More than two million foreigners live in South Africa, choosing to work, study or retire in the sun. A progressive visa system allows foreign nationals to enter South Africa for business as well as leisure, attracting entrepreneurs, digital nomads, and those coming to work in the growing process outsourcing industry.
If you’re a regular visitor to South Africa, or are planning a permanent move, then getting set up with a local bank account will be important to you. Having a local account means you can arrange other essentials like a mobile phone contract and home internet connection hassle free - and get on with enjoying life like a local.
Make it easier to get settled, by checking out our quick guide to opening a bank account in South Africa.
The exact documents that’ll be accepted by your bank will vary. The biggest factor will be whether you are opening a resident account, or a non-resident one.
Whichever account you open you should expect to be asked for the following:
- Your passport (which might need to be certified by a notary or other qualified professional).
- Proof of your right to work or study in South Africa.
- Proof of address in South Africa (a utility bill issued within the last three months is usually required for this).
- Minimum required deposit amount and proof of ongoing income (such as payslips or a letter from your employer).
- Evidence of banking history, such as copies of bank statements from your home country (3 months of records are usually requested).
If you're looking to open a resident account then there’ll be further paperwork to complete. The bank should guide you through the process, but you’ll have to declare all the funds or foreign assets you're bringing into South Africa. You’ll need to officially prove you’re working for a South African Employer and commit in writing that the assets you bring into the country are for your own use, and will not be given to a third party resident in South Africa.
Opening a bank account before you move abroad is usually a good idea because your home credit history can then be more easily referenced. If you usually bank with an institution that also operates in South Africa, then you may be able to work with your local branch to get an account opened before you move. Check if your home bank has a presence in South Africa, or consider a few of the larger international banks operating in South Africa which are listed in the table below.
Nedbank, for example, allow you to open a non-resident bank account prior to moving to South Africa. Because the process varies depending on your personal circumstance, you’ll need to talk to a bank consultant directly to arrange this. You’re likely to be asked to prove your credentials in much the same way as when you open an account in person - but you’ll have to arrange to pay the minimum required deposit via an international bank transfer rather than in cash on arrival.
South African banks offer specific accounts tailored to non-residents.The non-resident account can be opened by anyone, but is more restricted than the full access accounts offered to those with valid residence permits.
South Africa has a ‘Big Four’ of local retail banks, who dominate the sector. These are sophisticated banks, regulated by the local financial services authorities, and often work across the region beyond the borders of South Africa.
Although there are branches and coverage of some international banks, many of these offer limited services, only dealing with larger investors, or commercial organisations.
Here are some of the banking choices in South Africa:
Standard bank offer a wide range of services to non residents, making it a good choice if you're opening an account before moving there. As one of the biggest banking institutions in Africa, Standard Bank have branches in over twenty countries. If you choose to open an account with them, you might be able to visit a branch in your home country before you move.
Absa is the second largest banking group operating in South Africa. They offer regular bank accounts, youth and student accounts, and specialist accounts for those who travel regularly, or require Sharia compliant banking.
Nedbank has a good range of products and an extensive branch network. Their helpful website explains how to open a non-resident account for those unfamiliar with the process. For non-residents there are savings and currency account products, as well as home and vehicle loans, debit cards and investment management.
Capitec Bank offers phone and Internet banking, including an app. A full range of account services is offered for both residents and non residents. With 720 branches, you'll be sure to be close to one if you wish to open an account or manage your money in person.
These large banking institutions all provide good online and telephone banking, and have an extensive branch coverage. It is completely normal to carry out your banking online in South Africa, although some people prefer to choose a bank which has a branch local to home. That way you can visit when needed and talk to someone in person if you have a question.
When you open your new bank account in South Africa, read the terms and conditions carefully. You’ll be able to find a charge sheet on the bank website - or ask for information on fees and charges when you visit your local branch.
You should be aware of any standard fees that will impact you, like regular charges levied to keep your account open or use a credit or debit card. These account handling fees mount up over time, even if they can initially appear quite small. Other common charges include a fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM operated by a different bank. Make sure you understand what you're signing up to.
Finally, and before you commit to a bank, you should think about how you plan on using your account. Each bank has slightly different account deals on offer, including varying fees for additional services. This is where your account usage matters. If you plan on using your bank card frequently for international withdrawals, for example, then checking out the fees applied for this will make a difference.
If you receive any income from outside South Africa, you might need to move money between accounts which use different currencies. Doing this through your bank is often a costly choice. As well as a charge for processing the transaction, the exchange rate used is usually far from favourable.
A better option for international money transfers with low, transparent fees, is Transferwise. With Transferwise you can transfer money between accounts using the real exchange rate. There’s no mark up, and no hidden fees, just a clear set charge for your transfer.