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Studying an LLM (Master of Laws) in South Africa

LLM in South AfricaFlanked by two oceans and boasting almost 3,000 km of stunning coastline, not to mention grassland, semi-desert, a wealth of biodiversity, with its decent economic situation plus a fascinating cultural vibe, South Africa, or the “Gateway to Africa” as it is sometimes referred to, is a great place to continue your legal studies, not least of all because it offers a good selection of universities, including:


Studying an LLM in South Africa

Reasons to study your LLM in South Africa

For many LLM students studying in South Africa sounds like a distant dream, where you might study in the day and head to the beach in the afternoon or for a famous South African BBQ, known as a braai and is in fact no humble BBQ. However, there are more reasons to study in South Africa than simply a good climate, great socialising and tasty food!

Excellent academics – the big draw for law students to South Africa is the ability to learn both in English and in the Common Law system. This legal system is used in a number of English-speaking countries and offers potentially lucrative careers back at home as a Common Law specialist. Quite a few of the South African law schools rank highly in both global and African listings, and the LLM tuition fees are reasonable when compared to other English-speaking Common Law countries.

Career benefits of overseas study – living and studying an LLM in another country brings its own rewards, and choosing to study and live in South Africa is no exception. Relocation overseas for your studies will help you grow as a person, and you will develop a huge range of new skills that you never knew you possessed. Making new friends and getting out of your comfort zone will give you the confidence to develop your future career in a new way. Studying abroad will help you develop a global network of contacts and is a great way to start a career on a worldwide basis.

Great climate – students choosing to study in South Africa from Europe and parts of North America – as well as from other parts of the world – will appreciate the climate of South Africa. The summers are warm and the winters are never very cold compared to Northern Europe. Johannesburg averages around 26C during the warmest part of the summer in January and only dips down to 16C during the winter in June. Cape Town is similar with a high on average of 23C in January and in June the temperature is usually only around 13C.

Cultural mix – there are 11 official languages in South Africa, including English, in addition to the many other non-official languages, and this demonstrates the large number of cultures that mix and live together in South Africa. Many of your fellow students will speak at least two of these languages as English is the language used for most of the business of government and at most universities, but don't be surprised when you hear your fellow students and lecturers conversing with each other in another language. When you move to South Africa to study your LLM you can use the opportunity to learn another language.

Vibrant social life – there is a true mix of people in South Africa, and this translates to an interesting mix of activities and nightlife in the major student towns. The nightlife in Cape Town is famous worldwide and all the student towns have a similar mix. This is part of the beauty of studying your LLM is South Africa, and don’t worry if you're not into partying in the evenings, as there are plenty of other students who will have a similar opinion – and you can plan other activities with them. Every South African university campus has a large range of clubs and societies – like the great sports clubs at the University of the Western Cape – that offer a chance to relax and take a break from your studies by doing something completely different.

South African law schools

South African Law SchoolsThere are 17 law schools in South Africa to pick from and all but one offer an LLM qualification, although some of these are by research rather than being a taught course.

Navigating your way around the array of LLM courses in South Africa is tough, as is choosing a law school to attend in the first place. If you're thinking about studying a Master of Laws program in South Africa, then here are a few tips on how to select the best South African law school and LLM course for you.

Reputation – there are a few ways to choose between different law schools, and the reputation of the academic staff and that of the law school itself are both important factors. The best way to gain a proper understanding about this is to speak and network with legal professionals in the area of law you are planning on specialising in to find out how well regarded your chosen law school – or schools – is.

Rankings ­– this is another good way of comparing different law schools, and in South Africa, more emphasis is placed on global rankings, such as the Times Higher Education rankings or the Eduniversal Best Masters Ranking.

Costs – an additional factor that you should bear in mind is the LLM tuition fees, as these vary between the different South African law schools, too. Make sure you can afford the tuition fees of your chosen law school.

Campus or online tour – the best way to decide if a law school is the right place for you is to go and visit it. As you will already know, all universities have open days and if you contact the institution in advance, you'll be able to arrange to speak with the academic staff involved with the LLM course you're considering and find out the best time to pay them a visit. Viewing campuses online and reading their literature is also a great idea if you are unable to physically visit the law school.

Talk to former LLM students – speak with former LLM students, especially recent graduates, when you're trying to choose an LLM course as they can tell you both the positive and negative aspects of the course, and even give you their thoughts on if they think that the course somewhere else is better. Try to connect with former alumni who are working in the specific area of the law you're interested in. That way you can find out if the course you're considering is the right path for the future career you envisage. Reach out to current and former students by joining social media groups and professional online networks. This start to your networking will be a help to you throughout your LLM course and into the future.

