Updated april 26, 2022

Your Guide to Traveling Around South Africa with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in South Africa?

A fascinating country with plenty to offer, South Africa is like no other place. The country is home to an endless coastline, stunning national parks, prehistoric sites and a wealth of different cultures, making it one of the richest travel destinations in the world. While it continues to face many challenges and its complex reputation is somewhat justified, finding out more about the country in advance and choosing your routes carefully can make it a safe and enjoyable destination to explore at your own pace..
TOP TIPS:
  • South Africa is large — try to make the most of your trip and not just stick to one place in this diverse country!
  • Most national parks can be visited with a rental car, though check the rules of each individual park in advance!
  • Picking up and dropping off the rental at the airport is one of the surest ways to save money. There are more than ten international airports in the country.
  • While the dangers of South Africa have been somewhat exaggerated by the media, the country is, statistically, more unsafe than many Western destinations. Plan your route in advance and use trustworthy, up-to-date sources before getting off the beaten tourist path.
  • South Africa has 11 official languages, but most people working in the tourism industry speak English. Speakers of Dutch will also be at an advantage as the language is very similar to Afrikaans.
  • Different places have different price dynamics — Cape Town is the cheapest to visit in May while Johannesburg is the cheapest in September!

Your Guide to Traveling Around South Africa with a Rental Car

By Aleksandrs Buraks | Updated April 26, 2022
TOP TIPS:
  • South Africa is large — try to make the most of your trip and not just stick to one place in this diverse country!
  • Most national parks can be visited with a rental car, though check the rules of each individual park in advance!
  • Picking up and dropping off the rental at the airport is one of the surest ways to save money. There are more than ten international airports in the country.
  • While the dangers of South Africa have been somewhat exaggerated by the media, the country is, statistically, more unsafe than many Western destinations. Plan your route in advance and use trustworthy, up-to-date sources before getting off the beaten tourist path.
  • South Africa has 11 official languages, but most people working in the tourism industry speak English. Speakers of Dutch will also be at an advantage as the language is very similar to Afrikaans.
  • Different places have different price dynamics — Cape Town is the cheapest to visit in May while Johannesburg is the cheapest in September!

Why should you rent a car in South Africa?

A fascinating country with plenty to offer, South Africa is like no other place. The country is home to an endless coastline, stunning national parks, prehistoric sites and a wealth of different cultures, making it one of the richest travel destinations in the world. While it continues to face many challenges and its complex reputation is somewhat justified, finding out more about the country in advance and choosing your routes carefully can make it a safe and enjoyable destination to explore at your own pace.

When should you go to South Africa?

outh Africa is a large and diverse country (about twice as large as France). The best time to visit the country depends on what you intend to do and see there.

The best time to visit Cape Town and the Western Cape is considered to be from November until early March. This is when the summer season lasts in the Southern Hemisphere and the weather is the warmest and least rainy. The same also applies to the famous Garden Route. The climate is warm year-round, but the area is quite rainy from June to September.

However, some travelers prefer to visit the Western Cape in winter as the attractions are less crowded and the prices for accommodation and rental cars are lower. Winter months are also great for whale-watching, although you can see them in spring as well (which lasts from September to November). The penguins can be seen year-round.

The best time to visit the famous South African national parks in the northern part of the country (like Kruger National Park in the northeast and Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park in the northwest) is from June to August. Not only are these months pleasantly warm rather than forbiddingly hot, but it is also the dry season which means that the chances of seeing wildlife are much higher. (Do keep in mind, though, that while less famous than these two, there are great national parks all over South Africa and the best time to visit depends on which part of the country they are located and what their main attractions are).

South Africa is a great surfing destination year-round, but the country usually gets the most impressive waves from April to August. There are many amazing surfing spots in South Africa for anyone from beginners to seasoned pros, such as Durban, Muizenberg near Cape Town, and the Sunshine Coast.

Now that you've decided when to travel to South Africa, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in South Africa?

Most visitors to South Africa choose to pick up a rental car at the airport. There are many domestic airports in South Africa, as well as three airports serving international flights — Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport, Cape Town Airport, and Durban King Shaka Airport. O.R. Tambo is the busiest airport in all of Africa and Cape Town Airport is the fourth-busiest. In addition to flights to other African countries, they also provide connections with Europe, the Middle East, East Asia, the Americas, and Australia.

