Pre-departure tips

The best preparation before your semester abroad is to research South Africa: read up on the history, politics, current events (Mail and Guardian provides good press coverage.), theatre, music and natural resources as well as watch movies and read novels. Communicate with US students from your home university who have studied at UCT for invaluable advice on Cape Town and the university. Read the materials on the study abroad programmes provided by your home university as well as by UCT & keep an open mind!

Research & Reading

Some of our recommendations:

South African books:

  • The President’s Keepers, Jacques Pauw
  • Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
  • Born a Crime, Trevor Noah
  • Sorry Not Sorry, Haji Mohamed Dawjee  (A way to empower you to know and claim a place in the current conversations being held about race, privilege and power relations in South Africa).
  • Breaking a Rainbow, Building a Nation, R. Chikane (A first –hand account of the student protests that gripped South Africa from 2015 to 2017).
  • As by Fire, Jonathan Jansen ( Unrest in South African Universities)
  • The Cape Town Book, Nechama Brodie
  • Always Another Country, Sisonke Msimang
  • Remember Kwezi, Redi Tjhabi
  • Disgrace” by J.M.Coetzee (Nobel Prize Winner and ex-staff member at UCT)
  • Country of my Skull Antjie Krog



First Semester: You arrive in summer and will also experience autumn and winter. Temperatures will range from 35 to 5 Celsius.

Second Semester: You will arrive during a very cold and wet winter, and experience both spring as well as some summer. Temperatures will range from 5 to 30 Celsius.

Pack a range of clothes that you can layer. Bear in mind that most houses in South Africa do not have air-con. Hiking boots and a sleeping bag will be useful if you plan to travel.

Medications & prescriptions

Bring these with you. Pharmacies are plentiful and close by should you need over- the- counter medicine and prescription medication from a doctor here. Bring existing medication in its original container and for the duration of the semester as well as  a letter from your doctor. Check the websites of your home universities for more detailed guidelines.


Bring an old, cheap phone if you have one as well as your current phone. As long as you can make and receive calls, have whatsapp and the Uber app, it’s less likely to be stolen. Laptops, phones, cameras. Adaptors can be purchased at duty free shops in airports and in shops in Cape Town.

Your landlords do not provide insurance for loss of personal items like a phones, lap-tops and cameras. It would be wise to see that these items are covered by an insurance through your home university or by a personal policy should these be lost or stolen.


  • A valid passport (check on expiry date)
  • Letter of acceptance from UCT
  • Study visa
  • Proof of medical insurance
  • International driver’s license should you intend driving in South Africa.

Cape Town is a great shopping destination for anything from basics to international brands.

Advice from Students:

Ekshika (UCSB ’18)

The key to having a fulfilling time abroad is simple: say yes to new experiences and welcome difference with an open mind! I discovered many things while I student abroad: how to travel, how to befriend different kinds of people, how to communicate with someone when you don’t speak the same language, the three kinds of Xhosa clicks, I could go on forever….

Brycen Ullrich (UCB June ’18)

My advice to others is to engage heavily with the content of your classes and manage your time well. Travel, talk to new people, discuss important things and listen to different ideas. Befriend fellow South African students and international classmates. Don’t stay with cliques from your home country or home university. Keep an open mind and relish being out of your comfort zone now and again. In a word, my Cape Town experience was mind-blowing.

Isabel James (Princeton June ’18)

Isabel suggested students should try and read up on the history and current affairs of South Africa before they arrive. She read the autobiography of Nelson Mandela but if that is daunting as a huge read, there is plenty of other literature. She also did a basic Xhosa language course while in Cape Town and highly recommends this as a means of communicating more widely with a range of people both at UCT as well as in Cape Town despite most people being able to speak English here.