How to find accommodation while studying English abroad
There are several options for accommodation while studying English overseas and the one you choose will depend on what you want to gain from your experience.
It is also possible to change accommodation during your English course. For example some long term students initially live with a homestay family and later move into residential accommodation after finding employment or making new friends. The more time you spend in the country, the more you will hear about these opportunities.
Accommodation can loosely be divided into three categories; Home stay, residential and hotels.
Homestay involves staying with a local family as a paying guest. It is one of the more convenient options as your school will allocate a homestay to you. You will not have to pay utility bills, sign a lease or pay a deposit.
Homestays are vetted by the schools and many have built up a long standing relationship. The majority of homestays will be with families while some are with older couples. Breakfast and dinner is usually included. The quality of a homestay is very difficult to guarantee and depends completely on the individual household. Some will be permissive while others may be stricter and expect certain behavior from you that would no be expected in your own home such as eating with the family or coming home at a certain time.
One benefit of staying with a family is that it gives you an insight into local culture as well as allowing your to speak the language you have learned with a native speaker on a regular basis.
Some people experience problems with homestay families during busy periods. If the main motive of the homestay is financial they may provide poor food, be unfriendly and make unrealistic demands over times you can use the bathroom. This is unusual but occasionally happens in busy periods (usually during the summer in England). If you have a problem with your homestay the best thing to do it discuss this with your school immediately and ask to be moved to another homestay.
Residential housing involves living in your own rented accommodation and preparing your own meals. There is a huge range of options available and many schools will be able to assist you in finding suitable accommodation. You will have more personal freedom than in a homestay and if you are willing to compromise on luxuries it can be cheaper. If you choose to rent you can choose the option of sharing a room or renting your own apartment and living on your own. You will be limited by your options depending on how long you are planning to study. If you are staying in the country for more than a year it may be possible to find shared accommodation with people living and working there long term. If you are committed to a shorter stay it may be difficult to find shared accommodation and costs will be increased. Many schools organise rented accommodation where the school will rent an apartment through a landlord and offer it to students.
Costs vary widely based on location. Places separated by a few kilometres in towns can have huge differences in price. The best way to get an idea of the cost of residential accommodation is on rental or shared accommodation websites.
Studio apartment / bedsit / boarding house
is a small one room apartment where facilities are shared. Some of these will have shared kitchen or bathroom facilities. Likewise some will have services
such as cleaning provided. Many universities provide shared accommodation in student dormitories / halls of residence of a similar standard.
Hotels & Hostels
If you would prefer not to live with a family and do not wish to rent the other option is staying in a hotel or a hostel. Most schools will be able to provide you with a list of recommended establishments. This is the most expensive option and facilities will be shared if available at all. Most students studying for more than a few weeks choose either homestay or residential accommodation.
Where to find accommodation
In most cases the easiest way to find accommodation is through your school. The school will have contacts with letting agents and homestays and will be able to advise you on suitable areas in your price range.
Friends you make in school will also have information on suitable student accommodation and may be able to tell you about rooms which are becoming vacant or people who are looking to share accommodation.
Agents will help you find accommodation and charge a fee for this service. An agent will also be able to show you several different locations and advise you on which is the most suitable. Using a professional agent usually means that you will have a proper lease and are less likely to experience problems. These higher standards work both ways and agents may require guarantees from you, such as a deposit, rent in advance and reference letters (from previous accommodation, employers or your school). If you use an agent you may also be able to view several places that are close together in a shorter period of time as many agents are provided with keys for viewings.
Many people find accommodation through ads in newspapers or posted on notice boards.
It is a good idea to view more than one place before deciding on where you want to live. After you collect a few addresses and phone number from the internet, friends or notice boards you phone the contact and arrange an appointment. If you are seeing a few properties in one day it is a good idea to take a digital photo or write some notes to refer back to later. While viewing the property you should find out as much information as you can.
Some questions you should ask are;
Do you have to pay a deposit?
When do you pay the rent?
What is included in the rent? Do you have to contribute to other bills like electricity, telephone, cable tv?
How much notice do you have to give before you move out?
How long can you stay?
How many people live in the house? What are they like? What space will you share with them?
What rules are there?
What housework are you expected to do?
Where can you do your laundry?
Are you expected to cook?
Can you use the telephone / internet?
