The currency used is the South African is the rand which is made up of 100 cents. Notes come in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 or R200 and the coins in use are 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5. South Africa has recently introduced new coins and notes but you should be aware old coins are still particularly because the R200 note looks a lot like the R20 note.
While South Africa has eleven official languages, the most widely spoken are Afrikaan and Enlgish and most people will speak at least a little of the latter so you shouldn’t have any major language difficulties during your stay.
Johannesburg has a temperate climate with temperatures averaging 24 degrees Celsius in summer and 13 degrees Celsius in winter. Rainfall is very low in the city and is usually confined to the summer months during the electrical storms which occur in the late afternoon.
South Africa is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Shops are generally open between 8.30am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday. Many close at 1.00pm on Saturday. Larger shopping centres open between 9.00am and 9.00pm from Monday to Saturday. Office hours are between 8.00am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday and banks are usually open between 9.00am and 3.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 8.30am until 11.00am on Saturday. Some smaller branches may close for lunch between 1.00pm and 2.00pm.
The electrical current in South Africa is 220/230 volts AC.
A value added tax (VAT) of 14% is included in the price of most goods and services in the country. If you purchase goods over R250, however, you are entitled to claim VAT back. This does not apply to services. Refunds can be claimed at any of the departure points in South Africa provided you have a receipt for the goods as well as the goods themselves which must be presented for inspection. The maximum amount which you can claim back is R3000 and only goods which have been purchased in the ninety days prior to your departure are valid.
Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union do not require a visa to stay in South Africa for visits of up to 90 days. If you plan exceeding this period or are a resident of any country not listed above you need to contact the South African Embassy in your home country.
The two principal tourist offices in the city are run by Tourism Johannesburg. The first is located in the city centre on the forty sixth floor of the Carlton Towers which you will find on Commissioner Street. Its opening hours are between 8.30am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday and from 9.00am until midday on Saturday. The second is on the first floor of Sandton Village Walk and it opens between 8.30am and 4.30pm from Monday to Thursday, 8.30am and 4.00pm on Friday, 9.00am and 6.00pm on Saturday and 9.00am and noon on Sundays. You should look out for a copy of Gauteng, a free guide to the city’s top attractions.
The main post office in Johannesburg is located at the corner of Market Street and Rissik Street in the central business district. It opens between 8.00am and 4.30pm from Monday to Friday and from 8.00am until midday on Saturdays. You will also find smaller branches in most suburbs, just ask at your hostel and they should be able to point you to the nearest one.
When converting foreign currency in Johannesburg it is recommended that you stick to banks or bureaux de change which have a maximum difference of 5% between their buying and selling prices. This is usually where you will find the cheapest rates of commission. Also remember that you are charged every time you carry out a transaction.
All major credit cards are accepted in the bigger hotels, restaurants and shops but in some smaller businesses you may have difficulty using this facility. You can also use bankcards which are members of the bigger international networks such as Plus or Cirrus in the larger towns and cities where the ATM states that they are acceptable.
The code for South Africa is 00 27 and the area code for Johannesburg is 011. Phone numbers in various areas of South Africa are being changed as the country progressively upgrades and expands its network. If you have a problem getting through, contact the free directory enquiry service on 1023. There are public phone booths all over Johannesburg which accept both phone cards and coins. Phone cards are available at Telkom offices, post offices, and newsagents and offer the best value for money. They only come in denominations of up to R50, however, so you should note that for long distance calls they really don’t allow for a lengthy conversation. You should also note that call charges are at their highest in the morning and are lower in the evening. Sunday has the cheapest rates of all so if you can hold out until then, it’s usually well worth your while.
Tipping is more or less mandatory because of the very low wages. The usual tip expected is 10 to 15%.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In South Africa they take place on January 1st, March 21st, Good Friday, Easter Monday, April 27th, May 1st, June 16th, August 9th, September 24th, December 16th, 17th, 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.