In addition to airports, it is also possible to pick up or drop off a rental car at other locations like downtown car rental company offices and international hotels. There are car rental offices in many South African cities that do not have an airport.

Many car rental companies in South Africa permit one-way rentals, usually for an additional fee. Many travelers use this opportunity to travel between Johannesburg and Durban or between Cape Town and George without the need to return to their original point of entry.

Can I visit one of South Africa's neighboring countries with a rental car?

Very few car rental companies in South Africa permit international one-way rentals. It is usually not permitted to take a rental car across the border, either, even if you plan to later return to South Africa. Many travelers who wish to visit Namibia, Mozambique, or Botswana after visiting South Africa drop off one rental car, travel by public transportation (overland or air), and pick up a new rental car after arriving at their destination. There are many car rental companies in each of these countries and you can search for rental cars for your travel dates on our website. Keep in mind, though, that each of South Africa's neighboring countries has its own visa policy, and depending on your citizenship and the country you intend to visit, you may or may not need a visa to enter.

The one exception among South Africa's neighboring countries is Lesotho, a small, mountainous kingdom and a popular adventure tourism destination that is completely surrounded by South Africa. Some car rental companies permit traveling between South Africa and Lesotho (Lesotho's capital, Maseru, is just a two-hour drive from Bloemfontein, and it's also possible to drive there from Johannesburg, East London, or Durban). Do keep in mind, though, that visitors from many countries, including some European, Latin American, and Asian nations, need a visa to enter.

What should I know about South African culture?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that South Africa is a very diverse country. Cultures vary from region to region. A common mistake of visitors is to lump all the local African peoples together and refer to them as a single, homogenous group. In fact, there are very wide differences among them, noticeable not only in their languages but also in historic ways of life, mutual relations between them, present-day situations, etc. While most locals get along well with each other, it's respectful to learn about the specific culture of the region you're visiting or the person you're speaking to. Similarly, the white people of South Africa do not make up a single culture - there are marked differences between the English-speaking and Afrikaans-speaking communities. South Africa is also home to small, but noticeable Indian and Jewish communities.

Although Apartheid, the racial segregation policy in South Africa, ended almost 30 years ago, its legacy sadly lives on in many forms and South Africa remains a racially and ethnically charged society. Similarly, the country is home to many immigrants from neighboring countries like Zimbabwe who are subjected to xenophobic attitudes by some locals. Discussing any historical issues, intra-racial or ethnic conflicts, or current politics is best avoided by visitors.

Despite these precautions, the vast majority of South Africans of all creeds and backgrounds are very hospitable and kind. For many tourists, meeting local people turns out to be the highlight of their trip. Do not be afraid to make new friends, just keep in mind to be respectful of these very sensitive issues.

How safe is South Africa for travelers?

South Africa is something of a paradox - it has developed a reputation as a rather dangerous country, but its tourism industry is booming with millions of travelers visiting it every year. While it is true that there are some dangers in South Africa, the country can be perfectly safe to visit as long as you choose your destinations carefully and are aware of potential risks.

South Africa has high rates of violent crime, but it's important to remember that most of it occurs in certain areas such as dangerous urban neighborhoods that are not normally visited by tourists. This means that while being outside in areas frequented by tourists during daytime is normally fine, you should not explore South African cities on your own, either on foot or by car. Get in touch with your Ministry of Foreign Affairs as many countries keep a list of unsafe destinations in South Africa that you should avoid. Even more importantly, listen to and follow the advice of your hotel and trustworthy locals regarding areas that you should not visit. Many of the most dangerous parts are the so-called townships, formerly racially-segregated areas located on the edges of cities. While not all townships are dangerous, you should only visit one if you are going with a local friend or if you're absolutely certain that it is safe to do so.

Although less publicized, petty crime affects foreign travelers a lot more often in South Africa. Do not flash your valuables, watch out for pickpockets, and do not engage with friendly strangers if they are trying to give you a gift, sell you something or are asking for help (unless their need is obvious). If you feel threatened or have been a victim of a crime, contact the local authorities immediately. The nationwide emergency number in South Africa is 112. The national tourism information and safety number is +27 831232345.

