Learn about the requirements for South African student visas, study permits, and application forms if you want to study abroad in South Africa. Foreign students who want to study in South Africa must first complete the student visa requirements.
Foreigners wishing to study in South Africa at any level must first apply for a student visa. This is true even if you are visiting South Africa as a dependent of someone who is working here. International students looking for South African scholarships may also need to obtain a South African study visa beforehand. You cannot also enrol in a South African university unless you have a valid South African student visa.
This guide describes the prerequisites and application process for studying in South Africa:
Who Needs a Student Visa in South Africa?
To be eligible for a South African study visa, the school must first be recognized as a learning institution. It must be registered with either the Department of Basic Education or the Department of Higher Education.
You may not be eligible for a South African study visa if you intend to attend a private language school, a wildlife ranger school (a bush school), or a location that exclusively offers short-term technical courses.
If you are doubtful, you can request proof of registration from the organization. To assist you in making your decision, here is a list of known deregistered educational institutions and fraudulent learning institutions.
You may be accepted conditionally by a school, but this does not guarantee you a visa; sadly, you cannot study without one. It is not possible to enter South Africa on a visiting visa and then apply for a student visa.
No matter how long you stay in South Africa on a student visa, you will never be eligible for permanent residency. Instead, you must first change your status to one that qualifies you for residencies, such as a work or business visa. This is possible from within South Africa.
South African Student Visa Requirements
First, you must be accepted by a South African school. The letter must be on the letterhead of the institution and signed by or on behalf of the principal or registrar. The temporary residency permit application form B1-1738 must then be completed. Take this to the South African embassy in your native country in person.
You must also supply the following documents:
- 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, or divorced.
South African Study Visa For Students Under 18
If you are under the age of 18, you do not require a police clearance certificate when applying for a South African student visa. Students under the age of 12 are also excused from providing radiological reports. Application processing dates vary by the nation but allow six weeks. Minors under the age of 18 must normally 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 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 over the age of 25 and wish to visit South Africa on a cultural, economic, or social exchange program organized by a South African educational institution or government body and one in another country, you must obtain official confirmation from both the South African and foreign organizations.
The South African exchange visa is valid for the term of the exchange program, which can be up to three years. If you are under the age of 25, you may work in South Africa temporarily if you obtain a South African exchange visa. The employer must certify the existence of the post, and the pay and benefits must meet the standard legal criteria. The South African exchange visa is valid for the duration of the program.
The identical application form B1-1738 is used to apply for exchange permission. A South African exchange visa cannot be renewed or extended. After having this sort of permission, you can only apply for a temporary or permanent residence permit if you have resided outside of South Africa for at least a year.
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 the 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 the 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.
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 shortly.
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 or study while in South Africa; if they want to do so, they must apply for a separate visa from their original country of residence.