Schools in South Africa 

Expat parents moving to South Africa have a wide range of high-quality options for educating their children. South African schools are classified as either public and government-funded or independent schools and privately run.

In practice, there are also semi-private schools, meaning that while they are ultimately accountable to the government, they are partially self-funded and are often able to offer better facilities and a higher standard of education than other government schools.

Although there are 11 official languages in South Africa, English is most commonly spoken in major cities such as Cape Town and Johannesburg and is therefore the teaching medium in the vast majority of schools. That is, however, where uniformity ends – schools in South Africa vary widely in terms of cost, quality and curriculum.

While most expats choose to send their children to private or international schools, the decision depends on a number of factors, such as location, cost, the availability of places at the school and the intended length of the family’s stay in South Africa.

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Public schools in South Africa partly rely on the government for funding and supplies. No-fee schools are fully funded by the government, and only exist in the poorest areas of the country. All other public schools are partly funded by school fees paid by parents, which are generally much lower than those of private schools. Families who cannot afford the fees can apply to the government for funding. Each province is responsible for its schools and, as such, standards vary immensely depending on the efficiency and wealth of the province.

Unfortunately, many public schools in South Africa, especially those in poorer, more rural areas, suffer as a result of poor funding, lack of government monitoring and a lack of suitably qualified teachers. Because of such shortcomings, parents who can afford it usually opt to send their children to private or semi-private schools. 

Private education in South Africa is much more expensive than public education, but standards are high. These schools are attended mostly by children from middle and high income families. In South Africa’s large cities, expats will be spoilt for choice in terms of private schooling options.

Many private schools have religious origins and aim to provide pupils with a spiritual foundation to complement their academic offerings. Others subscribe to a particular learning philosophy, such as Waldorf or Montessori.

Similar to other countries, private schools generally have better facilities, smaller classes and a larger selection of extra-curricular activities than public schools.

Private schools are extremely popular in South Africa and can therefore be difficult to get into. The application process for these schools often includes a test and an interview.


There are a number of international schools in South Africa that offer a variety of globally recognised curricula, such as that of the UK, the US, Germany, France or the International Baccalaureate.

Many expats, especially those who are only relocating to South Africa for a short period of time, opt to send their children to an international school. This allows for a smoother transition, as the student will continue following a familiar curriculum from their home country. International schools are also a great way to connect with fellow expat families.

There are two major downsides to international schooling. Firstly, fees can be exorbitant and, secondly, it can often be difficult to secure a place in some of the more popular schools. For the best chance at being admitted, parents should start the application process as early as possible. To mitigate costs, those moving to South Africa for work should try to negotiate a school allowance into their relocation package.