Scope out law school activities – researching what else goes on at the law school and at the wider university is important to both the experience you can gain while studying and for relaxing outside of your studies. Most law schools in South Africa have various departments all concentrating on different areas of the law, and within these departments, there are institutes and legal centres or clinics that students can participate in. Finding out about the activities of these groups will inform about the practical legal experiences you might be able to be involved with. Check out what the university’s Law Student Council is up to. Do their activities match with your interests? Read through any law student newspapers or other publications to see what else is on offer. Research the societies and clubs available throughout the university in general, as this will give you an idea of what you can do outside of your studies.

Top ranked law schools in South Africa

This table shows the best universities in South Africa to study law according to recent rankings figures.


South African University


Legal Centres & Institutes


University of Cape Town




University of Witwatersrand




Stellenbosch University




University of KwaZulu Natal




University or Pretoria




University of Johannesburg




University of the Western Cape




University of South Africa




What LLM programs can you study in South Africa?

LLM programs in South Africa usually take one year’s full-time study or two years’ part-time study. LLM programs currently available at universities in South Africa are wide-ranging – including commercial law, investment law, labour law, business law, medical law, indigenous law and many others.

There are some topics – such as energy law – where the location will offer huge benefits as there is a strong industry to associate with in South Africa.

LLM programs are typically taught in English, although do check with your chosen institution to make sure.

5 of the best LLM programs in South Africa

Law schools in South Africa attract a wide range of students from around the world and across Africa. This is for a combination of reasons including a legal education in English and some excellent educational options for LLM programs. Here are five of the best LLM programs in South Africa according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2019.

LLM at the University of Cape Town

The LLM program offered at the University of Cape Town can be either a taught program with a dissertation or an LLM by dissertation only. The taught program has a large selection of areas of specialisation including Tax Law, International Trade Law, Shipping Law, Marine and Environmental Law, and Constitutional and Administrative Law. The LLM is completed in one year with full-time study and in two years with part-time study.

LLM at the University of Witwatersrand

LLM students at the University of Witwatersrand can study either a General LLM or an LLM in legal areas including Human Rights Advocacy and Litigation, International Economic Law, Pensions Law, and Tax Law. The LLM program is usually studied full time and takes one year to complete or two years when studying part time. Wits Law School has a well-established Legal Clinic and offers courses for continuing professional development for South African lawyers at the Mandela Institute.

LLM at Stellenbosch University

The General LLM course at Stellenbosch University offers students the chance to create a personal program of study across the modules offered by the Law School. There are also specific LLM programs offered in Intellectual Property Law, Labour Law, International Trade Law, and Alternative Dispute Resolution. The Faculty of Law at Stellenbosch University was established in 1921 and has offered LLM study since 1976. Like other law schools, the LLM is a full-time course taken over one ear or two years when studying part time.

LLM at University of KwaZulu-Natal

At the University of KwaZulu-Natal there is the option of gaining an LLM by Research for those who wish to undertake independent study into a specific area of the law. Alternatively, there is a selection of taught LLM programs including areas such as Medical Law, Child Care and Protection Law, Advanced Criminal Justice, Labour Studies, and Maritime Law. This is a one-year program with full-time study or a two-year program with part-time study, and students can benefit from research groups like the Health Law and Ethics Research Group based at the university.

LLM at University of Johannesburg

The University of Johannesburg offers LLM programs both by coursework and by dissertation. The areas of focus for the LLM programs by coursework include International Commercial Law, Tax Law, Banking Law, and Drafting and Interpretation of Contracts. Both programs are completed in two years with part-time study or in one year with full-time study. Students at the University of Johannesburg can benefit from its long-running Law Clinic offering them the opportunity of excellent experience in understanding South African legal issues.

Tuition fees

LLM program tuition fees for international students at a South African law school are around R 10,000- R11,000 per module (just under £1,000) – which is around 50% higher than the fees for the ‘home students’. LLM programs generally consist of four modules. There will also be a similar cost for the thesis or dissertation as well as application and registration fees.

International students will generally be expected to pay their tuition fees and registration charges up front, and tuition fees will not include accommodation and living costs.

International students in South Africa

International students in South AfricaThe vast majority of South Africa's 74,000+ international students come from Africa and only a small proportion of around 8% of these international students come from Europe or North America.

The ratio of domestic students to international students is high, with International students being rather diluted by their fellow South African students. There are almost one million students in total in higher education in South Africa, with just 74,000 of these being from other countries.

International students in South Africa by home nation

Here's a breakdown showing the most popular countries that international students in South Africa hailed from.

