My experience processing a Critical Skills Visa to work in South Africa

Lions head - cape town - south africa

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Are you looking for opportunities to work abroad? Do you want to leave your comfort zone and live in a new country, meet amazing people, discover new cultures and develop yourself to the fullest? If you studied one of the professions on the Critical Skills Visa list you can come to work in South Africa.

I wanted to achieve those goals and work abroad (I am from Mexico) but finding a job overseas is very difficult depending on your level of studies. If you are like me, with an undergraduate degree and you try to find a job abroad, you are going to experience the difficulties of sending tons of unsuccessful applications.

Why is it so difficult? If you don’t have a Master’s Degree, PHD or a distinguishable skill, the majority of companies will prefer contracting nationals and avoid all visa paperwork and trouble.

Fortunately, South Africa has the Critical Skills Visa, which main objective is to assist the government to achieve strategic infrastructure projects bringing people with specific skills that the country is lacking.

This visa allows you to come to South Africa for 1 year without having a job contract and up to 5 years having a job contract. You can renew your 1-year visa if you are successful and find a job before your visa expires. And then you can process your Permanent Residency.

Read here the application process to acquire your Permanent Residency

The following are the steps:

  1. Look if your profession is on the Critical Skills Visa List
  2. Contact the Southern African Embassy on your country
  3. Make a list of all the documents you will need to gather
  4. Confirm your skills with the South African Qualification Authority SAQA
  5. Become a member of one of the Professional Bodies recognized by SAQA
  6. Plan your trip (buy your one-way airplane ticket)
  7. Submit all your documents to the embassy
  8. After you get your visa and travel to South Africa secure your job
  9. Recommendations
  10. Living in Cape Town
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Waterfront - Cape Town - South Africa
Yellow Frame, Cape Town

My story

Last year I was working in Zimbabwe, this was the first time that I worked abroad and it was a consulting project with an NGO called TechnoServe that lasted 5 months, you can read more about it on the post My experience working with TechnoServe in Zimbabwe. As I loved Zimbabwe and made friends for life, I really wanted to stay in Africa. So before the consulting project was over, I started sending applications to companies in Zimbabwe as well as South Africa (I heard Cape Town was an amazing city so I really wanted to live there).

Unluckily, every time I started to fill in the online application after I selected “NO” in the question “Are you legally eligible to work in this country?” I think my application was sent nowhere.

Fortunately, I was talking with a friend and she told me that another Actuary (I studied Actuarial Science – very unknown degree in the world but in summary it is applied mathematics to insurance and finance) got a Critical Skills Visa and went to work to South Africa. *There are a lot of professions on the Critical Skills Visa list and maybe yours is there.

So I did all the online research, contacted my friend’s friend and started gathering all the paperwork to get the visa. Now I am going to explain you all the steps for the application process.

If you want professional advice from a lawyer, I recommend you to contact the advocate Tanswell. If you contact him please let him know that you saw his details in The Lifestyle Hunter:

Tanswell Sassman

  • Email:
  • Telephone: +27 82 747 4673

1. Look if your profession is on the Critical Skills Visa List

You can check here the skills or qualifications critical for South Africa. In summary there are 12 educational subject matters:

