The currency is the Rand (ZAR), divided into 100 cents (c). Notes are in denominations of R200, R100, R50, R20 and R10. Higher value notes are slightly larger in physical size than small value notes. All notes have a metallic security strip and a watermark. Note that there are two types of R5 coins in circulation. One is a silver-colored coin while the other is silver-colored with a copper insert. Both are legal currency.
Coins are in denominations of R5, R2, R1, 50c, 20c, 10c and 5c. Production of 2c and 1c coins was suspended in April 2002, but those still in circulation remain legal tender. All transactions are rounded down to the nearest lower 5c, so as not to require the use of 2c and 1c coins.
Rough conversion rates (October 2010) are: 6.9:1 (USD), 9.6:1 (EUR) and 10.9:1 (GBP). Carry one of the above currencies, as conversion between any of them and the Rand can be done at any bank without trouble. South Africa is part of the Southern African Common Monetary Area and the Rand can be used in Namibia ( where it is an official currency along with the Namibian Dollar) as well as Lesotho and Swaziland (where it is widely accepted, but not an official currency)
Traveler's Checks are a safe way of carrying money around. You can exchange them at all banks (which are found throughout the country even in rural areas) and you will get a refund if they are stolen. The disadvantage is that you cannot pay with them and you will need change when exchanging them into Rand. Use ATMs instead if possible.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) , linked to all major international networks, are available throughout the country and will generally dispense money in a mixture of denominations between R200 and and R10, with about 80% of the value requested being high value notes and the rest in smaller denominations. You can use any Cirrus or Maestro card as well as all major credit and debit cards at the ATMs. South African bank ATMs do not charge any fees above those levied by your own financial institution.
It is best to use only ATMs that are inside a mall or other building. Always be careful to make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN, and be vigilant about scams (e.g. machines that seem to eat your card and won't give it back after you enter the PIN). Do not accept help from strangers when withdrawing money at an ATM. If you are approached and offered unwanted help, rather cancel the transaction immediately and go to a different ATM. The till points at some major retail stores (such as Pick 'n Pay) also act as ATMs; simply tell the checkout clerk that you would like to withdraw money.
VISA and MasterCard are accepted almost everywhere. American Express and Diners Club are also accepted, but not as widely.
Most retail stores accept credit cards and pin based debit cards as payment. While South Africa has begun to move towards a chip-and-PIN credit card system like Europe, most stores are still on the traditional credit card system in which the user merely signs the receipt after the transaction is approved. Thus credit card users from countries also still on that system (like the United States) will have no problem using their credit cards in South Africa, provided that they have notified their bank in advance of their travel plans.
VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied at 14% on almost all products in South Africa. By law, advertised prices should be inclusive of VAT except when explicitly stated otherwise. Foreign passport holders may claim back the VAT on products that were bought in South Africa and are being taken out of the country, provided that the total value of the goods exceeds R250. Full details of the procedure to follow are available from the Department of Foreign Affairs and their new TAX Refund for tourists site.
VAT Refund Administrator's offices are available at both Johannesburg (O.R. Tambo) and Cape Town International Airports. Refunds will be credited to a Travelex Visa card that you will be given, denominated in U.S. dollars or Euro, the fees in conversion associated with this card can leave you with up to 10% less than you thought you were getting. The cards can only be used outside of South Africa.
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