Study in South Africa with Tuition Fees, List of Low Tuition Universities, Living Costs and Student Visa and Exchange Programs

Want to Study Abroad in South Africa?

With its multiethnic population, eleven national languages, and varied physical landscapes and wildlife, South Africa embodies diversity. Students who are trying to add a little adventure to their curriculum will, therefore, find South Africa an ideal study abroad destination. Don’t miss out on climbing Table Mountain, exploring the famous Garden Route, or sunbathing on one of South Africa’s many gorgeous beaches!

Top and Low Tuition Universities in South Africa 

  • University of Cape Town
  • Stellenbosch University 
  • University of the Witwatersrand
  • University of Pretoria
  • University of Johannesburg
  • Rhodes University
  • University of Kwazulu-Natal

Things to Know Before You Study in South Africa

1. South Africa is incredibly diverse 

Depending on your usual news source, arriving to study in South Africa may leave you surprised by just how modern and developed the country actually is. With 11 official languages, natural geography that spans a vast spectrum, and a Gini coefficient of 63.4 – SA is about as diverse as they come. So if possible, try hold back on forming an opinion about the country until you’ve left the airport terminal building.

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2. Local is “lekker”

Used as a colloquial term to describe anything that is nice or favorable, “lekker” will quickly be added to your arsenal of South African-isms. More to the point, in order to truly appreciate South Africa’s authentic and “lekker” flavor, you’ve got to go local. SA’s townships (informal settlements) are living memorials of the country’s checkered political past, but they also play host to a number of local attractions which are not to be missed. Some of which include the vibey Vilikazi Street in Soweto, or the inimitable outdoor Gugulethu-based restaurant, Mzoli’s Place; the latter introducing thousands of foreigners to the world of excessively loud house music and “braaing” (the local equivalent to barbequing).

3. Let South Africans be your GPS 

Like all countries, there are places in South Africa that you should avoid for safety reasons (crime, not lions). While doing prior research on TripAdvisor and travel forums will undoubtedly help, they’re no substitute for talking to your university program coordinator, or other trusted locals for that matter. So bounce your plans off someone else before embarking on any courageous capers.

4. Acclimatize to African time

Part and parcel of studying in South Africa is learning how to manage your temper when things don’t happen as quickly as you’d like. Don’t hold public institutions up to your own nation’s standards. Accept that things will tend to move slower than back home, and rather than getting frustrated with admin personnel, kill them with kindness – it’ll help your cause tremendously.

5. You’re probably going to get fat(ter)

Fortunately for students from most developed nations, the South African currency (the Rand) is extraordinarily weak. The favorable exchange rate means you’ll be able to buy grotesque quantities of gourmet (and not-so-gourmet) food on even the most basic student allowance – so prepare to go up a few waist sizes.

6. Shoes aren’t really all that important on campus

Perhaps it’s some romantic attempt to be closer to ‘Mother Africa’ as it were, but for whatever reason many South African students feel comfortable navigating campus bare foot, so feel free to leave your footgear at home.

7. Catching a “taxi” isn’t the same as back home

Taxis, as they are defined in South Africa, are minibus vehicles operated by individuals with typically questionable roadside manners. While it’s certainly an experience to take a ride in a South African taxi, this is not for the faint of heart . Also, don’t sit in the front, unless you want to be charged with the duty of collecting everyone’s fare (in coins) and then dispensing change. Rugby

8. Rugby is really, really important

Learn the rules, fast. Also, never mention New Zealand.

9. Measurements must be metric

When telling anecdotal stories to your new South African friends, always use the metric system for exaggeration. For example, if you say, “That rhino must have weighed 5,000 pounds”, then you’re unlikely to get much of a reaction, as few Saffas (South Africans) will have any relevant frames of reference to draw upon – other than the price of a meal in London.

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10. “Traffic lights” are “robots” 

No, the next Transformers film is not being filmed in South Africa; we just like to refer to traffic lights as “robots”.

Study Visas for International Students in South Africa

All students who hold permanent residence outside South Africa and are not South African citizens are required to obtain a study visa upon acceptance to a South African university. Upon receiving a visa, students are granted official permission to reside in South Africa.

To begin the visa process, you must first make an application to the nearest South African Embassy, Consulate, or High Commission. Because this procedure can take up to eight weeks, it is recommended to start the application as soon as possible upon gaining admittance to a university.

Once a study visa has been issued, it is valid for the entire duration of a student’s stay in South Africa.

Required Documents for Student Visas in South Africa

  • Valid passport
  • Proof of application payment
  • Acceptance letter from the university with the course duration
  • Confirmation of registration
  • Police Clearance Certificate issued by a security authority in the country from which a student is applying
  • Yellow fever vaccination certificate if student has or intends to travel through a yellow fever endemic area
  • Proof of access to the necessary financial means while residing in South Africa
  • Proof of medical coverage
  • Marital status documents when applicable

Visa Application for Family Members

An international student’s spouse and independent children are also eligible to apply for a visa to accompany a student on their studies in South Africa. However, a family visa is only valid for three years and does not grant the holder to work or study.