While rare, highway robberies and other roadside crimes are not completely unheard of. Many highways and provinces of the country are very safe to explore, but others can have some dangers, especially after dark. Plan your routes carefully and in advance, always consulting your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, your country's embassy in South Africa, and the latest news updates. Regardless of the region you're traveling in, it's best to keep car doors and windows locked at all times.

Many South African highways, secondary roads, and streets in towns and villages lack any lighting and can, therefore, be dangerous to drive on after dark because of pedestrians, cattle, and wildlife possibly being on the road, as well as other vehicles that you might not notice.

While one of South Africa's main attractions is its spectacular nature, many species of wildlife such as venomous snakes, lions, rhinos, sharks, and crocodiles can be dangerous to humans. Therefore, it's important to only hike, camp, and swim in specifically designated places that have been confirmed safe by someone who knows the area. Even when visiting a national park, find out in advance where it is and isn't safe to camp or even visit on foot. a way to show respect as it is the native or ancestral language of many highlanders.

What languages are spoken in South Africa?

South Africa has 11 official languages, more than almost any other country in the world. While all of them are widely spoken in different parts of the country and most South Africans speak at least two themselves, it is quite possible to get around without being a polyglot.

While English is the native tongue of only one-tenth of South Africans, in many parts of the country it is the dominant language of media, business, and also the street. This includes many of the largest cities and popular tourist destinations. While you should not expect absolutely everyone to speak English in South Africa, most people working in the tourism and services industries will have at least some knowledge of it and many will be fluent. The South African English accent is rather specific and the dialect also uses many local loanwords, especially those coming from Afrikaans, but you should not have major trouble communicating.

Afrikaans is the native tongue of about 13% of South Africans. It is the dominant language of the Northern Cape and Western Cape regions where many people speak it as a second and third language. Afrikaans is the most widespread native language in Cape Town; however, many people in Cape Town also speak English. Afrikaans descends from Dutch and speakers of modern Dutch, including Flemish Dutch, usually understand it very well (its mutual intelligibility with German, however, is much lower).

The most common native language in South Africa is Zulu. It is primarily, although not exclusively, spoken in the northeastern part of the country, including Durban where it is the number one native language of the locals. Other official languages of South Africa are Xhosa, Northern Sotho, Tswana, Sesotho, Tsonga, Swati, Venda, and Ndebele.
What about filling up in South Africa?
There are lots of gas stations in South Africa, especially on the main highways and near cities. The largest national parks also usually have their own stations (sometimes several of them).

Prices at the South African gas stations are shown per liter (1 liter = 0.26 gallons).
How expensive is gas in South Africa?
As of April 2022, the price of gas in South Africa is 21.6 ZAR per liter (or $1.48, or €.36).
How much does a rental car in South Africa cost?
Like elsewhere in the world, rental car prices in South Africa are affected by season and proximity to large holidays. Being in the Southern hemisphere, South Africa experiences the warmest weather roughly from December to February Overall, the prices are notably lower than in Western Europe, North America, or Australia.

In Cape Town, the average price for a rental car per day is $21 in May, the cheapest month, and $53 in December, the most expensive month. In Johannesburg, the situation is somewhat the opposite — the price is $19 in September, the cheapest month, only $25 in December, but $55 in March and $60 in January. Do keep in mind that these are only the averages - it is possible to find significantly cheaper individual deals.
Which car rental company in South Affrica offers the lowest rates? What are some tricks for getting a better deal?
As temptingly cheap as some rental offers in South Africa might seem, make sure to also check the company's rating, as well as rental conditions - more on that below!

The three surest ways to keep the daily rental price down are to book as early in advance as possible, to book a car for several days instead of just one or two, and two pick up and drop off a vehicle at the airport instead of the city center.
Which car rental supplier is best for you? Are the rental conditions important?
Price is obviously a huge factor when choosing a rental car, but it shouldn't be your only concern — often, for a couple of euros more, you can find a much better overall deal. Instead, try to look for a company that offers both a good price and has a good rating from previous travelers.

Also, make sure you are familiar with the rental conditions! Different rental car suppliers will have different conditions. The rental conditions can influence the final price of the car and are important to be aware of in general.

