Study Abroad in South Africa

Back to Programs

A Guide to Studying Abroad in South Africa

If school’s been feeling like a chore lately, studying abroad in South Africa is just what you need to give your classes a jolt. Instead of dozing through your biology lecture, how about observing leopards in a game preserve or visiting some of the oldest archeological sites on the planet? Throw in some penguin spotting, shark cage diving, and a laid-back braai (barbeque) on the weekend, and you may never want to return home. No matter what your major is, deciding to study abroad in South Africa is sure to bring you new insights and some serious adventures.


South Africa is an imposing country situated at the southern tip of the African continent. Often called the “Rainbow Nation” because of its multicultural population, this diversity is woven into the country’s history, through moments of apartheid, Nelson Mandela’s election, and current struggles for equality. No matter where you study abroad in South Africa, you’ll surely gain new perspectives, re-evaluate long-held beliefs, and return home with a deeper understanding of South Africa and its citizens.

Many students choose to study in Cape Town, a city known for its laid-back atmosphere and breathtaking scenery. If you follow this path, you’ll likely study at the University of Cape Town, a historically white school that has more recently become quite diverse, or the University of the Western Cape, which was an early opponent of apartheid and is known for creative responses to oppression. When you’re not studying, you’ll be able to explore Cape Town’s many neighborhoods, from colorful Bo Kaap to trendy Green Point, or spend the afternoon relaxing at nearby Clifton Beach. Be sure to pick a weekend to tackle Table Mountain at some point too!

A short drive from Cape Town is Stellenbosch, a town nestled in the rolling hills of the Cape Winelands region. Students attending Stellenbosch University will want to keep a dictionary handy; though classes may be in English, but the town operates primarily in Afrikaans. School is central to life in Stellenbosch, and you can easily meet local students by joining the rugby club, attending a lively campus jol (party), or organizing a weekend wine-tasting excursion.  

Other popular locations for study abroad in South Africa include Port Elizabeth, a diverse city with a busy seaport and miles of beaches, and Johannesburg, a lively metropolis and home base for trips into Kruger National Park and other rural areas of the country.

Studying Abroad in South Africa

No matter what you’re studying at your home university, studying abroad in South Africa is sure to enrich your understanding of familiar topics. Whether you volunteer at an animal sanctuary or study first-hand the wide-ranging effects of institutionalized racism, you’ll return home from study abroad in South Africa with a different outlook on your chosen field.

Many students are attracted to study in South Africa for the nation’s unique plant and animal life; therefore, study abroad programs that focus on conservation, zoology, and biology are quite popular. Students can study wildlife management, visit national parks, and learn how the country handles environmental challenges like poaching and climate change while studying in South Africa.

South Africa’s history is also uniquely situated to teach students about issues related to political science, social policy, and public health. You can examine how the apartheid era affected the country, and then evaluate the effectiveness of current social and political policies. By visiting sites like the Hector Pieterson museum in Soweto and the Robben Island prison that held Nelson Mandela and other activists, you’ll gain a real understanding of past struggles that still reverberate today. Some study abroad programs in South Africa combine these topics with a service-learning project, with the option to volunteer at a health center or a primary school, to expand student learning even further.

South Africa has 11 official languages, but most university courses are taught in English. If you’re interested in learning a new language, like Afrikaans, isiXhosa, or isiZulu, some universities or study abroad program providers offer courses in these local languages.

Due to its location in the southern hemisphere, South Africa’s school year begins in January and runs on a quarter system. University classes are similar to those in American universities, where grades are based on a variety of essays, assignments, tests, and a final exam. While it doesn’t tend to get too cold along the coast, not all classroom buildings are heated, so make sure you bring warm layers if you’re studying abroad in South Africa during the winter months, which lasts from June to September.

Scholarships & Costs

Studying abroad in South Africa doesn’t have to break the bank, and many students find that it is actually quite affordable to do so. Though you may shed some tears over the cost of your flight, prices will be much more reasonable once you’ve landed.

