Study Abroad

The 8 Best Universities in South Africa for International Students

Compare and contrast these 8 great universities in South Africa, based on popularity among international students, quality of programs, and their social scenes.

Alfred sitting on a boulder at the beach in South Africa smiling
Alfred M. CIEE S. Africa

South Africa is one of the most diverse countries in the world. Its rich cultural heritage attracts students and tourists alike with its stunning weather, beautiful coastlines, unique cultures, excellent nightlife, and an irresistible festive atmosphere. With so much to see and do, South Africa is an ideal country to study abroad in.

South Africa also has a wide range of universities, with Cape Town and Johannesburg being two of the most popular cities for international students to study abroad. International students are welcomed here and treated very well by residents willing to help you settle into your new home and culture. South Africa is also one of the most affordable countries to study abroad, making it an ideal choice for those on a budget!

Is South Africa a good place to study abroad?

Hollie standing on a mountain in Cape Town
Hollie, VACorps Cape Town

Yes, South Africa is a great place to study abroad!

The diverse, multicultural environment makes this country an ideal location for international students from different backgrounds and cultures. In addition, English students will be happy to hear there isn’t a language barrier. English is one of South Africa’s official languages.

South Africa has some outstanding colleges offering courses at the postgraduate level in science and technology. If you're not interested in these areas, don't worry—there are many other options available!

Many companies worldwide actively recruit South African graduates because they know they receive high-quality training and often, these companies provide scholarships for international students as well!

How to choose where to study in South Africa

Fernanda sitting on the railing of a colorful hut on Muizenberg beach near Cape Town, South Africa
Fernanda Hurtado O., Roots Interns South Africa, alum

Many factors need to be considered when choosing where to study in South Africa, such as location, cost of living, accommodation options, and support from the university faculty. A useful tool for calculating the cost of living is numbeo where you input your destination and answer questions about your spending habits. This will help you build your budget for your time studying abroad.

If you're studying abroad for the first time, it might be helpful to have support from an experienced international student to help give you confidence in making big decisions such as changing course modules.

It can be worth considering whether certain institutions offer visas to international students wishing to enter South African borders legally and whether they include extensions within those initial periods. They should also provide health insurance coverage while abroad and discuss any extra fees associated with obtaining these documents.

Tips for studying in South Africa

Rebecca her study abroad group posing for a picture with three elephants behind the group

It's essential to keep in mind that you will be living in a different culture, where it's common for people to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek or handshakes. So if you're going to be living in South Africa and interacting with residents, it's good to know how they greet one another and their customs. Otherwise, you could end up being a little confused!

If you're traveling abroad as an international student, it can be nerve-wracking to try new foods and speak a language that is not your own. However, the best way to get used to eating the local cuisine is by trying everything—you never know what might become your favorite! In addition, learning some key phrases in the local language will also help ease communication issues during your stay abroad.

Note: These universities were chosen based on the following criteria: rankings, popularity among international students, quality of programs, and their social scenes. QS World University Rankings and Times Higher Education Rankings are annual publications of university rankings globally. Tuition prices for the 2022 academic year are in US Dollars and are subject to change.

This is not a definitive list, nor are these institutions ranked in any order.

Great for social impact: University of Cape Town (UTC)

A view of the coastal cape of Cape Town, South Africa with the city down below and mountains in the distance
  1. Location: Cape Town
  2. Overseas Tuition: $4,652 - $6,843 USD
  3. Cost of Living: $577.71 USD + rent
  4. QS World Ranking: 226
  5. Times Higher Education Ranking: 183

The University of Cape Town (UTC) is one of the top universities in South Africa and a public research university. It is also one of the two oldest universities in South Africa. In addition, it is ranked among the top 200 universities globally.

The institution has an impressive list of alumni who have achieved great things, such as Nobel Laureates, Heads of State and Heads Of Government, CEOs, and other notable individuals who have benefited from their time at UCT to shape their careers.

UTC has approximately 29,000 students enrolled each year. The university strives to be an open-minded, diverse and inclusive community where everyone is encouraged to find their path to success.

Study Abroad Programs in Cape Town, South Africa:

Great for biomedical research & biotechnology: Stellenbosch University

A luscious green winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa
  • Location: Stellenbosch (Western Cape Winelands)
  • Overseas Tuition: $6,373 - $7,310 USD
  • Cost of Living: $809.73 USD + rent
  • QS World Ranking: 482
  • Times Higher Education Ranking: 251

Located in the Western Cape province, just 31 miles from Cape Town, is Stellenbosch University. SU is a public institution that offers more than 169 degrees in English with ten different faculties. The student body comprises about 29,000 students, with 4,000 of that body being international students.

The university has been recognized globally for its academic excellence, unique campus life, and friendly environment. It’s ranked as one of the top 300 universities worldwide. Stellenbosh University is one of the two oldest universities in South Africa (together with The University of Cape Town), founded in 1918.

As a leader in research and innovation, Stellenbosch University encourages students to pursue an integrated approach to finding solutions to challenges facing society today.

Study Abroad Programs in Stellenbosch, South Africa:

Great for social science research: University of the Witwatersrand (Wits)

An aeriel view of buildings at the University of Witwatersrand
  • Location: Johannesburg, Gauteng Province of South Africa
  • Overseas Tuition: ~$3,000
  • Cost of Living: $618.41 USD + rent
  • QS World Ranking: 424
  • Times Higher Education Ranking: 251

Located in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and economic hub, the University of Witwatersrand boasts many academic programs. UWC offers degrees in business administration, law, and engineering, just a few fields of study available at this institution. It is the third oldest South African university and within the top 370 universities globally.

There are over 40,881 students enrolled at this university, with around 3,849 being international students as of 2019. The school is known for its diverse student population; it's home to students from all walks of life who bring unique perspectives on issues facing society today. Wits also give students opportunities for overseas study or exchange programs at other institutions worldwide.

Study Abroad Programs in Johannesburg, South Africa:

Great for multi-disciplinary approach: University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN)

A student skateboarding under palm trees in Durban, South Africa

University of Kwazulu Natal (UKZN) is a public university founded in 2004, but its beginnings go back to 1985, known as the Durban Training College for teachers. The university offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees across numerous fields, including architecture, business management, health sciences, education, and law, across five beautiful campuses.

UKZN is situated in Durban on the east coast of South Africa and hosts a population of just over 46,925 students. Its campuses are located within walking distance of each other and near all amenities such as restaurants and shopping malls.

Programs in Durban, South Africa:

Great for sustainable development: Durban University of Technology (DUT)

An aerial view and city landscape of the city of Durban with the ocean in the background
  • Location: Durban and Pietermaritzburg
  • Overseas Tuition: $658 USD
  • Cost of Living: $588.74 USD + rent
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Times Higher Education Ranking: 401

DUT is an excellent option for international students studying abroad in South Africa. It is located in Durban, a global port city known for its beaches and warm climate.

Durban University of Technology (DUT) is known for its excellent student support and quality teaching, with a student body of about 33,000 students.

Most international students live on campus in shared accommodation with other international students or residents, but off-campus options are available for those who prefer this. In addition, DUT has many clubs and societies to choose from if you're interested in socializing with other international students during your time abroad, and there's even a student newspaper!

The university ranked well on Times Higher Education World University Rankings, amongst the top 500 universities globally, and is recognized as one of Africa’s leading universities by Webometrics World Universities Ranking for impact, openness, and excellence.

Programs in Durban, South Africa:

Great for cultural diversity: North-West University (NWU)

Campus walkway near green grass and a tree with students walking around

List

  • Location: Potchefstroom, Mahikeng and Vanderbijlpark
  • Overseas Tuition: $695 USD/year
  • Cost of Living: $361 USD + rent
  • QS World Ranking: N/A
  • Times Higher Education Ranking: 501

North-West University is one of the largest residential universities in South Africa, with the third-largest population in the country of 61,212 students. It offers a wide range of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, including degrees in medicine and law, engineering, science and technology, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.

The university’s main campus is in Mafikeng - about an hour from Johannesburg. In addition to this campus, there are also campuses in Vanderbijlpark (an industrial town), Potchefstroom (a university town), and other parts of North West Province such as Kimberley or Rustenburg.

NWU has an international student population from around 66 countries each year – making it one of South Africa's most international universities!

Great for industrial and financial metropolitan location: University of Johannesburg (UJ)

A purple and yellow city landscape of Johannesburg skyline

The University of Johannesburg, also known as UJ, is a public university located in Auckland Park in the Soweto region of Johannesburg. Established in 2005, it was the first South African university launched after apartheid and is a fully accredited degree-granting institution. It has a student body of over 50,000 students. In addition, UJ’s international student body comprises 3,000 students from 80 countries.

Students at UJ can study on one of three campuses: the main Auckland Park campus, which houses all departments except the School of Education; Randburg’s Lenasia Campus (LCC), which has recently undergone construction to include an additional engineering building and student housing; and Woodmead, a rural location that hosts some international students.

The University has an extensive list of notable alumni that includes Tony Golding (South African ambassador to the United States), Cheryl Carolus (CEO and founder of Pick ‘n Pay), and Joram Mwampamba (CEO at MTN Group), and Lulu Xingwana (former minister for women).

In addition, the faculty is made up of an impressive number of decorated professors who are dedicated to teaching their students.

Study Abroad Programs in Johannesburg, South Africa:

Great for proximity to major research agencies: The University of Pretoria

A street on The University of Pretoria campus lined with purple jacaranda trees in full bloom
  • Location: Pretoria, South Africa
  • Overseas Tuition: ~$3,000 USD/year
  • Cost of Living: $594.24 USD + rent
  • QS World Ranking: 601-650
  • Times Higher Education Ranking: 601

The University of Pretoria is a public research university in Hatfield, the center of South Africa’s capital. It is often regarded as the top-ranked university in South Africa, and it has been ranked among the top universities in Africa since 2017.

The university offers over 230 different qualifications (degrees, certificates, and diplomas) across its nine faculties and has over 141 academic departments. UP has seven beautiful campuses, with the main campus area on a hilltop called Tukskop, south-east of central Pretoria, next to one of South Africa's most prominent hospitals (Baragwanath Hospital). The University of Pretoria has a student body of 53,430 as of 2020.

Ready to study abroad in South Africa?

There are many other great institutions that we did not mention in this article, but all offer high-quality education at affordable costs. If you would like to learn more about studying in South Africa , there is plenty of information available online or from your school's admissions department.