The Complete Guide To Renting A Car In South Africa

Renting a car in South Africa is a wonderful way of exploring the country at your own pace. That’s what my sister and I did last time we went there (I have been three times!), and we truly enjoyed it.

You see, South Africa is an incredible country. Whether it’s history, culture, scenery, adventure, or culinary experiences you are into, South Africa is where you’ll find all of these things and so much more.

Long, sandy beaches, diverse landscapes, game reserves, national parks, world-class cities, and stunning driving routes, such as the world-renowned Garden Route, await.

Many, however, fear that renting a car in South Africa is not a good idea. They believe South Africa is not a safe place for a road trip; they are concerned about traffic in cities and road conditions; they worry about the costs.

These are definitely things you should keep in mind when planning your trip, but they shouldn’t ultimately put you off from renting a car.

Are you still undecided? Don’t worry. I have driven in South Africa and decided to write this post to share all the secrets to renting a car in South Africa. Going in knowing what to expect will definitely be helpful!

Not sure where to go in South Africa? Head over to my posts The Best Places To Visit In South Africa and The Best Road Trips In South Africa.

Signal Hill renting a car in South Africa

The Ins And Outs of Renting A Car In South Africa

One of the best ways to see South Africa is by car. Self-guided road trips give you the freedom to go where you want, when you want. Relying on guided tours and public transport can eat up a lot of your travel time.

In the case of a guided tour, it’s quick, but you’ll likely have to stop at places that aren’t even of interest to you. Public transport, on the other way, may be much slower – which is really a bummer if you are short on time.

If you want to travel around South Africa while enjoying the freedom of the wide-open road, you’ll need to first get your hands on a reliable vehicle to get you on the road! Renting a car is the best way to ensure you have a safe, reliable vehicle to get around.

But first, there are some things you should know before you go ahead and secure that rental.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

road trips in south africa

Is Renting A Car In South Africa Safe?

The biggest concern travelers have when thinking of renting a car in South Africa is whether driving there is actually safe. It’s normal to worry about the safety of driving in South Africa. Actually, it’d be weird if you were not worried.

Of course, driving in a country that’s not yours is not like driving in your home country. So it’s useful to be able to prevent any possible issue, and know how to react in case things go wrong.

Overall, I would say that driving in South Africa is safe. My sister and I never had any major issue – aside from getting lost (despite using a GPS) a couple of times.

Driving in South Africa has much to do with the region / area of the country where you are. Road conditions change and road safety isn’t homogenous either.

Make sure to read my post What You Must Know About Driving In South Africa.

So for example, the area of the Western Cape around Cape Town and even Gauteng around Johannesburg and Pretoria have large, multiple-lane highways. Move away from the big cities, however, and you will be driving along two or at most three-lanes road, which means there will be more traffic, and it will be slower.

In general, try to stick to main roads for as much as possible, especially when you are not in a touristy area. Main roads are significantly better maintained compared to the rest.

Remember you will be driving on the left. If you think this is an issue, rent a car with automatic transmission as this will make your life much easier.

Other common rules to observe are to wear your seat belt (that applies to passengers too); don’t go over the speed limits; don’t use your cell phone while driving; never drink and drive and avoid driving at night unless absolutely necessary.

Also pay attention to animals on the road (you will especially notice baboons in the surroundings of Cape Town).

One good thing about driving in South Africa is that there is no language barrier – at least not if you speak English. Trust me, that makes everything easier!

Finally, let’s see what you need to know before renting a car in South Africa.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

The Cost Of Renting A Car In South Africa

How much does renting a car in South Africa actually cost? Good news – it’s actually incredibly budget friendly.

Obviously, the final cost of your car rental will depend on a number of factors – for example, how long you want to rent it for; how far in advance you book your car and what time of year you’re traveling; which rental agency you use; how many designated drivers you want to have and even how far you want to drive.

Interestingly, the longer the car rental, the cheaper the final price you will have to pay!

My tip is to use sites that allow you to compare the prices of car rental and the conditions across various companies. I recommend Discover Cars for that. They also have excellent customer service.

Want to have an idea of prices? Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

Watch out for limited mileage

Not all quotes for can rental in South Africa will include unlimited mileage, so you will have to read up on all the details of the policy.

You will notice upon reading that some car companies have a free allowance of a certain number of miles or kilometers (100 or 200, which is actually not enough on some days!), and then charge for every mile (or kilometer) on top of that.

Others will charge per mile or kilometer the minute you head off.

This makes comparing the prices of car rental a bit more complicated than you’d like.

If you have a set itinerary for your road trip, it will definitely be easier as you will have a better idea of the distances you are going to cover – but make sure to leave some room for detours, just in case.

Otherwise, opt to rent a car from a company that allows unlimited mileage so you will have no surprise charges on your credit card.

Want to compare prices? You can do it here.

