Culture in South Africa

One of the great aspects of travelling to another country is learning about new customs and cultures and immersing yourself in a different way of living.

On this page you will find some important facts about the way of life in South Africa, including tipping protocol, smoking laws and local currencies.


South Africa's unit of currency is the Rand, which is divided into 100 cents. Bank notes are in denominations of ZAR10, 20, 50, 100 and 200; coins are in the value of 5c, 10c, 50c and ZAR1, 2 and 5. Currency can be bought in advance from your bank or from bureaux de change. Most major international credit cards, such as MasterCard, Visa and American Express, are widely accepted (but not for fuel or tolls) and you can withdraw cash from cash machines in South Africa, as long as you have your PIN number - check with your bank regarding charges.

Banks are generally open from 9am-3.30pm Monday to Friday, and from 8.30am-11am on Saturdays. ATMs (cash machines) are situated outside most banks, in shopping malls and at most filling stations.

Foreign tourists can have their VAT (value-added tax, at 14%) refunded at the point of departure, provided they present their original tax invoices.

Telephone and postage

South Africa’s international country code is 27. To call the UK from South Africa, dial 00 followed by the UK’s code (44), and then the full UK STD number minus the leading zero. Public telephones are either coin or card operated. Phone cards can be purchased at certain stores, post offices and airports.

Post offices are generally open Monday to Friday from 8.30am-4.30pm and on Saturdays from 8am-12 noon.

Time zone

South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time throughout the year, so it is two hours ahead of UK time during the UK winter and one hour ahead during the UK summer.


High-quality tap water is available almost everywhere in South Africa. In some areas, the water is mineral-rich, and you may experience a little gastric distress for a day or two until you get used to it. Bottled mineral water, both sparkling and still, is readily available in most places.


Law prohibits smoking in most public spaces, including airports and railway stations. Most restaurants have designated smoking and non-smoking areas.


Modern shopping malls, arts and crafts routes and markets, flea markets, roadside stalls and informal vendors provide a wide variety of goods, curios and shopping experiences. South Africa’s fashion, gold and diamond jewellery, and art are much sought-after, as are the traditional handcrafted items such as Zulu beadwork, carved chess boards, painted ostrich eggs, colourful woven baskets, handbags and soft furnishings, mohair or sisal rugs, traditional wooden masks and carvings, pottery and leatherwork.

Remember too the world-renowned Cape wines, exotic fruit liqueurs, brandy, rooibos (redbush) tea, dried fruit, biltong (dried meat snacks) and chutney. Most major shopping centres are open Monday to Friday from 9am-5pm and on Saturdays until 1pm. Many shopping malls operate extended shopping hours including Sundays and public holidays.


Tipping is not compulsory in South Africa but is appreciated as recognition of good service. In restaurants it is usual to tip waiting staff 10-15% of the bill. It is also commonplace to tip your ranger and tracker on game drives (about ZAR50-ZAR75 per day is average). At service stations, pump attendants will fill your tank for you and will offer to wash your windscreen – a tip of whatever small change you have available is appreciated (typically two or three rand). In many areas parking attendants will offer to assist you in parking your vehicle and watching over it while you are away – again, a tip of two rand or so is appreciated.

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