Renting A Car In South Africa + Driving Tips | 2024 Guide

South Africa is a huge country with plenty of sights to explore. From the adventure capital of Cape Town to the finest wineries in Cape Winelands, to the mountainous Drakensberg, and all the way to the incredible wildlife at Kruger National Park—the landscapes are beautiful and ever-changing.

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Given the vast distances between cities in South Africa and the lack of great public transport, the best way to get around the country is by renting a car and setting off on a self-driving adventure. 

Whether you’re planning for a road trip along the Garden Route or for a convenient way to get to the game reserve at Kruger National Park, there are a few things you need to keep in mind if you want to look into rental cars while visiting South Africa.

Here’s everything you need to know about driving and road safety when you go to rent a car in South Africa.

Overlooking the Blyde Canyon, Panorama Route
Overlooking the Blyde River Canyon, Panorama Route
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Is It Safe To Drive In South Africa? 

Safety is a predominant concern for any traveller, and road safety is one of South Africa’s major concerns. 

If you’re planning on renting a car in South Africa, it’s best to stay updated about common risks and occurrences. Incidents like armed robberiesvehicular pile-ups, and collisions are an unfortunate reality, often happening in township areas or caused by bad weather and busy seasons like Christmas. Common causes of road fatalities include speeding, drunk driving, travelling without a seatbelt, unsafe vehicles, and poor infrastructure, especially in townships and rural areas. 

However, there are efforts in place to improve overall safety in South African roads. The government has seasonal road safety campaigns, regular State of Road Safety reports, and other sustainable programs meant to prevent and reduce the number of road accidents.

While it’s good to know the facts, don’t let this discourage you. With some common sense and a cautious outlook, staying safe while driving in Africa is relatively straightforward.

Street in City Centre, Cape Town, renting a car in south africa
Safe streets along the City Centre in Cape Town

Top Tips for Safe Driving in South Africa

  • Avoid driving at night. This includes major cities like Cape Town and Johannesburg, and especially in townships or remote areas. Most carjackings that do happen occur at night, usually while stopped at traffic lights. If you do decide to drive at night, keep your doors and windows locked at all times and avoid making any unnecessary stops.
  • Keep valuables out of sight–whether you’re driving, when the car is parked, and especially at night. Even items such as cellphones or handbags can catch attention and result in a “smash and grab.” Keep bags closed, lock them in the trunk, or hide them under jackets or blankets. That way, they don’t attract any unwanted attention. Your travel insurance will not cover anything that is left unattended in a vehicle if it is stolen. 
  • Look for a parking attendant when parking in urban areas. These parking attendants or parking guards often wear reflective clothing. They will look out for your car while you’re away for a small tip of around 10-20 Rand. If there is no parking attendant around, use common sense and park in a visible and well-lit area. Most accommodations in South Africa will have parking onsite or guarded parking.
  • Don’t pick up hitchhikers. While hitchhiking is common practice in South Africa, don’t feel bad if you do not feel safe picking up strangers on the side of the road. If you’re concerned and really want to help out, stop at the nearest town and file a report instead.
  • Set your planned route ahead of the drive. Use a GPS or maps app on your device to ensure you don’t get lost. We recommend Google Maps or Waze Navigation if you’re able to get 3G on your phone or Maps.Me if you’re offline. In case you need to ask someone for directions, we recommend stopping at a petrol station and asking the attendants. Avoid taking rural roads, off-ramps, and other unnecessary stops.
Sea Point, Cape Town
Sea Point, Cape Town
Along the Garden Route, renting a car in south africa
Along the Garden Route, South Africa

READ NEXT: The Ultimate Garden Route Itinerary

Do I Need An International Driver’s License In South Africa?

In general, South Africa allows foreigners to drive with a valid driver’s license as long as it’s in English. 