Costs for necessities are usually cheaper than you’d find in the United States. A beer will cost around $1.80, a bottle of water goes for about 65 cents, and a local bus ticket will set you back around 79 cents. However, imported items, such as electronics, may cost more than you’re used to. With smart planning, living expenses in South Africa are relatively low for international students.

Most study abroad program fees include tuition and housing, with some even providing stipends for meals too. Airfare is almost always separate and must be purchased individually. To study in South Africa for a semester, fees tend to be around $15,000, while a four-week summer program averages $6,000. 

Don’t panic if program fee looks a bit pricey! Many study abroad programs in South Africa will allow you to use financial aid to cover program costs, especially if you’ll be receiving credit from your home institution. There are also many scholarship and fundraising opportunities that can help you afford to study in South Africa. 

Accommodation & Visas

When you’re done surfing for the day and you’ve polished off a plate of bunny chow (bread filled with curry), you’ll need somewhere to lay your head. Luckily, you won’t have to put too much thought into your lodging, which means you’ll have more time for adventure planning.

Most students who study in South Africa stay in housing arranged by their program provider, which is usually in a private apartment shared with other students or a student residence on campus. These types of housing arrangements allow you get to know other students in a relaxed environment and can be a great way to meet friends and travel buddies. Housing is often close to campus, allowing you to partake in campus life and benefit from a short commute to class.

The majority of students will need to apply for a study permit at a South African embassy or consulate before studying abroad in South Africa. For summer programs, a visitor or tourist visa is usually sufficient. If you are planning to study in South Africa, be sure to verify with your program what kind of visa you’ll need for the duration of your stay before departure. If a visa required, make sure you have enough time to apply, as visa processing times can be lengthy. 

Benefits & Challenges

Studying abroad in South Africa will be both thrilling and challenging, offering endless enthusiasm and sobering realities. Due to its incredible mix of ethnicities, cultures, and languages, the country is a fascinating example of the challenges that multicultural societies face and how people work to solve them. Additionally, its unique social history, including apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s legacy, serves as a learning experience for students of all disciplines.

Studying in South Africa will allow you to not only explore the country’s cultural aspect, but to also dive deep into a landscape abundant in diverse ecosystems. Take a hike up Table Mountain, discover ancient forests on the Garden Route, or spot the Big Five (elephants, lions, buffalo, leopards, and rhinos) on a safari through Kruger Park. These opportunities will give you time to reflect on humans’ impact on the planet as well as inspire you with nature’s endless beauty.

If you decide to study abroad in South Africa, it’s important to remember that the country has a high rate of economic disparity, which can lead to some initial culture shock for those who haven’t encountered serious poverty before. Instead of visiting townships simply to observe how others live, get involved in a volunteer project or research study that will benefit the community and allow you to meet locals; this will let you to ease into the new culture and better understand your surroundings.

Serious poverty can also lead to some students to have safety concerns, and it’s important to always be aware of your surroundings while studying in South Africa. Petty theft is the most common crime, but this risk can be mitigated by traveling with locals, not being out alone after dark, and keeping your valuables out of sight. Your study abroad program provider or host university will be able to provide you with safety tips when you arrive, and if you follow their advice, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about.

A semester or summer spent studying in South Africa is sure to open your eyes to new ideas about social justice, human rights, and the environment. It’s impossible to feel indifferent after experiencing life in South Africa, so you’ll likely return home with a serious longing to return to this complicated yet alluring country.

Read More

written by:

A Guide To
Studying Abroad in South Africa


 Find Study Abroad Programs in South Africa Now


This listing has been saved 240 times

Study in South Africa for a Semester or Summer with

CISabroad offers semester and summer study programs in South Africa at Stellenbosch University. Participants benefit from the courses delivered by internationally acclaimed professors in one of the top research universities in the country. Situated in Cape Winelands, the students enjoy studying in South Africa’s oldest college town which gives them access to more than 100 pubs and restaurants.

