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My Experience Trying to Earn an Income Online in South Africa

Anti-Valentine started freelancing in 2008, as well as blogging, hubbing, affiliate marketing, and other forms of online money making.

The System Has Failed...

I started writing on HubPages in 2008. Prior to this my only income source online was paid online surveys. It took one or two years before I actually made any money – that first Adsense cheque. I scanned it, and I keep it so I can view it from time to time. That was quite a milestone to reach. From there I started getting cheques on a more regular basis, from companies other than Google, too. There was Global Test Market, a paid online survey panel, and a few other affiliate programs.

Things seemed to be going right. But the trouble started last year when I earned a pay cheque from one company. I waited for the full 6 to 8 weeks for the cheque to arrive. It didn’t, and so I contacted them and had them resend it. That cheque didn’t arrive either, and it was the end of the year. Two emails were dispatched to the South African Post Office. One was ignored while the other received a reply. SAPO wanted a tracking number. I didn’t even know if one had been assigned to either cheque, so I got back to the company and asked them. They completely ignored the request to find out what the tracking number was – even if there had been one. They claimed that they’d sent the cheque twice and they’d been able to ascertain that neither one had arrived. They said that they would only send it one more time, and then no more – and on top of that added that my address was an “undeliverable one” and I should try another address – that of a friend or relative. But I knew this wasn’t right, because I’d received cheques from this company before at the very same address.

So I decided to leave it seeing as I knew it wouldn’t arrive anyway. I made one last attempt to phone SAPO and no effort was made to get back to me about the issue. It was just noted down with some sorry excuse about staff shortages. SAPO doesn't seem to care that it cost me a pay cheque. I lost money here after all.

It seems all the mail going from South Africa to an international place, or the other way around, all gets lost in a sorting department in Johannesburg or Epping somewhere, or someone is pilfering the lot. This is a country-wide epidemic it seems.

Update: as of mid-2014, it looks like AdSense publishers can only be paid via EFT in SA, and not by cheque anymore. I save on courier fees and cheque deposit fees and don't have to worry about my cheque not arriving. Result!

Right now I’m nearing the payout threshold on my Google Adsense account again and I’m worried that cheque won’t arrive either – to the point where I’m considering putting a manual hold on my account, or paying a courier service to deliver it so that I can bypass SAPO entirely. But that's an expensive route to take, considering that the bank also takes its share when it comes to deposited cheques too. All of that takes a rather big chunk out of my earnings.

I then realised that partnering with affiliate programs and other companies that only paid out via cheque was a waste of time and effort seeing as I likely wouldn’t receive my cheques by post any more. But even though I wanted to partner with those who offered other methods of payment, I couldn’t, because options are very limited for those living outside of the USA. With Amazon you have the choice of being paid out via cheque or having a direct deposit straight in to your account – the latter option has a payout threshold of only $10 versus $100 with the cheque payment option – but you have to reside within the USA to go with the deposit option. You can also be paid out in the form of an Amazon gift certificate, but what would be the point seeing as Amazon blacklisted SAPO back in 2008 because packages that were supposed to be delivered to customers over here went missing. I believe you can opt to have it sent by courier, but that's a costly way to go. It’s been a well known fact that for years SAPO has been rife with corruption, despite alleged cover ups with claims of staff shortages. So one wonders if they’d even bother sending payments to those living over here.

"It was just noted down with some sorry excuse about staff shortages. SAPO doesn't seem to care that it cost me a pay cheque. I lost money here after all."

This is what happens if you steal my mail, including my cheques.

This is what happens if you steal my mail, including my cheques.

Death and taxes...

Of course there are tax concerns too.

Those who earn an income with Google AdSense, Amazon, and other affiliates have to declare that income to SARS. It became necessary to do so several years ago.

Depending on how much you make per year, the income tax applicable to you can be as much as 40% in SA!

So? Use Paypal...

I would also love to sign up with PayPal, because that would open up so many doors for me, personally. I could bypass SAPO altogether (seeing as it would be cheaper than having a private courier deliver payments), and have money put in to a PayPal account, which I could then withdraw into my bank account. Much more convenient, less costly, less timely, and many more opportunities for me.

I first tried this in 2009, but unbeknownst to me at the time, PayPal wasn’t technically available in SA at the time. It was only the following year, 2010, that First National Bank partnered with the merchant account company. And then it was exclusively available to FNB clients and nobody else.

