Find what you need to study abroad in South Africa, including requirements for South African student visas, study permits and application forms.
Foreigners who want to study abroad in South Africa – at whatever level – must apply for a South African student visa (formerly called a South African study permit) before arriving in the country. This applies even if you are coming to South Africa as the dependent of someone who is coming to work here. International students applying for scholarships in South Africa may also require a South African study visa first. You will also not be allowed to register with a school, college or university without a valid South African student visa.
If you wish to study abroad in South Africa, this guide explains the requirements and application process for getting a South African student visa:
- Who needs a student visa in South Africa?
- South African student visa requirements
- South African study visa for students under 18
- South African exchange visa
- South African student visa renewal
- Working while on a South African study visa
- South African student permits for foreign graduates
- Family members of students: who can join?
- South African study permit application form
In order to qualify for a study visa for South Africa, the school or college itself must first qualify as a ‘learning institution’. This means it must be registered with either the Department of Basic Education or the Department of Higher Education. So if you want to attend a private language school, game ranger schools (a bush school) or places only offering short-term technical courses, you may not qualify for a South African study visa. You can ask the organisation for proof of registration if you are unsure. Here is a list of known deregistered educational institution and bogus learning institutions to help your decision.
You may be offered a conditional acceptance by a school or college but this does not guarantee you will be given a visa to study abroad in South Africa – and you cannot be registered as a student without one. You cannot come to South Africa on a visitor’s visa and then proceed to apply for a South African student visa.
A South African study visa will never qualify you for permanent residency, no matter how long you live in the country with this visa. Instead, you must first change your status to the type of visa that allows qualification for residency, such as a work or business visa. You can do this from within South Africa.
First, you need to get accepted as a student by a registered South African school, college or university and receive a letter of acceptance on the institution’s letterhead and signed by or on behalf of the principal or registrar.
You need to then complete the temporary residence permit application form B1-1738 and take it in person to the South African embassy, consulate or high commission in your home country.
You will also need to submit the following South African student visa requirements:
- A passport valid for at least 30 days after the end of your course, with two consecutive, clear pages left for entry and departure stamps.
- Payment for the South African student visa application.
- Two colour passport-sized photographs.
- An official letter from the South African educational institution confirming the duration of your course, plus confirmation that it will inform the authorities if you fail to register, you are de-registered or expelled or when the course is completed or extended.
- Proof of necessary finances to cover tuition fees and living costs for the duration of your stay, around ZAR 3,000 per month (bank statements, travellers’ cheques, etc.) and a cash deposit to cover the cost of a return ticket.
- Certificate of medical aid cover or health insurance recognised by the South African authorities, plus a letter confirming that it will be renewed every year for the duration of your stay. To check that your medical scheme is recognised by the South African Department of Home Affairs, see this list of registered medical aid schemes in South Africa. If you are a student and the dependent child of a parent holding a South African visa and medical insurance, you may be covered by your parent’s scheme. Occasionally, South African high commissions accept foreign medical aid and international insurance policies.
- In some cases, a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
- Medical and radiological reports from within last six month.
- Information about where you will be living in South Africa.
- A police clearance certificate for every country you’ve lived in for more than 12 months since the age of 18.
- Birth certificates of dependent children.
- Relevant certificates if married, widowed, divorced.
If you are under 18 years old when you apply for a South African student visa, you do not need a police clearance certificate. Students under 12 years old are additionally exempt from submitting radiological reports.
Application process times vary from country to country but allow about six weeks.
Minors who are under 18 years will generally need to submit the following South African student visa requirements:
- A birth certificate (or legal adoption) and proof of parents’ identity.
- Written consent from both parents or from one if your parents are divorced, or from a guardian if your parents are deceased or you are not in the care of your parents; you may need to provide documentation with proof of the situation.
- Proof of the address and contact number of an adult in South Africa who will act as your guardian (and a letter confirming this).
If you are older than 25 years and want to come to South Africa on a cultural, economic or social exchange programme – organised between an educational institution or government body in South Africa and one in a foreign country – you must have official confirmation from both the South African and foreign organisations. The South African exchange visa will be for the duration of the exchange programme, up to a maximum of three years.
If you are under 25, you may come and work in South Africa temporarily once you have secured a South African exchange visa. The South African employer must confirm the existence of the position, and pay and welfare conditions must conform to the standard legal requirements. The South African exchange visa is granted for the duration of the exchange, usually not more than 12 months.
You apply for an exchange permit using the same application form B1-1738.
The South African exchange visa cannot be renewed or extended. Once you have had this type of permit, you many only apply for a temporary or permanent residence permit after you have lived for at least a year outside of South Africa.
A South African study visa is issued for the duration of your studies at a specific school, college or university, with a maximum of eight years for primary school, six years for secondary and the length of the degree or other qualification at tertiary level. You can renew a South African student visa as often as necessary.
A South African student visa only allows you to study abroad in South Africa at the school or college for which it was issued; if you want to study at a different school or college, you will need to commence a new process of applying for a South African student visa.
If you need to apply for a change of visa status or to renew your South African study visa, you can do so from within South Africa. You must send your renewal application at least 60 days before your South African study visa is due to expire. If it lapses, then you will be automatically registered.
If you hold a South African student visa and are studying at tertiary level, you are allowed to work part-time for no more than 20 hours a week during term-time, and full-time during vacations. If you want to work more hours than this, you will need to apply for a work visa in South Africa.
In any case, if you want to work as part of your studies or gain work experience, you must contact the Department of Foreign Affairs with:
- a letter confirming that you are still a registered student and that the university gives its consent for you to work;
- an offer of training from an employer.
You may not run a business while on a South African study visa. Read Expatica’s guide to getting a South African work visa.
You will also need to apply for a South African student visa for undertaking graduate studies. The South African student visa requirements for graduate studies are much the same as for other types of study in South Africa. You’ll need documentation confirming: provisional acceptance at a university and duration of the course; your guardian in South Africa; recognised medical cover; and proof of sufficient funds to cover fees and living costs.
Up until 2014, foreign graduates who studied in South Africa had no advantage over anyone else in obtaining a residence permit. Now foreigners who are awarded their PhD from a South African university can apply for a critical skills work visa (a five-year temporary residence visa) which includes a 12-month period to secure a job. After the end of the five years, they can apply for permanent residence.
In the summer of 2016, the South African Home Affairs Minister announced that international graduates with critical skills who wished to work in South Africa could qualify for permanent residence permits in the near future.
Your spouse and dependent children (but no other family member) can join you while you study in South Africa but they must apply for an accompanying spouse or child visa, which lasts up to three years. They may not work, run a business nor study while in a South Africa; if they want to do so, they must apply for a separate visa from their original country of residence.
If your student visa expires, read Expatica’s guide to South African visas and permits to find your different options to continue living in South Africa.