South Africa is quickly becoming a favourite destination among international students.
With some of the world’s top universities at affordable fees and a unique country to explore, increasingly more foreign citizens are choosing it as the place to complete their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.
Those without a local passport will likely need a South African visa in order to enter and stay in the country for the entirety of their studies.
In this article, readers will learn about:
- Who needs a visa to study in South Africa
- Visa options to study in South Africa
- How to apply for a South African student visa
- Reasons to study in South Africa
Do I need a student visa for South Africa?
Non-South African nationals who wish to complete a university degree in the country will most likely need to apply for a visa before they can travel.
Some nationalities do enjoy visa-free agreements with South Africa meaning that these citizens can enter the country without having to obtain a visa. Simply, they need to provide their valid passport to the South African immigration officers upon reaching the border.
However, visa-free travel is usually permitted for short periods of time only (typically, between 1 to 3 months) and tourism purposes.
South African visa options for international students
All international students should check the visa options that apply to their specific nationality and circumstances well in advance prior to departure.
As a rule of thumb, those who travel to complete a university degree, or a course that is longer than 1-3 months, and not to take part in an exchange programme at a South African educational institution like a university or school, must apply for a student visa.
However, although most individuals will need a student visa, this may not be the case for some.
Studying in South Africa on a tourist visa
Those who plan to attend a short course may, in some cases, do so with a short-term permit like a tourist visa. That is the case, for example, of some tourists who intend to explore South Africa while learning English.
It is important to keep in mind that tourist visas are designed for tourism purposes. If the primary reason for the trip to South Africa is to take part in a course, this may make the applicant ineligible for a tourist visa.
Please note that, as outlined above, some nationalities can visit the country for tourism without a visa and may be allowed to sign up for a short course.
Before applying for a visa or making travel arrangements, international students are strongly recommended to contact the nearest South African embassy or consulate to check that they can complete their course without a student visa.
South African exchange visas for students
Young foreigners who wish to take part in a cultural, economic or social exchange programme in South Africa may do so with an exchange visa. This includes, for example, university and school exchange programmes.
Exchange permits are valid for the entire duration of the programme but this usually cannot exceed 12 months. Exchange visas cannot be extended or renewed.
Those applying for an exchange visa to take part in a programme organised by a learning institution must not be older than 25 years of age and must provide (if applicable):
- A completed exchange visa application form
- The visa application fee
- An eligible passport valid for at least 30 days after the intended date of departure from South Africa
- Proof of financial means
- Proof of medical insurance cover, vaccination certificate, and medical and radiology reports (if applicable)
- Information about the programme and the organising institution, together with a letter of invitation
- A letter from the foreign educational institution participating in the programme
- Police clearance certificates from each country in which the applicant resided for 12 months or longer since the age of 18
- Further supporting documents (depending on the specific circumstances)
How to get a student visa for South Africa
As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of international students are required to obtain a visa for study purposes in order to attend their course(s) in South Africa. Keep reading to learn how to get it.
Where to apply for a South African student visa
In most cases, applications must be submitted at a South African embassy or consulate abroad, in person.
In case the student is already in South Africa, they can contact the immigration authorities.
Most South African universities and educational institutions will also be able to help and/or direct prospective international students to the relevant office.
Please note: many South African diplomatic missions abroad only provide visa application services upon appointment.
South African student permit requirements
To successfully submit an application, petitioners older than 18 must provide:
- An eligible machine-readable passport that will remain valid for at least 30 days after the intended date of departure from South Africa
- An application form completed in all of its parts with accurate information
- Travel information such as the itinerary and address(es) at which the applicant will reside while in South Africa
- Proof of sufficient funds to support the learner while in South Africa
- Should a third party take financial responsibility for the foreign student, copies of the ID of such third party
- Relevant vaccination certificates, medical records, and radiology reports (if applicable)
- Proof of medical insurance coverage for the entirety of the studies
- Police clearance certificates (where applicable)
- An official letter from the educational institution in South Africa confirming that the traveller has been offered a placement to study
- Other relevant supporting documents (these will depend on a case-by-case basis)
- Visa processing fees
The passport must include at least 2 blank pages labeled visa when presented at the embassy or consulate for the student permit application.
In case the learner is a minor, further documents are required, such as:
- A notarised letter of consent from the parent/guardian
- Birth certificate
- Certified copies of proof of adoption/legal guardianship (where applicable)
- Address information of the individual in South Africa who will act as legal guardian of the student
South African student visa: validity
The study permit will be valid for the duration of the degree or course of study the learner has been accepted to. The duration should not exceed 8 years for primary schools and 6 years for secondary schools.
Processing times for visas exceeding 90 days may be of up to 3-4 weeks.
Can you work on a South African study permit?
The primary reason to travel to South Africa on a study permit is to undertake degrees or courses at a South African institution. Foreign citizens who wish to move to South Africa to work should apply for a relevant work permit.
Foreign nationals on a student visa are allowed to work part-time while in South Africa for up to 20 hours a week.
Why should I study in South Africa?
South Africa is home to internationally renowned universities, such as the University of Cape Town, the University of the Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University, which are the Africa’s top-3 universities according to Times Higher Education.
By moving here, international students will have the unique opportunity to live in an extraordinary country made of unmatched natural attractions and popular multicultural urban centres like Cape Town.
Compared to other famous English-speaking study destinations such as Australia, the US, and the UK, South Africa is affordable for international students, with undergraduate degrees costing between R53,440 and 64,890 (USD3,014-3,600) per year and master’s fees being set around R25,000-R70,000 (USD1,409 to USD3,948) per year.