I tried again to set up PayPal and link it with my FNB account but it turns out that the service was also now exclusive to credit and cheque card holders. You couldn’t and to date still can’t use PayPal with a debit card in SA – whereas you reportedly can in the USA. I fail to understand the logic here because this basically prevents anyone with a startup business from obtaining a PayPal account and linking it to their bank account, seeing as you need to have an existing job, to show proof of income to get a credit card to use with the service. I’ve read others complain about the very same issue, and FNB has promised to sort this out and make the service available to all account holders, but they’re damn slow about doing it.

You can lose a lot more with a credit card. If the banks are worried that someone won’t be able to pay off debts they incur with a credit card – they have far more to worry about if someone were to get a hold of a client’s credit card details. They stand to lose a lot more than with a client with a debit card, who can only lose what they have in their account. And the bank doesn’t even have to take any responsibility for it, as ABSA has shown in the past.

In 2011, SA’s relationship with PayPal blossomed as it became possible to use the service with any major bank. So that meant Standard Bank, ABSA, Nedbank, etc., in addition to FNB. Apparently the head honcho over at PayPal was so impressed with South Africans and their ingenuity, their will to succeed at setting up their own businesses and working from home. At least about a tenth of the houses in my neighbourhood alone are home to home-run businesses. From B&B’s and beauty parlours to lawyers and psychologists – they’re all working out of their own homes. It’s not like they have much choice. Unemployment is so rife in this country, and the people who do get jobs aren’t employed because of their work experience and qualifications, but based on other factors.

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I've been told that even if you can't link a PayPal account with a bank account, you can still receive funds in to a PayPal account - but then you can only spend it online at retailers and sites that will allow it. Not really that useful if you want to have money to pay your college fees. In fact, I've since been informed that you can't do this is in SA. You have to withdraw funds from PayPal to your bank account, and then if you want to buy anything online you have to transfer money from your bank account to PayPal, both transactions costing you money in the process.

I also looked into options like Google Checkout, which was an alternative to PayPal, particularly when asking for donations online on a blog or website. But to my utter surprise, what do you know – it was only available in the USA and the UK, and it has since been retired altogether.

In the end it makes you so frustrated as a young person because you’re not just sitting there on your chair complaining about how life isn’t fair and all. You’re actually trying to do something. The original plan was to raise and save enough money for school or training of some sort because my parents wouldn’t pay for tertiary education. They couldn’t afford it. My results in school likely weren’t good enough to get a bursary either. And forget about student loans – I have no interest in becoming a debt slave at this point in my life, or ever.

As I’ve mentioned, there’s a lack of jobs in this country, so people like me, who are young, with a senior certificate and barely any college education and no work experience have to resort to other means of earning some money, such as freelancing, working online – and you won’t get rich doing it either. Not most of us, anyway.

One tries to get ahead but there are obstacles at every turn; closed doors. We sit here waiting for other factors to be solved or to be improved. We don’t have control, so there’s not much we can do but wait and hope. And I hate that because it wastes time that could be spent doing something more productive.

The only way forward in this country and perhaps elsewhere is self-employment, whether it be entrepreneurship, affiliate marketing, or freelancing opportunities, but the only thing is that in my opinion, this country isn’t suited to it yet. It’s not like the USA, where you can make a decent living from affiliate marketing and other programs online if you work hard enough, and have a bit of web and marketing savvy to go with it.

SAPO needs to be sorted out somehow. Corruption needs to be rooted out, and so-called staff shortages need to be rectified. Banks need to improve their services such as relationships with merchant account companies like PayPal.

They need to make PayPal available to debit card holders – there’s less risk so I don’t understand why they’re so slow at implementing it. Banks also need to reduce their ridiculous fees on converting payments in foreign currency to rands, although you can do this if you fill in reams of paperwork, but they should be lowered altogether. Fees are standardised so you end up paying the same fees for converting a $10 payment as you would a $100 payment. And that makes it barely worth it with the former amount. Having a lower payout threshold with PayPal isn't viable in this situation. You might even end up paying more for the fees than the payment is actually worth. There are apparently, according to some, hidden fees even if a payment arrives in your currency, which don’t show up in your list of transactions. Banks need to be more transparent about charges.

Whether any of this will ever happen, whether things will improve for publishers, freelancers, and others trying to make a bit of money online in South Africa – your guess is as good as mine.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2012 Anti-Valentine


wired4words on February 25, 2020:

I have exactly the same problems and frustrations with FNB and PayPal linking and withdrawing (my bank account is with ABSA).

Prince on January 06, 2020:

I thought i was all alone. Thank you for writing this article. I found a solution and that solution is Payoneer. Payoneer gives you a US bank account, and a debit card that you can use anywhere in the world.

