Alongside a fascinating landscape and storied history, South Africa offers an education that is unmatched in its depth and social importance.

About South Africa

With eleven national languages spoken by a wide variety of ethnic groups alongside physical landscapes and wildlife, South Africa can be considered one of the most diverse countries on the planet. It is, in fact, often referred to as the ‘Rainbow Nation’.

The southernmost country in Africa, the Republic of South Africa has a population of 58,000,000 throughout 1,221,037 km2 of land. Bordered by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic Ocean, South Africa also surrounds the kingdom of Lesotho.

South Africa has three capital cities: Pretoria (the administrative branch); Bloemfontein (the judicial); and Cape Town (the legislative). In addition, Johannesburg is the largest city in the country, so students have no shortage of options when it comes to the type of city to study in.

South Africa may appeal most to students that crave a little adventure during the course of their studies, having a long coastline with many beautiful beaches, land to climb like Table Mountain and places to explore like the famous Garden Route.

Higher education is particularly valued in South Africa, as since the end of apartheid, the country has been dedicated to producing responsible, socially conscious citizens. The student body has grown and become more representative of the nation’s citizens and so there has truly never been a better time to visit and study in South Africa.


Cape Town

Situated at the base of Table Mountain, Cape Town is South Africa’s second largest city, making it the perfect destination for adventure seekers and city-dwellers alike. The University of Cape Town is the city’s major higher education institution. Cape Town is known for its harbour, natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for landmarks as Table Mountain and Cape Point.


South Africa’s largest city by population boasts a vibrant, multicultural vibe with which few cities can compete. A key hub for commerce and industry, Johannesburg is one of Africa’s most prosperous and developed cities, partly due to its mineral-rich location and gold and diamond trade.


If serious academia is what you’re after, think about studying in South Africa’s hub for academics and research. The University of South Africa, Africa’s largest university with over 300,000 students, is located here, as well as the Tshwane University of Technology, the University of Pretoria and the University of Limpopo. The city is also home to the largest research and development organization in Africa: The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.

History, Culture, Customs

South Africa’s recent cultural and political history has been defined by apartheid, but thanks to the hard work of Nelson Mandela and many countless others, South Africa has become the Rainbow Nation it is known as today. International students are amazed at the ways cultural diversity has created a new national narrative during their time in one of the nation’s many beautiful cities.

South African art dates back 75,000 years and the story of South African culture is one of dynamism and constant development, taking influence from both other African cultures and European cultures, a tradition that means the nation’s art continues to evolve today.

South Africa’s unique social and political history has led to incredible works in the fields of literature, music and film, including the works of Nadine Gordimer, J.M. Coetzee and Alan Paton. Popular modern cultural icons include Neill Blomkamp, Charlize Theron and Elon Musk.

South African cuisine is typically meat-based and has spawned the South African social gathering known as the braai, a variation of the barbecue. South Africa is also a major wine producer, with some of the best vineyards lying in valleys around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Paarl and Barrydale.

The most popular South African sports are football, rugby and cricket.

Having eleven official languages may worry some students, but English is very commonly spoken and almost all university programs are conducted in English. Although you must prove a certain level of English proficiency before being accepted to a program, it’s also a great opportunity for non-native English speakers to practice and improve their English skills. Otherwise, the most commonly spoken languages are Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans.

University System

South Africa is home to 23 public universities, falling under three categories:

·         Eleven academically-focused traditional institutions

·         Six centres of technology (technikons) offering vocational study

·         Six comprehensive institutions, offering a combination of the above.

There are also many additional private universities, of many sizes, with a variety of educational focuses.

South African university rankings are mostly based on international university rankings as there is not currently a South African university ranking institution.

Typically, the two highest ranking universities are the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand. Other highly considered universities include: Stellenbosch University, University of Pretoria, University of KwaZulu-Natal, University of Johannesburg, University of the Western Cape and the University of South Africa.

It usually takes three years of full-time study to complete a bachelor’s degree, and one to two years to complete a master’s degree. The academic year is split into two semesters, the first from early February to early June, and the second from mid-July to late November.

