Following up on my post about Cost of Living in Joburg, I thought it was only appropriate to do a similar cost of living for Cape Town, my favorite city in South Africa. I’ve enlisted the help of my friend Karalyn Yu, an expat from Canada working as a teacher in the Mother City to give a run down of her monthly costs living in the world’s most beautiful city. Kary is an avid traveler like myself and actually reached out to me after reading my trip to Madagascar as she is planning one for herself. I not so secretly wished I could have lived in Cape Town the entire time I was in SA. I may have never left!
Cape Town Rent – R8,500
In Cape Town, most expats flock to the City Bowl, which includes the CBD as well as a diverse group of residential suburbs, each with its own distinct feel and flavour. One of the great things about the Mother City is how quick and easy it is to get around. From my apartment in the Vredehoek neighbourhood on the slopes of Table Mountain, within 10 minutes I can be laying on my favourite beach, grabbing a drink on Bree Street, shopping at the V&A Waterfront, or at the starting point to hike Lion’s Head.
Cape Town is a popular tourist destination, with good reason. This, along with the increase in popularity of websites like AirBnB, has decreased the number of apartments on the market available for long-term lease. It’s common to see ads for rentals from April to October, with property owners opting to use their apartments as holiday rentals over the busy tourist season. As a result, rental prices have increased significantly in the last few years. Case in point – at my previous (unfurnished) one-bedroom apartment, I paid R6,000 until my lease expired in July 2013. Less than two years later and it now rents for R9,000. Even with the 50% increase there is no shortage of tenants ready and willing to pay the price.
On average, a basic, furnished one-bedroom in the City Bowl runs from R8,000-R10,000. Prices vary according to neighbourhood, security, age, amenities and views; if you want something more spacious, modern, or with a mountain or water view, be prepared to pay at least a couple thousand more. If you want a house in Camps Bay with views of the beach, prepare to break the bank!
As previously mentioned, I live in Vredehoek (corner of peace in Afrikaans) in a furnished one-bedroom flat, with an awesome garden. The complex has secure parking, a pool, views of Table Mountain, and is within walking distance all the essentials – grocery store, liquor store, a handful of cafés and restaurants, hairdresser/spa, medical offices; this sets me back R8,500 a month.
Car and Car Insurance – R400
I’ve seen more luxury cars in Cape Town than I have in any other city in the world; I’m far from a car aficionado, but I recognize an expensive car when I see one. SUVs, Land Rovers and Mini Coopers are also popular amongst Capetonians, however there are a large number of small economy cars on the road. My 2009 Toyota Yaris falls into this category. I bought my car in a private sale via gumtree (South Africa’s version of craigslist). As such I don’t have a monthly car payment, but I do pay about R400 for car insurance. If you plan on financing a car, I’d budget R3,000-R5,000 for a monthly payment.
A note to North Americans coming to Cape Town – most cars here are manual transmission. If you don’t already know how to drive stick shift, you’ll either learn quickly once you get here, or pay a premium for an automatic car.
Gas – R900
The government regulates the cost of gas so there’s no need to check prices and shop around. If you need gas, just pop into your nearest station. Gas prices are adjusted on a monthly basis, with prices increasing or decreasing on the first Wednesday of each month. With an increase or decrease announced the week before its implementation, a projected increase the following month can lead to long lines at gas stations on some Tuesday nights. SA gas stations are full-service; attendants will fill your tank, clean your windows and offer to check water, oil and tires. It’s customary to leave a small tip (R5-R10) at the end of your transaction.
At 45km round trip, my commute to work isn’t too bad. With mostly highway driving and going against the flow of traffic both ways, I don’t spend much time idling either. In general, it costs about R450 to fill up a tank, which lasts me at least a couple weeks, so I spend a maximum of R900 a month.
Gym – R140
Now this may seem like a ridiculously low price to pay for gym membership, and it is! The secret is that I get a heavily discounted membership rate at Virgin Active in Cape Town (something like 90%) as part of my health insurance, which is paid for by my employer. Discovery Health Insurance has a special program called Vitality, which offers incentives to encourage a healthy lifestyle. One of these perks is a cheap gym pass, but there’s a catch; you have to go to the gym at least 3 times a month or your membership increases to the original price. It’s actually a pretty ingenious move for a health insurance company; give members incentive to exercise so they are healthier and in turn live longer. If you don’t have the benefit of a discounted gym membership, I would budget closer to R1,000 for one.
Cellphone – R125
If you have a work visa that expires in at least two years then you’re eligible to sign up for a monthly plan. Bad news is that I waited too long and by the time I got around to it, I realized that my work visa was due to expire 22 months from when I decided to get my phone sorted. Good news is that I brought my unlocked iPhone with me, so being ineligible for a monthly plan; I purchase my data and airtime as I need it. This can be done pretty easily at any grocery store or gas station. Most of the time (home and work) I have access to Wi-Fi and a landline, so with Vodacom, I choose to pay R99 for 500mb of data and also use about R25 worth of airtime on phone calls.
