For so many students, studying abroad has always been a dream. Millions of them aspire every year to take that flight overseas and breathe life into the next step in their education or career, simultaneously fulfilling a fantasy to travel to a new land.
Being abroad and away from your home is a whole new experience. It also serves as an excellent opportunity for you to grow as a person. You'll get to learn new languages, encounter unique cultures, and make new friends and connections that might turn out to last a lifetime. But, to make the most of this experience you have to have a safe and happy place to call your “home away from home.”
So, after getting accepted into the program of your dreams, the next important step is finding student housing. But of course, searching for a place to stay in a new city across the ocean is easier said than done.
There’s no need to fret, though, as we've created this essential guide to help you choose a place that suits your needs and will help you make the most of your time overseas.
Types of study abroad housing
While studying abroad, the place you choose to stay will significantly impact your academic success and overall lifestyle. There are various types of student housing available. Your experience in the city might differ with each type of accommodation.
Are you worried about feeling homesick? Well with a homestay you can have a home overseas with a family that will provide you with the warmth of a community and the freedom of a hostel. You can enjoy the best of both worlds. Plus, a homestay can often be the best place for language and cultural immersion.
You'll generally have a private room but you’ll share the bathroom as well as other common spaces with the family. Usually, food is included, so you don't have to go through the hassle of cooking and grocery shopping. And what better way to enjoy the local dishes than through a home-cooked meal! There may be some rules and regulations that you'll have to follow (for example, you may not be allowed to even use the kitchen).
Although homestays are quite affordable, families often tend to live away from the universities, so you may spend time and money on local transportation for your commute. Overall, it's an excellent way to soak in any city's culture and history. You'll also have a family by your side, which can also result in more local connections that make a study abroad experience all the more meaningful.
Student dormitories can lead to truly meaningful overseas experiences. Not all universities will offer this type of housing to study abroad students, but it’s worthwhile inquiring with your provider because dorms are the ultimate way to make new local friends!
Dorms vary, but it’s possible you’d have a private room with a private bath, or you may have a roommate, or have a shared bathroom as part of a suite. There will generally be common areas such as study spaces or a kitchen, which serve as great gathering spots for you and your classmates.
However, dorm rooms sometimes come with steep prices, so it’s worthwhile to weigh your options. Additionally, if you’re thinking of having friends or family visit you while studying abroad, it’s possible that your dorm will not allow overnight guests, so this might also factor into your decision-making.
3. Private Apartment
Renting a whole apartment to yourself will allow you to enjoy the liberty, privacy, and independence that you don’t necessarily have in dorms or homestays. You also get to choose the location so that it’s most convenient for your lifestyle. However, private accommodation can come with a pretty hefty price tag. Apart from the rent, you'll also have to manage the bills, utilities, wifi, and stock your own fridge!
Some landlords might ask you to pay a security deposit before renting, which will be returned to you once you move out, pending any deductions taken because of damage. So if you’re renting, make sure you take care of the place!
It’s also worthwhile to note that while a private apartment might give you the most freedom and independence, it also can cut you off from meaningful cultural experiences and relationships with locals. If you’re living with a host family, you’ll have an instant local community to support you and guide you in your transition living abroad, but if you’re living on your own, you’ll have to put in the extra effort to befriend people in your new city.
4. Private student rental halls
Private rental halls are almost identical to university dorms but they’re generally off campus and sometimes come with more amenities. Options will include shared rooms, private rooms in a suite, and even private studios (they may be tiny though!). The price will also generally include all utilities, so what you see is what you pay in this case.
Many of these buildings are much more modern than university dorms and are equipped with high-speed internet, athletic facilities, cinema rooms, game rooms, and much more. The building may also organize events throughout the year to facilitate community connections!
5. Shared apartment
Shared apartments tend to be the most affordable type of accommodation for students. It also happens that they can be a lot of fun! You’ll live with a roommate who perhaps is another study abroad student, a local student, or even a young professional from the area. Shared apartments are ideal for making friends and creating close connections.
The set up will depend on the apartment, but typically you’ll have a private room and shared common areas. Unlike with dorms and homestays, you won’t have any curfews or rules you have to follow (other than being a good roommate, of course!).
The risk with a shared apartment is communal living. Sometimes roommates hit it off and become best friends, but other times there are personality clashes and communication difficulties. So it’s helpful to have an idea of the type of person you’d like to live with (eg. social, quiet, non-smoker, etc).
How to Find A Roommate
Since roommates can make or break the shared apartment experience, it’s important to find a good match. Try out some of these ideas for finding like-minded people to live with:
- Join different clubs in your university and befriend other international students.
- Turn towards social media and find a roommate on Facebook or Instagram groups.
- Ask for tips and help from senior students.
