The Best Cities in South Africa & Cost of Living Guide

Durban Pier

We’re going to take a look at the best cities to live in South Africa featuring some of the most popular and less known places in the Rainbow Nation. At the bottom, you can also find a South Africa cost of living comparison featuring estimated costs in 12 cities across the country.


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Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town at night via thomas, CC BY-SA 2.0

The most popular South African city with foreigners moving to the country is certainly Cape Town. Benefiting from one of the most spectacular settings on earth, it’s not hard to see why this port city beneath the imposing Table Mountain continues to attract people from far and wide.

Cape Town benefits from a wide choice of pleasant suburbs and high quality accommodation which isn’t always on offer in other South African cities. It boasts a great climate as well as some of the best options on the African continent when it comes to shopping, nightlife and entertainment. It is generally considered to be less dangerous than some of the other major cities but there are still good and bad areas and if you’re looking for one of the safest places in South Africa to live in, you may be better off heading slightly up the coast to towns like Yzerfontein or Churchhaven.

Factors to bear in mind include slightly higher costs than you’ll find elsewhere in the country. Cape Town is the most expensive place to live in South Africa but still compares favourably to the cost of living in UK cities for example. Public transport is also relatively limited although it is quite a compact city for one so large with walking a good option if you are centrally located.

Estimated Living Costs* – 16,000 Rand (US$900) per Month

*The estimates in this post on the best and cheapest cities to live in South Africa are more designed to be an index and means of comparison. They are not an accurate estimate of what YOU would spend as there are just so many variables and so much will depend on the areas you are willing to live in, your personal circumstances and risk tolerance as clearly South Africa can be a dangerous place.

The figures are designed to be a very rough guide as to total monthly living costs including rent and groceries for a single person in South Africa. The figures do not factor in the cost of any travel or health insurance packages as this will vary considerably depending on your age and circumstances. Digital nomads or anyone coming to the country for a shorter period of only a few months may want to budget for slightly more than the figures quoted as you won’t get the best deals on accommodation.


Pretoria

South Africa is unique in that it technically has three capital cities, one of which is Pretoria which serves as the home for all foreign embassies which adds to its international feel. It is located only around 60 km north of Johannesburg, the largest city in the country although one that perhaps unfairly often features in rundowns of places to avoid in South Africa.

Officially now known as Tshwane, the city of Pretoria has a slightly safer feel and its own character. It is popular for its weekend markets and attractions such as the National Zoological Gardens. It’s also fairly affordable with living costs slightly lower than in most of the other major cities.

Although situated in a valley which means it doesn’t quite have the same altitude issues as nearby Johannesburg, Pretoria is still located at 1300 metres above sea level and while days remain warm throughout the year, nights can get really cold, particularly during the winter.

Estimated Living Costs – 14,500 Rand (US$800) per Month


George

For many, South Africa’s big cities are somewhat intimidating places to live. While smaller doesn’t always mean safer, the city of George in Western Cape is a nice option for anyone wanting to avoid the major metropolises.

It is located around 400 km east of Cape Town on a popular coastal stretch of South Africa known as the Garden Route. While not directly on the coast, George offers excellent access to a host of wild beaches and trails, although the nearby town of Wilderness may be a better option for anyone looking for sea views.

It ranks as one of the best places to live in South Africa in 2022 for quality of life and there is a really nice balance between affordability and a high standard of living. Finding a nice place to live offering good value for money can be a challenge though given this is a small city without the wide selection of options you may find elsewhere.

Estimated Living Costs – 13,500 Rand (US$750) per Month


Durban

Durban Pier

Durban is one of the best places in South Africa for both visiting and living. It has a real mix of African, Indian and British influences making it an ethnically and culturally diverse city to live in.

There are many positives to living here. One is the climate which is significantly better than inland cities like Pretoria and Joburg and it’s warm enough in all twelve months of the year to enjoy the day on one of the city’s main beaches. It’s also one of the world’s most popular surf spots and the surfing community is just one of the many subcultures that exists in Durban.

This is South Africa’s third largest city so you can enjoy both the positives that come with big city living whilst enjoying the benefits of life on the coast. However away from the beach, it doesn’t have quite as much going on as somewhere like Cape Town for example so that’s something to bear in mind.

Estimated Living Costs – 14,500 Rand (US$800) per Month


Jeffreys Bay

Jeffreys Bay
Jeffreys Bay surfer via Chris Bloom, CC BY-SA 2.0

Jeffreys Bay is situated roughly halfway between Cape Town and Durban on South Africa’s long southern coastline which forms the southern point of this vast continent. 

This is another surfer’s paradise, widely viewed as one of the very best places in the world for the sport. Unlike Durban, this is not a big city and some may find it a bit sleepy but if you’re looking for laid back living on the coast, Jeffreys Bay is worth considering. You can always pop into nearby Port Elizabeth if you get the urge to spend some time in a big city.

According to our research, this also ranks as one of the cheapest cities in South Africa, at least amongst those that might be seen as desirable places to live. It’s a friendly town where it’s pretty easy to get to know people but you still need to be a bit careful at night. Limited transport options are also a factor to consider.

Estimated Living Costs – 13,500 Rand (US$750) per Month


Cost of living in South Africa – What are the cheapest places to live?

City Cost of Living Index (Monthly in USD)
Cape Town 900
Johannesburg 850
Port Elizabeth 850
Benoni 850
Durban 800
Pretoria 800
Centurion 800
George 750
Jeffreys Bay 750
East London 750
Bloemfontein 750
Soweto 750

For the table above, numbeo’s cost of living calculator has been used as a guide to help work out the estimated cost of living in 12 cities in South Africa. Again, don’t take these figures as an exact science, but it should at least be a useful comparison tool and will give you an idea of what the cheaper and more expensive cities are.

It is worth noting though, that there are huge variations in terms of rent prices even within individual cities. You could easily blow the above monthly budget just on accommodation if you want to live in a gated community in a good area which has obvious security benefits. However the majority of South Africans live on significantly less than this, so it is certainly a country of extremes when it comes to the cost of living.

As of September 2022, 1 US Dollar = approximately 18 South African Rand, 1.05 Euros and 0.92 British Pounds.


This look at the best and cheapest cities to live in South Africa was published in September 2022.


The Best Cities in South Africa & Cost of Living Guide

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