Visas & Immigration

Student visas and permits for South Africa

Find what you need to study abroad in South Africa, including requirements for South African student visas, study permits and application forms.

Student visa South Africa

By Expatica

Updated 3-1-2024

Foreign students who want to study abroad in South Africa must meet the student visa requirements before applying.

Foreigners who want to study in South Africa – at whatever level – must apply for a student visa before arriving. This applies even if you are coming to South Africa as a dependent of someone working there. International students applying for scholarships in South Africa may also require a South African study visa first. You also cannot register with a South African university without a valid South African student visa.

If you wish to study in South Africa, this guide explains the requirements and application process:

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Who needs a student visa in South Africa?

In order to qualify for a study visa for South Africa, the school must first qualify as a learning institution. Either the Department of Basic Education or the Department of Higher Education must register it. 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 organization 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 receive a conditional acceptance by a school, but this doesn’t guarantee your visa; unfortunately, you cannot be a student without one. You cannot come to South Africa on a visitor’s visa and then apply for a student visa.

A South African student visa never qualifies you for permanent residency, no matter how long you live in the country. 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.

South African student visa requirements

First, you need acceptance from a South African school. The letter must be 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. Take this in person to the South African embassy in your home country.

You must also submit the following:

  • A passport valid for at least 30 days after the end of your course, with two consecutive, clear pages left.
  • Payment for the South African student visa application.
  • Two 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 finances to cover tuition and living costs for the duration of your stay, around ZAR 3,000 per month, and a cash deposit to cover the cost of a return ticket.
  • Certificate of medical aid cover or health insurance, plus a letter confirming that it will renew annually. To check that your medical scheme is recognized by the South African Department of Home Affairs, see this list of registered medical aid schemes in South Africa. If you’re 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.
  • In some cases, a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
  • Medical and radiological reports from within the last six months.
  • 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.

South African study visa for students under 18

If you’re under 18 when you apply for a South African student visa, you don’t 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).

South African exchange visa

If you are older than 25 years and want to come to South Africa on a cultural, economic, or social exchange program – organized 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 organizations. The South African exchange visa will be for the duration of the exchange program, up to a maximum of three years.

If you are under 25, you may work in South Africa temporarily once you have a South African exchange visa. The employer must confirm the existence of the position; 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.

You cannot renew or extend a South African exchange visa. 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.

South African student visa renewal

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 in South Africa at the school or college for which it was issued; if you want to study at a different school, you need to apply anew.

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.

Working on a South African student visa

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, contact the Department of Foreign Affairs with:

  • a letter confirming that you are still a student and that the university consents 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.

South African study permits for foreign graduates

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; recognized 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.

Family members of students coming to South Africa

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.

South African study permit application form

If your student visa expires, find out about different South African visas to continue living in South Africa.

Useful resources