4: Money Matters

From the price of a chocolate slab to sourcing funding from 8 universities, this step covers Moola matters. Study. Eat. Sleep. Go. Connect. You need to know how much it’ll cost before you go, and where to look to help you get to University in the first place. This section tells you how to manage money, deal with credit cards, payments, and safety. Hear a Cape Town student lay down budget basics to help you imagine monthly costs, and have a laugh with a student from Grahamstown who reminds you about the cost of petrol, and the cost of a pint. Money matters.

Now that you have sorted out your courses and have applied for a Visa, what comes next? Well, since you have gotten the more tedious part of your planning out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about a thing called budgeting… ka-ching! Money matters.

Questions and questions you ask yourself… How much money will I need to take for the duration of my studies in South Africa? What are the general costs of living for a student? Does the current currency exchange work in my favour? 

Keep calm, eager one – we answer it all, right away. In this step, we break down all the general costs of living for you, covering expenses for accommodation, food, and all other basic necessities. 

FYI: The currency unit we use is the South African Rand and Cents. Use the currency converter in the side bar to guide you along the step.

Cost of Living in SA

Food

WTF – (“Where’s the food”)? Expenses for food are tricky to determine, because it really all comes down to your personal preferences. For example, you will spend more money on food if you only eat products that are labeled ‘organic,’ or if you only buy your groceries at expensive retailers. But that pretty much goes for anywhere in the world. 

So, what does the average student in South Africa spend on basic groceries?  Per month, we’d say you should budget between R 1500 and R 2500 for basic groceries (this excludes eating out, take-away etc.).

The common retailers in SA are Pick ‘n Pay, Checkers, Spar, Shoprite, and Woolworths (‘Woolies,’ as we call it, is the most expensive retailer, but offers very high quality products). You will find all your basic grocery items at any of these retailers, and as you start to explore the various grocery stores a bit more, you might discover specific items that you prefer from different retailers.

Prices for a Basic Grocery Shop

Here’s a list of some basic grocery items with their average price. You can use the currency converter widget to see how much it amounts to in your home currency:

  • 1L milk (R10)
  • 1 big tub yogurt (R25)
  • 1 loaf of bread (R11 for toast bread, R30 for artisan loaf)
  • 1 box crackers (R20)
  • 1 block of cheese (R40)
  • 1 pack of apples (R18)
  • 1 packet spaghetti (R12)
  • steak (R70)
  • 1 pack of chicken breasts (R60)
  • 1 packet of eggs (R17)
  • 1L bottled water (R9)
  • soft drink (R8)
  • beer/cider (R20)
  • 1 bottle of wine (R40)
  • chocolate (R8 for a bar, R13 for a small slab)

Accommodation

You need a roof over your head, a bed to sleep on, and a place to stay where you feel safe. We get you! If you’re coming to South Africa – be it for a semester abroad, as an international student, to volunteer or just for an adventure – you’ll need a home away from home. Depending on what your preferences are, we’ve listed the average costs you can expect when it comes down to accommodation.

University Residences

If you’re looking to stay in a residence you need to be aware that prices differ from university to university. Consider your options with the university you apply to:

  1. Check if your exchange programme covers your accommodation (or part thereof)
  2. If not, go ahead and pay full accommodation fees

FYI: Check if you need to pay a residence acceptance fee and other deposits.    

Most residences have dining halls, which means you don’t have to cook (score!). To add, furniture and necessary kitchen, bathroom and lounge facilities are also generally included. Be sure to check with the university first.

Where Your Moola’s Going (on average per year):

Residence fees (meals included): R35 0000 – R66 0000

Residence fees (without meals):  R330000 – R50 0000

Acceptance fees: +/- R1000

FYI: Prices are dependent on the type of room you are looking for.

Utilities:

Gas, electricity, water and Wi-Fi are a few obstacles you don’t need to worry about. Most universities cover these, and Internet should also be provided by the university.

Suitable for:

Students looking to live close to campus and experience student life at its best.

Share a Flat (in SA lingo: Diggs)”

Flat share is quite common amongst students in SA. If you’re thinking of living in a diggs, you’ll be sure to experience life as an independent Saffa (terminology for a South African). Depending on what your budget is, you can find furnished or unfurnished apartments/houses. Prices depend on the area you want to live in.

Obviously, if you decide to live in the center of town, you’ll probably pay a higher price (it’s all about proximity these days…). If unfurnished, you also need to consider budgeting for household necessities.

Where Your Moola’s Going (on average):

Bachelor/1 Bedroom apartment in city centre: R5000 – R8000

Shared apartment in city centre (2 – 3 bedrooms): R10000 – R15000

Bachelor/ 1 Bedroom apartment outside the city: R2500 – R4500

Shared apartment outside the city (2 – 3 bedrooms): R5000 – R8500

Utilities (monthly):

Pre-paid electricity: +/- R250 per month (some apartments have pre-paid meters where you can top up electricity when you run out)

Wi-Fi/ Internet access: Some flats have Wi-Fi included and others don’t. Have a look at average prices and options in our communication post. Click here to check it out.