  1. Agriculture, Agricultural Operations and Related Sciences: Agricultural Engineer, Agricultural Scientist, Forestry Technician, Sheep Shearer
  2. Architecture and the Built Environment: Architect, Construction Project Manager, Land Surveyor, Quantity Surveyor, Urban and Regional Planner
  3. Business, Economics and Management Studies: Actuaries and Risk Assessors, Corporate General Manager, External Auditor, Financial Investment Advisor
  4. Information Communication & Technology: CISCO Solution Specialist, CISCO Engineers, Solutions Architects in Telecommunications and ICT, Integrated Developers (PHP, PERL, JAVA), Network Analyst, IT Security Specialist, System Integration Specialist, Enterprise Architects, Data Centre Operations, Network Specialist (Security), Database Specialist, Microsoft System Engineers, Network Controllers, AV Specialist (Anti-virus), Desktop Support Engineer
  5. Engineering: Energy Engineer, Metallurgical Engineer, Chemical Engineer, Civil Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Electrical Installation Inspector, Electronics Engineer, Geologist, Industrial and Production Engineers, Industrial Designer, Manufacturing Managers, Materials Engineer, Mechanical Engineer, Mining Engineer, Production/Operations Manager, Quality System Manager, Research and Development Manager, Ship’s Engineer, Telecommunications Engineers, Electrical Engineering Technologist, Energy Engineering Technologist, Mechanical Engineering Technologist, Metallurgical Engineering Technologist, Mining Engineering Technologist, Air Conditioning and Mechanical Services Plumber, Automotive Electrician, Automotive Motor Mechanic, Boiler Maker, Chemical Engineering Technologist, Civil Engineering Technologist, Diesel Mechanic, Electronics Engineering Technologist, Fitter and Turner, Materials Engineering Technologist, Mechatronics Technician, Metal Fabricator, Physical and Engineering Science Technicians, Pressure Welder, Structural Plaster, Toolmaker
  6. Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences: Medical Superintendant/Public Health Manager, Public Health Physician, General and Specialist Medical Practitioner, Hospital Pharmacist, Nursing Professionals, Veterinarian, Registered Nurse (child and family health), Retail Pharmacist
  7. Life and Earth Sciences:  Environmental Engineers, Environmental Manager, Industrial Pharmacist, Aquatic Scientist, Animal Scientist, Advanced Composites Engineering, Archaeological/Paleontological Specialist, Bioeconomist, Biochemists, Bioinformatician, Bioinformaticist, Biological Scientist, Botanical Scientist, Chemical Scientist, Computational Biologist, Environmental Scientist, Ecological Scientist, Food Scientist, Engineering Geologist, Geochemist, Geohazards Specialist, Geologist, Geophycist, Laboratory Technologist and Technician, Marine Bioscientist, Materials Scientist, Metallurgical Scientist, Metrology, Microbiological Scientist, Polymer Scientist, Protein Scientist, Seismologist, Soil Scientist, Toxicology Scientist, Water Resource Scientist
  8. Professionals and Associate Professionals:  Land and Engineering Surveyors, Electronic Engineering Technician, Materials Engineering Technologist, Electrical Engineering Technician, Safety, Health, Environment and Quality Practitioner, Draughtsperson, Mechanical Engineering Technician, Chemical Engineering Technician, Organisation and Methods Analyst (Incl. scheduler, estimator), Surveying Technician, Geomatics Technician, Quantity Surveying Technician, Civil Engineering Technician, Materials Engineer Non-destructive Testing (NDT), Materials Engineering Technician – Road materials, Materials Tester, Construction Safety, Health, Environment an Quality (SHEQ) Agent/Manager/Officer, Aeronautical Engineering, Architectural Senior Technologist, Architectural Draughtsperson, Astronomer, Physicist (SKA), Geomagnetic Physicist, Solar Physicist, Space Physicist, Plasma Physicist, Space Technologist, Space Weather Specialist, Magnetic Technology Specialist, Radar Engineering, Radio Frequency Engineering, Environmental Technologist, Industrial Engineer, Industrial Engineering Technologist, Industrial Engineering Technician, Landscape Architect, Landscape Contract Manager, Landscape Horticulturist, Mining Technician
  9. Trades: Millwright, Boilermaker (For Strategic Infrastructure Projects), Industrial Machinery Mechanic, Pipe Fitter, Double Coded Welder, Rigger, Moulder, Raise-bore Operators, Raise-bore Foreman, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)
  10. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO): Software Development Engineers and Managers, Systems Architects, Engineers and Managers, Foreign Language speakers for specialist language support and technical or sales support (German, Swiss German, Flemish, Greek, Swedish, Danish, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Mandarin and French), Business Analyst, Quality Analyst, Quality Assurance Specialist/Auditor Customer Service Manager/Team Lead
  11. Academics and researchers: Doctoral Graduates (Acquired Abroad), Research in several areas (check complete list here)
  12. Post-Graduates: Doctoral Graduates (Acquired in RSA)
Boulders Beach, Cape Town

2. Contact the South African Embassy on your country

If your profession is on the list, you are ready to continue with the process. Just Google “Embassy of South Africa and the name of your country” and you will find its telephone number, website and social media accounts.