Payoneer is a game changer. It's free to open a Payoneer account, they give you the debit card for free, they ship the card for free, the bank accounts they give you are Check/Checking accounts and they give you $25 for free if you open your account using this link:

Once again thank you for writing this post.

adriaan on June 17, 2017:

I have been working on an online site now. and kind of learning the ins and outs of this online payment and withdrawing monster.

I have just realized that Payoneer seems to be the best option - I have my bank card being delivered to me from the states - and with this I will be able to receive money quicker from overseas clients and then draw/swipe immediately. No waiting 5 days for FNB to press a button to release the money anymore. I tell you - - - I cannot wait for this card to come through.

Lin on September 27, 2016:

All this is beautiful only for South Africans. For the rest of us foreigners, and worse those who are black from African countries (even if you're not a refugee), the story is a nightmare! I can't have a bank account because I don't have a permit. I can't have a permit because I applied 3 years ago and I'm still waiting!!!!!!! Thus, I can't receive money trough Western Union, moneygram so I can't even think of Paypal which sounds like a luxury and of course I can't study and I can't apply for a job. And the latest if you try to travel without a permit but showing that Home Affairs receipt that you applied, you'll still get a ban as if it's your fault in the first place! So between the xenophobic attacks on black African foreigners and the shitty laws to make it unbearable to live in SA (for some) I can't even access the legit online jobs. I feel like your stories are way better than mine because at least you can have bank accounts and somehow try to link them to PayPal operation that I can't do.

Andre strydom on August 30, 2016:

I have an account at Capitec with a debit card that works as a Mastercard. I do online trading and don't have any problems depositing or getting money paid to me. You must just be very careful to who you give your banking details because if you made one payment overseas those people can help themselves to your money. The banks here are reluctant to help you retrieve your money in such cases. Then Trading you must just be very carefull - there are many scam Brokers out there. Depositing money with them can be like throwing your money into a black hole.

Tessa Schlesinger on August 10, 2016:

I just spent 9 months trying to get paypal working. Eventually, a few weeks ago, I discovered that if you're accustomed to paypal in the US and the UK, what 'drawing money from your paypal account' means is completely different to what it means in South Africa.

However, paypal staff do not realize this because they are using the same worlds.

You cannot withdraw directly from paypal. You have to withdraw from something called a 'FNB profile' which then withdraws the money from paypal on your behalf.

Strangely enough, the laws for foreign exchange in South Africa are as rigid as they are because the American IRS (Internal Revenue Service) wants complete details about what Americans are receiving in South Africa. So South Africa bends screws its own citizens to curry up to America.

South African laws make it incredibly difficult to earn money on the web. Some South Africans have managed, but it's very little, and they are completely unaware of how much more complicated the procedures are for them compared to other countries.

m5150 on August 10, 2016:

There is a easy way ,works well with Paypal and you can with draw at any atm .Its called Payoneer .You can link it to your paypal .

woks great .if you need help email me.

go to any atm and withdraw.

Tessa Schlesinger on June 29, 2016:

Right now I'm so frustrated, I can scream. I'm just hoping I cna figure out a way to get my money from papal without having to go through FNB.

iggy on June 01, 2015:

i've been making cash through payoneer and after my first payment, my bank threw a shit fit, are there any weird laws i'm over looking?

goniatara from Johannesburg, Gauteng on January 29, 2015:

Hi, if I only knew... There's even more problems with Paypal and SA banks. Here is my story. I relocate permanently from US to the beautiful South Africa a couple of years ago. Being just a spoiled housewife is very convenient and sweet, but way too boring for me, so recently I got the idea to start my own small business. First step - of course - wordpress,domain,website etc. It should be simple and easy, right? Not exactly if you are in SA. Since most of the websites don't want to deal with any of the SA banks my only options (mostly offered/suggested) was Paypal payment method. Fine, I got Paypal account. When I was trying to verify my SA Standard Bank account/debit card - you know the story - it failed. What worse is that a couple of hours before I was trying to add my banking details to Paypal, my daughter (still living in States) placed some funds on my Paypal new account upfront already. And here we are... With no other options to verify/establish Paypal - Standard Bank connection I turn to FNB, and ... SURPRISE! I can't open any type of account with FNB because I have a legal status of temporary resident in SA. FNB own rules and regulations allow only SA citizens or permanent residents to open any official account with them. WHOA! Now what??? My daughter (long time Paypal user/acc holder) can't reverse her transaction to my Paypal acc, and I can't use these funds either. Actually I can't do anything with my Paypal account without proper verification anyway! My biggest problem/complain is this: WHY Paypal do not provide any information regarding this matter? Instead declining over and over bank/card details with no clear explanation (just annoying: "invalid card number") Paypal should simply warn the customer - ONLY FNB ACCOUNT HOLDERS. Why they don't provide clear warning messages to the SA customers during their first steps when open a new account with Paypal in the first place? I sent an official complain to Paypal resolution/customer dept. two days ago - no respond (so far). I'm sharing the story here just as a potential warning /advice to the others. I'm also open to ANY suggestion from you, guys. Do you see any solution in my situation? Do I really have to wait 'till the end of 2016(!) when my SA status will change from temporary to permanent resident (I'm a wife of SA citizen)? Do I have to wait almost 2 years just to be able to touch my own funds, money stuck on my (useless) Paypal account? It sound ridicules.

