Banking in South Africa

When sending money to or from South Africa, you’ll need a South African bank account in order to receive the funds, and to make transactions while in South Africa (avoiding potential charges from your UK bank). It will also enable you to set up Direct Debits to pay for various utility bills, solicitors’ and agents’ fees, taxes etc.

Banking in the South African region is an important service. South African banks are among the biggest banking corporations in the whole of Africa. The existence of these banking institutions in South Africa has attracted investment globally and locally. So whichever bank you choose, you can expect to find a large network of branches and ATMs that you can use located across the country, and online services allowing you to operate on a 24/7 basis. As in the UK, charges and tariffs can vary significantly from bank to bank.

Mercantile Bank, Standard Bank, Absa, FirstRand, Nedbank, Investec and Capitec Bank are among the major banking institutions in South Africa, offering a range of services to clients locally and internationally.

Choosing a bank

Don’t just select the first bank you see. When opening a bank account in South Africa, it important to consider what it is that you want from your account. Going through the following process will help you to narrow down the available choices.

  • Check to see if the bank that you are thinking of signing up to charges a monthly/annual fee?
  • Does the bank account allow you to withdraw cash regularly?
  • Can you withdraw and deposit money at any cashpoint?
  • Are you able to utilise all ATMs and EFTPOS facilities?
  • What level of interest is being offered on your money?
  • Are there telephone and internet banking options?

When shopping around for a bank account in South Africa, you should put together a checklist of what’s important to you.

In terms of features, you might enquire whether you can make free, limited or unlimited transactions, what the transaction or withdrawal fees are, exception fees, interest rate, any minimum opening balance requirement and any ongoing minimum account balance restrictions.

Services to check out include electronic banking (internet, telephone, mobile), Direct Debits, overdraft facility, chequing facilities and the ability to make overseas transactions.

Additionally, ask about fraud and security protection, how the bank handles complaints, financial counselling, the locations of branches and offices you may want to visit, its hours of operation and accessibility for any disabilities, both in terms of correspondence (eg for blind people) and in person (wheelchair access to branches or services for the deaf).

Visit different South African banks or go online via the bank websites and find out about the different products on offer. For example, ask about fees on your transaction account and how these fees might be impacted if you open a high-interest savings account.

Resident and non-resident accounts

The sort of bank account that you can open in South Africa will relate directly to the type of visa you have been issued with.

If you are on a tourist visa, you will only be able to open a bank account in South Africa that is classified as a non-resident account. While these accounts have all the features of a normal bank account, they are restrictive in that people can generally not deposits in rands. However, there are some exceptions to the rule such as if you own property in South Africa and let it out.

You only be able to open a ‘resident’ bank account in South Africa if you are in possession of a valid temporary or permanent residency visa. A resident account is basically a normal bank account with no specific limitations.

Applying for a bank account in South Africa

Whether applying to open a resident or non-resident bank account, applicants need to be over 18 years of age.

Opening a resident bank account

To open a resident bank account as a foreign national, it is necessary to:

  • Declare all the funds or foreign assets brought into South Africa
  • Complete the Foreign National Declaration and Confirmation of Employment by a South African Employer form
  • Provide a written declaration that foreign assets will not be given to a third party resident in South Africa


Provide the bank with copies of:

  • Valid passport
  • Work or study permit
  • Proof of address in South Africa such as a utility bill
  • Copies of recent statements from bank in the home country or solid evidence of banking history

Bank accounts may be opened from abroad; however the application form and any accompanying declarations must be accompanied by a certified signature (from either a lawyer or solicitor).

It is possible to open a bank account without current employment and without depositing any money, however quarterly maintenance fees may apply, depending on the individual bank.

If you’re transferring funds to South Africa, currency specialists will often set up a bank account on your behalf (see section 7: Currency exchange to and from South Africa).

Opening a non-resident bank account

It is easy to open a savings bank account as a non-resident in South Africa. However, as explained, some exchange control rules and regulations may apply.

To open a non-resident account it is necessary to:

  • Provide at least the minimum opening deposit
  • Have a certified copy of your passport authenticated at your overseas branch
  • Provide bank statements for at least three months
  • Provide proof of income

Credit Ratings

When opening a bank account in South Africa you may have to agree to the bank conducting a credit check.

Continue to section 7: Currency exchange to and from South Africa

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