Situated at the southernmost tip of the African continent, South Africa saw the end of apartheid and a transition to democracy in 1994. Its nickname, "Rainbow Nation", reflects the diversity of South Africa’s people, whose cultural influences come from all over Africa, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. South Africa’s Mediterranean climate makes it suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities including sand-boarding, surfing, rock-climbing and camping. Come delve into the history of this dynamic nation, whose blend of old customs and modern ways make it a fascinating place to study.

Languages Spoken:

Afrikaans, English, Zulu

Education System


With the exception of professional programs such as medicine, law, engineering, and architecture, most undergraduate degrees in South Africa require three years of study. Admission into a graduate program in entails completion of an Honors Program, and a pass rate of 68% in the final year of a three-year degree. Graduate degrees, depending on the program, typically run one or two years. 

Master's Degrees in most fields consist of a dissertation or thesis and, depending on the program, range in length from one to two years. 

Higher Education Reform 

Like many other sectors in South Africa, higher education has undergone enormous post-Apartheid changes. Acting on a 1975 Report by the National Commission on Higher Education, as well as the 1997 White Paper, the country embarked on articulating the vision of phasing out a fragmented past to a single, coordinated tertiary system that would meet the country’s development needs. Since the mid-1990s, South Africa’s government-financed tertiary institutions have been open to students of all races. 

In 2004, South Africa started reforming its higher education system, merging and incorporating small universities into larger institutions, and renaming all higher education institutions "university", while incorporating several technikons (technical universities). As of January 2011, South Africa has 11 traditional universities, six technikons and six "comprehensive" institutions, which offer a mix of academic and vocational courses. 

Restructuring higher education through mergers has laid the foundations for future change, and with government strategies to deliver the first four goals of access, equity, diversity, and growing research it will drive South African higher education in the future. 




South African academic institutions follow the European tradition, with a mixture of lectures and seminars with individual laboratory time and library work. Students specialize early and study one or two disciplines for three or four years. Regular class attendance is compulsory. Please note that students who make travel arrangements that clash with their lectures, tests and examinations, will not receive a final mark for their courses or an academic transcript to take back to their home institution. 


Registration typically occurs upon your arrival on campus, during orientation. Check with your host coordinator to see if there is anything you should have prepared ahead of arrival. 

Course Load 

Students generally take up to four courses per semester, consisting of lectures and tutorials, spending eight hours a week in class. 

Exams & Grading 

In most subjects, assessment is based on continuous evaluations with assignments, orals, presentations, one mid-semester test and a concluding examination. Students are required to attend a certain number of lectures and tutorials, submit a particular number of assignment and sit for class tests before they could qualify for exams. While the model of assessment is the same throughout the University, percentages of attendance may differ from department to department. Information on the exact requirements will be provided to you in writing at registration. 

Please be aware that the university requires students to receive at least a 40% grade on a final exam to pass a course. If a student does not receive a 40%, the student must take a supplemental exam. These exams are offered after the exam period. A student must request to extend his/her last day of benefits if he/she must take a supplemental exam. Students should remain on campus until they receive their final grades.  


Transcripts will be sent to ISEP Global six weeks following the end of term. Be sure to check with your host coordinator to ensure all is completed to allow for timely release of your transcript. 

Visa and Residency

Students should apply for their visa immediately after acceptance! The student visa for South Africa has an extensive list of requirements and can take more then three months to process.


Visa regulations can change at any time and without notice. Students should always consult their local Consulate or Embassy to verify the most up to date visa information. All students are required to obtain a visa to enter South Africa. Visa requirements can vary depending on the country your passport is issued in. 


Type of visa: Temporary Resident Visa (Study Visa)

Visa fee: $36

When to apply: immediately upon acceptance

General Processing Time: 90 days


South Africa embassy in the United States consular services


Application Requirements:

• Machine readable valid passport with at least two (2) unused (blank) pages labeled Visa when presented at the Embassy or Consulate; one page for affixing the visa or permit by the embassy/consulate and the other page for endorsement of entry/departure stamp by the South African Immigration Services. Passport must be valid for 30 more days after the intended return date from South Africa.

PLEASE NOTE: In order to comply with Regulation 2(1) (A) of the Immigration Act of 2014, only machine readable travel documents (MRTDs) will be accepted on submission of visa applications and at Port of Entry. Therefore, no extended passports will be accepted.

• Certified/notarized copy of bio page of the passport

• A duly completed application form DHA-1738 signed by applicant

• Two (2) passport photos with white or light background

• Poof of itinerary/reservation of round trip air tickets. Please do not purchase air tickets until you obtain a South African visa.

• Proof of financial means in the form of recent three months bank statements stamped by bank, and notarized letter from the parents stating the financial responsibility.

• Proof of sufficient financial means available to the learner while in South Africa

• Certified copy of ID of person taking financial responsibility, with three months statement and letter from the bank.

• Certified/notarized copy of proof of U.S. legal status (I-20 for F1 visa holders, copy of green card etc).

• Proof of hotel accommodation (confirmed hotel reservation) or a letter of invitation from the host with proof of address (relative or friend) in South Africa

• Proof of host’s legal status in South Africa (copy of I.D. Book/ passport if South African citizen) or copy of passport and a copy of visa or residence status in South Africa, certified by the South African Police Service.

• Proof of physical address and contact number of the adult person residing in South Africa, who is acting or has accepted to act as the learner's guardian, including a confirmatory letter from that guardian

• Non-refundable fee of  $36.00 money order for processing

• A yellow fever vaccination certificate if that person traveled or intends traveling from or transiting through a yellow fever endemic area.

Medical report on prescribed form (physical). The certificate must not be older than six (6) months at the time the applicant submits an application.

Radiological report on prescribed form (chest X-ray). Radiological report is not required in respect of children under the age of 12 years or a pregnant woman. The certificate must not be older than six (6) months at the time the applicant submits an application.

Original FBI certificate (full criminal background check report) and police clearance certificate from each country where the relevant applicant resided for 12 months or longer after attaining the age of 18 years in respect of criminal records or the character of that applicant, which certificate shall not be older than six months at the time of its submission.

Notarized copy of birth certificate

• Proof of medical cover renewed annually for the period of study with a medical scheme registered in terms of the Medical Schemes Act. Note: Momentum Medical Scheme is used by University of Johannesburg, but there are other medical schemes available should you wish to pick a different option.

• An official letter from the institution in South Africa confirming acceptance and duration of the course sealed with a school/varsity or college official stamp

• An official letter of enrolment from the institution of learning concerned in the U.S. if applicable.

• Proof of payment of the applicable fee.

Attention New York Applicants: The South African Consulate General in New York will no longer accept prepaid envelope/labels from FedEx and UPS with immediate effect. Applicants are welcome to enclose only US Postal Service self-addressed, pre-paid courier envelope for this office to facilitate return services.

Attention Washington, DC Applicants:  With immediate effect, the South African Embassy in Washington, DC will no longer accept a $16.00 fee to facilitate return services, but will accept a prepaid envelope with a tracking number from either FedEx or US Postal Service.




South Africa's population, recently estimated at 46 million, is very diverse. With the exception of the Khoi’s and San people, the country's original inhabitants, South Africans are descendants of the people who migrated to the southern tip of the continent from elsewhere in Africa, Europe and Asia over the course of several centuries. There are at least 20 ethnic groups and cultures, and four main race groups: Africans, mostly of Nguni origin; Whites, mostly descendants of European settlers; Indians, mainly indentured labourers who were originally brought to the country more than a century ago; and Coloureds, people of Malay or mixed origin. Rigidly separated according to race under the apartheid regime, South Africans have forged a new nation with a common identity. Nevertheless, the Apartheid-defined racial groups (Blacks, Whites, Coloureds, Asians) developed distinct cultures during the period of segregation, and although the distinctions may blur as assimilation progresses, many cultural differences still persist.


South Africa has 11 official languages. Zulu is South Africa's most-spoken mother tongue, followed by Xhosa, Afrikaans, Pedi and English. Since 1994, English has become the lingua franca used by most people in the country.


The isolation of the country during the pre and post-apartheid periods is a thing of the past and it now plays an important international role, most notably on the African continent. South Africa's constitution, acknowledged as one of the most progressive in the world, underlies the country's political and legal systems.

Country Information

South Africa occupies 1.2 million square kilometers at the foot of the African continent and is larger than Germany, France and Italy combined, or roughly twice the size of Texas. South Africa shares borders with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland and Lesotho. The east coast fronts the Indian Ocean and is swept by the warm Mozambique-Agulhas current moving south. The west coast faces the Atlantic Ocean and has the cold Benguela flowing north along it. Differences in temperature between the two currents cause startling variations in climate, vegetation and marine life. Though it has grasslands, savanna and forests, most of South Africa is thornveld and semi-desert.


It is recommended that LGBTQAI+ students conduct personal research on their host country before departing for their program. The articles BELOW may be a good starting point on such research. However, students should keep in mind that social attitudes and acceptance may vary based on a number of factors including region, age, and the local political climate. If you would like to be connected with your host coordinator or an alumni who identifies as LGBTQAI+ before your departure, please contact your Student Services Officers.

Equaldex - LGBT Rights in South Africa

Outright International - South Africa Country Overview

UK Foreign Office - Local Laws and Customs in South Africa

Daily Life


Many South Africans enjoy dining out. While there are some restaurants that specialize in traditional South African dishes, restaurants featuring other cuisines such as Moroccan, Chinese, West African, Congolese and Japanese can be found in all of the major cities and many of the larger towns. In addition, there are also a large number of home-grown chain restaurants.


The braai or barbecue is widely popular, especially with whites, and includes meat, especially boerewors or spicy sausages. Mielies (maize) or Mielie-meal, often served as a porridge or pearl millet, is a staple food of black South Africans. Pastries such like koeksusters and desserts like melktert (milk tart) are also universally popular. Vegetarianism is becoming widely accepted.


It is very important to note that water (and electricity) are expensive and scarce utilities in South Africa. While the university is supplied with private water in the event of any municipal shortages, you should do your best to be conservative with your use of these resources.  


In South Africa it is very normal to have electricity cuts when the power grid becomes overwhelmed. This is typically referred to as load-shedding. Usually the power will only go out for a few hours at a time on a pre-arranged schedule. The residences are equipped with backup generators, although they are generally designed to cover essential functions rather than provide for all normal activities. This will be covered in additional detail during your onsite orientation.

Health and Safety

Your health and safety is our number one priority. Please read and reference our Guides and Tips section for general information regarding health and safety abroad. 

For helpful tips for before, during and after your study abroad trip, please visit this page of the CDC website.

If you’re planning to bring your prescription or over-the-counter medicine on your trip, you need to make sure your medicine is travel-ready. More information can be found here. Please contact your Student Services Officer and ISEP Coordinator with any additional questions. 

Detailed information about South Africa can be found here. Please pay special attention to the Safety and Security, Local Laws and Special Circumstances and Health sections. 

Please review the CDC's Health Information for Travelers to South Africa.

Note: Information sourced on this page is provided by the U.S. Department of State and CDC. Non-U.S. nationals should disregard the Embassies and Consulates and Entry, Exit and Visa Requirements sections. 



The currency in South Africa is the Rand (ZAR), which is equal to 100 cents. For current conversion rates, go to There is no restriction on the amount of foreign currency you may bring into the country, but it must be declared at Customs & Excise when you arrive. You may need some cash upon arrival, but it is wise to bring most of your money in traveler’s cheques or to just wait to withdraw money as you need it from an ATM (Be sure to tell your bank that you will be traveling and check with you bank about international withdrawal fees). Almost all hotels, shops and restaurants accept major credit cards, such as Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diners Club, and you can withdraw cash with a credit card at most automatic bank machines (known as ATMs). It is a relatively simple process to open an account at the major banks and transfer money into that account. Students are generally issued a bankcard valid for cash withdrawals.

Sources of Information

South Africa Government Online
The South African Embassy's Web site. (under maintenance)
Information about South Africa's Education System
South African Home Department of Home Affairs
South Africa Net
The Internationalist


*All links below will take you to the Web site for content and purchasing information.



South Africa (Eyewitness Travel Guides)

Fodor's South Africa, 4th Edition: With the Best Safari Destinations in Namibia & Botswana (Fodor's Gold Guides)

Frommer's South Africa (Frommer's Complete)

Lonely Planet South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland

The Rough Guide to South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland 4 (Rough Guide Travel Guides)

South Africa - Culture Smart!: a quick guide to customs and etiquette (Culture Smart!)



Paton, Alan. Cry, the Beloved Country (Oprah's Book Club)

Culture, History, and Politics


Biko, Stephen. I Write What I Like: Selected Writings

Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla. A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness

Krog, Antjie. Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

Mandela, Nelson. Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Mathabane, Mark. Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

Sparks, Allister. Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Road to Change

Traveler's Health

International Travel Health Guide

CDC Health Information for International Travel 2024 (Health Information for International Travel)

Staying Healthy in Asia, Africa, and Latin America


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