You've chosen a study abroad program, you've booked your tickets, and you're just starting to get incredibly excited about spending a semester or year abroad. Now that two of the major decisions are out of the way, you turn to tackling the third: housing. If you're going through a third-party provider, chances are you already have housing figured out for you. But if you're enrolling directly to a university or have opted to independently find housing, your house hunt has just begun!
This is a pretty big consideration, so we're certain you've already given it some thought and how where you live may help you achieve your goals of studying abroad. For example, you may have already decided that the on-campus dorm life is not for you and that you want to try something different. You might want to really improve your language skills by living with a local roommate or homestay family. You might even want a taste of freedom after going from your parents house to a dorm room in college, and you are ready to be out on your own. Whatever your preferences, use the following tips as a jumping off point for planning independent housing while abroad.
1. Use Your Program to Find a Roommate
If you don't want to live in student housing on campus (or, your campus -- like University of Malta -- doesn't even have student housing) but want to get an apartment on the cheap, get a roommate! And who better to rope in to being your roommate than someone else from your program?
Having a roommate from your own school can allow you to explore the new city with someone who is experiencing everything for the first time too.
Not only are they guaranteed to be in the same boat as you (re: they need a home too!), and help you save a few bucks by splitting the cost of an apartment, having a roommate from your own school / program can allow you to explore the new city with someone who is experiencing everything for the first time too. Who knows, you might even make a lifelong friend! Plus, it will be great to get back from your study abroad adventure and be able to reminisce with your new roomie!
2. Organize a Homestay
This is a great option to choose if you are looking to challenge yourself to really learn a foreign language. Even if your host family speaks a little English, it will ensure that you're immersed in a foreign language at all times, and force you to never, ever take a break from practicing. You'll also get a unique insight to your host culture by witnessing and participating in day-to-day family life... not to mention, a real taste of the food from tasty home cooking if you're lucky!
To organize a homestay, first start by asking your advisor/contact at the university you are studying abroad at (not your home university) or your program provider. They will usually have a list of families who have volunteered to take in a foreign exchange student and can match you up. Be advised that you will be living in local accommodations, so, depending on what country or city you are in, you may need to get used to not having all of the amenities that you had at home.
If that's a bust and they are unable to help you get matched with a homestay family -- don't give up just yet! There are plenty of ways to find a homestay family on your own -- like Homestay Booking.
3. Use Craigslist or Other Similar Sites
Although definitely still most popular within the United States, Craigslist does have an international section of their site that can help you find a local roommate, sublet, or apartment. Depending on where you're studying abroad, there's almost definitely a local version of Craigslist (like Gumtree in the UK and Tealit in Taiwain) or online classifieds through a local newspaper that will list apartment shares and roommate wanted ads.
Of course, use good judgement and be wary of scams. Never give a downpayment for an apartment until you have seen it in person or met the person. Remember that it's OK to land in your new country and camp out at a hostel for a couple of days so you can make sure the place you found online is legit and everything it seems to be.
Really feel like getting creative and finding a budget-friendly house? Consider house sitting while you're abroad -- especially if your program is less than three months long, this could be an ideal situation. Great places to start are Trusted Housesitters and Mind My House.
4. Get on Mailing Lists and Forums
Another way to find off-campus housing is to request access to your host university’s student mailing lists. They might be able to put you on a general mailing list that reaches the student body as a whole. If so, send a mass e-mail out asking if anyone is looking for a roommate or if they have any advice for a good place to live.
Likewise, try joining an expat forum. While you are just studying abroad for a semester or two, expats will have gone through the whole process themselves and can likely either give you guidance or directly put you in touch with someone who wants to rent their apartment or is looking for a roommate
5. Use Social Media
Alternatively, go to your host university's Facebook page or group and try asking about housing there. If you don't get any bites there, try also posting a message on your study abroad program's Facebook group, asking alumni about how they managed independent housing while overseas.
Basically, use your social media networking-savviness to get in contact with someone you know has studied abroad or lived in this location before you (either through blogs, expat forums, Couchsurfing -- whatever you may have stumbled on during your research phase!) and pick their brains for tips. Social media can be a powerful tool -- utilize it!
6. Find a Real Estate Agent
Finding housing means having to navigate a foreign culture, often a foreign language, and has all sorts of rules and regulations you can't even begin to imagine. Given that, it might be a good idea to enlist the help of a real estate agent. These wonderful individuals can make your moving experience pleasant and calm instead of panicked and frantic. They will find a place that suits you and meets your requirements, including rent price, and they might even help you hook up internet, cable, etc.
Real estate agents can also guide you through the process of paperwork and all of the other logistical hassles that come with rentals. A good real estate agent is worth their weight in gold, so make sure to scope out reviews of agencies online and do not hesitate to again ask the housing department for guidance.
Do keep in mind that using a real estate agent is definitely not the most budget friendly option for students. There will be an agent fee for setting you up with an apartment, and likely only worth it if you will be there for a full academic year or longer. If you plan to study abroad for a summer or just one semester, test out a few more budget friendly options before finding an agent.
You really will want to make the most of your study abroad experience and getting away from dorms is a great way to do this. Immerse yourself more fully into the culture and embrace all the adventures that will come by living like a local. Get out of the university bubble and really see what life is like outside of school. Good luck and happy hunting!Photo Credits: Thomas Rousing, The LEAF Project, and Dan Bock.