When I got the opportunity back in 2003 to come and spend five months working in South Africa, I didn’t give the cost of living in Cape Town a second thought. In the Netherlands, I had just lost my job (for about the eighth time in three years), so I could use a little adventure and ‘getting away from it all.’
Little did I know that it would change my life forever and that now, in 2019, I’m still living in this beautiful city at the southern tip of the African continent.
Why Live in Cape Town?
Cape Town is an amazingly beautiful city with Table Mountain towering above the city bowl, the gorgeous beaches of Camps Bay and the colorful houses of the Bo-Kaap amongst many other beautiful spots. In Cape Town, no matter where you walk, there WILL be a magnificent view to enjoy. Cape Town is unique in that there’s a national park inside the city borders. Hiking Lion’s Head used to be my morning gym, a fantastic way to start the day.
So I stayed because of the beauty of the city and also because I saw an opportunity for myself to start my own business. Something I had wanted to do for quite a while but never exactly knew what but now I did: I opened a boutique travel agency to assist all those travelers in creating their dream holiday to South Africa. I found my passion and purpose on the other side of the world, and that’s why I stayed.
Is The Cost Of Living In Cape Town Expensive?
When I first arrived here, Cape Town was significantly cheaper than the Netherlands which is my home country. Over the years, unfortunately, this has changed quite a bit. With prices and fees usually going up between 10 to 15% per year, I would no longer say that Cape Town is a budget destination.
Best Places to Live in Cape Town
The best areas to live are basically around Table Mountain which comprises of the following areas: Gardens, Tamboerskloof, City Bowl, Woodstock, Greenpoint, Seapoint, Clifton and Camps Bay With Clifton and Camps Bay being top of the range and the most expensive. If you enjoy surfing, then Blouberg is also a good option, it is about 15 km from the city centre and a lot cheaper with regards to rentals. Cape Town is the biggest Airbnb destination in Africa.
Cost of a Flat in Cape Town
Accommodation will naturally be a large factor in the cost of living in Cape Town. My daughter and I live in Greenpoint which is a lovely area and really close to everything. We have a MyCiti Bus stop right in front of our building, but I also own a car, and in the evening I use Uber most of the time for convenience.
A two bedroom flat in this area will cost around ZAR 15.000 per month which is more or less USD 1.000. A short Uber ride is ZAR 30 which is a bit more than USD 2.
Cost of Food in Cape Town
A lot of people shop at Woolworths or Pick ‘n Pay which are the supermarkets that are located in most areas. However, these are also the most expensive supermarkets, and you will most probably pay the same amount of money for a bag of groceries than in Europe. However, if you look for Foodlover’s Markets, they are substantially cheaper, and you can save a lot of money. I get all my fruit, vegetables, bread, almost all my meat and fish and cheese from this supermarket and for my daughter and me I spend about ZAR 1.500 per week on groceries which is a bit more than USD100.
When I was still shopping at Woolworths, this was three times more. Not only because of the prices but also they have too much convenience food which is great for some but not for your budget. So we stick to Foodlover’s which has fantastic basics, and I don’t get tempted to buy all kinds of fancy stuff.
Utility Bills in Cape Town
My electricity bill is about ZAR 400 per month which is about USD 28. We don’t have central heating in our flat because it is hardly necessary. However in the winter months from May – September I often use a gas heater in one room to keep it warm. And we wear our winter jackets inside quite often. Yes, a real story.
Cost of Internet and Cable in Cape Town
One downside to the cost of living in Cape Town is that anything digital and phone related is very expensive and often not the quality and speed that can be enjoyed elsewhere. For fiber internet, I pay ZAR 600 per month which is about 43 euros per month. If you would like to have pay TV and have the complete set of channels like CNN, all the sports channels, BVN, and BBC, you will pay about ZAR 1000 ( = 70 USD) per month.
1GB data on my cell phone costs ZAR 149 which is more than USD 10. Wifi is widely available though. Most restaurants and coffee shops will offer it for free but the speed is often very slow, and it sometimes takes a complicated sign up process, but of course, it is still the cheapest way to go to make use of WiFi as much as you can.
