How Do I Obtain or Renew a Study Permit for a South African School?

I was astounded how much discussion my recent blog post about the scarcity of space at Johannesburg private schools spurred. While I was aware that this was beginning to pose a problem for expats in South Africa, I didn’t know how dire the situation had already become.

 But it also prompted questions of a more technical nature concerning attendance at South African schools, and I’d like to highlight one such question from my Facebook Page and some answers here.
The QUESTION:

Does anyone have any experience of what is needed in terms of visas for children? We are trying to make our way to SA from the UK on a three year visa for voluntary/charitable work (a saga in itself) and I have been told by the embassy in London that our children need to have study visas issued here in the UK before we travel. Anyone know anything about this at all?

The SHORT ANSWER is this: After enrolling your child in the school, the school will issue a letter to you that confirms that the child is enrolled, and the duration of the term. You will then submit this letter together with your other documents to Home Affairs to obtain the study permits, which are linked to the overall work permit allowing you or your spouse to work in South Africa.

However, as with every bureaucracy-related issue in South Africa, there are usually many answers, depending who you ask. The best advice usually comes from those who have recently dealt with the same issue, so I thought I’d post all the READER COMMENTS below:

 

You do need to have a confirmed school place and a letter from the school before you can apply for the study permit. My son didn’t have a study permit when we arrived and has just applied for one as he was offered a school place. If you don’t have a study permit, I think you need an ‘accompanying’ visa ( don’t remember the terminology).

Yes, the school will issue a letter for the study permit. When our son started at AISJ in Jan ’12, he did it on the basis of the study permit application filed in Joburg. We submitted the permit to the school in due course. More recently new children starting Grade 0 (local ovt school like Dainfern College )are given letters a couple of mths before the start of school. While my children received theirs before school started, I know of several who again started based on a copy of application given long processing times. While my son came on an ‘accompanying permit’, his current renewed visa has the school name and ‘accompanying father’ status on it. With rules becoming stricter by the day, its a good idea to contact relevant authorities just to be on the safe side.

This may be more than you want to know. We have just gone through the process to renew our boys’ study permits. We are Americans, have been in South Africa 4 years and still under my husband’s work permit. Our children are now 12 and 15 years old. The boys’ study permits expire in December and we submitted the paperwork in July. Here is what we had to submit: a certified copy of our marriage certificate, certified copies of their unabridged birth certificates (which only means the parents names are on the birth certificates too in addition to the regular information), completed and signed medical certificates (a South African form is required), completed and signed radiological report if your child is over 12 years old (again another South African form), 3 months bank statements, proof of medical aid and a letter from their school. We were also told this time the school letter had to include the following information: the school has a vacancy and the pupil is not displacing a South African citizen, the student complies with the language requirements of the school and their academic record is acceptable, the school fees have been paid and that the school will keep the Department of Home Affairs informed if the pupil discontinues studying at that school. I hope this helps. Good luck on the move from the UK to South Africa…you will love it here!

It seems like the requirements are getting stricter and that what used to be a simple letter has become slightly more intricate, but otherwise the procedure is still the same.
The other part of the question is whether the study permits have to be issued by the embassy in your home country, or whether they can be obtained when in South Africa. In our days (2010-2012), we were able to enter the country on 3-month visitor visas while waiting for the study (and spouse) permits to be issued by Home Affairs. To make sure, I looked up the language on the Department of Home Affairs website:

 

Study permits must be applied for at any regional office of the Department of Home Affairs near the educational institution you will be studying at or at the nearest South African embassy, mission or consulate abroad… Study permits are valid for the duration of the course for which they are issued, alternatively 36 months for school and 24 months for other institutions.

This seems to confirm that it is possible to obtain the study permit once you are in South Africa. It might help to print out the respective language and bring it with you to show to immigration officers upon entry. At least that’s what always worked for me during traffic stops, a whole other adventure. It could be that technically your children won’t be allowed to study without the actual permit, meaning they’d have to wait with attending school until the permits are issued, but we’ve found that the school will be happy to let the children start if they know you’ll eventually submit the correct documents for their files. Again, this might have gotten a bit stricter, but I doubt it: Once a school has enrolled your children, it will want to have them, including the school fees!
For your reference, check out the Home Affairs website with the complete listing of requirements for every type of temporary residence permit.
And now, getting back to the scarcity of available private school slots, apparently Johannesburg does not stand alone. Here the comment from Joyanne West, a private school headmaster in Cape Town in response to my article:

 

May I add that this situation is even worse in Cape Town where there are even fewer private schools. I had 140 applicants for 40 places….the first child was registered on the day of her birth and the 140th child was registered in her 3rd month! Parents from JBurg arrive in CT and cannot believe that there literally are NO spots available.

The only bright spot? Durban. Apparently, school space is not an issue there yet. And with its tropical climate and beautiful beaches, what’s not to like about Colorful Durban?

Even though it pains me to say so in my role as the Joburg Expat: If you’re an expat mulling over an assignment in South Africa, and if there is a choice of location, give Durban some serious consideration.