Calitzdorp renting a car in South Africa

One-way drop-off

One-way drop-off are usually more expensive anywhere in the world, and will add to the cost of your car rental.

However, with budget airlines taking you swiftly across the country, and the costs of fuel, accommodation and food adding up, you may conclude that it is actually cheaper to drop off the car in a different location from where you picked it from.

How much does gas cost in South Africa?

Gas is quite cheap in South Africa – at least, must cheaper than it is here in Europe. At the time of writing, a liter of gas costs around $1.3 USD – around $4.85 per gallon (source Global Petrol Prices).

Most gas stations remain open 24 hours a day and there will generally be an attendant ready to fill your tank and wash your windshield as you wait.

Paying cash is definitely better – so always have some spare change for that (you will also need that for the occasional toll road). Gas station attendants also expect a small tip.

What You Must Know When Renting A Car In South Africa

Book in advance

The best way to ensure you have a car waiting for you upon your arrival is to book it in advance. This is especially important during peak travel seasons because rentals tend to get booked up quickly.

Just make sure that you have or can acquire the proper documents you need before you book – more about those below.

Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

Rent a car at the airport

The easiest way to rent a car and save time, and money while doing so, is to rent your car from the airport you’ll be arriving at.

Doing this will save you from having to travel around the city looking for your rental which will take up precious vacation time and eat up some of your spending money!

driving in South Africa

Pick up a car from a rental car agency near your hotel

If renting at the airport isn’t feasible, try to choose an agency close to the airport or your hotel.

The agencies available will depend on the airport and city, but some of the companies you’ll find in South Africa include Car Hire South Africa, Pace, Bluu Car Rental Pretoria, Drive South Africa, First Car Rental, Budget, Hertz, and Thrifty.

You can rent directly from these companies or through online third-party booking sites. The latter are great as they allow you to compare prices.

Check out the prices of car rental in South Africa here.

You need a valid drivers’ license

To drive in South Africa, visitors from other countries must have a full license from their home country and it needs to be in English for it to be valid. If your license is in another language, you’ll need to apply for and acquire an international driver’s permit.

Whichever one you use, the license has to have a signature and photo or it won’t be accepted. You need to have your driver’s license on hand while driving.

places to visit in Durban

What age do I need to be to rent a car in South Africa?

This is pretty important! You have to be at least 18 years old to be able to rent a car in South Africa, and also you have to have held your driving license for a minimum of a year. If you’re under 25 years old, most rental car companies will charge a young drivers’ surcharge.

Get insurance

While car insurance is not mandatory to have while driving in South Africa (which is super weird for us here in Europe), it’s actually mandatory that all rental cars have insurance.

Besides, accidents happen and you don’t want to be stuck with a hefty bill.

Think about it; you’ll be driving in a place where you’re not familiar with the roads, signs, and how other drivers carry themselves on the roads, not to mention adverse weather and other hazards.

Your likelihood of having an accident may be low, but not being properly insured will end up being a big mistake if you do have one.

If you already have car insurance, check with your local car insurance company to see if your policy covers international car rentals.

If not, perhaps there’s something they can add to your policy. You may need to go with a different company altogether or you may have to purchase extra insurance at the rental agency itself.

As a minimum, your mandatory insurance will have fire and third party liability, which covers you for damage or injury to property or people other than the rental car itself.

My recommendation is to have all the possible add-ons to your insurance. Consider adding a collision damage waiver, theft protection and personal accident insurance. Finally, you may want to also have a tyre and glass insurance too.

Crossing the border with a rental car

In case you are planning a longer trip across Southern Africa and intend to travel to neighboring countries such as Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland or others, you may be wondering if you are allowed to cross the border with your rental car.

While in theory you can, let me add that it is not nearly that straightforward.

First of all, the small sedan that is perfectly fine for driving around South Africa may not be suitable to drive around Namibia or Botswana, where road conditions are not as good (you’ll be driving on gravel most of the time) and you are better off with a four-wheel-drive.

This brings in two more issues. The insurance you have paid for may not cover you in case you drive on gravel / dirt roads; and road side assistance may be waved the minute you cross the border.

Another thing to keep in mind is that not all rental car companies will allow you to travel to neighboring countries. Some will allow you to cross into Namibia and Botswana.

Others will let you go to Zimbabwe, but only to Victoria Falls and via a specific border crossing – and you will need to have a Letter of Authority (you get this from the rental agency) that basically says you have permission to cross.

And this inevitably means that you need to pay an additional fee.

Just make sure to read the terms and conditions of your contract before you attempt to drive across the border, and draw your own conclusions. In some cases it may be easier – not to mention cheaper – to fly to the next country and just rent a car locally.

Further Readings

If you are planning a trip to South Africa, make sure to read my other posts:

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Read everything you need to know before renting a car in South Africa - via @clautavani

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