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Living in South Africa – Postgraduate Guide

With around 45,000 international students, South Africa is one of the most popular study abroad destinations in Africa. It has plenty to offer adventurous postgraduates: excellent universities, diverse cultures and stunning wildlife.

This page will give you an overview of some student essentials in South Africa, from accommodation and living costs to banking and transport.

What’s it like to study abroad in South Africa?

South Africa is a dynamic and diverse nation with a fantastic climate, beautiful countryside and vibrant cities to explore. Whether you’re eager to experience the thrill of a safari or sample some of the country’s famous wines, you won’t be short of things to see and do during your Masters in South Africa.

Cape Town occupies a stunning position at the base of the Table Mountain National Park and offers endless opportunities for outdoor activities: surfing, mountain biking, hiking and abseiling, to name just a handful.

Johannesburg is South Africa’s largest city and is home to several historical sites of national significance. Constitution Hill is a former prison complex that now tells the story of South Africa’s struggle for democracy, while the Apartheid Museum provides an essential insight into the segregation system.

South Africa is a nation of sports fanatics, hosting the men’s FIFA World Cup in 2010 and enjoying great success in rugby and cricket.

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Student accommodation is offered by most South African universities, with on- and off-campus options available. Sometimes you’ll be able to apply for postgraduate-specific housing, as well as catered residences.

Depending on your budget and lifestyle, these are some of the accommodation types you’ll encounter at South African universities:

  • Studio apartments
  • Shared rooms
  • Shared apartments
  • Single rooms with communal kitchen / bathroom

University-owned accommodation is usually cheaper than the private equivalent. Expect to pay somewhere in the region of R3,725 per month (USD $240) for a self-catered single room, or R7,150 (USD $465) for a studio apartment.

By contrast, private accommodation is normally more expensive. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that you might have a greater choice in terms of flexibility and location if you go down this route.

Living costs

South Africa is one of the more affordable postgraduate study abroad destinations. You should budget around R3,500 (USD $240) per month for your living expenses, not including rent.

These are some of the typical student costs you’ll encounter while attending university of South Africa:

  • Restaurant meal – R120 (USD $7.80)
  • Cinema ticket – R90 (USD $5.55)
  • Monthly travel pass – R700 (USD $43.20)
  • Monthly utilities – R1,409.52 (USD $86.98)

Learn more about studying in South Africa

Looking for more information about Masters study in South Africa? Our detailed guide covers everything from university rankings and courses to fees, funding and applications.

Working whilst studying

International students in South Africa with a valid visa are allowed to work on a part-time basis for up to 20 hours a week during term time and full-time during the holidays.

Further information

Medical insurance, banking and transport are some of the other factors you should take into account when planning your postgraduate adventure in South Africa.

Health insurance

When applying for a South African student visa, you’ll need to provide proof of a valid medical insurance policy. You’ll also need to supply a letter indicating that this policy will be renewed annually for the duration of your studies. Your health insurance policy must be recognised by the Medical Schemes Act, as defined by the South African Department of Home Affairs.


It’s a good idea to open a bank account fairly soon after your arrival in South Africa, as it will allow you to avoid hefty international transfer fees, as well as making it easier to pay tuition fees or receive scholarships funds.

You’ll usually need to bring the following documents with you when opening an account:

  • A copy of your student visa
  • Your passport
  • Proof of residence in South Africa
  • A letter of acceptance from your South African university
  • Bank statements from your home country

The local currency is the South African Rand (ZAR). ATMs can be found across the country and cards are widely accepted.


South Africa is a huge nation – nearly three and a half times the size of Germany – so you should be prepared to tackle some big distances when travelling around the country. Cape Town and Johannesburg are 1,500km away from each other.

Domestic flights are relatively affordable and the quickest way to get around. Overnight trains also link South Africa’s major cities – perfect if you want to travel at a more sedate pace and witness some stunning countryside along the way.

Cape Town and Johannesburg both have commuter rail networks. Buses and taxis are other popular modes of inner-city transport.

Search for a Masters in South Africa

Ready to start looking for your ideal study abroad opportunity? Browse and compare Masters degrees in South Africa on

Last updated - 11/12/2020

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