We report the discovery of the first symbiotic star (V= 21.6, KS= 15.8 mag) in the Local Group dwarf irregular galaxy NGC 6822. This star was identified during a spectral survey of Hα emission-line objects using the Southern African Large Telescope during its performance-verification phase. The observed strong emission lines of H i and He ii suggest a high electron density and T* < 130 000 K for the hot companion. The infrared colours allow us to classify this object as an S-type symbiotic star, comprising a red giant losing mass to a compact companion. The red giant is an asymptotic giant branch (AGB) carbon star, and a semiregular variable, pulsating in the first overtone with a period of 142 d. Its bolometric magnitude is Mbol=−4.4 mag.
We review what is known about the luminosities of extragalactic symbiotic stars, showing that most, possibly all, contain AGB stars. We suggest that a much larger fraction of Galactic symbiotic stars may contain AGB stars than was previously realized.