Suitable for:

Students who come to South Africa for a longer period of time (we’d say at least 6 months, as it makes things easier in terms of lease agreement).

Backpackers and B&B’s

If you are coming for a short course, are waiting to move into a more permanent residence, or simply enjoy the backpacker vibes, this might be a cool option for you. Depending on your price range, you’ll need to figure out where and how long you will be able to stay at these types of accommodations.

Where Your Moola’s Going (per day on average):

Hostel dorm bed:  +/- R120

B&B private room: R300 – R700 (depending on if you’re sharing or not)

Utilities:

You don’t need to worry about this (Shew!) Backpackers have water and Wi-Fi Internet access available, and if you pick the right one, you might score breakfast too.

Suitable for: 

Students looking for short-stay accommodation before they move into residences, or students who are travelling.

To note: In Step 7 we discuss the various accommodation types in detail and give you suggestions on how to find the best accommodation for you!

Transport

Modes of transport may differ depending on which province in SA you are staying in.

Bear in mind, rates do differ for different companies and modes, and it is a good idea to check what the exact charges will be for the type of transport you will use most. It is good to know what your various options are and how you would budget for them. Here is a list of the rates on average to give you an estimate of what to budget for transport. Bear in mind rates differ and it is a good idea to check what exact charges would be per trip. 

Here is a list of the average rates to give you an estimate of what to budget for your day-to-day mobility:

Bus

  • R 7.60 – R 44.80 per bus trip, depending on how far your travel within the city

Trains

There is one train line company across SA (Metrorail).

  • R9.00 – R23.00 for a single ticket
  • R18.00 – R33.00 for a return ticket
  • R43.00 – R183.00 for a weekly ticket
  • R211.00 – R567.00 for a monthly ticket

Taxis

  • R8.80 – R10.00 per km

Car/Scooter Hire

  • Car: R350.00 per day and R5393.00 per month
  • Scooter: R150.00 per day and R 2000.00 per month

Petrol

  • Petrol prices are never fixed, and a budget for petrol depends on a lot of factors – how often and how far you drive, which kind of vehicle, etc.  For someone who uses a car on a daily basis, the monthly petrol expenses can be anywhere between R500 – R1000 per month, sometimes more, sometimes less.

FYI: Some universities have their own shuttle services or carpool organisations. For example the Jammie Shuttle service at UCT runs for free to different campuses and student residential areas. Check out what your university may offer, as this can reduce your transport expenses drastically.

Click here to see our informative Step 5 on everything you need to know about transport costs in SA!

Communication (Cellular, Wi-Fi, etc.)

Depending on how long your studies and stay in SA will be, you might want to get yourself a South African phone number, because it will be a lot cheaper to communicate (as opposed to evil international roaming rates). You might also be interested in getting yourself a portable Wi-Fi router or dongle that will allow you Internet access on the go.

Check out this article for all the information you need on South African network providers, as well as how to register for a cellular number and Internet access!

Academic Funding for Full-Time International Students

One of the ways you can try to reduce your overall expenses during your studies is to apply for academic funding from your SA university. If you are successful, this will reduce your tuition fees, which is of course fantastic! We also urge you to apply for a bursary or scholarship in your home country and then ask to have it transferred to the academic institution in South Africa. 

Below, you will find the relevant links for financial assistance for each of the Top 8 Universities in this tutorial. Take your time to look at the types of available funding, as requirements vary depending on the institution, as well as the type of funding (e.g. refugee scholarships, international students scholarships, postgraduate scholarships, etc.).

Be aware that funding in South Africa generally prioritises local students. Chances of funding might be slimmer for non-SA students, but they are still there. We also urge you to check for funding opportunities back home, as you may be able to transfer them onto your studies here.

  1. University of Cape Town

UCT offers postgraduate funding opportunities for Refugee and International Students. Go to the Postgraduate Degree Funding page on their website for the details. 

To go directly to the FORM 10C Information Sheet for International/Refugee Postgraduate Students in 2017, click here

Applications close on 31 July of the preceding year of study 

Contact the UCT Postgraduate Funding Office

Phone: +27 (0)21 650 3622 

Email: pgfunding@uct.ac.za

2. University of Pretoria

UP offers undergraduate and postgraduate funding. International Students have the same application process as local students. 

For information on undergraduate funding, follow this link. 

Applications for Undergraduate Studies close on 30 September of the preceding year

For information on the different types of Postgraduate funding, and to see for which one(s) you qualify, click here.

The closing dates for postgraduate funding applications depend on the specific type of funding/scholarship. 

Follow this link to read about the general process of applying online for funding at UP (the form is not entirely up to date, but the general information is still valid.)

