How much does it cost for South Africans to study abroad?


The #feesmustfall protests, slight drop in university rankings and overall climate in South Africa may have made some parents reluctant to send their children to South African universities. But is studying overseas a viable option? We look at some of the major costs and considerations of studying abroad.

Also read: How to fund your tertiary education in South Africa 

Where do South Africa's universities rank in the world?

Some points to consider if you want to study overseas:

  • As an international student, your child may pay more than local residents. This is because foreigners don't qualify for the same government subsidies for tuition and health insurance.
  • Your child will need a student visa.
  • You may need to prove that your child can finance their tuition as well as their living costs.
  • There might be specific restrictions on paid work. Some student visas allow you to work for a specific number of hours per week, but some universities may not allow work at all. For example, the University of Cambridge explains that "you should not expect to support yourself by working as the University has restrictions on working during studies".
  • There may be a language requirement. For example, if you want to study at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, you have to be fluent in German.
  • Apart from tuition, there may be several other compulsory fees at universities, such as application, admin, health insurance, student services and graduation fees. 
  • Some universities only admit the top students from international applications. Cambridge makes it clear that "you need to be in the top one or two per cent of your year group, and doing very well in the subject area you'd like to study."
  • Lastly, even if you are a top student and can afford to study abroad, your child's specific study field may limit their choices for overseas studies. For instance, if your child wants to be a lawyer, he or she will only be able to practise here if they have a South African LLB degree.

Let's look at how much it will cost to study at some of the world's top universities, based on the recent QS University Rankings by subject (undergraduate only). 

Tuition and student fees and living costs are per year, unless otherwise stated. Visa fees are once-off.

Study Engineering at MIT

According to the QS rankings, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is the world's best university. It also ranks as number 1 in all Engineering fields. Competition to get into MIT is fierce: out of the thousands of international applications they receive each year, fewer than 150 are admitted. Here are the estimated costs for studying at MIT:

  • Tuition and other fees: $48 452
  • Housing and food: $14 210
  • Books and personal expenses: $2 816
  • F-1 or a J-1 visa: $245 or $160, respectively

Estimated yearly cost, excluding one-off costs: $65 478. Convert into Rand.

Tip: Even if you can't afford to study at MIT, you can still get a piece of the world's best university. MIT has published all their course materials online so that anyone anywhere in the world can access them for free. Go to MIT OpenCourseWare for more.

Study Medicine at Harvard

Harvard University ranks first for studying Medicine, and third overall. To get admitted to Harvard Medical School, however, you already need an undergrad degree – or at least some of the required courses – from an accredited college in the USA or Canada. Estimated costs:

  • Tuition: $58 050
  • Other fees (including health service, insurance and facilities fees): $12 711
  • Living costs and supplies (estimated): $25 502 
  • F-1 or J-1 visa: $245 or $160

Convert $96 508 into Rand.

Study Archaeology at Cambridge

QS ranks the University of Cambridge as the world's fourth best university and the top institution for studying Archaeology. Here's a breakdown of the costs:

  • Tuition (2017-2018): £16 608 
  • College fees (student services and support): £5 670 to £7 980 
  • Living costs (estimated): £9 570 
  • Tier 4 General Student Visa:  £328

Convert £34 486 into Rand.

Study Earth and Marine Sciences at ETH Zurich

The world's top university for Earth and Marine Sciences is ETH Zurich (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology). It is also ranked as the 8th best university overall. To be admitted, you need to prove your competency in German. You may also be expected to write an entrance exam. The costs:

  • Application fee: CHF 150
  • Entrance exam: CHF 800
  • Tuition fee: CHF 1 160
  • Other compulsory fees: CHF 128
  • Study materials and excursions: CHF 800 to CHF 1 500
  • Living costs (estimated): CHF 22 605 to CHF 23 710
  • "D" visa: ZAR1 040

To get your visa, you need to prove that you have CHF 21 000 in your bank account at the beginning of each study year.

Convert CHF 54 896 into Rand (excludes visa fee).

Study Music at Juilliard

The Juilliard School in New York ranks as the best place in the world to study Performance Arts. These are the costs of studying Music:

  • Application fee: $110
  • Enrolment deposit: $250
  • Tuition $41 310
  • Double room accommodation: $15 380
  • Books, supplies, personal expenses: $3 440
  • F-1 or J-1 visa: $245 or $160 

Convert $60 735 into Rand.

Study Chemistry at the National University of Singapore 

The National University of Singapore is ranked as the top institution in Asia, 12th in the world, and 7th in the world for studying Chemistry. The estimated costs:

  • Tuition with Ministry of Education grant: S$17 100 
  • Tuition without grant: S$37 550
  • Other compulsory fees: S$385.70
  • Books and stationery: S$100 to S$200 per month
  • Double room accommodation: S$215 per month
  • Living costs (estimated): S$300 to S$750 per month
  • Visa: S$90 plus S$30 for a multiple-entry visa

Work out how much this is in Rand.

Study Psychology at McGill

Canada's top university, McGill, ranks 30th in the world and 23rd for Psychology. Estimated costs for a B.A. with a Psychology major:

  • Tuition: $15 942.90 to $16 875.30
  • Other fees: $1 240.16
  • Registration and admin: $317.72
  • Compulsory health and dental insurance: $1 093
  • Books and supplies (estimate): $1 000
  • Hostel accommodation: $6 633 to $12 947
  • Meals: $2 600 to $5 475
  • Study permit: S150, plus $85 biometrics fees if required.

Convert CAD 39 184 into Rand.

Accounting at Melbourne

The University of Melbourne ranks as the 42nd best university in the world. If you want to study Accounting and Finance, it's the 12th best school. The costs are:

  • Tuition (estimated, depending on specific subjects): $39 264
  • Other study fees: $500 to $750
  • Hostel accommodation: $22 100 to $28 200
  • Living costs (estimated): $170 to $270 per week
  • Student subclass 500 visa: $550

Convert AUD 69 034 into Rand.

Useful links:

Would you consider sending your child to study abroad? Send your comments and stories to for possible publication. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24