iPhone launch prices in South Africa — from 2009 to 2023

The starting price of Apple’s flagship smartphones has more than quadrupled since the company’s first model launched locally.

Since electronics like smartphones are imported from overseas, the severe weakening of the rand has contributed significantly to this increase.

When the iPhone 3GS launched in South Africa, the rand traded between R7 and R8 to the US dollar. In 2023, it has mostly been between R17 and R19.

If one compares the prices of iPhones in the US and South Africa over the years, it is clear that this has weighed heavily on local prices.

The price of the latest Apple flagship smartphone series — the iPhone 15 — starts at R21,999.

That is a whopping 323% higher than the price of the iPhone 3GS — the first iPhone to be available in South Africa — at its launch in 2009.

iPhone 3GS

The iPhone 15 is priced at $799 in the US, excluding VAT. That works out to about R14,413.96 when converted using the exchange rate at the time of its launch.

Therefore, South Africans are paying a R7,585.04 premium — or 53% extra — for the latest iPhone to cover VAT, import taxes, shipping, and foreign exchange costs.

The iPhone 3GS cost $599 on prepaid when it was launched in June 2009 in the US, working out to R4,858.96 at an exchange rate of R8.11 at the time.

In South Africa, it was sold for R5,199, only about R340 more than its US launch price — a 7% premium.

However, it should be noted this model only arrived locally a few months later — when the rand had recovered closer to R7 to the dollar.

Possible factors adding to the SA premium

The difference between US and South Africa pricing could be attributed to hikes in shipping fees, the adjustment of VAT from 14% to 15% from 1 April 2018, and changes in foreign exchange forward-cover costs.

Pertaining to the latter, the rand has weakened significantly and become even more volatile in recent years.

This could make it more expensive for distributors like Core Group to buy forward-cover contracts that help protect them from fluctuating exchange rates.

The table and graph below show how the price of the iPhone has changed in South Africa since Apple’s smartphones first launched locally.

The graph also shows the correlation between the fluctuation in the dollar-to-rand exchange rate and the local price of each year’s iPhone model.

iPhone launch prices in South Africa
Year and model South African launch price US launch price Difference  Dollar–rand exchange rate
2009 — iPhone 3GS R5,199 $599 | R4,433 R766 R7.40
2010 — iPhone 4 R6,999 $599 | R4,235 R2,764 R7.07
2011 — iPhone 4s R7,699 $649 | R4,816 R2,883 R7.42
2012 — iPhone 5 R8,299 $649 | R5,329 R2,970 R8.21
2013 — iPhone 5c R8,499 $649 | R6,367 R2,132 R9.81
2014 — iPhone 6 R12,500 $649 | R7,139 R5,361 R11.00
2015 — iPhone 6s R11,799 $649 | R8,755 R3,044 R13.49
2016 — iPhone 7 R14,669 $649 | R9,209 R5,460 R14.19
2017 — iPhone 8 R13,499 $699 | R9,199 R4,300 R13.16
2018 — iPhone XR R15,999 $749 | R11,145 R4,854 R14.88
2019 — iPhone 11 R14,999 $699 | R10,198 R5,801 R14.59
2020 — iPhone 12 Mini R15,999 $699 | R11,485 R4,514 R16.43
2021 — iPhone 13 Mini R14,999 $699 | R10,087 R4,912 R14.43
2022 — iPhone 14 R20,599 $799 | R13,998 R6,601 R17.52
2023 — iPhone 15 R21,999 $799 | R14,414 R7,585 R18.04

Now read: Premium smartphone showdown — iPhone 15 vs Samsung Galaxy S23 vs Huawei Mate 60 Pro

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iPhone launch prices in South Africa — from 2009 to 2023