Can you imagine travelling abroad and paying only in cash or traveller’s cheques? Perhaps if you were travelling a few decades ago – but the discerned traveller can’t go without swiping. As a South African emigrant you’re probably used to this practice – it’s so convenient, so effortless… and potentially so illegal.

Indeed, for those who are temporarily abroad, using a South African card in international waters poses no problem – the definition of ‘temporarily’ is a bit hazy, though, and unless you’re simply on a bit of an international tourist excursion, it’s best you make sure which rules apply to you.

Why can’t I use my credit card abroad?

If you think about it, it’s easy to see how unregulated electronic spending by expats could be a major headache for the South African Reserve Bank. After all, it would not make sense to impose exchange control rules if individuals simply swipe as much as they like.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, such as:

  • You may use your credit card in the year you set sail from South Africa. But as soon as the clock strikes twelve on December 31st, your card turns into the proverbial pumpkin and you may not use it further, unless you plan on returning to South Africa in this following year. Of course, this is also subject to prior approval from SARB.
  • You can still use your cards for transactions within the Common Monetary Area, for deliveries to South African addresses, and when you’re physically in South Africa.
  • You may obtain permission from SARB to use your cards abroad – make sure your permission is granted on a SARB letterhead and allows total freedom to use your cards abroad.

But what if I wasn’t aware of this rule?

Unfortunately when it comes to exchange control, SARB takes no prisoners. You may plead ignorance, change of address or that the dog ate your homework, but your pleas will fall on deaf ears. In fact – your credit card may be cancelled on your behalf and you will be liable for penalty fees up to 40% of this illicit spending.

You can’t even blame your banker for shipping your cards to your new home – SARB places responsibility on the individual to know what they are, and aren’t, allowed. And, this may come as a shock to you – but since most bankers operate within South African borders, chances are they aren’t that clued up as to rules of financial conduct for SA expats abroad.

What if I’ve contravened this rule?

Hopefully you can rectify this mistake before you get the dreaded SARB letter. If you’ve emigrated from South Africa and have been using your credit or debit cards, it’s best you contact specialists in financial migration, like cashkows.com or a similar service provider, if you need advice on moving, and using, your money abroad.

Alternatively, you can contact your bank directly to resolve the issue.

Either way, we suggest you stow those cards safely away in your South African wallet, for a rainy-day visit to the rainbow nation.

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