Securing student accommodation in a city like Johannesburg is as exciting as it can be overwhelming. There’s a lot of planning when trying to choose where to live during your time at university and making the wrong housing choice can really sour your experience. But it doesn’t have to be so complicated. That’s why we’ve put together 6 essential tips for finding student accommodation in South Africa!
1) Choose What Type of Housing Option You Want
There are many types of housing available from student accommodation to private off-campus accommodation, and searching for a place to live is a big decision. Both have their strengths and disadvantages, depending on what you’re looking for.
Most South African universities provide furnished accommodation that comes with facilities. NSFAS accredited student accommodation for instance, not only covers housing costs but also takes care of transport to campus, course materials, meal allowance and a monthly stipend. Benefits like this are what makes students flock to Campus Africa, which offers housing close to a number of South African universities and other higher education institutions. Whether you want to have a room to yourself or share with other students, the convenience of having a kitchen, free wifi, free laundry, and the company of others makes NSFAS student accommodation very popular and affordable. Commuting is less of a hassle since these types of residences are situated on or near universities, and often include transport to campus as part of their offering – so all of your classes are easy to get to.
To guarantee a place in an NSFAS accredited student accommodation such as Campus Africa, you’ll have to be a full-time student and make sure to apply as early as you can as you might not be accepted into your preferred housing. You’ll be able to pick your room, but not who you live with. Sometimes your university will try to choose the most suitable location or roommates on your behalf. What makes student accommodations like Campus Africa great is that they welcome non-NSFAS funded students too.
There are instances where your South African university might not be able to guarantee NSFAS student accommodation (especially if your application is late), or you may prefer to live on your own in a house or apartment of your choosing.
Private housing is ideal if you love privacy and can come with great extras like swimming pools or guest suites. However, when it comes to costs, the prices are higher than NSFAS student accommodation, especially in Johannesburg, which is considered the most expensive city in South Africa when it comes to the cost of living and rent, followed closely by Cape Town, Pretoria and Durban. Make sure to do your homework about upfront costs, as the prices of certain utilities may come in a separate package, adding to the rent amount.
Some private housings are based in student-friendly suburbs outside of the city, which can make you feel like part of the community, as well as giving you new places to explore without the intense activity and nightlife that comes with large cities. However, the larger distance means a longer commute and high chances of traffic, alongside more expenses that are not covered by NSFAS. You also won’t be able to choose who you live with and security might not be as advanced as NSFAS student accommodation.
There is a little more versatility to private accommodation – you have more control over where you live, whether it’s your own studio apartment or your own en-suite bedroom in a house with another 1 or 2 other students, the options are less restrictive compared to NSFAS student accommodation. Nevertheless, viewings can be deceptive and it’s best to be thorough when searching for private accommodation, in case you run into scammers. For international students looking for housing, their university will have a separate department that provides relevant information on private accommodations. There may be links on the university website with ads of available rooms in shared private housing that have been pre-approved.
2) Do Your Research
It’s important to start your search as soon as you can. There are going to be other students scrambling to look for their own student accommodation. South Africa is facing a continuous shortfall in student housing, with only 11% of the 2.5 million enrolled students being able to secure beds in 2021. There’s little time to waste and getting a head start will put you ahead of the competition in line for accommodation that suits your tastes and needs. If you want private housing, the same rule applies – start looking a few months before your move-in date.
Get to know the area better, especially if you’re going to be living in a large city like Johannesburg. Try to visit if you can or use Google Maps and Street View to familiarise yourself with the local amenities, popular student hangouts, shops, restaurants, parks, etc. A safe, student-friendly location is ideal for first-time university goers who have never lived away from their families. Available public transport is essential if you’re hoping to travel or if your private housing is outside of city limits.
Try to speak to former students or tenants if you can, whether online or in-person, as they will be able to give you a second opinion on the pros/cons of living in their residence. Feel free to ask about rent, hidden costs, and what living on/off campus is like. Remember everyone’s experience is different, so always take other people’s accounts with a grain of salt.
3) What Is Your Budget?
Before you can view any properties, calculate your budget for the year. If you’re receiving NSFAS funding then distributing costs is less troublesome, but even then you should know the basics of money management, as it is part of being a university student.
When it comes to private South African accommodation, work out how much you have to pay for rent, utilities, food, transportation, entertainment and anything else you have to spend money on. This will allow you to narrow down your housing options, and allow you to start compiling a list of residences you can view.
Every accommodation (including NSFAS student accommodation) has different price points, so you need to work out:
- What type of room you want (single, shared, en-suite, studio, etc.)
- Whether the room comes equipped with furniture and other appliances.
- The utility cost (internet, electricity, water, gas, etc.)
- Meal plans, how much food costs in the area.
- Transportation fees to get to and from the university.
- The moving expenses if you hire a company or have to drive a long way (fuel price).
Some NSFAS student accommodation including Campus Africa has laundry and wifi included for free, while private housings may ask for additional payments. Pick an accommodation that suits your budget and compromise where you can – your university can help you with this.
4) Consider Your Lifestyle
First-year students or freshmen who are new to the area may enjoy the communal atmosphere of privately-managed lofts such as Campus Africa, where you’ll be able to socialise in the TV/game rooms or gym – making it easy to meet people. If it’s your first time away from your family, friends or home, living in a shared space will feel less lonely with the support of others and your university, along with the 24-hour security making it a less daunting experience. NSFAS student accommodation can be worthwhile in helping you slowly become more independent, without the added stress of having to manage uncertain tenancy agreements, utility bills, or looking after a private property.
If money isn’t an issue, you can find a private residence near your university, with the added advantage of expanding your social circle, as you may find other students from different universities, including international ones within the same building. Nonetheless, if you have never lived by yourself, managing your bills and budgeting may be tricky. Having to deal with a landlord or letting agent can be draining, especially when you have to chase after them because of an issue only they can solve.
5) Go To Viewings
After a long day, you should be able to come home to your own space to rest and relax. When searching for a place, bear in mind you’ll be living there for at least a year (or more).
Don’t be afraid to ask questions or feel pressured to sign papers immediately, especially if you’re looking at private housing. Check for the condition of the property, since any signs of mould, damp or grime are red flags. NSFAS student accommodation such as Campus Africa have their own cleaners who tidy communal areas every day and continuous maintenance of the buildings is the norm, which might not be the case for private accommodation.
There may be a series of steps you have to follow when renting private accommodation and an agent or landlord might end up rejecting your offer to rent for their own hidden reasons. On the other hand, NSFAS student accommodation such as Campus Africa has a simpler approach. You’re generally able to choose your room and sign an application form on the day of the viewing. Keep in mind that there may be a deposit that may not be covered by your funding plan.
6) Don’t Skip The Legalities
Remember to follow the legalities and read the papers carefully, double-checking everything before signing it. With NSFAS student accommodation like Campus Africa, it’s important to hand in proper documents, Student ID, Identification, etc.
Private accommodations run by landlords/agents will also have to provide legitimate rental agreements, so make sure they are legally binding and offer tenants protection. If possible, have someone else read the terms, like a housemate or friend, to see if it all checks out.