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Setting up an Expat bank account in South Africa

Tiffany Jansen
Posted: October 4th, 2013
Cape Town South AfricaCape Town

Before you settle in and start enjoying the sights and sounds of South Africa, there are a number of logistical things you need to take care of. At the top of the list is setting up a bank account.

Setting up an account in South Africa can be a challenge for expats without a South African credit record. But stick with us and we'll let you in on all you need to know to make banking in your new country a smooth sail.

Money Matters
Officially, the national currency of South Africa is the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaanse Rand, or South African Rand), though it is more commonly notated simply as R.

Coin denominations are 5, 10, 20, and 50 cents, and 1, 2, and 5 R. Notes or bills come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 R.

One and 2 cent coins are no longer in circulation, so prices are often rounded up or down to the nearest 5 cents at the register. For example, if a product rings up as 19.98 R and you give the cashier a 20 R note, you might not receive any change. On the other hand, you may only be asked to pay 20 R for an item costing 20.02 R.

ATMs (known as Bancomats) are plentiful in the major cities and will accept any overseas credit cards supported by VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Diners, VISA-Electron, or Maestro Cards. Check and cash deposits can also be made at any bank ATM.

While most metropolitan areas will accept most all major credit cards, you may find that smaller towns operate on a cash-only basis.

Banks in South Africa
The four major players in South African banking are Amalgamated Banks of South Africa (ABSA), First National Bank, Nedbank, and Standard Bank. The South African Reserve Bank is the country’s national bank.

HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Barclays, and NatWest are all represented, and UK banks Investec and Old Mutual are based in South Africa.

Operation hours are roughly 9 to 3 Monday through Friday and 8:30 to 11 on Saturdays. Banks are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Standard services include current accounts, investing and savings accounts, debit and credit cards, internet banking, loans, and foreign exchange among others.

Be advised that there are strict currency control regulations in South Africa, which can be explained in more detail by your bank.

What You'll Need
In an effort to crackdown on organized crime and money laundering, the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (FICA) was put in place in 2001. Also known as “know your client,” FICA requires banking institutions in South Africa to keep records on all their clients, which they are then obligated to report.

As such, there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved in setting up an account. And bureaucracy in South Africa can be a long, drawn out ordeal.

We recommend setting up your account in person, allowing plenty of time to do so. 
While you may not need all the following items, it is strongly advised that you bring them. It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared:

  1. Some form of photo identification, such as a passport.
  2. A copy of your lease agreement or a recent utility bill listing your address as proof of residence.
  3. Your income tax number and at least three months of payslips as proof of income.
  4. Money for an initial deposit (amount varies per bank).
  5. You may also want to get a written reference from your existing bank.

You will also need to fill out an application form and a Rand bank draft to go with your initial deposit, both of which will be provided by your bank.

Good to Know
  • Expats often experience difficulty opening an account in South Africa as they have no in-country credit record. That said, opening an account before you go or checking to see if your bank has an overseas division will greatly streamline the process.
  • Some banks offer the option to pay bills or purchase mobile telephone minutes at their ATMs.
  • Most personal and business transactions are made via Electronic Funds Transfer, so make sure youre set up with internet banking.

Always conduct your own research before opening an account and don’t be afraid to shop around until you find a bank with services that will best suit your needs during your stay in South Africa.

Currency exchange for expats in South Africa
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