The most expensive cities in South Africa in 2021: Joburg vs Cape Town vs Durban

Data group Numbeo and expat portal Expatistan have published their Cost of Living indices for 2021, listing the cheapest and most expensive cities to live in across the globe.

The index compares the cost of living relative to the following reference cities: New York City for Numbeo and Prague for Expatistan – which have an index score of 100 (100%). The index looks at the relative costs across several categories, including rent, the cost of food, transport and entertainment.

It also takes the local purchasing power into account.

If another city has, for example, a rent index of 120, it means that on an average in that city, rents are 20% more expensive than in the reference city. If a city has a rent index of 70, that means on an average in that city, rents are 30% less expensive.

Numbeo’s index assessed 598 cities in 2021, up from 440 in 2020, while Expatistan ranked 199 cities, down from 288 in 2020.

In the Numbeo index, Swiss and Norwegian cities rank as the most expensive globally, with prices up to 37% higher than in New York – while cities in India rank as being some of the cheapest, with prices around a fifth of those in New York.

Only 12 cities – from Switzerland, Norway and one from Bermuda – were found to be more expensive than New York.

With Expatistan, US and Swiss cities were found to be the most expensive to live in. As with the Numbeo index, Hamilton, Bermuda, was ranked as the most expensive city in the world, with prices 46% higher than New York, and almost triple the prices of Prague.

The cost of living in the small Bermudan island – its capital – has surged over the years, driven by its status as a tax haven and tourist destination, drawing many foreigners to its shores. Subsequently, the cost of basic essentials, property, and other tourist staples have shot up.

South African cities

Four South African cities feature across both indices in 2021, with Durban dropping out of Expatistan’s coverage.

Pretoria, which previously ranked as the most expensive city in Africa, has now dropped down the list, below Johannesburg (379th on Numbeo), which ranks as the fourth most expensive city on the continent.

Johannesburg has also outranked Pretoria on the Expatistan listing, placing 138th, overall.

Both indices are based on user-submitted data, and only feature cities where a statistically representative number of submissions are available.

The table below shows how the South African cities rank, as well as their cost relative to the reference cities.

# Numbeo New York Expatistan Prague
1 Johannesburg -54% Johannesburg -6%
2 Pretoria -55% Cape Town -8%
3 Cape Town -58% Pretoria -11%
4 Durban -60%

Cost of living in SA

The rankings list specific data on the cost of living in South African cities.

The table below covers five categories (transport, rent, salaries, utilities and entertainment) which contain the average prices across all major cities covered by Numbeo and Expatistan.

City Average disposable salary Monthly transport costs Rent for a 1-bedroom apartment in the city centre Basic utilities Meal for two people at a restaurant
Johannesburg R20 618 R1 274 R6 924 R1 472 R600
Pretoria R20 296 R1 350 R5 292 R1 486 R500
Cape Town R20 824 R550 R10 553 R1 219 R550
Durban R15 960 R750 R5 208 R1 473 R500

The graphs below outline how the average salary is portioned across South Africa’s major cities.



Cape Town


Read: South Africa’s best city to work and live: Joburg vs Cape Town

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The most expensive cities in South Africa in 2021: Joburg vs Cape Town vs Durban