Finding the right place to live while at university is hassle enough without weighting in the problems that coming from a foreign country poses. So here’s what I’ve learnt from my experience and the issues I’ve faced.
First of all, if you come from anywhere but Britain, the automatic choice usually is living in student halls. If you are fine with that, the process is pretty easy – try to find something that suits your needs from the variety of accommodation that the university has to offer.
It’s much easier, especially because you won’t have to deal with agencies, landlords or figuring out how to pay your bills – the university does that for you. An extra advantage is being able to see some photographs of your accommodation before you actually move in.
However, if you do want to rent a house or an apartment on your own or with your friends, renting a place can be a bit frightening. Personally, I don’t regret living in student housing rather than in halls because I feel it suited my lifestyle.
The biggest issue I’ve had with dealing with agencies has been providing a guarantor. Coming from a different country, neither I nor my housemates have a relative or a trusted friend who is a UK resident and has a wage high enough to guarantee for a whole house. In some cases, agencies do accept international guarantors, but you have to inquire at literally every last one of them in order to find the right option for you.
In the case in which you don’t have a guarantor, another path you can take with renting your own place can be paying 6 months’ rent in advance. In my experience, this has been the easiest way to go around the system and not worry about rent for half a year. Usually, if you choose to do so, the agency then renews your contract without requiring another pay in advance.
However, this is clearly a big investment and it’s not as easy getting 6 months’ worth of rent all at once as it is paying monthly. On the long term, this is usually more advantageous as you can find some great places to live that are cheaper than your standard student accommodation. It all depends on the time and effort you want to put in it.
Then, you have the issue of dealing with your landlord or agency. Being in university managed accommodation spares you all this trouble and guarantees you won’t be taken advantage of. When you’re on your own, you have to pay close attention to everything your agency tells you and make sure you can fully trust them. You have to read your contract carefully and it’s better if you make a visit to the Accommodation office at the university before you actually sign it.
Also, it’s great if you can establish a comfortable relationship with your agency or landlord. Ask them all you need to know to make an informed decision and remember that’s the person you’ll have to deal with if any problems do occur during your tenancy.
Here’s a list of questions that should be asked before viewing any property:
- How much is the rent? Are the bills included? – if you receive an answer of a certain amount per week, don’t multiply that by 4 and just assume that’s how much you have to pay monthly; ask again how much exactly it is per month (remember that a month doesn’t have 28 days)
- If you sign a contract, on how many months does it have to be? – if you sign a contract for 1 year and you want to move out at the end of your university year, then you’ll be stuck with 3 months of rent that you’ll pay for nothing
- Do you need a guarantor? Does he/she have to be a UK citizen, with a salary higher than a certain amount?
- How much is the deposit? Is it protected through the Deposit Security Agency?
- What initial fees does the agency require?
- Does the house/apartment have a fire alarm system and fire doors?
- What utilities does it have? How many bathrooms? Does each room have a lock? Are you allowed to put one in if they don’t?
And finally, don’t get pressured into moving somewhere that doesn’t suit your needs. Take your time, do your research and consult with as many people as you can. Even if the first place you see looks ideal, don’t get tricked into thinking if you don’t get it that second, it will disappear immediately off the market. If you search with the right attitude and not panic, you’ll definitely find the right place for you.