It is no great secret that living overseas comes with its share of problems. We have all heard some relatives tell horror stories about their dingy apartment on the bad side of town, 2 hours away from their college. Here are five things to keep in mind as you plan your foreign accommodation as an international student, as suggested by Sayantan Biswas, Co-Founder of UniScholarz and UniAcco:
Location Location Location! - Depending on where in the world you are heading for, the part of town you end up in can make or break your entire trip. In dense urban centers like Sydney, London, and Boston, a few kilometers can add hours of traffic by road and thus expenses. In 2021, 22% of all US commuters had to spend over half an hour traveling just to their destination every day, according to Statista.
So what can you do about it? Research. Broadly understand the different boroughs of your destination and where your university is located. Learn as much about the public transport systems as possible and download any useful train and bus tracking apps that are locally recommended. This way, you will know exactly what you are looking for when speaking to a broker or searching for a house through online platforms.
Money Matters- While some students opt for on-campus accommodation, this can limit their exposure to the real culture and vibe of the new country, which may detract from the quality of their overseas experience. Furthermore, at Ivy League colleges like Harvard or MIT, campus stays tend to be a very expensive option (For instance, INR 6-14L /9 months at Harvard Law).
So what’s the solution? Thankfully, finding off-campus accommodation is easier (and cheaper) Homestays, paying guest accommodation, and even couch-surfing become realistic options. Having said that, the most secure option remains through international student management services and brokers, as their costs are offset by the peace of mind and hassle-free experience they offer.
Roommate Dilemma- Practically speaking, roommates can become necessary in very premium locations and if you opt for on-campus accommodation, the decision of having a roommate may not even be in your hands.
If you must share a house, it is advisable to opt for someone who knows the local language and the city so that you may pick up some useful phrases and mannerisms as well. Furthermore, if your roommate attends the same university as you, a lot of initial problems like commuting and campus orientation are entirely avoided.
Check for Hidden Expenses- While tedious, it is in your best interests to keep an eye on a few points on expenses from the very beginning so that you are not surprised later when your bills arrive.
Check your lease for details like the length of stay, move-in, and move-out dates, utilities included, and additional fees. There are always additional expenses like the lease breakage and facilities fees, which you should be aware of when they become applicable.
Check for professionals who can guide you: Unsurprisingly, this is where a good accommodations manager can save you. The best of these services can suggest, compare, and help decide your student accommodation across international borders. Some services today go one step beyond and partner directly with organizations native to the destination countries to get you the most accurate bureaucratic information possible. This is an easier process as these platforms are well aware of the well-connected locations across countries and can guide students in getting value for money.
Safety First- Let us understand the most common form of fraud used against international students. Essentially, a student finds someone online offering a good room at a great price and he asks for a deposit or a reservation fee. Naturally, if this “fee” is paid, the fraudster simply keeps the money and moves on, and students are often in no position to seek legal help in these cases because they are in an entirely different country. Certain student destinations like the UK now require you to arrange housing before even entering the country precisely to avoid such awkward situations. Therefore, it is sensible for you to do a background check before committing to any payments. Check into the building location, the property broker’s credentials, the managing service's website, etc., and only move forward after there is no scope for unpleasant surprises.
This column is part of a bouquet of tips being published all of August - a special offering by The Free Press Journal to help Indian students going abroad to study.