Is the cost of living in Cape Town really that high?!
Located on the Southwestern tip of Africa, Cape Town is an incredible destination, with breathtaking natural beauty and a diverse cultural melting pot.
It is also South Africa’s most well-known city, so it’s no wonder ex-pats and foreigners alike fall in love with it. With a few things to consider, here is what it might cost you if you decide to take the plunge and make Cape Town your home.
What Is The Cost of Living In Cape Town?
Although Cape Town is considered expensive by South African standards, it is cheaper than the United States and many places in Europe. The exchange rate has fluctuated between 12-17 Rand to 1 US Dollar in the last five years but usually remains around R15 to $1.
It is difficult to give an exact figure on how much you will spend each month living in Cape Town as it varies greatly depending on where you live and what kind of lifestyle you lead.
The More You Know: The minimum wage in South Africa is R20 an hour, or $1.34. Many people in Cape Town live off of less than $250 a month, so it is possible to live quite cheaply here.
That said, most ex-pats and foreigners tend to spend a lot more. It is safe to say that a frugal person could live off of $700 a month if they were careful. $1000-$1500 is a more reasonable budget for Cape Town as it gives room for activities and going out.
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Housing
Cost of Renting
Rent will be your biggest expense by far. Cape Town is notorious for high rent prices, but of course, these prices will vary depending on where you live. The closer you get to the city center, the higher the rent will be.
Travel Tip: If you are living as a digital nomad and get paid in Dollars or Euros, you will probably be able to find a cozy and unique place within your price range.
For $300-$400 a month, you can find a comfortably furnished room in a shared house, with anywhere from 2 to 10 housemates. This is very common in Cape Town, especially for students and single young professionals in their 20s.
It is also convenient if you are seeking accommodation for only a few months, as many of these places offer short-term leases.
If you would prefer not to have housemates, then there are plenty of studio and one-bedroom apartments for $500-$700 a month. They may be furnished or unfurnished, so plan accordingly.
If your budget is $1000 or higher, then you really have options! Most apartments or houses that are above R15000, are either large or luxurious.
Whatever your budget, you will have plenty of options!
Cost of Buying a Property
If you are interested in living more permanently in Cape Town or would like to own property as an investment, then you’re in luck! There are very few restrictions for foreigners when buying a property, but values are down since the pandemic.
Pro Tip: The average property sold in Cape Town in 2021 was R1,695,000, or $113,244.
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Utilities
Internet & Wifi
Many apartments include basic wifi in the lease, but if you need a faster or more stable connection, then you can easily get your own. There are several internet providers you can choose from in Cape Town.
Fibre internet is the best that is available and costs anywhere from $30-$70 a month, depending on the download speed.
Cell Phone Bill
Although you can set up a recurring monthly cell phone plan, most people opt for an easier route: buy data and airtime as you need it.
You can buy airtime vouchers at the grocery store or online and then input the voucher number into your phone. The main advantage of this method is that you will only buy the data that you need.
There are quite a few network providers to choose from, but the most popular are MTN, Vodacom, and Telkom. On average, 1 GB of data costs about $5-$7. If you know that you’ll need more data, you can buy a larger package of 10 GB for about $30.
All in all, you could spend anywhere from $5-$30 per month on your cell phone bill.
As with other costs of living, the price of electricity seems to be higher in Cape Town than in other areas. For a two-person household with few utilities, the cost can be anywhere from $30-80 a month.
Electricity cost depends on the place that you rent and what appliances you use. If you are renting a room in a shared house, the utilities are often included. You also might have a prepaid meter, in which you must buy a voucher from the store and enter the code into your meter at home.
Because of the severe drought and water restrictions that affected Cape Town in 2018, water prices are based on consumption. In an effort to save water, the city government mandated that the more water you use, the higher the rate per kiloliter is.
You can expect to pay around $30 for a two-person household. If you have a washing machine or a dishwasher, the water bill will be higher.
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Tuition
If you are moving to Cape Town with children, then be prepared for the school fees.
Unlike many schools in the US, it is common practice to pay for school fees for students from primary school through matric (grade 12). On average, you can expect to pay around R3500 ($233) a month per student, although private schools could cost even more!
Secondary school is more expensive than primary school, so you will pay higher fees for older students. Don’t forget to budget for school supplies or uniforms either!
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Transportation
The decision to own a car or use public transportation depends on where you live and how much you want to travel around.
Cost of Public Transportation
Public transportation is relatively cheap compared to the United States, with Uber costing around as low as $1.50 for short rides and around $20 to get across the city. However, you obviously wouldn’t want to pay $20 a day to get to work, so if you need to travel quite far, you should consider other options.
There are many forms of public transportation in Cape Town, including buses, public taxis, and trains. The buses are usually clean and reliable, making them ideal for getting around the city. To get across town on a bus, you will spend less than $2 for a ride, with short trips costing less than $0.60!
Another main form of transportation is the minibus taxi, which costs less than $1 per person. These taxis fit up to 16 people and run along main roads. You can hop on and off as you wish or ride all the way to the taxi ranks that are located in busy suburbs.