If your driver’s license is printed or authenticated in English, then you do not need an international driving license for South Africa. This applies to British licenses, US licenses, Canadian, and Australian/New Zealand licenses. So, driving in South Africa with a US license or another English license is fine as long as you’ve had your license for at least a year and you’re over 18 years old. (Note that some rental companies may have different requirements regarding the length of time you’ve had your driver’s license, so make sure to check with your rental agency beforehand.) In case your foreign license doesn’t have a photo attached, you will also need to have your passport on you at all times inside the car.

If you plan on driving in South Africa and your home license is NOT in English, you’ll have to apply and get an international driver’s license. South African authorities require you to have your international driver’s license on you at all times while driving in the country. 

renting a car in south africa
Max driving long the coast

Road Conditions In South Africa

You might be surprised to find that road quality in South Africa is extremely good. Most roads are tarred and paved, with national roads maintained by the South African National Roads Agency, meaning you can easily get around with a regular 2WD vehicle.

However, there are a few roads in the more rural areas or in some of the National Parks where a 4WD would be necessary. Although this is in very limited circumstances, and we easily managed without a 4×4 (even in iSimangaliso National Park) which means you can save a lot on car rental if you stick to a 2WD. Most designated roads inside National Parks are paved, meaning you don’t need a 4×4 to conduct your own self-drive safaris.

The main dangers to road safety in South Africa are animals and people walking. You’ll likely see goats, cows, sheep, and other animals being herded by people along roads in rural areas. Meanwhile, some areas are known to have wild animals, such as large antelopes, casually crossing the road. Watch out for warnings on road signs that tell you which ones to keep an eye out for, especially when driving at night.

The road along the Panorama Route in South Africa
The road along the Panorama Route in South Africa
renting a car in south africa
4×4 is rarely required!

Rules Of The Road

Driving in South Africa is likely slightly different from other countries, especially when it comes to the rules of the road. If you’re driving in South Africa, take note of the following:

  • South Africans drive on the left-hand side of the road while passing on the right.
  • South Africans pull over onto the hard shoulder to let other cars pass on single-lane roads. Don’t be surprised if you see another car moving into the shoulder lane for you or if you find yourself having to do that to let another car pass you. 
  • Speed limits on national/main highways, urban freeways, and major routes are at 120km/h (75mph). On secondary or rural roads, it’s at 100 km/h (60mph) and in built-up areas, it’s usually at 60km/h (35mph) unless otherwise stated. Make sure to check road signs and obey speed limits at all times. There are speed cameras on many of the main roads, so beware! 
  • Road signs are generally in both English and Afrikaans, while distances are in kilometres. 
  • Drivers and passengers are legally required to wear a seatbelt at all times. If you are caught travelling without a seatbelt, you will have to pay a fine.
  • Drunk driving is illegal, and the limit of legal blood alcohol content is 0.05%. That’s equal to about one glass of wine for the average woman or 1.5 or 2 glasses for the average man.
  • Using a handheld phone while driving is illegal. If you need to, use a Bluetooth device or a car phone mount to answer calls or use your phone hands-free.
  • When driving at night, ensure your headlights are working, and you have full beam options for more remote and darker roads, especially in areas where you are most likely to find animals.
Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town, South Africa

Toll Roads

There are a few toll roads when driving in South Africa and they are generally pretty cheap. Most times, the car rental company will have transponders or eTags in their cars, which means there will be a charge for each toll by the rental when you return it. If not, you can pay with cash or credit card at the booths along the way. It’s always best to have cash on you to ensure you can pay in case a toll booth does not take credit cards. 

An example of toll costs would be from Cape Town to Johannesburg on the N1 highway, which usually adds up to around 180 Rand in tolls.

Driving along the South African coast
Driving along the South African coast

Buying Gas

Petrol and gas stations are easy to find across the country, and many of them are open 24/7. There’s no need to get out of your car when filling up, as attendants at gas stations will pump the gas for you. They will also offer to check your tyre pressure oil level and even ask if you want to get your windows cleaned. Make sure to tip these attendants. Any amount is acceptable, but we usually tip around 5-10 Rand for their service. 