Is the location safe? Are there areas nearby that you should avoid at night time?
Can your friends visit?
If you smoke can you smoke in the house or outside?
Is your room quiet? Do people stay up late at night or make a lot of noise?
Is there adequate heating or ventilation? Remember that if you are staying for a long period the conditions might change depending on the season.
People have problems with landlords and housemates everywhere, but when you are in a strange country with limited command of English they can seem more difficult to resolve. It is difficult for students to know the best way to deal with the problems or where to go for advice. This can be complicated due to most students living in homestays or subletting where tenants' rights are less clearly defined.
Problems with landlords
If you are staying for a long period of time and wish to rent your own apartment you will probably have to deal with a landlord (or an agent acting on their behalf). The obligations of both landlord and tenant are agreed by contract and there are government agencies, procedures and laws to enforce these. Landlords have to give you fair notice before entering the property, they can't raise the rent during the terms of the lease and they cannot keep the deposit. Tenants should pay the rent on time and leave the property the way it was when they moved in (apart for normal wear and tear). If a landlord does attempt to keep your deposit you will be able to apply for reimbursement through legal channels.
Problems with roommates
If your name is not on the lease the law harder to enforce. Problems with roommates are not usually as simple to explain or easy to resolve. Problems with roommates can be complicated by personal conflict. Different people will have different standards of what is acceptable for cleanliness and noise-levels.
The most common sources of conflict between roommates are cleanliness, noise, bills and food.
If you have a messy roommate, do not clean up after them, unless you are prepared to keep doing this.
It is important to remember there may be cross cultural differences. Some things that you find disgusting may be perfectly normal for other people (wearing shoes in the house or leaving bubbles on dishes after the washing up). If you have a problem with your roommate leaving a mess, muttering under your breath, dirty looks or leaving notes are not likely to have the desired effect. It is much better to be direct and honest and explain how you feel without getting angry or upset. It is best to remain calm and think of solutions that are agreeable to both parties, such as dividing the chores or having one person do the washing on alternate days.
Most people will be considerate about noise levels with their roommates but when people have different schedules there are bound to be times when someone is moving around the house while someone is trying to sleep. If this become a persistent problem explain that you are being kept awake to your roommate. If they are playing loud music ask them to use headphones or if you are a light sleeper consider buying earplugs.
When you are sharing housing you will probably have to share the bills. If someone does not pay on time someone else will have to pay. If you do not want to pay for someone else's bills it iss important to be organised. Some people set up a joint bank account for paying bills. You could consider paying a deposit for the bills where everybody pays a certain amount into the fund so if someone is late with a bill the money can be taken from the deposit and returned as soon as possible.
Food is usually an issue when someone is taking someone else's. In some homes certain items, like coffee, sugar, tea and oil, will be shared, in others everyone will have their own. Problems start when people start taking food that does not belong to them. If this continues to happen after you have brought it up with you roommates consider asking if it is possible to use a cabinet exclusively or buy a container to keep more expensive items in your room.
As with any problem prevention is better than cure. When you are looking for a roommate try and find someone who is compatible and lives a similar lifestyle.
If you want to have someone to talk to when you come home do not move in with someone who works nights.
Before you move in make sure you have asked all relevant questions about bills, chores, visitors, etc. If possible get an agreement signed in writing. This
should cover rent, utilities, shared expenses, chores and rules.
A lot of disputes are based on people dealing with confrontation in different ways. It is important to maintain a dialog and be calm and relaxed. Be honest
and direct. Do not apologise but do not rude. Do not be passive aggressive. If your roommate does something that irritates you and you retaliate, the
situation is likely to escalate. Do not blame someone just explain your feelings and ask if there is anyway to compromise.
Try and be reasonable and not to let a personality clash turn into a war.
Remember when you spend a lot of time with someone they can become the focus of your frustration and it is better to walk away and spend some time apart than have a huge argument over nothing in the heat of the moment.
The best way to protect yourself is to keep a record of everything you pay for. Never pay cash and always request a receipt. If you do not have a cheque book you should pay for things by bank transfer and make sure there is a record of where your money is going.
When you live with someone else it is likely that at some point they are going to do something that gets on your nerves. Many people have problems when they room mate with a friend. You have to be very careful making that decision, especially living in the same room. Find a room mate based on similar lifestyle and compatibility.
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