Looking for accommodation as a student abroad: the good, the bad & ugly

Hi Everyone

It is almost the start of the academic year in South Africa & I know every student (and parents’) nightmare at this time of the year is securing a place to stay. This is off course on top of all the other administrative headaches one has to do as a foreign student (i.e. visa, registration, orientation week, fees payment which might not always be straightforward esp. if you come from a remote country with limited access to banking, etc.). student-accommodationLooking back, my story is not any different: both my brother and I got our final acceptance letter early in January and had to move in catastrophe from Joburg to Cape Town in like 2 weeks to start at UCT. While squatting at friends’, I remember walking a combined distance of ~35-40km looking for flats and/or agencies that were advertising available rooms in the university area. Today’s article is a list of a few challenges I wish I was aware of back then, hoping it makes this less painful for you.

Limited space

Campus accommodation has limited space and prioritises those who live outside of the city (in my case it was Cape Town). In the case of many non-English speakers, you might unfortunately not qualify because many (like myself) choose to come do a bridging year before university to either improve their English and/or get acceptable qualifications according to the host country (e.g. A-Levels, Matric, etc).

Risk factor

There is a negative perception around African students, that perception is sad because it is based on a few stereotypes. Some of the more common things you will hear are: Africans do not pay rent on time, destroy property, do not keep

Picture from UNC Charlotte

it tidy, sub-let even when forbidden, live with more people than the maximum allowed, or simply can disappear and leave the country, etc (yawn & rolling eyes…). Because of that, some landlords avoid African foreign students like a plague…literally! You will pitch up and be told the flat is already rented even if it is still being advertised 2 weeks later… Do not take it personally, it happens/has happened to all of us & we have survived it. Being aware of this, helps you prepare for that first encounter with the landlord-if he does that not want an African tenant, there is pretty much nothing you can do to change his/her mind: save yourself the effort/time & move on swiftly to your next one. There is a weird saying in my language that says “you sweat to make money, not to spend it”…someone else is bound to accept it…The beauty of money is that it has no colour, nor smell or origin for that matter.


The cheapskate in me has come to understand that comfort & quality do have a price! When it sounds too good/cheap to be true, it usually is: beware! Too cheap will probably mean long travelling hours and/or less than desirable conditions.The closer you stay to campus, the more expensive it tends to be…rent-money_1But on the other hand, transport costs can increase drastically  the further away you stay from
Campus. Hence why it is important to know your budget as this will also help you sharpen your search in terms of areas and types of accommodation i.e. flat/bachelor/house share, travelling, etc.

Site visit: a must!

NEVER accept an accommodation without seeing it first. Worst case scenario if not in the country yet, ask a friend you trust to go see it for you-but even then, standards and what is acceptable for him/her may not be for you… Luckily in this age of WhatsApp, this is much easier with pictures & videos. There are LOADS Of unscrupulous landlords preying on the innocence (and sometimes desperation) of students: they will use pictures of a room that is not theirs, accept deposits from multiple people, tell you it is a 10 min walk to campus while it is at least 10-15 km away-do not fall into their trap, go see for yourself & make your decision


Depending on where you find yourself studying, looking for accommodation can be a real #schlep (a word South Africans use as the equivalent to #bleh). I reckon it takes at least 2 months to secure decent accommodation in any big city. Do not leave it for the last minute, start looking early.

I hope you enjoyed this post, have you run into similar difficulties while looking for accommodation? Do share any tips/advice you have with the ASA fam.  After all our troubles-my brother and I found the coolest landlord who tolerated a lot more than what should have been allowed (elongated friends’ visits,etc.) and treated us always kindly & with respect, hence our decision to stay there for  9 years…lol! I wish you the best if about to start the year and currently looking for accommodation.

Until my next post







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