Johannesburg, also called Jo'burg, Jozi, or JHB is the economic and cultural center of South Africa. It's known for being home to a diverse population who speak at least 11 different languages.
Some aspects of college life in Johannesburg will be similar to college life in the U.S., some things will be completely new, and some will land right in the middle. There's plenty to keep you busy both on and off campus with classes, clubs, and amazing sites in the city and nearby.
With pleasant weather year-round and lots to do, you'll find many students come to Johannesburg to study. As one of the most progressive cities in all of South Africa, your course options will not be limited. From arts and humanities to science and math, you can study in practically any field.
Life & Culture
Although English is the main language spoken in the city, there are many cultural differences to prepare for. Johannesburg has a turbulent political history with the Apartheid-era only relatively recently ended. Study up before you go so you know what to expect and know how to enter the discussions.
Culture & Immersion
Johannesburg has the largest population of any city in South Africa at 4.4 million people and is home to 11 official languages. However, most classes will be in English unless otherwise noted, and it is very unlikely that you'll run into situations both on and off campus where English is not understood. There will be a learning curve, however, due to the different accents and local terms and phrases.
Sports, especially soccer, rugby, and cricket are an important part of life in Johannesburg. Museums highlight important events in the history of Johannesburg, including the transition into post-Apartheid. Visiting art museums and taking part in the thriving nightlife will also give you an idea of Jo'burg culture.
Culture Shock & Support
When you arrive at your university in Johannesburg you will be able to attend an international student orientation that provides information about how to succeed during your time abroad. You will get information on resources available to international students including buddy systems, medical assistance, counselling, academic support, and more.
If you are studying abroad through a provider, you will get additional support and advice from their staff. This can include anything from brochures and websites to help you prepare for culture shock to an on-site representative that can help you get to an from the airport and show you around the city.
You will get a lot of information thrown at you when you first arrive. All of it is meant to be helpful. But remember, support is available throughout the year not only to ensure academic success but mental and emotional health as well.
Classes meet once or twice a week and are usually split between lecture time and discussion groups. You will probably have less busy work that's graded. Your grade will likely be determined by two or three major assignments, papers, or tests. Classes last for one semester each and semesters run from July to November and February to June.
If you're living on campus you will be able to find food, libraries, computer labs, and places to work out just as you would at your home university. You can expect to find an assortment of clubs and organizations to join including sports, games, politics, dancing, and more.
Insider Tips on Studying Abroad in Johannesburg
Crime rates are relatively high in Johannesburg so keep these precautions in mind. Dialing 10111 is the 911 equivalent. Avoid walking alone, especially at night, avoid political demonstrations, and keep your passport and important documents in a safe place but keep copies with you always.
Don't let cash, credit cards, or valuables be easily noticed. The most common crime on tourists is petty theft, but that doesn't mean bigger crime never happens. Be on guard and attend orientation to learn how to best avoid bad situations.
- Life in Johannesburg might move a little more slowly than what you are used to in the U.S. or Western Europe.
- Learn a few basic phrases in Afrikaans and Xhosa, two of the popular languages in South Africa.
- Read some of the local news in the weeks before you go and get an idea of the basic history of the country. It will help you join in conversations right away.
- Take advice from trusted locals on the best spots to dine and hang out off campus.
Planning Your Trip
Whether you plan to go for one week or three years, the planning process for study abroad should start as early as possible. Deadlines to apply vary based on course type, but are generally set at least 3 months before the semester starts. One full semester, or 4 or 5 months should give you plenty of prep time.
When studying abroad, you usually have three options. You can use a third party partner to help you plan your trip, you can enroll directly to the university, or you can participate in an exchange opportunity. An exchange is an excellent and cost efficient and way to study abroad, but you must be attending a U.S. college or university that has an exchange agreement in place already.
The most likely option in this case will be direct enrollment as most third party providers do not offer study abroad placements in Johannesburg at this time. You can enroll directly to the university in Johannesburg through their international admissions office.
You will choose your major (or course) with the intent of completing the entire degree there. Direct enrollment is a good option for both undergraduate and post-graduate degrees. You can also find shorter programs such as diploma and certificate options at some colleges.
The major universities in Johannesburg will offer a wide range of English-taught courses making it easy to choose your degree path.
There are, however, certain subjects that lend themselves well to the culture, climate, and landscape that Johannesburg provides. African American Studies, Political Science, History, and English Literature are all likely possibilities on the Humanities side. If you're more interested in science, courses in Biology and Physics are both easily found.
If you stay in Johannesburg for a semester or year, you will most likely be housed in dorms on or near campus. If you study abroad through a provider, they will arrange all housing details for you.
If you enroll directly, you can apply for on-campus accommodation if it's offered by the university.If you prefer to live off campus, or there are no more available dorms, most universities can recommend student apartments that are safe and conveniently located.
If you participate in a short-term study abroad experience, such as a summer term or a faculty-led program, you might end up staying in hotels, apartments, or with host families. Staying with a host family is a great way to get the most out of a short time abroad and is generally the least expensive accommodation option.
Regardless of where you stay, you will have plenty of opportunities to interact with local Johannesburg residents and other international students.
Johannesburg is not an easily walkable city and although public transportation might not be as up-to-date and efficient as some of the world's other major cities, there are constant improvements being made.
The Gautrain System is a high speed train that links Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Ekurhuleni. This train line is also an inexpensive, fast, and safe way to get to and from the airport.
To get around town, you can share a taxi or an Uber with friends. Keep in mind, traffic drives on the left side of the road in South Africa.
You can also take a sightseeing tour bus to get to the major tourist spots or a regular bus for distances too long to walk. You can expect to spend up to $60 per month on transportation.
Costs & Funding
Cost of Living
Tuition starts at approximately $2400 and goes to around $4500 per year. This may seem unbelievably low compared to some U.S. colleges. However, there are several international student fees that can make the price jump up significantly. All things considered, the cost of studying at the college level in Johannesburg is very reasonable.
Housing is also affordable with a range starting at $1740 to $2680 per year. Again, it is important to keep in mind the addition of various fees and taxes. Meals, for example, are not included in this estimate. The cost of food, toiletries, and clothes is similar to average prices in the United States.
If you will be studying in South Africa for longer than 90 days, a student visa is required for U.S. citizens. There will be a visa application fee around $40. You will need to provide several documents, including an acceptance letter from the South African university, in order to obtain a visa. The college you apply to, the U.S. Department of State website, and South African government websites all have information how how to successfully apply for a study visa.
Can You Work While Studying in Johannesburg?
If you have a student visa while you are studying in Johannesburg, you can work for no more than 20 hours per week. While it is technically legal for you to work part time with a study visa, jobs for international students are few and far between. Unless the company is hiring someone with a very specific skill set, then the job will likely go to a South African resident.
There are thousands of scholarships available for students who want to study abroad. Most are very specific about the qualifications needed to apply. Using a study abroad scholarship search engine online can help narrow down your options.
Third party providers offer their own scholarships, especially to those underrepresented in study abroad. Universities in Johannesburg also offer their own scholarships but they are rarely given to international students.