You can find the rental conditions when searching for a rental car on our website.
What else should you keep in mind when renting a car?
Some of the most important things when picking up a rental car is knowing your rental car supplier's fuel and mileage policies along with its driver requirements.

Mileage policy :
A rental supplier's mileage policy is the maximum permitted distance that you are allowed to travel per day (or sometimes per week) with your rental car. Once you exceed the permitted distance, you will be required to pay an extra fee for every additional kilometer you drive. There might also be the maximum permitted mileage for the whole of the rental period.

Different rental car suppliers have different mileage rules. It's important to know about them before booking your car, especially if you plan to drive a lot or travel long distances during your trip.

You can find the supplier's mileage policy in their rental conditions:
Fuel policy:
Different car rental companies have different policies when it comes to fuel. Some of the most popular ones are:
  • Full-to-full
    You are given a car with a full tank of fuel and are expected to also return it with a full tank which means that you need to fill up the tank right before dropping off the car.
  • Same-to-same
    You are given a car with a certain amount of fuel and are expected to return the car with the same amount.
  • Full-to-empty
    You pay in advance for a full tank of fuel when picking up a car and are allowed to return the car with an empty tank; in these cases, you may or may not be compensated if you return a car with some fuel left in the tank.
Driver requirements:
Different rental car companies will have different requirements for drivers. These may include:
  • The minimum and maximum age of the driver
  • A potential young or senior driver extra fee for drivers under or over a certain age (e.g. 25 or 65 years old)
  • Driving experience (e.g., at least two years)
  • A credit card in the name of the main driver
  • An international driver's license (might not apply to driver's licenses that are in Latin alphabet)
The same as with mileage and fuel policies, the driver requirements of each car rental supplier be found on their rental conditions page.

Check our comprehensive Help Center to learn more about mileage, fuel, and driver requirements, as well as other important questions.
How can I choose the right insurance for my rental car?
Choosing the right insurance is very important as it will protect you in case anything goes wrong during your rental period. If you have your own personal insurance, it may or may not cover your rental car — you should ask your insurance carrier to find out.

We strongly recommend you choose our own Full Coverage. Not only does it come at a reasonable price and covers most potential scenarios, but it will also give you clarity and peace of mind as you will have 24/7 support from our team for any issue that you might have.

Check the Insurance section of our Help Center to learn more about choosing the right insurance and everything related to it.
What type of rental car is the cheapest in South Africa?
Small cars are the cheapest in Germany - they cost, on average, only $36 per day. The average price is $44 for medium cars, $72 for large cars, and $103 for premium cars.
Which is the best car rental company in South Africa?
  • Customer Rating - 9.0
  • Customer Rating - 8.9
  • Customer Rating - 8.9
  • Customer Rating - 8.8
  • Customer Rating - 8.7
  • Customer Rating - 8.7
What is the process of picking up and dropping off a rental car like?
To pick up a rental car, you'll need to have your booking confirmation voucher, passport, driver's license, a credit card on the main driver's name, and all the other necessary documents.

When making the reservation, you will see your rental car's pickup location, of which there are many types. Since most travelers tend to pick up their rental cars at the airport, we'll mainly focus on the pickup locations in or near the airport. These are the most popular pickup location types:

  • Meet & Greet. With this type of pickup location, you'll be met by an employee of the car rental company in the arrivals hall of the airport which you normally enter right after leaving the baggage claim area. The employee will usually have a printed sign with your name on it. The employee will take you to the company's office to proceed with signing the rental contract and collecting the car's keys.
  • In the terminal. In this case, you will have to find your rental car company's desk yourself. The desk will be usually located in the arrivals hall. Once you've found the desk, you can present your documents and continue with the pickup procedure. Do keep in mind that you might have to wait in line.
  • Shuttle bus. In certain cases, the car rental company's desk might be located outside the airport's terminal. Sometimes you can reach it on foot, but in most cases, you need to take a shuttle bus. For this, you'll need to find the shuttle bus stop inside the airport, the location of which will be given to you when making the booking. Sometimes, the shuttle bus is shared by multiple car rental companies while others have their own shuttle service just for them. Look for the name and the logo of your rental company to make sure you take the right shuttle bus.
  • Delivery service. This type of pick-up is similar to Meet & Greet but takes even less time to complete as you won't need to go to the car provider's office to sign the agreement.
  • Car rental center. This means that your car rental company shares its location with other companies. The car rental center is located in the arrivals hall, in another part of the terminal, or in a separate building next to the terminal.
  • Outside terminal. This pick-up location means that your car rental company has an individual desk located outside the airport's terminal, but within the larger airport complex, that can usually be reached on foot

At the pickup location: After the car rental company checks your documents and make sure you have enough deposit on your credit card, you will receive the car's keys and be taken to the rental car which will usually be parked in a nearby parking lot.