Car Rental Companies In South Africa

All major international rental companies are available in South Africa, including HertzThriftyAvis and Budget. Prices, availability and deals change frequently, and we recommend using an aggregator like DiscoverCars to compare the best prices prior to booking.

Renting a car to self-drive South Africa is otherwise pretty easy. If you decide to rent, costs start from around $15 per day, but it really depends on the terms of the rental and the type of car. Cars from reliable companies are usually in good condition, with air conditioning, and often include roadside assistance. 

Our best advice for renting a car in South Africa is to book your car before your trip, especially in the summer. Last-minute rates can be higher, and the availability of vehicles, particularly in the peak season, can make the rental more costly. 

The companies will also usually make sure you have the right South Africa driving license that is in English and that you know the basic driving tips in South Africa, including reminders about driving on the left side.

driving in South Africa
Driving in South Africa

Tips for Renting A Car In South Africa 


Be sure to check your deal with the company and notice if there are any restrictions on mileage. If you plan on taking the rental car for long road trips, you may go over their limit on mileage and be charged per kilometre thereafter. To avoid this, opt for a rental car with unlimited mileage so you can drive without worrying about any additional fees. 

It’s also possible to get a one-way rental deal. This usually costs extra, with sometimes an additional 400 Rand fee for dropping the rental car in a different city than you picked it up from. However, this can still work out better than having to backtrack to your first city. Many people prefer renting a car in Cape Town and then dropping it off in Johannesburg or vice versa. 

Most cars in South Africa are manual, so be sure to request an automatic if that’s what you prefer to drive. Make sure to get acquainted with the vehicle first since it can be jarring to find all the controls on the left side of the car.

driving in South Africa
Max during a game drive.


It’s mandatory that all rental car prices include fire and third-party liability insurance. However, there are optional extras such as Collision Damage Waiver, Theft Protection and Personal Accident Insurance. It’s up to you to decide whether these extras are worth paying for, but keep in mind that you’ll be responsible for all damage to the vehicle without these extras. 

Collision Damage Waiver does not usually cover some types of damage, such as windscreen cracks, tyre punctures or replacements, which are pretty common problems. This means that if you plan on having the car for more than a few days, it’s safer to cover yourself for the extra damages under a more comprehensive insurance option. Otherwise, you have to prepare to pay for the damages yourself.

Roadside assistance is usually included with your vehicle through the rental company; however, be sure to check this as well before departing. 

Some credit cards like American Express or The Chase Sapphire Reserve include rental insurance, but you’ll have to check your own policy to see what is included and excluded. Usually, it will include a Collision Damage Waiver for rental cars, which means you won’t have to pay for this extra through the rental company. However, it’s always best to check your individual policy and call your credit card company.

Border Crossing

Taking your rental car across the border to Namibia, Botswana, or Zimbabwe (only up to Victoria Falls) is usually possible with additional fees and paperwork. Most rental companies are able to provide you with the necessary paperwork for border crossings, so you don’t have to stress about the particulars yourself.

Car rentals will usually happily give you a letter that states you are allowed to cross the border with the vehicle, and all you need to do is pay the fee at the border post. Major rental companies charge around $50 for each border crossing letter.

driving in South Africa
Always bring a map with you in case the GPS isn’t accessible!

Final Thoughts on Renting a Car in South Africa

We found driving in South Africa to be no different than driving in first-world foreign countries. Getting a car for rent was the best way for us to explore the country, covering the Eastern Cape all the way to the Western Cape. To our greatest surprise, the roads were great, renting a car was easy, and the opportunity to go off the beaten path at our own pace was definitely worth it!

O&M Cape Town South Africa Localgrapher
Oksana and Max in Cape Town, South Africa

Have You Tried Driving a Rental Car In South Africa Before? What Advice Would You Give To Fellow Travelers Thinking of Renting A Car In South Africa? 


READ NEXT: Best Things To Do In South Africa

1 thought on “Renting A Car In South Africa + Driving Tips | 2024 Guide”

  1. Thanks so much for writing your posts, your photos are beautiful . What is parking like in Capetown and the southern part of South Africa?

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