Bureaux De Change
Most banks in major cities have foreign exchange windows, where you can buy and sell foreign currencies, buy and cash travellers’ cheques, and obtain a cash advance on credit and charge cards. Banks tend to offer the best exchange rates but may impose charges of R25 (€2.60) or more.
There are many private exchange bureaux at airports, main railway stations and major cities with longer business hours than banks, particularly at weekends. Most offer competitive exchange rates and low or no commission (but always check). They’re easier to deal with than banks and, if you’re changing a lot of money, you can usually negotiate a better exchange rate.
At airports and in tourist areas in major cities, there are automatic change machines accepting up to 15 currencies, including US$, Sterling, Euros and Swiss francs. However, airport bureaux de change and change machines usually offer the worst exchange rates and charge the highest fees (e.g. handling charges). Never use unofficial money changers, who are likely to short change you.
The exchange rate against the Rand for most European and major international currencies is listed in banks and daily newspapers and on the internet.
If you need instant cash, you can draw on debit, credit or charge cards (but there’s usually a daily limit). Many foreigners living in South Africa (particularly retirees) keep the bulk of their money in a foreign account (perhaps with an offshore bank) and draw on it with a cash or credit card. This is an ideal solution for holidaymakers and holiday home-owners (although home-owners will still need a South African bank account to pay their bills).
Exchange rates are better when obtaining cash with a credit or debit card, as you’re given the wholesale rate, although there’s a 1.5 per cent charge on cash advances and cash machine (ATM) transactions in foreign currencies. Some ATMs may reject foreign cards – if this happens try again and if necessary try another ATM.
One of the quickest (it takes around ten minutes) and safest methods of transferring cash is via a telegraphic transfer, e.g. Moneygram (www.moneygram.com). Note that Western Union no longer operates in South Africa, following accusations that the service was being used for money laundering. Money can be sent via American Express offices by Amex cardholders.
If you’re visiting South Africa, it’s safer to carry travellers’ cheques than cash. However, travellers’ cheques aren’t as easy to cash in South Africa as in some other countries, and they’re especially difficult to change in rural areas. They aren’t usually accepted as cash by businesses, except perhaps in hotels, restaurants and shops in Cape Town and other major cities, which usually offer a poor exchange rate. You can buy travellers’ cheques from any South African bank, usually for a fee or 1 per cent of the face value.
Banks usually offer a better exchange rate for travellers’ cheques than for banknotes, but fees and rates vary considerably, so shop around. Buying large denomination cheques saves on per-cheque exchange charges. American Express and Thomas Cook offices don’t charge for cashing their own cheques.
Always keep a separate record of cheque numbers and note where and when they were cashed. American Express provides a free, three-hour replacement service for lost or stolen travellers’ cheques at any of its offices worldwide, provided you know the serial numbers of the lost cheques. Without the serial numbers, replacement can take three days or longer. Most companies provide toll-free numbers for reporting lost or stolen travellers’ cheques in South Africa.