Train tickets are about $2 for a trip across the city, but the trains are quite unreliable and not recommended if you have to be at work on time.
Safety Tip: These forms of transport should only be used during the day. If traveling at night, take an Uber. Cape Town is not dangerous, but it’s always good to practice vigilance.
Cost of Owning a Car
If you want to explore some of the more remote areas of Cape Town or need to travel across the city regularly, then it might make sense to have a car instead.
There are a few things to consider when buying a car:
✔️ Price of the car
Although most pre-owned cars cost around R200,000 ($13,000) at a dealership, you can find a good used car on gumtree.co.za or Facebook Marketplace for much lower, around R30,000 ($2000).
If you buy from a private seller, make sure that the car has a title and all required papers (otherwise it might be stolen!).
Car insurance is not mandatory in South Africa and a study found that as much as 70% of cars on the road are uninsured. However, because of the high rates of car theft and road accidents, having insurance is advisable.
The two main types of insurance are 3rd party insurance and full coverage insurance. Third-party insurance is much cheaper but covers a lot less if you are in an accident. Full coverage car insurance can be as low as $20 a month but might be closer to $50 a month on average.
The average rate of fuel is quite high at the moment, at about $4.59 a gallon, compared to $3.79 a few months ago. How much you spend on fuel will depend on how much you drive.
If you are traveling across the city every day, you may expect to spend $200 a month! However, if you are using your car occasionally or only for local trips, you could probably get by paying $30 at the petrol station.
Pro Tip: Many ex-pats opt for long-term rentals rather than owning one outright, in order to avoid the hassle of registration and maintenance. Most car agencies offer long-term rentals for as low as $8 a day, or $240 a month.
Rent a Cheapie is one of the most popular rental agencies in Cape Town, though there are many others that offer long-term rentals.
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Food & Groceries
Although grocery shopping in Cape Town is cheaper than in western countries, the prices still feel quite high compared to other South African cities. Of course, the cost entirely depends on what you purchase and where you shop.
Woolworths and Spar are usually considered to be expensive grocery stores, whereas Shoprite and Pick-n-Pay are more affordable.
To give you an example, a bag of ground coffee costs about $5, a pack of 4 chicken fillets is around $3, and a loaf of white bread is $1.00. On average, you can expect to pay anywhere from $75-$200 a month for two people, depending on what you buy.
Since most of the food is grown locally or within the country, you will find that most of the produce in South Africa tastes fresh and delicious. To find the cheapest veggies, look for the produce vendors that often have tables set up outside of shops!
There are also many international supermarkets throughout the city, though the prices are sometimes higher due to import tax.
Is It Expensive To Eat Out In Cape Town?
Eating out at restaurants in Cape Town is relatively inexpensive, with many fantastic restaurants and cuisines from all over the world. You would surely be missing out if you decided to always cook at home.
The average meal at a sit-down restaurant is between $5 and $9, though you can often find cheaper fares if you look.
Alcohol is another expense that adds up quickly. A draught beer is around $3, and most cocktails are around $4. Buying from the liquor store is much cheaper.
Fun Fact: Cape Town locals LOVE Happy Hours.
The true secret to eating out in Cape Town is to find the Happy Hours. On almost any night of the week, you can find incredible food and drink specials available at restaurants throughout the city.
If you are a Happy Hour hunter, you will not only save quite a lot of money and find new and interesting places to spend your time.
Cost of Living in Cape Town: Entertainment
One of the best parts of living in a city surrounded by so much natural beauty is that there are so many things to do without having to spend money. If you love being outdoors, there are many ways to spend sunny days in Cape Town.
There are many clean, well-maintained parks throughout the city. Bring a book, a picnic blanket, and some snacks for a great day in the sun. Some popular free parks include Green Point park, Battery Park, Sea Point Promenade, and Sand Vlei Estuary.
Cape Town is known for its world-class beaches, and you would be missing out if you didn’t take some time to explore a few of them. Most beaches in Cape Town are free, but you may spend money on transportation to reach them. Check out Muizenberg, Camps Bay, or Clifton Beaches for an epic beach day.
Another great way to spend a sunny afternoon in Cape Town is to head up the mountain and explore one of the hundreds of hiking trails available. Start with Platteklip Gorge or Lion’s Head for some amazing views of the city.
During the summer, there are often many free concerts throughout the city. Check Facebook events to see what is happening near you.
First Thursdays: The first Thursday of each month (known as First Thursdays) is an especially popular day in Cape Town, where art of all kinds is celebrated. Art galleries remain open until late at night, DJs play in the streets, and the buzz of so many events happening can be felt throughout the city. Almost all of these events are free.
Watching the sunset is a fantastic way to end the day. There are many places that offer breathtaking sunsets, but one of the local favorites is Signal Hill. Head up there with a bottle of wine and some friends, you won’t be disappointed.
Cost of Living In Cape Town: Healthcare
Although there is a public healthcare system in South Africa, the waiting lists are often long, and the quality of care is lower than in private facilities. The prices for health services are based on income, so most ex-pats opt for private health insurance, or medical aid, instead.
