Finding Accommodation Abroad: Top Tips

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Are you planning on studying or working abroad in the next academic year? Are you excited but overwhelmed at the thought of finding a place to live?

Here you can find some top tips on finding accommodation and what to do once you’ve found it based on extensive research, my own experience and other students testimonies! This is the first post in a series called Accommodation Guides. Read here and here for profiles and useful links for individual countries in Europe and the rest of the world!

N.B. For students studying at one of our partner institutions, you can find the most up-to-date and detailed information on the host university’s webpages for exchange students. These links can be found on our “Where can I go?” pages in the ‘Living there’ sections of each university profile. Make note of accommodation application deadlines and please be aware that the University of St Andrews cannot guarantee accommodation at any of our partner institutions.

Email our Global Office Intern to get in touch with past Saints Abroad students to hear their experience of finding accommodation at [email protected].


Top Tips

  • Don’t panic! Many students arrange accommodation last minute or after they have arrived in the country in order to view accommodation in person. That being said, it’s always worth doing your research beforehand even if you plan to find accommodation when you arrive. Some student cities have high competition (think St Andrews level!)


  • Use a variety of sources when looking for accommodation- the Internet has a wealth of information but be aware of false adverts. Check out local newspapers, letting agencies, notice boards and even asking colleagues or friends if they know of anywhere.


  • You may have to arrange hostel or hotel accommodation when you arrive initially– research cheapest options close to your place of work or study or even ask colleagues if they could suggest somewhere or house you briefly themselves, just while you are searching for permanent lodgings. Sites like AirBnB and hostels are useful for this purpose.


  • In order to rent a property, you may need to have an identity number or proof of residency status, accompanied by proof of identity and visas. Each country has a different name for this number (e.g. UK is National Insurance number or Spain, the NIE (Número de identidad de extranjero)) Prepare all of your paperwork in advance and have multiple photocopies available; this includes proof of ID, guarantor forms, bank statements, visa permits, proof of work placement/student status and even birth certificates. Consider that some documents may need to be translated.


  • Be aware of scams! Do not transfer money to any unknown bank accounts until you are sure of the validity of the company/landlord and you are aware of all future costs. Check the agency really exists! Search online for reviews or warnings of known scammers or bad landlords. Make sure they provide their full contact details, including postal address. Research the agency on the countries Chamber of Commerce (or equivalent) website.


  • Physically view the property in person or ask a trusted person (e.g. a future colleague or friend in the country) before transferring over any money and be wary of sites that aren’t regulated or authenticate property owners. If this is not possible, look for the address on Google Maps. Does the description in the ad match the actual location? Compare the photos in the ad with Google Street View. Do the view from the window and property style correspond with what you would expect? Are there any features mentioned in the ad that don’t match the location, e.g. non-existent tram stops?


  • Follow the Golden Rule of “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” Check out rents in the surrounding area and for similar type properties to see if what you are being offered is realistic.


  • Before signing a lease, it is advisable to research what your rights are and have the contract checked by an expert. Not only can the process be time consuming and complicated, but it can also be expensive. If you enlist the assistance of a letting agency you will be expected to pay for this service. The charge incurred will amount to at least one month’s rent. English-speaking agencies may be useful in countries where you are not familiar with the language. Always get a copy of your lease in both English and the original language. University students, if in doubt, contact the International Office at your host institution for assistance or local charities that provide free legal assistance.


  • Budget carefully for initial fees, such as deposits, food, furniture and toiletries when you arrive. Erasmus+ payments will only arrive from October and most employers will only pay into a national bank account which can take some time to set up. Bring cash when you arrive for emergency costs.


  • Furnished or unfurnished? Some countries offer mostly furnished apartments and flats whilst others do not. Bear this in mind when looking at prices and convenience. Are there any flea markets, charity shops or websites that offer cheap furniture? Is there an IKEA nearby? Weigh up the time you will spend there versus convenience and cost.


  • Deposits can range from one month’s rent to up to 6-months rent. Deposits can have different names in each country; be aware that in some countries, payments of ‘Good Faith’ and ‘Key Money’ are common to secure your interest in a place and rapport with the landlord and are in addition to the security deposit. Research beforehand whether there is a law regarding a 3rd party company holding your deposits (as in Scotland) and what to expect for the average deposit. Always ask for proof of transfer for any payments you make and keep these documents safe until the end of your lease. Research which department you should contact in the country should you have any problems with your lease and disputes of renter’s rights.


  • Utilities may or may not be included in the rent. Check this before signing the lease and ask the landlord for estimate prices if not. Phone, electricity, gas and water bills are the most likely to be the tenant’s responsibility where as waste collection fees and council tax may be included in the rent. Research utility companies before you arrive for good deals and make setting this up a priority when you move in. Maintenance costs may be added for upkeep of communal spaces, such as gardens or common rooms if in a shared building.


  • Research setting up a bank account in your host country to avoid transfer fees- most host universities have advice on this process and make sure you bring photocopies of all relevant documentation that you could need (including your birth certificate!) Alternatively, many banks and apps now offer free international transfer, like Monzo or PayPal or TransferWise.


  • Location, location, location! Sometimes the best options for housing are outside of city centres- check out local public transport links and services to see if this is an option. How long will it take you to travel into work/university every day? Where is the nearest supermarket? Are there other amenities and entertainment venues nearby? Pay attention to ‘rough’ or unsafe parts of towns and cities- never put yourself at unnecessary risk and be mindful of your surroundings. Consider your personal and home security.


  • Once you’re settled and moved in, make sure that you let the University of St Andrews know your new address (update your personal details on MySaint), your place of work/host university, bank, doctor’s surgery/insurance agencies and any governmental department that deals with your visa and residency applications. This may be your local town hall residences list or national government immigration department.

Best of luck with your search and have a great time abroad!

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