Oh, one more advice... if you're moving out from States to the other country for a long time or even for good DON'T close all your US bank accounts (my horrible mistake). You may find yourself in South Africa (badly, unfairly treated by the financial institutions around the world).

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on September 19, 2014:

As far as Amazon is concerned I have no problem, if I am so lucky to earn enough to get a check. My husband has a gold check account with FNB and they simply confirm with the manager and the money is available in a day or so. Added the warn you, if the check is not honoured in the end, they will deduct the money again.

Phillip Grobler from Polokwane on September 18, 2014:

Everything works better now, Paypal and FNB is the easiest way to go after you confirm your Paypal Account which you will need a FNB savings account , you also don't need to have a credit card anymore, it can be either your savings, credit or the cheque option, you can also make a free online bank account and then link it to your Absa savings or pretty much any other bank except for Capitec or the Post Office savings account. Payoneer is still expensive to use, though the only problem that remain by FNB and Paypal is the staff that doesn't really seem to know what they are doing, if this is the case just go to a different branch to set up everything, i have had no problems with Paypal or Payoneer in South Africa

Aneesa Cassim from New Jersey on August 11, 2014:

I think making money online is still in its infancy in South Africa. Who knows, it might just grow. You just have to persevere. I, like you, also tried those silly paid surveys but I have discovered other ways of making money online. I have also just launched my website aimed specifically at WAHM's residing in South Africa using what I have learnt over time.

Blueworld on May 19, 2014:

I've used payoneer for a year but stopped when I realised their fees cost me almost 10k. Theres a fee for deposits and any S.A atm charges a huge chunk as well. Go the paypal fnb route.

Johny Income on May 06, 2014:

I'm trying to make a fulltime income online and having great success with payoneer. It's like having a US bank account. Also, Neteller works great and pays to your SA bank account in a few days, with no questions asked from them or the bank. Sucks that Paypal sucks and sucks even worse that it was co-developed by a South African. Neteller and Payoneer are great alternatives.

Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on December 23, 2013:

I have also lost more checks than I care to remember and often they refuse to issue any more after a few times. I did actually change my address and one straggly check actually pitched!

I am still online but now I am doing the back office of a mission company called Adventures4Christ. The money is not great but at least I get it!

So until the USA companies can all pay us with PayPal it is not use.

monadnock on November 28, 2013:

Hi Anti-Valentine

Love your writing.

I am also a South African attempting to supplement my online income.

Right now I am running a small e-commerce store that supplies the wedding industry locally. I have also just started a site that will be aimed at the US market, and I hope to monetize via Amazon's affiliate program.

I see from the comments on some of the articles, that there are more South Africans attempting to earn something online, than I would have thought.

I have been on a few of the larger forums focused on SA, and haven't found many people chatting about this kind of thing.

If you know of an online place where South Africans are chatting about this topic, please let me know. Otherwise I am happy to make a plan to start a private forum somewhere for us.

Daryl on November 07, 2013:

Here I was thinking I'm a lone ranger here in South Africa trying to get online Well that's how I feel when I go into the bank with Adsense checks, it's like they have no clue what to do with them, eventurally takes forever to clear. I hear Capitec seem to handle these checks without an issue. As far as Paypal and Payoneer is concerned, they work great!! I linked my Paypal to my Payoneer using Payoneer's U.S. payment service and it generally takes around 3 days for funds to transfer from Paypal to my Payoneer. Also another thing to consider is that if you are considering CPA marketing then most of the decent CPA networks will do a direct transfer into your South African bank account. There is even a South African CPA network if you wanna try them out..they are called Offerforge..