Medical aid plans vary greatly depending on a number of factors such as the use of private hospitals, wellness checks, and copays. Medical aid can be as low as around $70 a month for a basic plan or over $200 for comprehensive care.
Pro Tip: It is advised that you do some research and compare policies before you arrive in South Africa.
Is Cape Town A Good Place To Live?
Yes! Cape Town is an incredible place to live, and many people from all over the world choose to call the Mother City their home for a variety of reasons.
For one, the city is surrounded by incredible natural beauty, with world-class beaches, lush forests, and Table Mountain National Park. Cape Town is also a very international city. You can find residents from all walks of life who have found their own communities, so you will fit right in.
You will also have access to most amenities that you might be missing from home. English is widely spoken in Cape Town, so you will not struggle with a language barrier.
Many visitors and locals consider Cape Town to be a very “European” city, so it is the perfect place if you are looking for a good blend of Europe and Africa.
There are world-class hospitals available throughout the city that are usually much cheaper than in the US. Cape Town’s cooler climate also means that you will not have to worry about infectious diseases, such as malaria, that are common in many other parts of Africa.
Although the standard of living varies greatly between the classes in Cape Town, with the rich and poor living side by side, most ex-pats find a good quality of life here.
Average Salary For Cape Town
With unemployment at a sky-high rate of 34% in South Africa, it is incredibly difficult to secure a job at the moment in Cape Town.
South Africa has a very strict policy regarding foreign work visas, so the only way to secure a legal work visa is to apply for the Critical Skills Visa or be sponsored by a company that has hired you. This method is rather complicated with strict requirements and guidelines to follow.
The easiest avenue, and one that many ex-pats opt for, is to become a digital nomad and work online with an American or European company while staying in South Africa on a 90-day Tourist Visa.
This option tends to work quite well for those because they are paid in dollars or euros while living on the South African Rand. The major drawback of this is having to do a “visa run” every 3 months and leave the country. You can also apply for a visa extension, which can also grant you up to 3 additional months.
The More You Know: The city of Cape Town is hoping to implement a Digital Nomad Visa in the future, but it is not yet clear when this option will be available.
However, if you do manage to secure a job in Cape Town, your salary will greatly depend on your job title. The average salary of Cape Town is the 2nd highest in the country after Johannesburg, around R35,000 ($2,300) a month.
Is It Expensive To Live In South Africa?
Although living in South Africa is not as expensive as many places in Western Europe or the United States, it is not as affordable as other ex-pat favorites, such as Thailand or Mexico.
Although not outrageously expensive, many goods, such as technology, are actually more expensive in South Africa than in the U.S.
Cape Town Expenses vs. Johannesburg Expenses
One of the major complaints that Johannesburg locals have about Cape Town is the cost of living. Everything from rent to groceries seems to be a little more costly in the Mother City.
For example, you could find a 2-bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood in Johannesburg for the same price as a studio apartment in Cape Town. However, the lifestyle in Johannesburg is very different from Cape Town, so those who prefer laid-back Cape Town find the cost worthwhile.
Just in case you want to do a comparison, here’s a deep dive into the vibe of the capital city, Johannesburg. You can also read more in our comparison of Cape Town vs Johannesburg for travel and living.
Money Saving Tips For Cape Town
Did anything seem a bit expensive here? Well, even if it didn’t, it never hurts to save some money!
Here are the best ways to save money in Cape Town:
✔️ Take Public Transport: Take public transport when you can. Buses and taxis are much cheaper than Ubers, as well as better for the environment.
✔️ Happy Hours: Plan your evenings out around happy hour specials and look for restaurants that frequently offer deals. For those working remotely, many cafes offer breakfast specials in the mornings.
✔️ Buy from Local Vendors: Buying produce from vegetable vendors can cut your grocery costs by nearly half. For meat, you can go to Halaal butcheries, which also offer cheap and freshly cut meat.
✔️ Flea Markets: For household items and clothing, check out the markets around Cape Town. They sell everything from houseplants to groceries, at a heavy discount
✔️ Thrift Fest: If you enjoy vintage clothing, go to one of the many Thrift Fests that happen all over the city. Thrift Fest is more than just thrift shopping, it is a social outing, with music, food, and drinks to enjoy while you find great deals.
✔️ Takeaway Restaurants: If you are craving fast food, go to a Takeaway restaurant, rather than the standard Mcdonald’s or KFC. Takeaway restaurants often have delicious and cheap food, with massive portions.
✔️ Turn off the Geyser: This is a very common practice in South Africa. To cut down on electricity costs, many people turn off their hot water geysers when they are not in use. Just make sure to turn it back on about an hour before you need it!
✔️ Off Street Parking: If you own a car, the price of your car insurance will depend on if the car is secured at night in a garage or secure parking lot, rather than on the street where it is at risk of being stolen. Look for accommodation with secure parking in order to save on car insurance every month.
Conclusion: Cost of Living In Cape Town
Cape Town is a vibrant city, with plenty to do and see all of the time. Although Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most expensive cities, it is well worth the cost and is an incredible place to live.