Inspect the car: Upon picking up the car, you will have to sign a document called the check-out form. If your rental car has any scratches or other types of damage, they should be listed on the form. Inspect the car carefully — if it has any scratches or other issues that are not listed, make sure to point them out to the employee before signing the check-out form. The form will also list the mileage and the amount of fuel the car has at the pickup time.

Take photos: It is generally a very good idea to take photos of the car before picking it up, preferably from multiple angles and including the inside of the car with the odometer showing the previous mileage on the car and of the amount of fuel in the tank (read more about fuel on our Fuel Policy section above). The photos should have a timestamp to show the date and time when they were taken; most pictures taken with mobile and digital cameras have them.

Find out the drop-off location: Before leaving with the car, make sure you find out the exact drop-off location and the directions to get there. While it will often be the same as the pickup location, it might also be in a completely different part of the airport (this is especially the case with the larger airports that have multiple terminals).

Returning the car: When dropping off the car at the end of your trip, carefully check the vehicle in the presence of an employee of the rental company. If any new scratches or damages are found, the company employee should point them out in your presence. If there are none, the car's check-in form should state that the car has been returned in the same condition. The same applies to the cleanliness of the car (if you return a car that is not clean, the company might later charge an extra cleaning fee). Make sure to check the car's trunk and the glove compartment to avoid leaving any personal belongings in the vehicle.
Can I add extras for the rental car when booking?
You might also want to add some extras for your rental car such as a GPS system, a child's seat, second-driver permission (if you're traveling with a friend or a family member who can and wants to drive). If you plan to drive in the Alps or Pyrenees, snow chains might be useful or even necessary during winter. Be sure to search for them in advance and add them before making the booking. Not every rental car supplier will have all of these extras available. Adding extras will influence the final price of a car and different car rental companies offer them for different prices.
What are the traffic rules in South Africa?
  • South Africa drives on the left-hand side of the road.
  • Proof of insurance and the car's documentation need to be in it whenever you're driving.
  • When driving, you need to have your passport or ID card with you at all times.
  • The use of the mobile phone while driving is only permitted with a hands-free system that has a loudspeaker and a fixed microphone.
  • If your driver's license is not English, you need to provide an official translation or have an International Driving Permit (IDP).
  • The emergency numbers are 999 and 112.


What are the speed limits in South Africa?
Are there speed cameras in South Africa?
There are lots of speed or safety cameras in South Africa. The locations of some are publicly known and you might even be warned about it before approaching by a GPS service such as Google Maps, while others are hidden.

If you're caught speeding, the fine will likely be sent to your rental car company. They might add an additional fee for administering the fine.
What are the drunk driving laws in South Africa?
The legal alcohol limit is 0.05% per 100ml of blood and 0.24% per 1000 ml of breath for experienced drivers and is 0.00% for novice drivers. Exceeding the allowed limit can lead to large fines or even imprisonment or deportation.
Are there toll roads in South Africa?
There are many toll roads all across South Africa. For using most, your vehicle needs to have an electronic tag that is on the vehicle or by the vehicle's license plate number.

Many rental cars are equipped with an e-tag that will be used for making toll payments. Some rental car providers will charge an additional fee for this service. Ask your car rental provider about it beforehand and make sure to check the rental conditions (read more about them in the section above).

The exact fee for using the toll roads depends on the type of road and the length of the trip. See this article for the latest update on the toll prices in the country (as of 2022).

If your rental car is not equipped with an e-tag, the bill for using the toll roads will be sent to your car rental provider. Due to delays in the South African toll road system, you could be billed and charged after the end of your rental period.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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