Electricity – R250-R400
I have a pre-paid electricity meter in my apartment and end up spending about R250 a month in the summer. In the winter months, I spend an extra R150 when a plug-in wall heater becomes a necessity to take the chill out of the morning and evening air. Many people are surprised at how cold it can get in Cape Town winters. With the majority of buildings having no central heating, a low of 3-4°C can feel mighty chilly.
Wi-Fi/TV – R765
I don’t have a TV in Cape Town; with so much to see and do outdoors I find I’m rarely home enough to make it worth it. If there is something I absolutely need to watch, I generally have no problem finding it online.
There are two different components to my Wi-Fi service; I have a home phone and 10Mbps line through Telkom at R425, then I pay MWEB R340 for unlimited data. I pay R200 less than the normal R540 that MWEB charges as I was lucky enough to sign up while they were running a special promotion.
This wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be to set up. My apartment had an existing, dormant phone line through Telkom that I reactivated. As a SA national, you can actually do this over the phone; however as an expat, I had to go to Telkom’s main office in the CBD in person to provide a copy of my passport, as well as a R700 deposit. Once this was done, I was given an installation date within the following two weeks where Telkom technicians came to activate the line. I set-up my data via MWEB by emailing an application form I downloaded from their website. It was surprisingly simple and straightforward.
Food/Entertainment – R4500
It’s hard to estimate how much I spend on food and entertainment. I do know that it’s much less than I do in Canada. In general eating and drinking out is extremely affordable and of excellent quality. Conde Nast Traveler recently voted Cape Town as the 3rd best food city in the world, ranking behind only San Sebastian and Paris. Pretty impressive!
I would say that a meal out with friends including a shared appetizer, a main meal and a couple drinks sets me back between R150-R200. One thing I love about Cape Town restaurants is that many allow you to bring your own wine, either for free, or by paying a nominal corkage fee. If you’re not drinking alcohol and just having a entrée, there are tons of places you can get a great meal for R100; it’s also common to see burger and beer specials for R75-R85.
On average, I’d say I eat out about three to four times a week, so I spend about R600/week, or R2400/month. On top of this, I spend about R400/week on groceries, so another R1600/month.
In the Winter months when there are fewer tourists around and locals are bundling up inside, many restaurants have amazing winter specials. We’re talking a meal for two, including a glass of wine for R100-R150. Fine dining restaurants also take part – in the cooler months you can enjoy a multi-course meal with wine pairings at some of the best restaurants in the city that would cost 10 times more in New York or London.
In terms of fun and entertainment, a big part of my leisure hours are spent outdoors. With breathtaking scenery, amazing beaches and an infinite number of hiking trails, Cape Town is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream; access to most of this is free.
Two of my favourite summer activities are outdoor movies and concerts. In general, these run from late Spring to early Fall. Outdoor concerts take place in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens every Sunday afternoon/evening. You bring your own food and drinks (including alcohol:), a big picnic blanket, and groove to the sounds of some great SA musicians like Matthew Mole, The Parlotones, Mi Casa and Goldfish. Once in a while, they even land some better-known international acts like Bastille and Passenger. Tickets run as little as R100 for the local artists to R400 for the more popular acts.
The Galileo Open Air Cinema plays movies several nights a week in different locations (Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, V&A Waterfront, Cape Winelands, Hillcrest Quarry). I’ve been to them all and each one has its own unique atmosphere. At R70 a ticket, it’s a fun, affordable night out for a couple, or a large group of friends.
Food markets are also a great way to socialize with friends while sharing good food and drink. Some of the more popular markets are the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock, the Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay and the V & A Market on the Wharf. Picture food vendors selling their goodies – items as varied as sushi, raw oysters, baked goods, flat bread pizzas and empanadas, plus there are also always alcoholic beverages available. You browse the stalls and select a few items to enjoy at communal tables with friends and strangers alike.
Another favourite weekend activity is wine tasting. You can stay locally and explore the Constantia Wine Route which is only a 20 minute drive from the CBD, or venture out to the Cape Winelands in Stellenbosch, Paarl, or my favourite, Franschhoek, all of which are a 45-60 minute drive away. Some wine tastings are free, while others charge a nominal fee (generally between R25-R40).
Now I’m going to share one more sweet deal that locals love. At the Labia cinema in the Gardens neighbourhood, you can get two movie tickets and two dinners for R90-R99. That’s dinner and movie for you AND your date for that price. Let me repeat – that’s two dinners and two movie tickets for R100! I don’t know of a better deal in the city. Each day of the week features a different restaurant, and I can tell you from experience that they are all delicious.
In three years of living in the the Mother City, I’ve never felt bored or tired of being here. There really is no shortage of things to do, see and experience in Cape Town. But don’t take my word for it, come for a visit and you’ll never want to leave!
Adding It All Up
Rent – R8,500
Insurance – R400
Gas – R900
Gym – R140
Cellphone – R125
Electricity – R400
Wi-Fi/TV – R765
Food/Entertainment – R4500
= R15,730/month for all regular expenses