Working While Studying

Student visas in South Africa allow students to work while pursuing their studies. However, international students may only work up to a maximum 20 hours per week. The student can work part time till the expiry of the student visa and not after.

Accommodation and Living Cost in South Africa

It’s no big surprise that South Africa’s most popular study abroad destinations, Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Cape Town, are also the most expensive in the country.

Luckily, compared to many of the other possible study abroad destinations, living costs still remain relatively affordable for students in South Africa. As an added benefit, students have options when it comes to finding affordable accommodation.

Student Accommodation

If you’re one of the many international students who worry about how they will find accommodation, fear no more!

Most universities in South Africa offer some form of housing for students. It may be shared dorms, corridor apartments, or private rooms, and can usually be offered throughout a student’s studies. Some student accommodations also come with the added benefit of including meal plans in the cost and easy access to student dining facilities.

Student housing may also be a good idea if you are an international student who wants to participate in social activities with other students. You can also save money if you do not want to spend a lot on furnishing an apartment, as the furniture is often included with the room.

Make sure to apply on time to make sure you are guaranteed a room!

Private Accommodation

According to some of the major universities in South Africa, many students opt to find private accommodation after their first year.

This is often achieved through property portals or estate agents that help not only students but South Africans in general find housing. Like anywhere in the world, there are people who will try to take advantage of students through false advertising, making a portal or agent the perfect tool for a first-time apartment seeker in South Africa.

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Tuition and Fees in South Africa

As is the case in most countries, tuition fees to study abroad in South Africa vary greatly depending on the university. Most universities, however, charge on a per module or credit basis. In some cases, international students are also expected to pay twice the amount that South African students are supposed to pay. With as little as $850 or more, you can afford South African education.

There are also a few unique aspects of the South African university fee structure that international students should be aware of. In most cases, scholarships and financial aid through the university are reserved for South African students. Therefore, international students will have to find an alternative way to fund their education abroad. On top of the tuition, international students are also expected to pay an international levy and a registration fee of about R300 to the university.

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Luckily, living costs in South Africa are relatively lower than common study abroad destinations in Europe or North America, making study abroad in South Africa still a viable option for many prospective students. In addition, students in the United States and Canada are still eligible to receive financial aid from their respective federal agencies.

Entry Requirements for Universities in South Africa

Entry requirements to South African universities depend on the particular school and type of program you wish to study. South African universities generally have an online application form which is easy to fill out in order to start the enrollment process.

It is, however, important to note that non-South African applicants must meet the requirements of matriculation exemption. This can usually be achieved by obtaining a secondary-school diploma with good marks and scoring well on any standardized tests offered in your home country.

You may also have to prove your English language skills, as most South African universities conduct their courses in English. International students from a non-English speaking country can prove their proficiency through a good score on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System).

Language Requirements

South Africa is home to 11 national languages, but most courses are taught in English. South African universities will ask for evidence of your proficiency in English if it isn’t your first language. The University of Cape Town, for example, will accept tests from a number of institutions;

  • an overall IELTS score of 7.0 or above
  • a score of at least 65% in the Academic Literacy component of the NBT
  • a TEFL qualification of a high standard, completed three to five years before application submission.

Be aware that universities receive many applications throughout the year so it is important that you submit your application before deadlines and that you are submitting the correct documents.

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Degree Courses in South Africa

The academic year in South Africa runs from early February to late November, split into two semesters with an extended break between early June and mid-July.

South African Bachelors students can either graduate after their third year to receive a Bachelors degree, or complete an additional year of study – requiring a research thesis in the same area as the Bachelors – to receive a Bachelors degree with Honours.

Masters degrees

A Masters degree in South Africa will take one to two years’ full-time study to complete. The nature of each course and its requirements varies widely between institutions, although there is a national preference for a heavily-weighted dissertation by means of assessment.

To enrol on a Masters course in South Africa, it’s likely that you’ll need an undergraduate degree in a relevant area.


Typically, a PhD will take three to five years to complete, and like PhDs in most parts of the world will involve submitting a thesis for examination.

To study for a PhD in South Africa you’ll need an internationally recognised Masters degree, with some institutions only accepting Masters with scores of 65% and above.

Student Exchanges

  • Student exchanges in South African universities are commonly arranged between institutions, so check with your university at home to see if they have any links.
  • ISEP Study Abroad hosts links between many UK and South African universities.
  • The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE) offers a wide range of study abroad programmes in Cape Town, from the arts to community development.

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