Country of Origin

Number of Students

% International Students







Congo, DR















United States










International students at top law schools

This table shows the percentage of international students attending five of the top law schools in South Africa.

South African University

Number of Students

% International Students

University of Cape Town



University of Witwatersrand



Stellenbosch University



University of KwaZulu-Natal



University of Johannesburg




Admissions to a South African LLM program

International students must have a South African visa and study permit before they are allowed to enrol onto any course in South Africa. These are available from the South African embassy in your home country, or from the Department of Home Affairs in South Africa:

Subdirectorate: Temporary Residence
Private Bag X114
Pretoria 0001
South Africa
Telephone: +27(0)12 314 8911 Fax: +27(0)12 328 3908

Course applications should be made directly to the university and it’s a good idea to apply as early as possible to increase your chances of securing a place.

To gain entry to an LLM program in a South African institution applicants should hold a degree of LLB or its equivalent. Applicants with degrees or qualifications in a language other than English will are likely to be required to demonstrate their English language skills by obtaining exam scores in one of the following:

TOEFL: Minimum paper-based score of 600 or a total score of 100 with at least 25 on each of the individual skill areas (internet-based)

IELTS: Minimum band score of 7.0

South Africa visa requirements

South Africa visa requirementsSouth African study visas are necessary for all LLM students who are not South African citizens or permanent residents that wish to study at a South African law school. Study visas are issued to overseas LLM students on the basis that no foreign student is displacing a South African student. South African visa requirements also dictate that the overseas students have adequate funding in place, as well as the necessary medical coverage.

Fees for applying for South African study visas vary depending on what country you are from, but should be around $100 / £80.

How to apply

Applications for South African student visas are made in a variety of ways depending on the country you are applying from. In most countries, students must complete the BI-1738 form and submit it to their local South African Embassy, Consulate or High Commission. In the UK and some other nations, students apply through companies like VFS Global, who process visas on behalf of a number of countries. This is done partly online and then the final form is printed and brought along to an interview. In some countries the local Embassy or Consulate don’t require study visa applicants to make an appointment in advance.

When to apply

All international students wishing to study an LLM in South Africa must apply well in advance of their arrival in South Africa. Once an offer on an LLM program has been received from a law school, it is time to apply for a student visa. Since the application is not online, students should give as long as possible to apply for a student visa and should expect it to take at least six weeks. However, applicants in the UK are advised by VFS Global that they should apply no more than nine weeks prior to travelling, and that processing time takes around 34 days.

Application procedure

The application procedure for a South African student visa is fairly straightforward, as most students can either request or download an application form from their local South African Embassy. Students from the UK or a nation that uses a private company start their application with VFS Global and make an appointment for an interview, all online. Students also need to have a medical and radiological report made in the last six months from their doctor, and this should be done before making the application.

Necessary documentation

  • South African visa requirements include quite a few necessary documents depending on the country that you are coming from. For example, if you are applying from a country with yellow fever, then you need to bring a certificate of vaccinations.
  • No matter where you are applying from, you will need official medical and radiological reports and if you don't want to send in the originals, you will need to have the copies officiated by a South African Embassy or Consulate.
  • Students require proof of funds, and this is around R3,000 per month for the duration of your stay, along with proof of the financial means to cover the tuition fees.
  • You will also need to provide certificates proving that you have the qualifications you say you do.
  • Students also must have an acceptance letter from their South African law school included in their visa application.
  • You'll need to provide information on where you will be living while you are in South Africa and provide police clearance certificates from every country you have lived in for more than 12 months since you were 18 years old.
  • You will need your current passport in your application, along with two passport-sized photographs.
  • Finally, students must have proof of medical insurance from a registered medical provider to cover them during their stay.

Potential restrictions

International LLM students in South Africa must not work for more than 20 hours per week during term-time and can work on a full-time basis during the holidays. However, as you will have already proven that you have the necessary funds for your day-to-day spending and to cover your LLM tuition fees, working full time during your time out should be unnecessary.

LLM in South AfricaWhat to do in South Africa when you're not studying

South Africa is an amazingly diverse country, with a whole range of ways to distract yourself from your studies. Depending on where you choose to go, you could be close to gorgeous coastlines, or hidden nature reserves. We recommend making some time – perhaps a weekend trip – to visit Cape Town or Johannesburg, and enjoy the local shopping and big-city life.

Of course, no year spent in South Africa would be complete without a safari! South Africa is amazing for nature lovers, and watching lions sunbathe the day away is a great way to relax. Finally, a must-visit for anyone interested in history is the Cradle of Humankind – there's something for everyone, from nature tours to a spa, all in the settings that humankind began.


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