Vongani on October 21, 2013:

I use Skrill and find depositing and receiving money easy. I did use paypal and experienced the samething. The worse part most bank consultants don't seem to know what is paypal or any of the third merchant parties.

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on February 04, 2013:

Thanks. I'll look in to Payoneer.

TheWinKing from South Africa on February 01, 2013:

I am using Payoneer from South Africa along with PayPal. This works incredibly well for me, as I receive earnings from Amazon Associates and other affiliate programs that use ACH/Direct Deposits straight to my Payoneer card. For everything else, I get paid into my PayPal, after which I use the Payoneer US Payment Service to transfer from PayPal to Payoneer.

I highly recommend Payoneer's debit card as either an alternative, or supplement (as I use it), to PayPal. If it weren't for Payoneer, I wouldn't have even bothered trying to make money online.

You should read my review of Payoneer here:

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on January 28, 2013:

They're a greedy bunch, for sure. I'd expect nothing less; nothing more.

PayPal seems to only really work if you live in the USA...

Brendon Held on January 25, 2013:

I feel your pain mate! And I hate to add to your woes, but frustratingly, you can't even receive money into PayPal and then spend it directly online as a South African. SA are forcing PayPal to insist that you withdraw your money from your PayPal account into your FNB account within 30 days. Prepare for excessive charges to do that from FNB! Then if you want to spend that money online using PayPal, you have to transfer it back into PayPal, after taking it up the rear end from FNB with their charges...

Of course the reason for this is so that you don't bypass the reserve bank or SARS by earning money overseas and spending it overseas without paying tax, but interestingly enough, in the USA it's FREE to withdraw your money from PayPal into your bank account! Typical banks in RSA! They charge for EVERYTHING, even to put your own money into their accounts.

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on December 17, 2012:

Thank you for your suggestions.

sharonvanbiljon on December 17, 2012:


Payoneer (Mastercard) card is the best way to go as far as online payments go. Unfortunatley it does not work for all sites.

Forget about Paypal. Nothing but problems. There are sites dedicated to hating them because of the problems experienced. There are many alternatives. Moneybookers or Payza is one I am about to use and they also have a visa card (like payoneer-mastercard). payza do not require you to draw your money out after 30 days. The cards will really cut down those forex and bank fees. FNB are ridiculous now. You can use them at any ATM, shops or restaurants. Try not to draw cash too often and you will cut costs.

I have had no problems with cheques through Post Office.

I would like to know how to increase my adsense, as I am just not getting there.

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on October 29, 2012:

Yes, I too make most of my online income from Adsense. They always say "Don't keep all your eggs in one basket", but it's just not worth the time and effort to work with affiliate programs that don't work for you, either.

brian on October 29, 2012:

i understand your frustration mate, i make money only through adsense and the freelancer website (payments via paypal), linked my fnb account to paypal (used to mom's credit card to verify the account) then just withdraw from paypal to fnb.

as far as adsense goes, ive had no problems whatsoever. i cash in my cheques at absa and no problems at all. cheque clears in about 14 days..

id say stick to one thing and put a lot more effort into that than trying out various affiliate programs and stuff. I make around R13,000 a month on adsense from 6 websites, hosting costs deducted, i net about R12,000. i tried the affiliate stuff and amazon and it just didn't work for me..

Cheers mate

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on June 11, 2012:

I wish I knew. I haven't even received one cheque from Amazon to date. I've earned quite a bit with them, but the payout threshold with the cheque option is $100. I haven't done too well with affiliate programs that rely on earning on a commission basis.

Innocent Sikhosana on June 09, 2012:

How long does it take for the amazon cheque to arrive and clear?

for both ABSA and FNB?

Anti-Valentine (author) from My lair on March 26, 2012:

I am looking in to opening a cheque account and I'll try to associate it with my PayPal account. You say it went smoothly? Well, that's good news for me, then.

SoulRiser on March 26, 2012:

I've never had cheques go missing in the post... I get my Adsense cheque every month just fine. I didn't have any problems with FNB and Paypal either... they just asked me how much income I get every month, I told them, they gave me a cheque account... didn't ask for proof or anything. Only problem I've had recently is getting my (somewhat larger than usual) Amazon cheque deposited into my FNB account. They said it's "risky" for them to deposit it and they need to send it away somewhere to verify something or other first. Either that or I need to get a letter from Amazon as 'proof' that they are actually going to pay me... I have no idea what any of that means or why it's an issue.

So... yeah, SA does have a few issues for sure. I don't know if I'm just lucky or you're just unlucky, but for the most part making money online works pretty well for me.

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