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Staying long-term in South Africa as an international student

South Africa is a beautiful country with incredible biodiversity, awe-inspiring landscapes, rich cultures and fascinating history. It is the ideal place to begin your conservation career, which is why many international students join Bushwise field guide training courses. We have had students from the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Peru, France, Germany and the United States – to name a few. 

Many international students join us for six months or a year on our Bushwise Professional Field Guide course; or for just two months on our 60-day Safari Guide course. In fact, on a typical course, between 20-40% of our students are international. After graduation some of them do a work placement, find a job or head back to their home country. Whatever their plan is, one of the most common questions we get from our international students is: 

Can I stay long term and work as a field guide in South Africa?

Some Bushwise students come from abroad and have questions about staying long term in South Africa. In this image, some of our students go birding during their course.

We completely understand the desire to stay and work in South Africa. To do so you need skills and qualifications and typically a business to support or sponsor your work visas (Bushwise does not sponsor work visas). Our international students who have done this successfully have either been offered jobs by South African companies or chosen a different visa route. 

It’s also possible to start your own safari, tour guiding, or travel company in your home country and bring guests to South Africa as a freelance guide. 

Types of visas

On each course since 2015, 40-70% of our international students have been offered permanent positions. Some of these were able to secure work visas, others were able to get volunteer visas, exchange visas or critical skills visas. 

Work visa

To stay long term and work in South Africa, you need the correct work permit or work visa. There are a few options currently available, including critical skills visa, general work visa and visitor’s visa with permission to work. Check the current list for updates

Most South African businesses prioritise hiring local South Africans. It is also for this reason that getting a work visa in South Africa requires significant documentation and motivation. In the last few years, the visa laws and requirements for foreigners have become stricter. It is extremely hard and quite challenging for foreigners to now get permanent employment – however, it is not impossible.

On our Professional  Field Guide course, international students come in on a study visa. This allows them to get their South African driver’s licence and PrDP – a requirement to register as a guide and take paying guests on a game drive. This is also why we can offer all our students work placements if they pass and are between 21–39. 

Companies want highly experienced, well-trained individuals to fill roles. This is why we encourage international students to join our 50-week course, which also gives you the work placement opportunity and helps build your professional network. The greater your skillset and the more connections you make in the industry, the greater your likelihood of being sponsored by a local company.

Volunteer visa

Bushwise students on a game drive with their trainer at the wheel, explaining something to them and pointing toward something in the distance. 

Another option is a volunteer visa, which allows you to stay and do charitable or voluntary work for a period of up to three years. As the title suggests, you can’t be paid to work while on a volunteer visa.

Even though you can’t get paid while on a volunteer visa, this may still be a great option if your goal is to spend a few years in South Africa and gain valuable experience. Bushwise work placement options include NGOs and conservation volunteer organisations, so this could be a very attractive option. Time also changes many things, and an opportunity may present itself while you’re volunteering.

Critical skills visa

A critical skills visa is for a candidate trained in certain industries as specified by the South African government (see the August 2022 gazette for a list of skills). An applicant must prove that they have the experience, skills and qualifications indicated, which may include membership in a professional body. If you have previous training or degrees in one of the skills listed by Home Affairs, this is one way to remain long term in South Africa. 

Study visa

Another option is to continue your studies by pursuing a degree, and getting a study visa. South Africa has many excellent universities and educational institutions that offer conservation or game management programs, for example. If you are considering a career that’s more academic or research-based, this may be an excellent option to stay for a few more years. A study visa will also allow you to work part-time while studying full-time. 

Business visa

Depending on your background, you may be able to apply for a business visa, which allows an individual to move to South Africa to open a business or invest in an existing one. If you are planning to start your own safari company or open a lodge, for example, this could be a possibility. But it is much more complicated and requires notable financial investment. 

Applying for a visa to stay in South Africa

Bushwise students listening carefully to their instructor, as they stand in a lush green mountain forest in South Africa.

When you join Bushwise you will likely do so on either a visitor’s visa (for less than 90 days for the 60-day course) or a study visa. In a few cases you can apply for a change of status for a new visa and remain in South Africa. But most likely you will have to travel back to your home country to submit the documentation and await a response. 

We cannot offer legal advice

We hope it goes without saying, but just in case. We cannot give legal advice on your visa applications, we can just share our insight from working with international students in the past. Please review the current information on websites for South African Department of Home Affairs or VFS Global, or speak directly with an immigration services company for assistance.

We hope this article has helped you get some ideas about ways to make your field guiding dreams come true. As this is a blog and things do change, we can’t take responsibility for outdated information contained here. Remember that there are many opportunities and possibilities to make your dream career a reality, and the best way to start is by getting experience and building your skillset. 

We are here to answer any other questions you may have about Bushwise courses. Just send us an email and we’ll be in touch!


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