Once you find a roommate, make sure you're compatible by getting to know each other's habits, pet peeves, and personalities.
How to find study abroad housing
So, what resources would you use to find housing anyway? Though Craigslist, and other national versions of it exist in other countries, it's not always your best option. You're also not quite in the position to need a realtor, and can't rely on word of mouth (unless you know someone in that city already, of course!).
Your first stop should always be a quick email to your point of contact at your host university, but you can also rely on trustworthy third-party sites to help you locate housing and find a roommate. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Student.com: This site helps students around the world find accommodation close to universities and colleges. They offer unique neighborhood guides and do their best to recommend top-rated housing, based on your location and preferences.
- Uniplaces: If you're planning on studying in Europe, this site will help you locate great housing options based on your moving dates. They have pretty stellar customer service so you should be able to get the assistance you need, but unfortunately if you're studying anywhere other than Europe this site won't be of much use.
- Study Abroad Apartments: The name says it all! This site helps students find housing in their study abroad city of choice, but keep in mind that they currently only have listings in 13 global cities, so you'll want to see if your destination is on that list.
Other things to consider when choosing student housing
For many students, study abroad may seem out of reach because of finances. Not only do you have to pay for a costly semester of tuition, but you have to factor in international travel and living expenses. While there are many scholarships to make all of this more feasible, it’s still important to think about how you can cut down on costs when it comes to housing and living expenses.
The first consideration you can take to reduce living costs is to share a room with someone. While this may not seem like your dream of independence, the reality is that you probably won’t be spending too much time at home anyway (you’ll be out exploring!), and sharing a room could drastically reduce your rent. All of those hundreds of dollars, pounds, euros, etc that you save could go towards a fun weekend trip!
Additionally, it’s important to think about the area where you want to rent. If you rent in a very trendy, desirable part of the city, not only will your rent be higher but you’ll also pay more for groceries, restaurants, bars, etc. On the other hand, if you live a bit further out, you may spend more time on a bus, but you’ll save big when it comes to living expenses.
2) Tenant rights
Renting an apartment is overwhelming to begin with--there are so many factors to take into consideration! But renting overseas is even more unnerving. Knowledge will be your best defense when it comes to making sure you’re getting a good deal and not getting taken advantage of.
This is why it’s crucial that you thoroughly read through your rental contract. If you don’t have a solid handle on the language where you’re studying, ask one of the study abroad advisors on site to read it over with you. It’s important that you understand what’s being asked of you and what your rights are as a tenant.
Services that your landlord is obligated to provide
- There should be proper means of fire escape in your residence, and at least one smoke alarm should be placed on every floor in the building where you will be staying
- All the gas appliances should be fitted and appropriately checked at regular intervals, and this should be done by a certified Gas Safety engineer and the property must also have a record of when this was done
- Any significant changes that require massive remodeling or that are related to the structural integrity of the place have to be taken care of by the landlord. But remember, if any of the damage is your fault you’ll be required to cover the costs of repair which will be deducted from your security deposit
- While tenant rights will vary by country (and even by city or region), generally landlords cannot evict tenants without cause. This is why it’s important to read your contract because it will likely go through the scenarios in which you could be evicted. Additionally, the landlord cannot use any tactics of harassment such as cutting the electricity, refusing to give you the keys, or even refusing to do repair work in your apartment, especially as it relates to gas and electricity
3) Rental Frauds
Unfortunately, rental fraud is becoming increasingly common in many rental markets. In the UK alone, there were a total of 18,645 reported rental frauds from 2014-2018. During this same period, the amount of money that was lost due to these scams was to the tune of 22.1 million pounds. Of those nearly 19,000 reports, more than 930 incidents of rental fraud were linked to university students, highlighting how students are an at-risk population when it comes to tenancy.
Here are some tips to make sure you don’t become the victim of rental fraud:
- Don’t transfer money online unless and until you are sure about the advertiser
- Ask for separate copies of the tenancy agreement and also safety certificates concerning the gas or electricity license
- Ask someone you trust to check out the property before any agreement happens, or you can even contact your university beforehand, and they should be very eager to help you
Ready to find housing abroad?
There is a lot of information out there, and too many Google searches can sometimes send you into a tailspin. Don't get too overwhelmed! Finding accommodation abroad isn't so different from finding a place to live in your home university city. If you're still not finding the exact accommodation you desire, there are 'grass roots' options as well.
Call your abroad university for suggestions. Search for Facebook groups specific to your university's students or 'for rent' groups in the city you are studying in. Talking with local students can help you sort typical rent prices, the best areas of town for you (whether that be quiet parts to study, shopping districts, or the club scene). Read local blogs for recommendations on the best areas for your age and interests!
This should be a fun process, and one that ultimately leads to your home away from home. Let the wanderlust begin!