Generally, they will have a website in which they will have a more detailed description of the application process to obtain the Critical Skills Visa but you can even contact them by social media.

In my case, in Mexico you can find documents and a lot of information on the South African Embassy Facebook Page.

Llandudno Beach - Cape Town - South Africa
Llandudno Beach, Cape Town

3. Make a list of all the documents you will need to gather

You can see more general information here, but again, contact the South African Embassy on your country for a more specific list. In my case these were the documents I gathered:

General Documents

  • Application form 
  • Original Passport
  • Two passport photographs
  • Original Police clearance certificate
  • Proof of financial means in the form of bank statement (last 3 months)
  • Fee ($169 USD in Mexico)
  • One way airplane ticket

Medical Documents

Professional Documents

  • A confirmation of your skills by the South African Qualification Authority SAQA – explained in the following section.
  • Proof of registration with the professional body, council or board recognized by the SAQA.
  • A confirmation, in writing, from the professional body, council or board recognized by SAQA confirming the skills or qualifications of the applicant and appropriate post qualification experience.
  • Note: to get the last 2 documents mentioned above, I contacted IITPSA. I’ll explain this in the following section and to have more details you can click on THIS LINK.

Optional Documents

  • Optional: If the applicant has already secured employment prior to submitting the visa application, a copy of an employment contract specifying the occupation and capacity in which the foreigner shall be employed

All the requirements mentioned above are easy to get but I’m going to give you a more detailed description of the last 2 documents which are more difficult to obtain.

Critical Skills Visa South Africa - Application
Application Form
Critical Skills Visa South Africa - Medical Certificate
Medical Certificate
Critical skills visa South Africa - radiological report
Radiological Report

4. Confirm your skills with the South African Qualification Authority SAQA

On the South African Qualification Authority SAQA official website you are going to find all the relevant information to get this certificate.

In summary you are going to have to send all the way to South Africa certified copies of all your academic studies (documents in foreign languages must be accompanied by sworn translations). And no, you cannot send scanned copies by email.

Besides that, you will also need to include:

  • Application Form
  • Proof of identity (ID/Passport/relevant permit)
  • Proof of payment
  • Consent Form

After you have sent all the documents they will evaluate them and if successful will send you back to your country the original certificate proving you are qualified in your profession in South Africa.

Retreat Yourself Festival, Cape Town

5. Become a member of one of the Professional Bodies recognized by SAQA

 You can find here the list of all these professional bodies.

In my case it was IITPSA; I entered their website and saw all the requirements to become a member and get a Critical Skills confirmation letter.

Each body should have their own rules but I had to send the following certified copies:

  1. SAQA Certificate of Evaluation
  2. Passport
  3. University Transcript
  4. High School Transcript
  5. Two Professional Referrals
  6. Membership fee (electronic transfer)

You can read all the details in the post “5 steps to obtain a Critical Skills Certificate from IITPSA“.

Signal Hill - lions head - Cape Town - south africa
View of Lion's Head from Signal Hill, Cape Town

6. Plan your trip (Buy your one-way airplane ticket)

Without a job contract the Critical Skills Visa will last 1 year with the possibility to renew up to 5 years if you are successful in finding a job.

