South Africa uses the rand as its official currency. It is represented by the letters ZAR on international markets. This might seem like an odd few letters to use, but actually they stand for Zuid-Afrikaanse Rand (ZAR) which is South African for South African rand.

As with many other currencies the rand is decimal in nature. It is sub-divided into 100 cents. When you see a sum indicated in rand you will see it written with the letter R in front of it. For example you might pay R45 for something.

What coins and notes are available for this currency?

Coins are circulating in both cents and rand denominations. There are six cent coins, ranging from one cent through to 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent coins. You can also get three coins in rand denominations, which are the one, two and five rand coins.

The notes available are all in rand denominations and are 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 rand banknotes.

From past to present – the history of the South African rand

We don’t have to go too far back in time to find the beginning of the South African rand. It has only been used since 1961, since this was the beginning of the Republic of South Africa that officially adopted the currency. Before this the country used the South African pound, which at that time was worked out in pounds, shillings and pence. The change meant the country went from an imperial currency to a decimal one.

The pound had been in place for many years and that was only brought in originally because lots of different currencies were used in the country. This only made things more complex as everyone was using something different and there was no unified system in place.

The rand is also used in other areas since it was designed as the currency of the Common Monetary Area in that region. Thus Swaziland and Lesotho also use the currency.

How to get hold of South African rand

If you are travelling to South Africa it makes sense to be prepared. Some of your bank cards may not be accepted in cash machines or as methods of payment abroad. This means you should check with your card issuer or bank prior to going so you know whether your cards are suitable to take or not. Even if you are sure it can be used it is a good idea just to let them know you will be in the country and using your card legitimately. If you don’t you may find it gets stopped and you then have to sort it out while you are away. It’s not an ideal position to be in.

You will need some rand to take with you while you are away but it is wise not to take too much. It is not advisable to carry large amounts of cash on you, although of course you can store some in your hotel safe and use a money belt to ensure you don’t keep everything in one place.

There are also bureaux de change in South Africa, along with banks, so you can get more rand there if you should find yourself running short.

How to find out the latest exchange rate between your home currency and the South African rand

This is easy enough to do – any reputable website with a currency converter will give you the opportunity to find out how many rand you will get for your own currency. The rand was quite strong years ago but you are now likely to find you can get more rand for your money, which is good news.

Just input your own currency and the amount you want to convert before selecting the rand as the destination currency. Hit return or enter and you will get the conversion you need.

If you are thinking about going to South Africa on holiday you can get more information about visas and other relevant details from the South African High Commission. Their website is at

Travelling safely with South African rand

It is always best to be alert to the safety and security offered by any country you are going to visit, and this applies to South Africa too. You may well have heard stories about the high crime rate in South Africa and this may make you nervous about visiting the country. However it is wise to note that most visits made by foreigners on holiday pass without incident.

Of course you should make sure you are able to adhere to all the safety advice given out when visiting South Africa. Violent crime is unlikely to trouble you but it is wise not to stray out of familiar tourist areas in the country. The good news is that the police in the country seem to prioritise the protection of tourists so you should get used to seeing a lot of them around when you visit familiar destinations.

The main thing to remember is not to flash your valuables around. This is the kind of situation where you can expect to run into problems. Don’t carry more cash or cards than you have to, and make sure you wear a money belt. It is also wise to split up your cash so you carry small amounts in a variety of different places. This is the best way to ensure you don’t lose everything if you are unlucky enough to be robbed.

Where to spend your rand in South Africa – and what to spend them on

South Africa borders Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Mozambique, taking up the southern section of the land mass it is situated on. Lesotho is a small area that is situated within South Africa itself.

There are many areas of South Africa that are familiar with tourists, such as Johannesburg (commonly referred to simply as Jo’burg), Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town. Johannesburg is the biggest city in the entire country, and has an attractive skyline. There is a lot of greenery in the city too though, which makes it a nice place to visit if you want some relaxation time away from the crowds now and again. There are lots of shopping malls if you want to spend some of your rand, and while it isn’t thought of as one of the tourist hotspots in the country it is still worth a visit.