CISabroad student on her way to surf.

This listing has been saved 199 times

IES Abroad (Institute for the Int'l Education of Students)

Travel to South Africa and explore the wonders of the country in Cape Town with the Institute for the International Education of Students. This non-profit educational organization offers academic programs to students worldwide. The program offers courses in Environmental Studies, Economics, Health Care, and other related subjects.

Students sitting on cliff while watching the overview of the city.

This listing has been saved 2 times

USAC SOUTH AFRICA: Stellenbosch - Undergraduate Courses

Live and study in one of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, featuring historic architecture, rich cultural heritage, and easy access to outdoor and sporting activities. Stellenbosch is in the heart of South Africa's wine country, providing the cuisine, culture, and stunning scenery that entails. Surrounded by mountains in the Jonkershoek Valley, it offers the best of both worlds: a small...

study in South Africa - USAC

This listing has been saved 5 times

Study Abroad in South Africa with CIEE

There’s no better place to explore urban systems, community development, and sustainability than in Cape Town with the Council on International Educational Exchange. Against the backdrop of magnificent mountains and seascapes, students get a firsthand look at the social and economic challenges facing the country as it transitions toward a global economy.

CIEE students enjoying a beautiful view from the peak

Study Abroad with Semester at Sea

Semester at Sea works with the University of Virginia to provide a multi-country shipboard study on which students earn transferrable course credits. This program features a visit to South Africa and involves practical fieldwork. Students gain experience with the global community through this multi-faceted program.


This listing has been saved 4 times

IELTS & TOEFL Courses in Cape Town, South Africa

Take IELTS & TOEFL Courses in South Africa. The exam preparation courses are ideal for the students who: - are able to complete one to two hours of homework a day to supplement the course lessons - are at a strong intermediate level or above at the time they start their exam preparation course - who enjoy the challenge of a focused course with clear goals - who need to prove that they hav...


English Language School in Cape Town

Experience South Africa while studying English with Eurocentres language programs, which offer individuals from around the world an intercultural adventure. Participants can enjoy learning English while exploring the country's regal wildlife and natural wonders. Programs are well-structured to increase the use of participant's new language skills through communication with local native speakers.


This listing has been saved 1 time

Seamester: Transatlantic, South Africa to Caribbean- 90 days

Seamester offers unique educational voyages where students spend an entire semester at sea, sailing between countries and continents. For more than 40 years, we have consistently delivered outstanding educational experiences for students. We design our programs to provide engaging learning experiences with real outcomes in ways that are impossible to replicate in the traditional classroom. T...


This listing has been saved 6 times

Wildlife Veterinary Assistance in South Africa

Get hands-on, incomparable experience in all facets of wildlife capture and veterinary procedures on this 3-week course located on the world-famous Garden Route, South Africa. This program is designed for people either already qualified as vets, someone that is in the process of becoming a vet (preferably minimum third-year student), or veterinary nurses who are looking to gain hands-on exp...


This listing has been saved 5 times

Study Abroad with CGE

Delve into South African culture by taking part in CGE's study abroad program in Cape Town (Kaapstad) or Johannesburg. Students will also have the opportunity to travel to Namibia, live with a home stay or with a group, and participate in internship opportunities. Courses offered include Development Studies, African Studies, Political Science, and more.


This listing has been saved 4 times

Operation Wallacea - South Africa

Operation Wallacea is a research and environmental organisation, working alongside university and college academics to build long term datasets to put towards various conservation management goals. We recruit volunteers to help out with the data collection, and train them in the skills and background that's needed to help effectively. There's also the option to complete dissertations or senior ...


Study Abroad in South Africa with SIT Study Abroad

Study health concerns and healthcare delivery, education and inequity, multiculturalism and human rights, politics and socioeconomics, housing challenges, global urban studies, or global health on an SIT Study Abroad program in South Africa. Semester and summer programs are offered, as well as two comparative programs that travel to four countries.