Should You Live On- or Off-Campus?

By Tess Campbell Modified on June 05, 2023
Tags : Community | Relationships | Travel

This guide shares the advantages and disadvantages to living in residence or off-campus, if a roommate is for you, and how to find a place to live.

 Should You Live On- or Off-Campus in Canada?

Once you’ve got your acceptance letter from a school in Canada, and your visa is all sorted, now’s the time to figure out where you’re going to live when you come to Canada. This can be a difficult task since you most likely won’t see the place you’re going to live in-person until you move in. So, how are you supposed to figure out where to live, and what are your options?

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Here’s everything you’ll need to consider when choosing a place to live in Canada — from on- to off-campus housing, roommates, and tips for finding your new home.

Your options: On- and off-campus housing

In your search for a place to live, you’ll probably come across the phrases on-campus housing and off-campus housing. On-campus housing refers to residences that are offered by your school, located on or close by the school’s campus. Off-campus housing are apartment rentals that aren’t on a school’s campus or owned by the school.

So, how do you know which is the best option for you? Check out the pros and cons of each option to help make your decision easier:

On-campus housing

Explore the advantages and disadvantages to living in residence:


  • Social life: you can meet fellow students on your floor or in your building
  • Simple living arrangement: the residence is operated by the school, so you don’t have to deal with any landlords
  • Close to your classes: this is a huge benefit, especially on those cold winter mornings when you don’t want to leave your bed
  • Easy eating: many residences require you to have a meal plan. This means you’ll eat in the dining hall and on-campus cafés, so you won’t have to do as much cooking
  • Don’t worry about paying for wifi or utilities: this is often covered by the school
  • Safety: residences are a safe space with plenty of resources and surrounded by students


  • Noisy: it can be hard to get some peace and quiet during weekends and events when you share a space with so many people
  • Less privacy: there are more shared spaces in residences, like bathrooms and lounges
  • More rules and restrictions: many residences have their own set of rules, like the number of guests you can have over, no candles, certain furniture is restricted, etc.
  • May need extra accommodations: campus housing tends to close during the summers and holidays, so if you plan to stay in Canada during that time, you might need to pay an additional fee to stay in the residence or find an alternative place to stay
  • Smaller spaces: bedrooms in residences are typically small and only have a bed and desk

Off-campus housing

Explore the advantages and disadvantages to living off-campus:


  • More privacy: you’ll have fewer to no roommates
  • More space: whether you choose an apartment or a house, you’ll typically have larger bedrooms, living rooms, and kitchens
  • Wide variety of living options: you can choose between shared or single apartments and houses, so you can find something that fits your preference
  • More independence: you’ll be in charge of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and getting to classes
  • More control over your living situations: you can choose your roommates and location


  • Monthly payments: you’ll have to pay for utilities, wifi, rent, and more each month
  • Transportation: how will you get to and from school? It could be a longer walk, you may need a parking pass if you drive, or you may need to use that bus pass which is usually included in your school fees
  • Can be isolating: living off campus can make it harder to make friends. You won’t be living with a large group of other students, so you’ll need to find opportunities to get together with people
  • Study spaces: it can be difficult studying where you eat and sleep, and the school library may be a bit further than you’d like, which may discourage you from studying
  • Have to do all your own cooking, shopping, and cleaning: this can take away from time you want to spend relaxing, hanging out with people, or studying

Is on- or off-campus housing cheaper?

It’s hard to determine whether on-campus housing or off-campus housing is cheaper when it varies on the school and the location. If this is an important factor for you, then you’ll need to do your research, consider both your options, and do some calculations.

When it comes to on-campus housing, keep in mind that you’ll typically pay for the accommodation up front and all at once. You may also have to pay for a meal plan that covers your meals in the school dining hall and cafés. If you’re planning on staying in Canada over holidays and summer vacations, then you may have to find additional accommodation, as many residences close during these times.

For off-campus housing, you’ll need to make monthly payments for rent, utilities, cable, and your phone. You may need to also buy any furniture you need, such as a bed and desk, unless you find a rental that includes furniture. You should also consider travel expenses. How close are you to your school and grocery stores? Will you need to pay for gas and a parking pass? How much are bus passes?

For a better idea of what to expect, check out the costs of living on-campus vs. off-campus in three major Canadian cities:

City Cost of on-campus housing (single bedroom) Cost of off-campus housing (one bedroom)
Vancouver, British Columbia Residence at University of British Columbia: $7,006 - $8,537 (plus an additional $6,497 for a meal plan) Approximately $2,127 - $2,539 on average
Toronto, Ontario Residence at York University: $7,788 - $8,076 (plus an additional $4,250 - $5,750 for a meal plan) Approximately $2,091 - $2,461 on average
Montreal, Quebec Residence at McGill University: $10,832 - $14,168 without a meal plan, and $17,032 - $20,368 (plus an additional $5,700 for a meal plan) Approximately $1,102 - $1,472 on average

Keep in mind that these numbers are not perfect, and may change depending on the school, style of residence, and the location.

Roommate 101

Roommates are a common part of university and college life. But how do you know if you should live with someone while you study in Canada? Check out these advantages and disadvantages for living with a roommate to help you make your decision:


  • Saves you money: a roommate will decrease costs in on-campus housing, and share costs of bills in off-campus housing
  • Make new friends: you’ll have a buddy to cook and eat with, go out for fun activities, or stay in and watch a movie
  • Divide up chores: maintaining a clean living space is a lot easier when you’re not doing all of it by yourself
  • Learn how to live with someone else: you’ll develop your social, communication, and conflict-resolution skills when living with a roommate
  • Share furniture: you may not have a coffee table, but your roommate does, and they may not have a toaster, but you do! Sharing furniture and appliances between roommates can help minimize things you need to buy


  • Conflicting personalities: you could be an early bird and they could be a night owl, or you like your peace and quiet and they like to party
  • You might not get along: living with another person can be a challenge. Little arguments can escalate since you have no space from each other
  • Less privacy: sometimes you just want some alone time, but having a roommate means sharing your living room, kitchen, bathroom, etc. It can be hard to find some time to yourself
  • Boundary issues: since you’ll be sharing your space with another person, it can be hard to set boundaries. Your roommate could ask for constant favours for you to drive them to campus, or they could have a tendency to use up all your coffee without asking

Tips for finding a place to live off-campus

Finding a place to live off-campus in a new country can be a challenge. Where are you supposed to look? How do you know who to trust?

Reach out to your school’s housing services team. Even though you’ll be living off-campus, they may be able to provide you with reliable sources for where to look. Some schools even offer a peer support service for any landlord-tenant questions you have.

View the rental if you can, but if not, ask for a virtual tour. Photos can be out of date, so ask for a video call so you can see exactly what condition the place is in, and you can get a feel for its layout.

Ask for references! A good way to know if a landlord is trustworthy is by talking to people who have rented from them before.

Check out some of these popular sites for student rentals:

This was a lot of information to take in, but hopefully it’s made you consider factors you hadn’t before, and you’ve got a better idea of what you want when you live in Canada.

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