But in order to start your application you need to show your airplane tickets (one way is enough) so the embassy can stamp an initial and last day on your visa. So you need to plan:

  • Arrival date: buy your one-way airplane ticket.
  • Place: generally you will have to choose between Johannesburg and Cape Town. Johannesburg is the capital and biggest city so you will have better chances to find a job faster but you can also decide to go to Cape Town (as me) because you will live by the beach and enjoy an amazing life quality.
  • Accommodation: are you going to rent a house? A flat? Have roomies? Stay with a friend or family?
  • Expenses budget: consider how much money you are going to spend for living expenses (food, transport, entertainment, etc.) during the time you are going to be looking for a job.
Waterfront - Cape Town - South Africa
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

7. Submit all your documents to the embassy

After you have gathered ALL the documents you will only have to go to the embassy, leave them and wait till they process your Critical Skills Visa.

*In my case it was very quick, I got my visa in less than 3 weeks.

Church square - Cape Town - South Africa
Cape Town's City Centre

8. After you get your visa and travel to South Africa secure your job

Within 12 months after obtaining Critical Skills Visa you will have to submit an employment contract specifying the occupation and capacity in which you were employed.

Location - Camps Bay - Cape Town - South Africa
Twelve Apostoles, Cape Town

9. Recommendations

  • Plan your times: you have to send documents all the way to South Africa (by courier or speed post). Consider that courier may take incredibly long times and also the documents will take some weeks to be processed by the organizations so if you are planning to go soon try so use speed post and check the deadlines (e.g. there may be deadlines to become a member of your career’s professional body).
  • Don’t give up: collecting all the paperwork and sending all the documents may be time consuming and expensive but at the end you will get your visa and experience the amazing country of South Africa!
  • Look for jobs before arriving to South Africa: even though you can get the Critical Skills Visa without a job contract, if you arrive to South Africa without a plan you may take some time to find a job and during all this process you will have to pay for accommodation, food, transportation and other expenses.
  • Find temporary accommodation: if you take long time to find a job there are many ways in can you can contribute as a volunteer in exchange of accommodation and food. Websites as Workaway and Helpx will connect you with locals who will ask for 4 to 5 hours of work (painting, taking care of children, doing marketing, helping in a hostel, etc.) in exchange of accommodation. Other websites as Trusted Housesitters and House Carers will connect you with home and pet owners who need a sitter, when traveling, so you can enjoy staying for free in exchange of taking care of the house. Check more opportunities like this one on the Scholarships Page and then Volunteering section.
  • Contribute: when you arribe to South Africa do not forget that the aim of the Critical Skills Visa is to contribute to South Africa with your special skills!
  • Stay motivated: you can see amazing videos of life in South Africa and also check the blog for all my experiences in Cape Town.
De Waal Park - Cape Town - South Africa
De Waal Park, Cape Town

10. Living in Cape Town

I’ve been living a couple months in Cape Town and I completely love it. Fortunately, I have been able to travel around the world by studying, working and volunteering and I think Cape Town is my favorite City.

Check in this post the best tours in Cape Town.

Check in this post a list of free things to do in Cape Town.

Do you want to stay longer in South Africa? Check in this post how to process your Permanent Residency!

In the Work Abroad section, you can find more experiences earning internships and full-time job positions abroad! If you had a similar experience and want to inspire others to apply please send an email to

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#thelifestylehunter #pilarnoriega The Lifestyle Hunter by Pilar Noriega #WorkAbroad : how to process a critical skills visa to work in south africa, cape town job, johannesburg job, work abroad, work abroad programs, work abroad career, work abroad summer, work abroad tips, how to work abroad, work abroad jobs, work motivation, work inspiration, work incentives, career, personal development, africa, visa, permanent residence

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  1. Maxwell Jamie Joan
    13/05/2021 / 5:30 PM

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  2. Ryan
    21/12/2018 / 5:28 AM

    Thank you for posting this! I’m submitting my application in early January – you’ve definitely given me hope for a smooth process

  3. Reuben
    18/12/2018 / 9:09 AM

    quite informative and helpful.

