this instance. German families will save more than families from the Netherlands, though.

While these costs are for international school, you’ll also pay to send your children to public schools in South Africa. Public schools get funds from the government but are also dependent on school fees. However, public schools are much more affordable than private schools.

Families from overseas might be used to free schooling

5. Clothing

When filling up your closet in South Africa, you’ll spend more or less the same as in the UK, USA, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Not a fan of chain stores? You’ll find many fantastic locally-made options, but you can expect to pay more for these brands.

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
1 Pair of Jeans (Levis 501 Or Similar)753.071,229.34 678.741,345.621,428.09
1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, Etc)506.69611.26545.72626.47626.97
1 Pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-Range) 1,348.59 1,303.58 1,182.621,397.371,516.65
1 Pair of Men Leather Business Shoes1,270.381,288.61 1,498.441,884.451,964.71

6. Transport

You can see from the table below that cars in South Africa are competitively priced against cars in the UK, USA, Germany, and the Netherlands.

However, for most South Africans, car repayments make up a significant portion of their monthly expenses. Especially those with brand-new SUVs and luxury cars. That’s why many South Africans often opt for used vehicles.

Even the used vehicle market is seeing an uptick in prices, though.

Unfortunately, it’s more than likely that you’ll have to buy a car in South Africa. While taxis and e-hailing operators like Uber are common, our public transport system is not nearly as refined as in Europe or the UK.

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car)300,000.00419,231.26 359,824.84408,724.92436,205.89
Toyota Corolla Sedan 1.6l 97kW Comfort (Or Equivalent New Car) 342,906.93437,245.84338,467.94403,631.15450,061.32
Petrol (1 liter) 18.22 29.6211.1526.7831.86

7. Restaurants

South Africa is well known for its food and wine. Our restaurants are world-class and our wines often win awards. Our craft beer scene has also exploded over the past couple of years!

The cherry on top? You get to wine and dine at fantastic prices, too.

 South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Lunch at Inexpensive Restaurant150.00272.50 230.66 174.48261.72
3-Course Dinner for Two at a Mid-Range Restaurant600.001,048.08922.63872.411,046.89
500ml Domestic Beer30.0079.6576.8962.8178.52
330ml Imported Beer 40.0083.85 92.26 61.0769.79
Cappuccino 28.7658.4167.2449.5250.94
330ml Coke or Pepsi 14.8028.49 29.9641.80 44.22
330ml Water 11.3720.4524.0636.6235.50

Also keep your salary in mind when considering the cost of living in South Africa

Knowing how much you’ll earn is a big part of deciding whether or not you can afford South Africa’s cost of living.

Someone who earns R50,000 a month can obviously live more comfortably than someone earning R25,000 a month.

To get an idea of how much you can earn, got to PayScale. You’ll get averages for a wide range of industries. We also recommend reading this article on Business Tech that lists the job sectors with the highest average salaries in South Africa.

Our final recommendation is to speak to a recruiter working in your industry. Recruiters can give you salary expectations based on your skills and experience.