A Guide To South Africa for International Students

South Africa is becoming a top choice for international students who want to study abroad. The country's rich cultural heritage, breathtaking landscapes, and top-notch tertiary education institutions make it a unique and enriching experience.

Here is a guide to South Africa for students who opt for this unparalleled opportunity for academic and personal growth.

Choosing the Right Institution

Studying abroad and choosing the right programme and institution can be exciting and daunting at the same time.

Here are some tips to consider:

  • Research programmes offered by South African universities for international students and colleges and consider your academic interests, career goals, and the programme’s reputation.
  • Ensure that the academic institution and programme you're interested in are accredited and recognised by relevant authorities.
  • Consider the cost.
  • Research the location of the academic institution and its proximity to amenities, transportation, and other facilities.
  • Investigate the student support services offered by the academic institution.
  • Familiarise yourself with the visa and immigration requirements for studying abroad in South Africa.

Once you have made a decision, begin the admission process. After receiving confirmation of your application, you can apply for a study permit. Thereafter you will receive a final acceptance letter and registration pack and can embark on student life in South Africa.

Understanding South African Culture

South Africa is a vibrant and diverse country with a rich tapestry of cultures, languages, and traditions. It is often referred to as the "Rainbow Nation" due to its diverse population. This diversity is reflected in the country's languages, cuisine, culture, music, and festivals. Holidays such as Freedom Day and Heritage Day play an important role in South African society, bringing people together to celebrate, reflect, and honour their shared history and cultural diversity.

By embracing diversity, respecting local custom, and staying open-minded, international students can adapt and thrive in South Africa while enriching their academic and personal experiences.

To get the most out of studying in South Africa:

  • Embrace the diversity of culture and show respect for people of different ethnicities, languages, creeds and traditions. Be willing to learn from other people’s perspectives.
  • Familiarise yourself with South African social etiquette.
  • Be open to trying South African dishes and flavours.
  • Familiarise yourself with safety precautions and cultural norms to stay safe in South Africa.
  • Build meaningful relationships with locals, fellow students or local mentors.

Practical Matters: Visas, Accommodation

International students are required to obtain a student visa to live and study in South Africa.

Further information and application forms may be obtained from your local South African embassy as well as on the Department of Home Affairs website. Documents that you will be required to have to apply for a study permit are listed online.

Where to live? The IIE’s Varsity College and DigsConnect collaborate to provide students with an online platform where they can access a variety of safe accommodation options within an eight kilometre radius of all eight Varsity College campuses.

Living in South Africa: Cost of Living and Budgeting Tips

The cost of living as a student in South Africa varies. Here's a breakdown of what costs you need to factor in:

  • Rent for a shared apartment or student residence.
  • The monthly food expenses.
  • Monthly expenses for transportation, including bus or train fares.
  • Textbooks, stationery, and other academic materials.
  • Personal expenses which include entertainment, clothing, toiletries, and other items.

Keeping track of your expenses and budgeting will help keep living costs low. Cook at home, use public transport, use student discounts, share accommodation and buy second-hand textbooks.

International students can also apply for part-time jobs in restaurants and shops or even tutor, provided their visa allows for temporary work in South Africa.

Getting Around: Transportation in South Africa

Buses, minibus taxis, trains, including Metrorail and the Gautrain, as well as e-hailing and metered taxis can help you get around in South Africa. Walking is an also option depending on your location and safety considerations. Tip: check with local fellow students before deciding on the best mode of transport and/or best route to use.

Leisure and Exploration: Making the Most of Your Stay

South Africa offers exciting places to explore, each with their own unique cultural, historical, and natural attractions. Table Mountain, Robben Island, the Drakensberg, Cradle of Humankind, Kruger National Park and the Cape Winelands are all top destinations to visit.

Take a look at The IIE’s Varsity College social calendar to enjoy the best student life. Sunset cruises, Ladies2Legends, Sip and Paint and open mic sessions are just a few of the events that take place. Book clubs, drama groups, poetry sessions and musical appreciation evenings are also run successfully on campuses.

Safety and Security Tips

Keep up-to-date with local news and travel warnings issued by your home country's embassy and the South African government.

Always stay alert, avoid walking alone, especially at night and stick to well-lit and populated areas, and use reliable transport. Memorise or keep handy emergency numbers such as the police (10111), ambulance (10177), and your country's embassy or consulate in South Africa. As always, check in with locals you know on how best to navigate any safety concerns.

Studying abroad in South Africa is a chance to immerse yourself in a vibrant and diverse culture, explore breathtaking landscapes, and engage with people from various backgrounds. All while obtaining a top-class education from a range of acclaimed tertiary educational institutions.

About The IIE’s Varsity College

The Independent Institute of Education (The IIE) of which Varsity College is a brand, is South Africa’s largest registered and accredited private provider of higher education. At Varsity College we understand that no two students are the same or learn the same. That’s why we make sure a student’s education is shaped around them; how they like to learn, what they are passionate about, what makes them tick, and what makes them thrive. Our Education by Design approach allows students to grow into their best, and creates a space where they can live, learn and play – their way.