As in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, those who study in South Africa do not receive an overall grade for their bachelor’s degree with a level of honours (such as 2:1 or 1st). Instead, after the third year of study, students have the option to either graduate with a bachelor’s degree certificate or take a further one year honours course in order to get their honours certification. This is an extra postgraduate year of study in which a research thesis must be completed in the same area of study as the student’s bachelor’s degree.

Most universities in South Africa offer multicultural student communities, good academic facilities, a range of social activities and clubs and good support systems for international students. Beyond the campus boundaries, many universities in South Africa also have community volunteering schemes, providing opportunities to get involved in the development of the local area.


Application rules will depend on the university or college you apply to, so make sure to check the institution’s website for more detailed instructions.

Applications should be submitted as early as possible in the applications cycle, which commences in April of each year. There is typically an application fee to pay and you will need to submit evidence of your academic records.

For a postgraduate course, you will need to hold an internationally recognised Bachelor’s degree and have a strong academic background. Most institutions accept applications via an online system.

Entry and Visa Regulations

Students that hold permanent residence outside South Africa and are not South African citizens are required to obtain a study visa upon acceptance to a South African university. Upon receiving a visa, students are granted official permission to reside in South Africa.

To begin the visa process, you must first make an application to the nearest South African Embassy, Consulate, or High Commission. Because this procedure can take up to eight weeks, it is recommended to start the application as soon as possible upon gaining admittance to a university.

Once a study visa has been issued, it is valid for the entire duration of a student’s stay in South Africa.

Required Documents for Student Visas in South Africa:

·         Valid passport

·         Proof of application payment

·         Acceptance letter from the university with the course duration

·         Confirmation of registration

·         Police Clearance Certificate issued by a security authority in the country from which a student is applying

·         Yellow fever vaccination certificate if student has or intends to travel through a yellow fever endemic area

·         Proof of access to the necessary financial means while residing in South Africa

·         Proof of medical coverage

·         Marital status documents when applicable

Tuition Fees

Courses in South Africa are considerably cheaper than those in the popular English-speaking destinations of Europe and the USA. However, fees will vary widely between institutions, courses and even modules, so check with your chosen university for specific figures.

As is the case in most countries, tuition fees to study abroad in South Africa vary greatly depending on the university. Most universities, however, charge on a per module or credit basis. In some cases, international students are also expected to pay twice the amount that South African students are supposed to pay.

There are also a few unique aspects of the South African university fee structure that international students should be aware of. In most cases, scholarships and financial aid through the university are reserved for South African citizens. International students will therefore have to find an alternative way to fund their education abroad. On top of the tuition, international students are also expected an international levy and a registration fee to the university.

However, living costs in South Africa are relatively low compared to study abroad destinations in Europe or North America, making South Africa education a very viable option.

Cost of Living

The cost of living in South Africa is cheap by international standards, but prices have been slowly rising in recent years. Prices for food and accommodation tend to be higher in the larger cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, where jobs are easier to find and salaries higher. While the cost of living is cheap in South Africa compared with other developed countries, it is relative to the average monthly disposable salary of R16,190 (USD $1134).

The table below covers monthly living costs for Cape Town.

Monthly Living Costs

South African rand (R)

US Dollars ($)

Accommodation (city centre)









Local Transportation



Leisure Activities








Student visas in South Africa allow students to work while pursuing their studies. However, international students may only work up to a maximum 20 hours per week. A student can work part time till the expiry of the student visa and not after.


Most universities in South Africa offer housing for students. These may be shared dorms, corridor apartments or private rooms, and they can usually be offered throughout the semester. Some student accommodation also comes with meal plans and easy access to student dining facilities. Student housing may also be a good idea if you want to participate in social activities with other students. However, make sure to apply on time to make sure you are guaranteed a room.

Your other option is private accommodation, which can be found via property portals or estate agents. Be cautious when looking though, as false advertising does sometimes occur.

Next Steps

If your interest in studying in South Africa has been piqued, consider which courses may be of interest to you and then browse where you would most like to stay in this uniquely rich and diverse land.

A good place to start would be to check the websites of the following institutions:

·         Stellenbosch University

·         University of Cape Town

·         University of Johannesburg

·         University of KwaZulu-Natal

·         University of Pretoria

·         University of South Africa

·         University of the Western Cape

·         University of the Witwatersrand

Once you think you have found the institution that most interests you, consider financial planning and get into contact with the university to see how best they can support you.