The amount of times I had to ask myself that question when I decided to study abroad. It’s been 2 years since but that year will always be remembered. I would like to share my info and hints, the experience and the variety of processes accumulated from that time so that you too can find your way around the madhouse of paperwork when it comes to applying for a student visa.
Depending on the country you’re looking to study in and the duration, there will be some differences, e.g. medical aid, proof of sufficient finances, language capabilities, etc. This can all be clarified by the embassy/consulate. But the main things and headaches are all the same: you’re high school certificate(final year/grade 12) needs to be certified by the Department of Basic Education, any other relevant tertiary documents by the Department of Higher Education, then legalized by the Department of Foreign Affairs. You need a police clearance certificate and medical report/certificate. Everything should be translated into the desired language by a certified translator (normally assigned by the embassy). And finally, if you’re going to Europe, you’ll also need the Apostille seal on your documents by the High Court.
Now, I know that sounds like a really short summary but all this takes time. Approximately 7 to 8 months. And this is just to have all the documents required to apply for the visa, which also takes around 1 to 3 months. So get crackin’!
As a South African, all of the departments are up North, in and around Pretoria. If you’re not close enough to drive, e.g. in the Cape, you’ll have to send everything and trust. FYI, use a dependable courier service. First time around. Avoid regrets this way. Contact each department as well before starting anything, especially the embassy, have a pen and paper ready, make sure you have all original documents and enough copies, and manage your time well.
First document to be processed would be your grade 12 (matric) certificate, contact the Dept of Basic Education and make sure everything is clear about what you need. After everything is clear you should have their mailing address and they should now be ready to receive your papers. Make sure whether they need the original and how many copies, as well as other documents that might have to accompany the certificate, e.g. a copy of your ID. (South Africans only: The number for the Dept of Basic Education: 012 357 4513. You can ask to speak with Samuel Erasmus, he was the friendly guy assigned to my papers. )
If you have higher education certificates you need to get processed you need to contact the Dept of Higher Education and specify whether it’s from a private institute or national. The rest of the process is more or less the same as the previous. Again, make sure of the amount of copies and other accompanying documents. (SA only: 012 312 5481)
You can ask them to forward you certified documents to the next party and so include an extra envelope with the address and its services already paid for. Next stop: the Dept of Foreign Affairs. This is where they legalize your documents. Simply put, they make sure it is up to standards. When you contact them to notify them of your documents coming their way they will most likely ask you to send an email with a list of required info, e.g. the country you’re applying to, etc. (SA only: firstname.lastname@example.org / 012 351 1232. Ask for Michelle, she knows what she’s doing.)
To get your medical report/certificate should be easy enough, every doctor should know about the special form and stamps when you explain it’s for a visa. Although probably not every doctor is qualified or authorized to fill it out, they would be able to point you in the right direction.
The police clearance certificate can take some time but easy enough as well. You will need to get fingerprints done at a police station, pay, and attach the receipt along with the prints to your application. All the info, guidelines and requirements, as well as the application form can easily be found on their website (for South Africans anyway).
After you’ve collected all your paperwork, you can take/send it to the translator and then the High Court if you need the Apostille seal.
The embassy normally asks that you make a couple of copies of each document because they need to send one to the other country for processing, they keep one for administration, and you would obviously like to keep your originals. MAKE COPIES OF EVERYTHING.
Like with all good things in life, you will have to learn and master the skill of patience and endurance.
If you do, you’ll open up a door of opportunities because nothing will ever seem impossible to you again.