General

International House Hunting 101

A few weeks ago, I (finally) moved into a permanent apartment here in Edinburgh. If you’re thinking “but a few weeks ago was the middle of October! School started in September! What are you up to?” you are not alone in your surprise about my living situation.

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Saying that I’ve had some major housing problems while on exchange would probably be an understatement. I’m talking a few panicked weeks of constant house hunting, moving into a very mouldy basement apartment, moving out of said apartment and into a hotel, another panicked bout of house hunting, and then finally settling down in a wonderful (if very expensive) flat. It all turned out OK, but I want to save you from some of my heart ache by offering up some of my hard-won advice. And with second semester approaching relatively quickly, I thought it would be a good time to talk about housing, for all of you exchange students who are heading off on exchange in January.

So let’s start at the beginning. You’ve decided to go off on exchange – now you need to decide where you want to live. This decision boils down to choosing between two basic options. Option one is to live in your host university’s student accommodation. Many schools will guarantee exchange students a place in residence, and this is a great, easy way to sort out your accommodation. Option two is to look for your own off-campus accommodation.

There are pros and cons to both of these options of course. If you live in residence, you’ll walk into a ready-made community where there are always tons of fun events going on, and you won’t have to worry about things like where you’re going to stay when you arrive, or how you’re going to find furniture. But you’ll probably end up paying a bit more, you might not get a ton of choice in the kind of accommodation you get, and you might feel a bit out of place amongst first-year students if you’re a bit older.

If you decide to live off campus, you’ll get more freedom in choosing where you live and who you live with, you’ll probably save a bit of money, and you’ll get to experience your new city in a way that doesn’t totally revolve around university. On the other hand, you have to actually find an apartment to live in, which is easier said than done, and you’ll have to make a much more concerted effort to get involved with campus life.

Personally, I chose not to live in residence. I’m in the final semester of my degree, and I’m 22 years old, so I wasn’t sure that living with first year students would be right for me. But all of my friends who chose to live in residence are loving it! It’s just about choosing what’s right for you.

Accommodation services: your new best friend

Accommodation services: your new best friend

If you do take the off-campus route, there are a few things you should keep in mind. It’s trickier finding a place than you might think – I speak from experience!

  1. Do some research before you arrive. I didn’t – I just assumed that it would be easy enough to find a place. If I had done some research, I would have learned that Edinburgh’s housing market is really competitive, and that crowds of international students arrive here every fall, looking for a place to live. Knowing this could have saved me a lot of stress and made me a little more prepared. Researching things like average rent prices, taxes, and tenancy laws is also useful.
  2. Have a back up plan. I found myself a short-term rental for the entire month of September, thinking I would probably find a permanent place way before the end of the month. It ended up taking much, much longer than I expected, and I was super grateful that I had rented my place for all of September as a back-up plan.
  3. Get advice. It’s really hard to know what kind of apartment you should be looking for, where you should be looking, and what the normal housing practices and rules are in a new country. But most universities have a housing or accommodation service that will be more than happy to help you figure these things out. Don’t be shy!

So that’s all the advice I have for you! You’ve got lots of housing options when you’re away on exchange – you just have to decide what’s right for your situation. And wherever you decide to live, it’s going to be a lot of fun. It’s all part of the adventure of living abroad.