Elsewhere you can visit Durban too, which can be found in KwaZulu-Natal. The great thing about Durban is it has a beachfront as well as a cityscape, offering the best of both worlds to those paying a visit. It offers the so called Golden Mile, the promenade by the beach, uShaka Marine World and again, plenty of shopping opportunities.

Port Elizabeth is further down the coast from Durban and it is well set up to cater for tourists. South Africa is home to the famous Garden Route, which runs from the Western Cape to the Eastern Cape. Port Elizabeth can be found at the end of the route. A visit to St George’s Park is worth the effort, as is a spot of whale watching if you visit between June and August, the peak time for seeing them.

You may be wondering what the capital of South Africa is. The answer is it depends on what type of capital you are looking to visit. Cape Town is the so called legislative capital of the country, while Pretoria is the executive capital. There is also a judicial capital, Bloemfontein. So you have a unique chance to visit three in one country!

Of course South Africa is also known for providing some great opportunities to see nature. The Kruger National Park is a hotspot for safaris, and there are lots of opportunities – not to mention reasons – for booking a spot on a safari tour. While this national park is probably among the best known, there are many others as well. These include the Eastern Cape Game Reserves, the Waterburg area and the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. If you book onto a popular safari you have a great chance to see the so called Big Five. These are the five game animals that are the most popular among visitors – and also the most deadly. They are the lion, the Cape buffalo, the rhino, the African elephant and the leopard. Make sure you follow all instructions and prepare to be amazed at the opportunity to see these animals when you go on a safari.

Of course when you are in South Africa you also have a chance to try their cuisine. This is one of the best things to spend your money on. You will soon notice the cuisine has influences from almost all over the world, thanks to the many peoples who have moved through here through time.

Meat is the main part of many meals for South Africans. Biltong is a popular item – dried meat that can be eaten as a snack since it is preserved. South Africans often enjoy braai at the weekend, which is what we would call a barbecue. Beef is a popular dish here but other meats such as goat and also chicken are also commonly eaten. You will also notice cabbage turns up a lot in meals, since this is a popular vegetable that is used as an accompaniment.

While there isn’t a distinct dish that is the national one, bobotie probably is the best contender for the title. It is minced meat that is baked with an egg, and served with rice. It might sound a little unusual but with spices and the addition of sultanas as well, it is a tasty dish to try.


South Africa is a must see country if you want to see wild animals up close as part of a safari. It also boasts some amazing cities to visit, and if you take all due precautions you will have the best time making sure you enjoy spending some rand in South Africa.

South African Rand – ZAR

4 thoughts on “South African Rand – ZAR

  • April 27, 2009 at 10:07 am

    I know a little bit about the rand and South Africa – I have a friend who is South African, although they live in the UK now and have done for several years. Her family comes over to visit every now and then and it is quite something to hear about what it is like in certain parts of South Africa.

    They agree there are places that you wouldn’t want to go, but equally there are others that are absolutely wonderful and well worth a visit. I’ve been asked back to stay there on holiday and I just might go after reading this!

  • June 26, 2009 at 12:04 am

    I have a similar story – except to say that my South African friend now lives in London and she always compares the prices of things over here to what they are like over there!

    Now that is truly eye opening – but it does get you used to the idea of paying for something in another currency. I can’t imagine ever going to South Africa but at least if I did I would know something about the currency I would use there. It doesn’t seem as alien to me because I know someone who used it every day. Do other people find foreign currency is like play money?

  • December 18, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Okay I have a different story because I don’t know anyone who has ever lived in South Africa or ever come from there either. But I wouldn’t particularly want to visit because even though there are safe areas I wouldn’t trust myself to know where I could or couldn’t go.

    I like to visit places I can enjoy without wondering if I am going to be safe there. I know nowhere is probably that safe – except maybe a desert island – but I like to think that I can relax a bit while I am on holiday. Even if it is all just an illusion.

  • February 20, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    I live in South Africa and it is awesome. Everyone makes it out to be all desert and wild animals but the city of Cape Town is amazing and so is Durban there are plenty of great hotels and guest houses to stay in. The beaches and mountain are amazing and so are the Animal Reserves. Right now the currency isn’t to difficult to figure out for people in the US as it is about R10 to the dollar. I hope this gave you some more information about South Africa and inspired you to try and come.


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