Living in Cape Town

SO not too long ago I moved out of a hostel dormitory, into a house in Observatory which is an area of the Southern Suburbs in Cape Town. It’s sort of a student area–sorta a hippy cheaper version of Kensington market. Good bars, lots of places to play pool, cheap weird ‘Asian’ restaurants that serve Thai, Chinese, and Sushi all in one convenient location. (Pad Thai for R30 ! ) It’s a nice place to live, and it’s conveniently really close to work which  is an added bonus.

So how’d I find it?

I found my place on Gumtree. Finding affordable housing abroad can be difficult and stressful. It’s hard to find before you get arrive, and it’s also hard to figure out what areas are good to live in, how public transit works, and what a decent price for rent is. So I thought I’d post some information about Cape Town to help give an idea of what to expect. I was definitely scrambling to get my act together and find a place.

Gumtree — South Africa’s Craigslist 

I found my place on Gumtree which is sort of like craigslist. People post apartments, bikes, cars etc. I spent a lot of time looking through different ads. Most advertisers want you to text or call them about the apartments, and I found the easiest way to get information on new places is to post something about yourself and what you’re looking for in the wanted section. Keep in mind a lot of places on Gumtree would turn out, well, not as great as they sounded, and you might have to visit a lot of apartments. Also talk to hostels about staying there longterm and work out a deal. Many hostels will agree to give long term guests a better price and if you’re going to be somewhere for less than three months, it might be your best option. Many South African landlords will also try and get you to pay a significant damage deposit or will even try and get foreigners coming in to pay for a large portion of the rent ahead of time. Make sure you iron out these details before you agree to sign anything.

The best hostels near where I work in Observatory are the Green Elephant and Observatory Backpackers. The owners of Observatory Backpackers also own a house they rent out to international students staying for a minimum of three months or longer, so they’re an excellent people to talk to about finding a more longterm home.

Living Costs?

Everyone seems to think Africa is going to be dirt cheap, but it adds up pretty quickly, particularly South Africa. While some things are much more affordable than Canada, don’t expect things to cost a couple of pennies. One of the biggest mistakes everyone going on the Namibia trip seemed to have made, was underestimating how much you spend –R100 isn’t $10.00 and overestimating how affordable things would be in Africa. The exchange is R8.9 to $1, which is pretty great but things add up pretty quickly. I found rounding down to R8 helped a lot. (When we were in Namibia the exchange was closer to R8.4-8.6.)

My rent is just under R3000 a month (about $350.00). I have my own bedroom in a house with internet and laundry. Rent generally runs between R2000-4000 for a room in a shared house/apartment it can however be much higher than that. Short term rentals for 3-6 months are harder to find, and most of the places asking R2000 required longer leases. I had a friend who was here for an SFD program that ended in December and her place was about R4000 without internet which was an extra R300 a month. (two bedroom split two ways).


Food is not as cheap as one would hope in Cape Town compared to Toronto, but it all depends on what you eat. Eating out is much cheaper than in T.O. but it still adds up pretty quickly. Examples of some prices:

2-for-1 burgers on Tuesdays at : R48 ($5.58)
Chicken Pad Thai: R35 ($4.07)
Sushi dinner: R100ish ($11.63)
Coffee: R12-R18 ($1.40-2.09)
Cocktails: R30-48 ($3.50-5.58)
Beer: R10-R25    (game of pool to go with your beer: R4)   ($1.16-2.91)
Pizza: R45-65 ($5.23-7.56)

Groceries actually are deceptively not that much cheaper than in Toronto. Here are some costs.

1 L of “Orange Juice”: R26.99  ($3.14)
Yellow Peppers: R65.99/kg ($7.67/kg)
Apples: R15.99/kg ($1.86/kg)
Cucumber: R5.99 ($0.70)
Bottle of Wine: R25+ (typical R40) ($2.91, $4.65)
Peanut Butter 800G: R38.99 ($4.54)
Cheese 250g: R35.99 ($4.18)
Flour 1kg: R11.49 ($1.34)
Sugar 1kg: R13.99 ($1.62)
Eggs half dozen: R11.99 ($1.40)


Minibus, train, taxi –I don’t have a car, (nor can I drive — check study abroad rules etc). However, the public transit in and around Cape Town is affordable and extremely easy to get around.

Taxi (private) – R10/km

Minibus – R6-8 to Cape Town or Claremont etc. Generally it doesn’t get much more expensive unless you go somewhere really far. It costs R14 to get from my house to Camps Bay beach in Sea Point. These are basically big white trucks that pick up and drop off people on set routes around the city.

Train – R15 round trip to Muizenberg.

Safety Note: Keep in mind when using public transit in Cape Town that certain areas can be dangerous to get to on your own. General rule is to travel with someone, never take anything you’re not okay having stolen, and to exercise caution. Also, its generally a bad idea to go on trains or minibuses at night.

Drunk driving is fairly common here, and the easiest way to avoid it –is to avoid minibuses in the evening and to always exercise some caution before getting into a cab.



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About Lizz

I am a fourth year student at the University of Toronto in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. I am participating in the Students for Development Program this year and I will be going to work with the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town, South Africa for six months. I recently came back from Namibia where I lived for 11 weeks through the Namibia Scholarship Program at the University of Toronto. I worked with an organization called Physically Active Youth which is located in Katutura, Namibia near Windhoek. If you are a student interested in getting involved internationally or interested in doing a study abroad project, you should make sure to check out the CIE website: Also, if you are a student in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto make sure to check out the international exchanges available on the faculty website:

One thought on “Living in Cape Town

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