How to decide where to live while studying abroad?
Moving abroad presents several questions after you have been accepted for a study abroad program. Your host institution may offer dormitory placement (hall of residence), you may look for a host family or a number of housing agencies with reliable apartment renting services. In some cases you have to find a place abroad on your own. Choosing the right type of accommodation has a crucial impact on your overall study abroad experience.
For starters, think about:
More stars mean better results in the category. The ratings represent the average experience at each type of accommodation, so your individual experience may differ from this.
Main accommodation types abroad
The golden rule here: always be kind, flexible and open for cultural exchange, but never compromise with anyone who means harm to you (either physically or mentally). If you feel that a problem could escalate or already escalated, raise the issue at your host institution or local friends and try to resolve the dispute in a civilized manner. If it does not work, pack your things and move to another room/flat/house or else your life abroad will turn into a misery. Moving from one place to another while studying abroad happens moderately often, so do not feel ashamed, if it was truly necessary.
In this guide we describe the most popular types of housing abroad and draw the advantages and challenges of each option. Based on the pros and cons you can make an educated decision about where should you live abroad. At the end of each section we provide you with some professional tips to overcome accommodation speficic challenges. Do not worry, any choice will be a good choice, as long as you are aware of what you want to get out of studying abroad.
Living at a host family while studying abroad
A local family rents out a room for a monthly fee. Your host institution, a housing agency or even you can arrange your homestay directly with the host family. Usually you sign the contract before arrival, and you pay for the first month when you arrive to the host family (or before arrival to the agency, if they arranged your homestay). They will be ready to receive you by the time you packed all your luggage.
Your host family may treat you as a family member or as a tenant. Ideally you experience first-class cultural immersion in the local culture by participating in family events, such as family dinners, trips and other activities (you may need to bear the financial costs fully or partially). Host parents may help you with cultural adjustment and advise you on culture-specific behaviors and norms. On the other end of the scale you might be treated as a simple tenant: your host family provides you a room with keys, shows you where to wash your clothes and the only thing they share is the wi-fi password.
The house rules are outlined in the contract you signed and it might contain unexpected limitations. Smoking and drinking may be prohibited, internet, television, phone usage could be limited and some rooms, facilities could be restricted from use as well. Housework and additional 'help around the house' might be included in the contract, so check all pages before you accidentelly sign up for babysitting after classes.
Living abroad with a family gives you a unique insight to local life with all of its pluses and minuses: you are with the family in good times and bad times, even though you didn't have a marriage vow.
Living in a homestay arrangement ideally means:
In some cases living in a homestay arrangement means:
Tips for living with a host family:
Living in a dormitory or hall of residence while studying abroad
Dorms are designed to take in a large number of people, or in this case more precisely, international students. Your host institution may offer a place for you to live in the dorms, that can be a single room or a shared room. Yes, you may have roommates.
International student dormitories are often close to the campus, but they could easily be off-campus. You may also look for a youth-hostel or other dormitory type placements individually.
If you have been granted a dormitory placement, your university will book a room for you in advance and you can do all the paperwork after you arrived to your host country. Some dormitories require payment upon arrival, but often you can pay within a month. You will sign a contract with the dormitory, where the rules often prohibit drinking, gambling while smoking is allowed in the designated areas.
On campus dormitories mean less time to get to your classes, whereas off campus dorms could lead to hours of commuting, so check the location before accepting any kind of placement.
Intercultural, co-national or local roommates may be your best buddies or worst enemies. Language barriers and cultural differences may arise, but this intercultural environment is a quite valuable experience while studying abroad. Be open-minded, flexible and always discuss the problematic issues. Set the house rules together in the beginning of the semester abroad and stick to it.
Depending on the rules (and how they are enforced) living in a dormitory abroad often means trading your day life for the night. You rarely find a quiet moment before 2 am, but that's the beauty of it. Your patience and cross-cultural competence will improve significantly while living abroad with culturally different people.
Living in the dorms ideally mean:
In some cases living in dorms mean:
Tips for living in a dormitory abroad:
Living in a shared or studio apartment while studying abroad
Studio apartment: you have a small private flat for yourself.
Shared apartment: you share a flat with 2-3 people and you have a private room.
You may pay for an agency to find a studio apartment or a single room for you or you can rent a place abroad on your own. If you know someone in the host country, you should reach out and ask for help with searching for an apartment abroad.
You have several additional financial obligations in comparison to the previous forms of accommodation. In general a shared room in a rented flat is more expensive than dormitory or host family arrangements and a private studio apartment is even more expensive. In any case, you will pay one or two months worth deposit plus the first month of rent up front. So you must have 3 months worth rent money at hand, but of course at the end of your international studies you get back the deposit (if the place is intact). You sign an agreement with the housing agency or with the landlord directly.
Your own studio apartment is by far the most convenient, granting you ultimate freedom abroad. Nevertheless most international students only want to rent a room, so that means 3-4 people renting an apartment together. Early birds join groups to find roommates or flatmates before they start their study abroad program, but if you did not manage to team up with international or local students in advance, you will find flatmates when you meet the international student community at your host institution.
You may choose a temporary dormitory placement or a hostel till you find a room to rent. The best option is to choose flatmates based on sympathy or native langauge (this is why co-nationals tend to search for an apartment together).
Living in a shared or studio apartment ideally means:
In some cases living in a shared or studio apartment means:
Tips for living in a rented room or apartment abroad: