Study in South Africa

Aspiring to study at a world-class university in South Africa? Want to know the procedure to obtain a student visa for South Africa? Find here the details regarding the universities, higher education system and how you need to proceed while applying for a study program in South Africa. Also learn a little bit of the country, the living costs and the lifestyle of its people.

Why choose South Africa?

By studying and living in South Africa you get the opportunity to experience a rich and diverse culture unique only to very few countries. It is unique in the sense that different races of people have made South Africa their home. There are white Europeans of different nationalities, Indians, coloured people and of course the majority black population. Even the black population is a diverse one, as people from other African countries too have made South Africa their home. Its diversity could be understood from the fact that it has eleven official languages, third only to Bolivia and India. The country is diverse in terms of its physical features, habitat and wildlife too. It has a long coastline stretching to more than 2,500 km, rugged mountains, deserts, rivers and national parks. For the travel-oriented, there are a number of world famous tourist attractions in South Africa. It is also one of the few developed and modern countries in the African continent. South Africa's economy is an upper middle-income one and is the second largest in the whole of Africa. Overseas students, coming from all over the world, are welcomed with open arms. More than 40,000 overseas students study here in South Africa in its numerous universities and institutions.

While studying in South Africa, You don't have too many issues with language, as a good many courses, especially the higher education ones, are available in English. In any case, English is among the more popular languages in South Africa, as it is the language used by businesses, administrators and for science and engineering studies. South Africa has some world-class universities that rank among the best universities in the world. You get to choose from a wide variety of courses for your graduate or postgraduate studies. For your PhD, you may undertake some of the state-of-the-art research work in the top trending topics. Depending on your interest, choice, budget and other factors, you have a plethora of universities and institutions to choose from, some state-owned and others privately run.

The good things about South Africa do not end here. Compared to any of the western countries, it is considerably cheap to study and live here. The living costs are quite affordable, especially for those from Asian countries like India, when compared with the West. Moreover, you can cover a part of the expenses by working part-time during normal studies and full-time during holiday seasons. In general, you can work for 20 hours per week. Surrounded by oceans on the three sides, the country is also endowed with natural beauty. The scenic coastlines, the Drakensberg Mountains and the wild safaris in its famous national parks are all too inviting for the overseas student to come and study here. Post studies, there are a number of opportunities to work here in South Africa. Being a fast developing economy, a number of jobs are coming up in its cities. South Africa is thus one of the best places in the world for an overseas student to come and study here.

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About South Africa

South Africa is the southernmost country on the African continent. Its three sides are surrounded by oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian. It is a nation of 56 million and is the 24th most populous in the world. In size, it is the 25th largest. The country has a border with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland. Eighty per cent of the population in Africa is of African ancestry, whereas the remaining per cent constitutes European, Indians and the coloured people who are of mixed ancestry. South Africa is thus a multiethnic country and is often referred to as a rainbow nation. For years, its black majority had to suffer due to apartheid policies practised by its white minority rulers. It was only in the year 1994, after years of struggle, both inside and outside the country that apartheid could be finally ended. Now every ethnic and linguistic group has its say as well as representation in the government.

After Nigeria, South Africa is today the second largest economy in Africa. The economy is a mixed one. It has a high per capita GDP while compared to other Sub-Saharan African economies, but the incidence of poverty is also very high. Unemployment is an issue with the vast majority of the poor. In terms of income inequalities, it ranks very low. However, in 2013, as per one FDI magazine, South Africa was ranked as the top African country for its economic potential. It was ranked very high for its business friendliness, foreign direct investment, employment potential, infrastructure and cost-effectiveness.

The country has a presidential form of government, with the president as the head of the state as well as that of the government. Its parliament is a bicameral one, the lower house being called the National Assembly and the upper house as National Council of Provinces. Today almost every ethnicity in South Africa finds a representation in the country's democratic setup. On the international front, the country is a member of the United Nations and was its founding member too. It is also the founding member of the Africa Union. Today, South Africa is a member state of the economic grouping BRICS, with Brazil, Russia, India and China being the other members.

Quick Facts

  1. South Africa is a parliamentary republic and its full name is Republic of South Africa (RSA)
  2. South Africa is unique in the sense that it has three capitals. Pretoria the executive capital, Cape Town the legislative capital and Bloemfontein the judiciary capital. However, none of them is the largest city in the country. That credit goes to Johannesburg.
  3. South Africa is an educational hub and as per some reports it is the 11th most preferred destination for higher studies.
  4. Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town are the most popular cities in South Africa as a study destination for overseas students.
  5. Noble Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years for his opposition to the apartheid regime. He, later on, rose to be the country's first black President. He is highly revered by the South Africans and also by the whole world, as highly as Mahatma Gandhi.
  6. Other than English, the official languages in South Africa, include Afrikaans, Sotho, Northern Sotho, Swazi, Zulu, Tswana, Ndebele, Tsonga, Venda and Xhosa. Afrikaans is a derivative of the Dutch language and is spoken by the vast majority of whites and the coloured.
  7. For the explorer in you, there is the world famous Kruger National Park to explore, Table Mountain to climb and the beautiful 200 km long Garden Route to drive down.
  8. South African Rand (ZAR) is the country's currency and one US dollar roughly equals 13 Rands.
  9. Entrepreneur Elon Musk of the Space X fame is a South African. Same is true with Hollywood actress Charlize Theron and novelist Nadine Gordimer.
  10. South Africa is also called the Rainbow Nation, because of the diversity of its population.
  11. The climate in South Africa is a temperate one because of being surrounded by oceans on its three sides. The famous Boer Wars were fought between the Dutch and the British. The Dutch settlers were known as Boers.

Admission Process in South Africa

There are two ways to come to South Africa for higher studies. The first one is to apply on your own and the second one is through university exchange programs. For exchange programs, you will have to check with your current university, if they have any such arrangement or not. To apply on your own for any of the courses in a South African university or institute, you need to have the necessary qualifications. This is the first and foremost requirement. For postgraduate courses, you should hold a bachelors degree, recognized internationally. Similarly, for PhD programs a master's degree is essential. You need to prepare and apply early, preferably by July for courses beginning February of the next year. Since, in South Africa, you will be most likely taking up a course in English, you will need to prove your proficiency in the language by obtaining an IELTS or TOEFL score. An IELTS score of 7.0 or above should be most helpful in getting you admission. While applying it is also mandatory to obtain a South African health insurance, even though you might be having one from your own home country. You will need to submit the proof during the application for the student visa. See to it that you have documentary evidence regarding your ability to pay for the program and your period of stay in South Africa.

Once you are satisfied with the eligibility requirements, check for the different universities in South Africa, their world rankings and the suitability of the courses. Check for scholarships being offered by the university or others like the Commonwealth Scholarships. Check for the living costs and the tuition fees. Look for suitable accommodation that suits your budget. Know about the culture and lifestyle of the people living in South Africa. Get to understand the different ethnicities living there. Learn about its glorious and not so glorious past when a majority of its population had to suffer the consequences of apartheid practised by the then white regime.

Once you have gone through the complete procedure and are confident about producing all the necessary documents, apply for the program of your choice in any one of the universities in the South African Republic. On receipt of confirmation from the university regarding your provisional admission, visit the concerned embassy or consulate office in your home country. Submit your visa application form along with all supporting documents as enumerated above. Allow time for processing of the visa. It may take at 3-4 weeks of time or even more. Meantime, arrange for your accommodation and travel plans, if you have not already done so.

Student Visa Application Process

Any overseas student intending to study in South Africa will need a student visa if the duration of the course is more than 3 months. The student visa has to be obtained before setting foot in the country for study. It has to be applied at the nearest consulate office or embassy in your home country. One cannot simply exchange a tourist visa to a student visa, while one is visiting South Africa. It is only after the student has been accepted to a university in South Africa that he or she can apply for the student visa or study permit, as popularly known. The student visa, once issued, is valid for the entire period of your study. However, the student visa is for studying at the specific institution, where the admission is taken. In case of a change in an institution, the student visa is to be freshly applied for. So you should be very sure of the university you are likely to take admission. A host of documents are to be submitted for applying for a student visa.

In case you are desirous of staying back and work here in South Africa, you will need a work permit. The permit can be obtained by getting a job offer for a position that has no native applicants. In some highly specialized fields and on gaining advanced qualifications, a job offer is not mandatory and one may still get a work permit.


South Africa has a multi-ethnic culture that gives you the opportunity to come in contact with students of various ethnicities. You get to learn about their culture, food habits and their lifestyle. It is not simply academics, but South African universities also provide you with a range of social activities for the students to take part in and enrich their learning experience. While studying here, you can be a part of the various clubs that dot its universities and be part of the multi-ethnic cultural wonder that South Africa is. While staying and studying here you can join some community volunteering schemes that work towards the development of the local areas and the upliftment of the downtrodden.

But it's not all work and no play for South Africans. In general, the people here are fun loving. Those near to the sea coast like to go to the beaches, enjoy surfing in the waves and just play in the sand. Blessed with a temperate weather, they take part in a lot of outdoor activities like hang gliding, paragliding, kite surfing, surfing, rock climbing, mountain biking and a lot more. They are also very crazy about sports. They play a number of sports and are good at many. Some of the popular sports here are cricket, rugby, soccer, tennis, golf, swimming and athletics. Other than England, it is the only country in the world to have hosted the world cups for football, cricket and rugby.

South Africans have a colourful nightlife, almost similar to that of the western countries. There are bars and nightclubs to suit different tastes and budget. The restaurants offer every cuisine, from the traditional to the most exotic. Like most African countries, dance and music are part and parcel of the life of South Africans.

Cost of Living for Students

As an English speaking country, South Africa is considerably cheaper than most others in Western Europe, North America and Australia. The tuition fees may cost anywhere from 2,000 to 5,000 US dollar a year depending upon the course and the college you are seeking admission. The undergraduate programs are generally more costly; almost double that of the master's programs. Compared to the public universities, the private ones are a bit on the higher side.

There aren't too many scholarships for Indian students coming to South Africa for their higher studies. Most of the scholarships are meant for students who come from the South African Development Countries (SADC). There are 15 member states from Africa, who make the SADC grouping. You may, however, try to obtain a scholarship from Commonwealth Scholarships that are available to citizens who are from the Commonwealth countries like India. Otherwise, you will have to self-finance your study in South Africa or apply for a study loan from your own country. You may also inquire from the universities directly, regarding the availability of any scholarships or bursaries (as they say in South Africa) for students from non-SADC countries.

As far as the living costs are concerned, most of the expenses are on accommodation. Your average living expenses will be 7,000 to 8,000 US Dollar a year. Most of it will be on rent, say 4,000 US dollar every year. You can economize on your expenses by availing of the accommodation provided by some of the universities. They may be in the form of shared dormitories, shared rooms or corridor apartments. Some of the student accommodations also include meal plans in the cost itself, thus saving you on food costs. After one year, many students opt for private accommodation by taking an accommodation on rent and sharing the premises with other students, thus reducing their expenses. Your living costs will also include expenses for food, travel, leisure and telephone charges.

Among other expenses, you will have to pay for medical insurance, books and clothing. Medical insurance may cost you around 300 US dollars a year.

Documents for University Admissions in South Africa

A whole lot of documents will be required for applying for a study abroad program in South Africa. Here is a checklist of all the necessary documents that will be required in original to support your student visa application.
  1. Student visa application form accompanied with the necessary fees
  2. A valid passport with at least two blank pages. The validity period be such that it should expire in no less than 30 days from the date of your return from South Africa
  3. Two recent passport photos.
  4. A letter of acceptance from the concerned university in South Africa, duly signed by its registrar or principal.
  5. Evidence of having obtained a South African health insurance for your entire duration of stay.
  6. Evidence of proficiency in the English language by means of IELTS or TOEFL test scores.
  7. Evidence regarding your ability to fund your expenses during your stay in South Africa and also your return travel. This can be proved by submitting valid bank statements and other financial documents that are in your name.
  8. Receipts of visa application fees paid.
  9. Proof of tuition fees paid for the course.
  10. Medical, radiology and immunization reports.
  11. A police clearance certificate for those above 18 years of age from the period they turned 18 with more than 12 months of stay in a country.
  12. A letter of intent, elaborating why you want to study in South Africa and your intent to leave the country once your visa expires.

You will also require a few other additional documents like mark sheets and certificates of your academic qualifications, letters of recommendation from the school or college head, references, etc. In case you are less than 18 years of age then there are a few more documents that you need to submit. They are as follows.
  1. Date of birth certificate.
  2. A consent letter from both of your parents or legal guardians regarding their consent to your intended stay in South Africa.
  3. Proof of address and contact numbers of the person in South Africa who is likely to be your guardian during the entire period of your stay in the country.
  4. An undertaking from the parents or guardians that their ward will have medical coverage for the entire period of stay.

Any of the documents that may not be in English, will have to be accurately translated in English and certified by the translator.

Universities and higher education in South Africa

The universities in South Africa come under the control of the Department of Higher Education and Training. The department is responsible for tertiary education and vocational training in the country. South Africa has 26 public universities. Out of them, twelve are traditional academics based universities. Eight of South African universities are centres of technology, for vocational studies and training. The rest six are comprehensive institutions that are a combination of the above two categories. Other than the public universities, there are numerous other private institutions numbering around 115. The top ten universities are listed as follows.
  1. University of Cape Town
  2. Stellenbosch University
  3. University of Witwatersrand
  4. University of Kwazulu-Natal
  5. University of Johannesburg
  6. University of Pretoria
  7. University of the Western Cape
  8. University of South Africa
  9. Rhodes University
  10. North-West University

As per QS World University Rankings, nine universities in South Africa appear in the list. Two of its universities even come under the top 20 in the world as per QS World Rankings by Subject. There are other universities that fall under the top 100 or 200 as per ranking by subjects. Two such subjects are Theology, Divinity & Religion and Communication & Media. As per QS World Rankings 2018, the University of Cape Town, at 191st, has the highest ranking in South Africa. Stellenbosch University is at joint 361st in world rankings, closely followed by the University of the Witwatersrand at joint 364th. There are four other South African universities that make it to the top 800 in the world. They are namely the University of Pretoria, University of Johannesburg, Rhodes University and the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Twelve of the top South African universities also rank In the QS University Rankings for the five BRICS nations.

In South African universities, the academic session begins by early February and runs till late November. There is a semester break from early June till mid-July. Therefore, while applying for a study program in South Africa you need to keep the academic session in mind and plan your travel accordingly. A host of programs beginning with bachelors till PhD are available at these universities. The bachelor degree programs are of three years duration, with some having the option of undertaking an additional year of study, where they get to complete a research thesis on the subjects they have graduated in. This gives the students an additional honours certification with their bachelors' degree. The master's programs are of one to two-year duration depending upon the content of the programs. The PhD programs are similar to the ones that are undertaken in countries like India, with most requiring 3-5 years of study to complete the entire course. It is the masters and PhD programs that are more popular with the overseas students. However, a few do come for bachelors.

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