    Thank you

  4. Holly Lobprise
    28/11/2018 / 12:13 PM

    Super useful – I knew generally about the process for the critical skills visa (I’m applying this year), but this post breaks it down much more sensibly than the SAQA website, which is a bit confusing/ wordy. I’m still confused about the difference between getting certificates/degrees “converted” and not needing to figure out how to transfer designations that go behind your name (CFA, MBA, etc.)? Not sure if you know that or not – I will be researching more on the subject

    Anyways thanks for the post, and hopefully see you next year!

    • Steve
      03/09/2019 / 8:06 AM

      Hi, did you ever get clarification on how a CFA holder can apply for the critical work Visa. Is there a professional body in SA that recognises CFA Charter?

      • Holly
        04/09/2019 / 2:07 AM

        Hi Steve –

        It was extremely frustrating and delayed my application for months while I was trying to get an answer. Basically for a CFA it is only useful (for the visa) when applying to get a critical skills letter from a professional body. SAQA has no idea what it is (even though they benchmark it to NQF 6 on their website), so it you don’t have a post-grad degree in the field that SAQA can look at, I’d include some kind of letter from the CFA Institute about what the charter means, but beyond that it’s only understood by the professional body you will be applying to for the critical skills letter.

        Good luck! I just came over on the critical skills visa although they only gave me 5 months to look for a job. (I thought it would be a year)

  5. 08/11/2018 / 8:07 AM

    Very useful information. nice content.

  6. joseph
    18/10/2018 / 7:42 AM

    Hi ma how are you, I just which to ask of you some question regarding about the critical work visa, am a Cameroonian living in south Africa. And i do study at (FE T) further education and training and i have a national Diploma in Engineering Civil, i did my internship with Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for a period of two years after that i have work with one Construction firm called Zalom Builders and Civil work for a period of six months, In addition to that i have been lecturing for six months at FE T presently now working with Clinical research lab but am using asylum which state that i can work and study but i which to change to a critical work visa can i qualify for a critical work visa please kindly reply me Thank.

  7. Yassine
    27/09/2018 / 6:00 AM

    Thank you very much for all this very helpful and informing article, the world needs more people like you. I have been considering applying for this type of Visa, and I could not find a concise source of information. I am highly interested in moving to SA and what you have done is very inspiring and motivating. I have two quick questions for you that could help me a lot:
    1- While I think that my academic background makes me eligible for this visa, I still do not have professional work experience. I have only internships as I just finished my Masters. Do you know if this could be a problem in obtaining this visa?
    2- Once one obtains this visa, does it become “easy” to find a job in SA. I know nothing is easy, but does it make the applicant having the same chances as SA citizens?

    Thank you very much again;

  8. 10/04/2018 / 8:23 PM

    Pilar, that was a lot of work. But when we’re talking about Visas…it usually is a lot of paperwork and detailed information that we need to provide. I didn’t know about this visa though! Always good to know! Thanks for sharing the info in a so much detailed post! Love it

  9. 29/03/2018 / 6:33 AM

    h, this struck a cord with me! I use to live in South Africa a long time ago and it is still where I like to call home. I haven’t been back since leaving and after reading this, it feels like it’s about time! You are doing an awesome job and this is a very thorough post!

  10. 28/03/2018 / 11:53 AM

    your spirit is amazing! so many people (myself included) would be so uncomfortable working and living in a different country – and you’re totally conquering it! you go girl!

  11. Niki
    28/03/2018 / 11:39 AM

    This is a great very in-depth post. I don’t think I would qualify for much if any, but good to know info is out there for those that do qualify!

  12. 27/03/2018 / 6:47 PM

    Wow this is awesome! Such a well though out blog post especially when it comes to traveling to a place a little unknown.

  13. hal
    27/03/2018 / 1:51 PM

    this is so cool – as a hairstylist I would never qualify but it looks like you had an amazing time – and I’ve only heard wonderful things about Cape Town.

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