Home Study in SA: Tutorial Series 3: Legal and admin stuff

3: Legal and admin stuff

by Staff Reporter


Paperwork is prickly, and preparation is key. This section helps you navigate the compulsory admin. It flags critical issues like medical aid, travel insurance, and visa applications. Each section guides you in practical ways, and clicking through carefully will guide you on those gritty issues like where to get a BI-1738 form, whether you need vaccinations, and breaks down the overwhelming admin into practical, bite-sized chunks. 

Yes, the legal stuff. It’s not fun, but before you sink into a hopeless sigh (or get lost in a mini eye-roll tantrum), trust that we have made this administrative chore as practical as possible for you. We tell you exactly what to do – you just need to go ahead and do it! legal and admin stuff

You have already applied to the university you want to go to, so you’re halfway there. The next boxes to tick off on your checklist are:

  1. Apply for a Medical Aid Scheme
  2. Apply for a Student Visa
  3. Apply for Travel Insurance 

You probably have lots of questions right now, like which Visa to apply for, where to get the best medical aid deal, or if travel insurance is even necessary. The answers are all here 

Medical Aid

Although it is not compulsory for a South African citizen to have medical aid, the story is a little different if you are coming from abroad. Whether you are coming here as a full-time international student, or a study abroad student, you need to have medical aid. In fact, proof of medical cover is one of the overriding considerations in processing applications for Study VisaWithout medical aid, you can’t apply for a Visa, i.e. – you won’t get very far. 

As an international or study abroad student, you need to have a medical aid cover with a registered South African medical aid scheme for the duration of your studies (or a medical aid scheme from your home country that is officially recognised in South Africa)

FYI: You need to pay the fees of your medical cover directly to the medical aid scheme.

Alrighty then – let’s get you covered!

The folks over at UCT have made this handy, informative table that compares the three best student medical aids. Scroll down to see the table that lists Compcare, Discovery and Momentum in terms of price and benefits so that you can make a a decision based on your individual needs. A GP refers to a General Practitioner – the first line of call for flu, aches, falls and so on.

Student Visa


To study in South Africa as a full-time international student or study abroad student for more than 90 days, you need to apply for a Student Visa (also referred to as a Study Permit). 

You won’t be able to register at the SA university you have applied to until you can provide a valid Visa. Having been accepted at an institution does not guarantee you a Visa. It takes around 6-8 weeks for this process, so apply early. 

How to apply

In order for you to apply for a Study Visa (or any South African Visa for that matter), you need to go to your nearest South African embassy or consulate IN PERSON to fill out an original BI-1738 application form and submit it along with all other necessary documents.

If you have read up on SA Visa-related topics before this tutorial, best make sure that information isn’t outdated. The regulations for South African Visas have recently changed and become a lot stricter, which means that you can no longer courier your application form, nor can you ask a third party or family member to submit it for you. You need to go to the embassy in person, because they need to take your biometric fingerprints

Unfortunately this means that if your nearest SA embassy is in fact not near at all, you will need to pack your bags and get ready for a little trip…otherwise you won’t be able to qualify for a Visa. 

We encourage you to take the following steps, in exactly this order:

  • Know exactly which documents you need to take with you when you go to the embassy (if you are doing an exchange, ask your International Office to help you with your checklist)
  • Contact your nearest SA embassy to make sure you do in fact have all the right documents (we don’t want you to rock up at the embassy, just to realize that you are missing a document – especially if you travelled a long distance to get there!)
  • When you are 100% sure you have all the required documents, go to your nearest embassy where you will fill out an original Visa application form and complete the application process

IMPORTANT: Because the new Visa regulations are quite recent, not all the embassies have fully updated their websites. Many of the embassy websites still provide online pdf versions of the application form. However, you can no longer submit these.

FYI: If you're interested in finding out more information about the study visa in South Africa head on over to the folks at savisas.com

Documents needed

  • Original BI-1738 application form (this is not available online – you need to fill in the form in person at your nearest SA embassy)
  • Payment of Visa Application Fee (R 425)
  • Valid Passport (important: your passport needs to be valid for at least 30 more days from when you plan to return, and you need to have at least one blank page available in your passport for endorsements)
  • Proof that you can finance yourself during your stay (3-month bank statement)
  • Proof of Medial Cover (see our section on Medical Aid above)
  • Medical and Radiological Report
  • Vaccination Certificate (for Yellow Fever, if you are coming from a Yellow Fever risk country)
  • A cash deposit equivalent to the value of a return ticket (If you are from an African country, then you can provide an undertaking from your government to take full responsibility of you, and to pay all costs, should it become necessary to deport you… yeah, serious stuff)
  • Proof of consent from both parents – if you are under 18 (if you stay with one parent, then also proof of his or her sole custody)
  • Provisional acceptance letter from the SA institution you applied to (they also need to specify the duration of the course of study)
  • Police Clearance Certificate – If you are 18 or older (certificate must be less than 6 months old)

Where to apply

You can apply for your Study Visa at any South African Representation abroad, like an embassy or consulate. This link will take you to the International Relations & Cooperation website, where you can locate your country’s nearest SA Representation (click on the letter with which your country starts, then click on your country). If your country doesn’t have an SA Representation, you can approach one in a neighbouring country. 


The Department of Home Affairs, Types of Temporary Residence Visas

The Department of Home Affairs, New Immigration Regulations 2014

FYI: Most of the International Office websites at the respective universities also have information on Visa requirements. 

Travel Insurance

Travel Insurance is not compulsory, but it can definitely come in very handy. In a nutshell, it insures you for various inconveniences that may happen on your trip. Some examples are:

  • having to cancel your trip unexpectedly
  • lost or stolen baggage
  • personal liability 
  • emergency assistance

It’s up to you whether you want to have travel insurance, and also which insurance company you want to use. Do some investigation and see if companies in your home country offer you some good deals or packages. 

Volunteering: Visas and Medical Aid

For information on the types of Visas you need for volunteering in SA, as well as whether or not you need medical aid coverage, see our Volunteer in SA – Visas and Medical Aid post!

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