Contact the UP Client Service Centre

Phone: +27 (0)12 420  3111

Email: csc@up.ac.za

3. University of Witwatersrand

Wits offers postgraduate funding opportunities for international students. 

Click here to see the Wits Postgraduate Funding Booklet and browse the various financial awards to see if you qualify.  

The closing dates for postgraduate funding applications depend on the specific type of funding/scholarship. 

Contact the Wits Postgraduate Bursaries and Scholarships office

Phone: + 27 (0)11 717 1078 / 1310 

Email: vinesha.singh@wits.ac.za OR andrea.ogle@wits.ac.za 

4. University of Western Cape

In the case of UWC, their funding opportunities are limited to SA students. Try to have a look at bursary and funding opportunities in your home country.

5. University of Stellenbosch

US offers postgraduate and international student funding opportunities, but they are largely merit-based. You need to contact the Postgraduate and International office to find out for which type of funding you qualify. 

Contact Management for Postgraduate and International Student Funding

Phone: +27 (0)21 808 2957

Email: cswartz@sun.ac.za (Ms Chantal Swartz)

6. University of KwaZulu-Natal

UKZN offers postgraduate funding opportunities for international students. The process and criteria are the same as for local students. Go to the Scholarships page and scroll down to the section on postgrad scholarships. 

For any more information, such as details about the application process, navigate to the Funding homepage.

Contact UKZN General Contacts 

Phone: +27 31 260 8596  

Email: enquiries@ukzn.ac.za

7. Rhodes University

The majority of funding opportunities at Rhodes are reserved for SA student, as per donor criteria. In general, the Postgraduate Funding office recommends international students to apply for funding in their home country, and have a successful funding opportunity transferred to Rhodes. 

It might still be worthwhile to have a look at RU’s Postgraduate Funding Opportunities website that lists links to funding from internal and external donors – look for a scholarship that is not limited to SA students. 

Where the closing date says ‘closed,’ it means that the specific funding is still be advertised for the coming year

FYI: RU’s Financial Aid Administrator advises that while the applications are still closed, you should try to prepare all the required documents until the actual call is opened. 

Contact the RU Postgraduate Funding office

Phone: +27 (0)46 603 87 55 

Email: pgfunding@ru.ac.za

8. Cape Peninsula University of Technology

Cape Tech has various scholarships and funding opportunities on offer. The following link will take you to the Financial Aid: Advice and Procedures online Pdf.

If you think you qualify for one or more of the listed scholarship, contact the university by writing a short letter that asks for the application forms for those specific scholarship or bursaries. 

Contact the CPUT Office of International Affairs

Cape Town Campus

Phone: +27 21 460 3955 / 8390 / 3984

Email: mokoenam@cput.ac.za

FAQs

Where can I exchange my money?

To start, you probably want to get hold of some Rand before you travel to South Africa. It’s always good to have some money on you in the currency of the country you are traveling to. However, you want to avoid arriving at the airport wearing a jacket that is stuffed to the brim with bank notes (and dear Mandela and The Big Five’s faces making appearances from underneath your sleeves and socks), so don’t convert it all before coming here, especially if your exchange rate is particularly strong.

Once you are in South Africa, the three best ways to exchange your home currency and getting the South African Rand are from a bank, an ATM, or a bureau de change.

It is worthwhile to consider the slight difference in rates and service charges from each of these options before you go ahead and get your Rand, so make sure you are informed.

  • Get it at a Bank 

You can go to any of the major South African Banks (FNB, ABSA, Standard Bank, Nedbank) and have your money exchanged there (they also offer Forex services). Remember to take your passport along!

  • Get it at an ATM

Most of the big South African banks have ATMs that allow cash withdrawal with debit and credit cards from international banks. Check with your home bank what they charge for cash withdrawals from international ATMs. Since this can be costly if you do it regularly, try to plan ahead in order to avoid frequent visits to the ATM.

  • Get it at a Bureau de Change

There are plenty of bureaux de change in South Africa with numerous branches, especially in the larger cities. For whichever one you go to, remember to take your passport along!

Can I pay with my credit card?

Yes, you can. It is generally not a problem to make payments with your credit card where card machines are available (you will need to have your pin ready if your card is chipped). But just to be 100% sure, ask whether your specific credit card is accepted, before you order that crayfish deluxe platter for two… If you will be using a credit card, don’t forget to notify your bank in advance that you are travelling or leaving your country for a while, or else they might think your card was stolen and block your card for security purposes.[/su_spoiler]

Can I open a SA bank account?

Indeed. Read our article on how to open a student bank account in South Africa!

How do I keep my money safe?

In Step 6, we go into the details of Crime & Safety. Check it out for a practical low-down on how to keep your money (and yourself) safe during your stay in SA!

Student Advice

Gillian Bolliger, BHC School of Design


Julia Jocheim, Rhodes University

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