Since Telkom changed my copper phone line to a digital one (because of theft), the line never worked so I cancelled that contract and now have only a prepaid cell phone. Be aware that if you want to get a cell phone contract, you will be stuck with it for two years. You can’t cancel it unless you pay it off. These are really killer contracts with no value at all except that you ‘get’ the phone. I’m happy my contract is finished, and I won’t get another one.
Cost of Banking in Cape Town
One downside to the cost of living in Cape Town, which hardly costs me anything in The Netherlands is banking. For every single banking transaction you make in South Africa, you pay. No matter if it is an online transaction. To send an automated email to my recipient costs me ZAR 0.90 for example. The monthly fee for my personal account is ZAR 105 equalling USD 7.50.
Cost of Eating Out in Cape Town
The restaurants in Cape Town are amazing. Although you always have to add 10 – 15 % tip to your bill, it is still much more affordable than dining out in my home country. If you enjoy culinary experiences of a high caliber for a fraction of the price, Cape Town will soon become your city of choice. New restaurants are opening up all the time and if you come during our wintertime May – September you will be able to find some fantastic specials.
An 8-course dining experience in the number one restaurant of the country will set you back between 150 and 200 USD per person.
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Petrol Price Cape Town
Petrol is relatively inexpensive and currently (April 2019) about ZAR 13 per liter.
Cape Town Health Care Cost
The health insurance system in South Africa is a big money-making scheme that I don’t like at all. It is not transparent and you actually never know if they’re going to pay or not. I had some not so nice surprises when I had an operation done. At the moment I’m paying about ZAR 2.500 for my daughter and myself for a hospital plan which means that treatments inside the hospital are covered up to the medical aid rate. The doctor or specialist, however, might charge three times the medical aid rate, and it is up to you to figure all of that out.
What I also don’t like about it is that they really REALLY encourage you to pay for their loyalty program which then gives you cheap membership and they track your shopping which then gives you rewards. Most people don’t understand that they actually pay a lot for all of this and the benefits are minimal unless you’re a complete gym bunny and go to the gym five times a week. But you get free coffee? Eh no, not really. The financial literacy is sometimes shocking, to be honest.
Cape Town Schools
There’s a public system and private system and it very very very important that you check out the school before you decide on one. A school year can cost anything from about ZAR 20.000 per year for a reasonable public school to ZAR 100.000 per year for the most expensive private school. There are boys and girls schools as well as co-ed schools. In general, all schools have uniforms.
Summing it All Up
What else can I tell you about the cost of living in Cape Town? I think in general you can have a GREAT life if you earn enough money and can live in one of the affluent areas with easy access to shops and schools. One of the things that I find very hard to deal with is the big disparity between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have-nots’. Cape Town has many homeless people and not enough facilities for them. Most poor people live very far away from their meager jobs which is an awful Apartheid legacy, and it hasn’t been turned around yet.
Most affluent people still very much live in boxes of privilege and don’t want anything to do with the underprivileged which is very hard to understand and, to be honest, this has become unbearable for me after 16 years of living here. I sometimes get very angry with people or with a situation and get frustrated that I can’t do enough. We have always been involved in some sort of community building and trying to make a difference and if you come and live here, I think it is important to do that. We have so much.
Finding a Job in Cape Town
Cape Town has a big international community of freelancers, entrepreneurs, and digital nomads. Johannesburg is more the corporate centre of South Africa. Cape Town is sometimes called Slaap (= Sleep) Town because things tend to go quite slowly here. Very often you will hear someone tell you that they came to Cape Town for a holiday and then decided to stay. So people usually figure out AFTERWARDS what they can do here to make a living.
The beauty of where we live is something I see each day. I can drive my daughter to school along the beautiful Seapoint promenade and even spot a whale or dolphins. It is really quite breathtaking.
About the Author: This post is written by Jessy Lipperts of Planet Pilgrims a blog by a mother-daughter duo who currently live in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest!