Home to captivating landscapes, exotic animals, sophisticated cities, world-renowned vineyards, famous townships, and delicious cuisine, South Africa is a truly fascinating country for a gap year.
Most gappers who choose to spend part of their gap year in South Africa will opt to participate in a volunteer program or indulge in one of the many adventure travel opportunities the country has to offer. However, there are also several world-class universities with programs in English if you'd prefer to spend your gap year learning.
Types of Programs
South Africa is a rewarding place to volunteer. It has struggled to recover from the many changes developed in the last 20 years, and many people live on less than a dollar a day. While townships have started to improve, poverty is still widespread. If you’re an international volunteer in South Africa, you will have the opportunity to provide the underprivileged population with better education and healthcare access. Fight for human rights and help build a working infrastructure!
As South Africa's tourism industry has grown over the past decade or so, so has the amount of adventure travel options.
Whether you want to spend your gap year diving, surfing (or learning to surf), trekking, biking, bungee jumping, or spotting wildlife on safari, South Africa has it. Not to mention, they're also known for their shark cage diving in Cape Town. Anyone??
Recently, South Africa’s economy made it to the top 20 in total GDP. South Africa’s economy is on the rise, making it a good place to find an internship. While Cape Town is still a developing city (many residents live in unsafe and overcrowded conditions) interning in South Africa gives you the unique opportunity to improve the lives of Cape Town's residents. Find an internship that matches your interests and offers you a chance to expand your horizons with cultural and learning activities.
Planning Your Trip
Cost of Living in South Africa
South Africa is cheap when compared to the Western world. Living in urban areas costs in terms of commodities, rentals, and leisure activities. The rural areas tend to offer more of a quiet life, and there are very cheap places to live in with lots of space. The cost of goods and food products cost only half of those found in supermarkets and grocery stores in the United States.
Typically, budget travelers should expect to spend about $50 per day on food, lodging, transportation, and excursions. However, if you're on a program, some of those items -- particularly food -- may already be included.
Flights, though there are a few direct ones from the States now, will likely be your biggest expense.
Culture and Etiquette in South Africa
Souht Africa's cultures are diverse, but we'll try to cover some general basics here. Greeting styles in South Africa vary depending upon the ethnic heritage of the person. When dealing with foreigners, most South Africans shake hands while maintaining eye contact and smiling.
Business attire has become more informal in many companies. Still, for the first meeting, it’s best to dress more conservatively. Men should wear dark-colored business suits, and women should wear more elegant business suits or dresses.
It’s important to realize that some women do not shake hands but only nod their head in appreciation. When meeting a woman, it is best to wait for her to extend her hand. Men may also kiss a woman on the cheek if they are well acquainted. In general, greetings are leisurely and include time for the exchange of pleasantries.
Health & Safety
To travel to South Africa, you are required to have a yellow fever vaccine and proof. Make sure to consult a nearby travel clinic well in advance of leaving.
While on the ground, make sure you take precautions to ensure your food and water are clean and protect yourself against mosquitos. Malaria and dengue fever are both issues here, but you can prevent them by using Deet and sleeping with a mosquito net.
And of course, please practice safe sex and use your judgment when it comes to drinking.
South Africa has a bad rap for being unsafe. Yes, Jo'burg has a comparatively high crime rate, but fortunately, most of the violent crimes occur in isolated areas away from tourist destinations.
To stay safe while in South Africa, be sure to watch your bags in crowded areas, avoid going out at night alone, and talk to locals about which areas are safe and which areas to avoid.
For more tips, head over to the UK Foreign office website.
Gap Year Programs in South Africa
What are the benefits of a gap year in South Africa?
A gap year in South Africa is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the South African culture, learn of its storied history, and dedicate yourself to service or grow your work experience. Traveling within South Africa will help expand your world view and provide a first-hand insight into the extinction crisis the world faces, as many of its native predators are critically endangered.
How much does it cost to live in South Africa for a year?
South Africa has experienced an ongoing cost of living increase over the last couple of decades as its economy has strengthened. That said, it is still relatively inexpensive compared to many other popular gap year destinations. There are many short-term jobs or work exchanges that can lower the cost of a gap year in South Africa.
What kind of visa do I need for a gap year in South Africa?
Citizens from a list of forty-five countries aren’t required to have a visa to enter South Africa for 90 days or less. For extended trips, or if you plan on working during your time in South Africa, you will need to apply for the relevant visa. Review specific visa requirements and apply at the South African Government website.
What are the most popular types of gap year programs in South Africa?
South Africa offers a diverse set of gap year programs, from conservation volunteering to surfing to working on a vineyard. With distinct ecosystems and an incredible list of native wildlife, South Africa is a destination packed with adventurous activities and the need for service. South Africa is also home to several world-class universities and a strong economy, providing educational and professional experiences during a gap year.
What can you do in a gap year in South Africa?
There are so many options for possible gap years in South Africa. You could volunteer at a wildlife reserve or work in animal conservation; you could intern with a company in Cape Town; you could volunteer with children at a local school--the possibilities really are endless!