The cost of living in South Africa: How does it compare? (2024)

cost of living in south africaThe cost of living in South Africa is more affordable than in many other countries worldwide.

But just how much cheaper is it?

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

How does the comparison work?

We’ll give you a realistic idea of how South Africa’s cost of living compares to the countries on our list by looking at seven standard living costs:

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

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

Let’s dive into the comparison

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

The most significant difference is between South Africa and the United States. South Africa’s consumer prices are 54.2% lower.

1. Rent

Rent in South Africa is significantly more affordable than in the comparison countries. According to Numbeo, rent in South Africa is:

  • 65.3% lower than in the United Kingdom
  • 74.1% lower than in the United States
  • 55.1% lower than in Germany
  • 65.3% lower than in the Netherlands

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 8,378.3026,352.3533,997.6019,178.4526,762.67
Apartment (1 bedroom) Outside of Centre 6,221.6921,282.2927,936.1914,377.2221,631.43
Apartment (3 bedrooms) in City Centre15,914.1542,904.5756,954.7134,866.6241,965.95
Apartment (3 bedrooms) Outside of Centre12,305.5232,749.2946,171.3626,866.34 32,891.82

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.

Also read our article on everything you need to know about renting and buying property in South Africa.

2. Utilities

Whether you rent or own, you’ll have to include utilities like water, electricity and internet in your budget.

South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Basic (Electricity, Heating, Cooling, Water, Garbage) for 85m2 Apartment1,899.606,102.103,936.886,105.874,494.72
Internet (60 Mbps or More, Unlimited Data, Cable/ADSL) 771.71728.031,347.34 956.05817.95

Are you surprised to see that South Africa’ internet costs are higher than the UK’s and only marginally lower than that of the Netherlands?

South Africans can tell you that accessing the internet is not cheap in South Africa. Our mobile data costs are high too when compared to other countries around the world.

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 Milk18.7429.5020.0922.0622.09
Loaf of Fresh White Bread16.9028.85 67.4938.9632.56
1kg White Rice26.5137.6986.7555.2859.64
12 Eggs37.6471.2371.2767.0480.92
1kg Local Cheese128.64163.64 244.11248.37226.97
1kg Chicken Fillets79.43156.17231.32311.40287.68
1kg Beef Round117.91248.64302.73303.10301.92
1kg Apples25.5149.76101.5248.1333.09
1kg Bananas24.7626.7431.9127.0844.50
1kg Oranges23.7150.6186.2342.1933.64
1kg Tomatoes25.9464.5093.3634.7558.95
1kg Potatoes20.8326.1957.6531.1237.42
1kg Onions24.5924.4257.5537.0032.76

4. Schooling

When comparing preschool fees, South African parents are the big winners. German preschools compare well with South African ones, though. It’s not the case for the UK, USA and the Netherlands, however, where preschool fees are high.

South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Preschool (or Kindergarten), Full Day, Private, Monthly for 1 Child3,455.6129,624.0125,936.647,975.7032,012.00
International Primary School, Yearly for 1 Child 76,919.01341,556.22434,365.10244,129.22147,970.24

When it comes to primary school fees, South Africa is once again the most affordable. The most expensive primary schools are in the USA.

While these costs are for international schools, you’ll also pay to send your children to public schools in South Africa. Public schools are much more affordable than private schools, though.

5. Clothing

When shopping for 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)810.851,517.221,000.011,593.621,486.55
1 Summer Dress in a Chain Store (Zara, H&M, Etc)530.17746.31852.11755.43581.04
1 Pair of Nike Running Shoes (Mid-Range) 1,520.23 1,776.911,682.791,704.131,629.51
1 Pair of Men Leather Business Shoes1,386.581,821.03 2,190.072,255.771,981.25

6. Transport

It’s common in South Africa to own a car. 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.

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

South AfricaUKUSAGermany Netherlands
Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline (Or Equivalent New Car)350,000.00572,976.32539,297.23562,159.56 571,043.55
Toyota Corolla Sedan 1.6l 97kW Comfort (Or Equivalent New Car) 407,435.95585,211.91490,945.85561,039.12 597,734.65
Petrol (1 liter) 23.2136.7218.3235.6640.22

Most South Africans finance their cars, and many South Africans opt for used vehicles as they’re more affordable. Prepare for car repayments to make up a significant portion of your monthly salary!

7. Restaurants

South Africa is well known for its food and wine. Our restaurants are world-class, and our wines often win international 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
Meal at Inexpensive Restaurant150.00358.11378.45244.79305.99
3-Course Meal for Two at a Mid-Range Restaurant700.001,432.441,419.201,223.971,427.97
500ml Domestic Beer40.00107.43113.5481.60102.00
330ml Imported Beer 40.0095.50132.4679.5691.80
Cappuccino 33.9374.5996.3266.5664.92
330ml Coke or Pepsi 17.1141.6146.7954.3753.26
330ml Water 12.9830.1238.8648.6444.86

But what about purchasing power?

You can’t make a cost-of-living comparison without 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.

According to Investopedia, purchasing power is “the value of a currency expressed in terms of the number of goods or services 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:

  • 5.1% lower than in the UK
  • 28.5% than in the USA
  • 15.9% lower than in Germany
  • 19.5% lower than in the Netherlands

Expert tip – Find out how much you could earn in South Africa to see if you can afford the lifestyle

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

To get an idea of how much you can earn, go to PayScale. You’ll get averages for a wide range of industries. 

It’s also advisable to speak with a recruiter. Recruiters can give you salary expectations based on your skills and experience.

To recap

South Africa’s rent, groceries, schooling, and restaurant prices are the most affordable compared to the UK, the USA, Germany and the Netherlands.

However, South Africa’s internet costs are high. It’s only Americans that spend more on staying connected. Buying clothing or a car in South Africa also isn’t much cheaper than in the other four countries.

These higher costs might not make a difference if you’re only visiting or earning in foreign currency, but if you’re earning rands, it most likely will. South Africa’s purchasing power is the lowest of all the countries. That’s why it’s essential to look at how much you could earn in South Africa to understand the impact of South African prices on your pocket.