Finding a place to live is one of the most important and stressful parts about moving abroad. People tend to worry about not having a place to live and try to organise everything before they go. However, I would strongly advise against signing signing or paying for a place you haven’t seen and visited properly! For the first two weeks I would stay in an AirBnB or a hostel. This gives you time to arrange and visit different housing options.
Having lived in around ten different living spaces, I like to think of myself as somewhat of an expert when it comes to packing up my life and moving house. As time goes on, you learn the difference between necessity and luxury that you can afford to give up. It’s not easy to find ‘the perfect place’ but with a bit of luck you will find one that you can call home. It’s all about prioritising, and identifying your personal limits and deal-breakers. We can break this down into three main factors: location, flatmates and the space itself. And unless time and money are no object, you should be prepared to compromise on one of these factors.
location, location, location
Without a doubt, location is what most affects rent price. As London perfectly exemplifies, living in a shithole in a trendy neighbourhood will be more expensive than a lush apartment in a rough one. Of course, there are a host of factors to consider here such as proximity to work, transport networks, shops, bars and restaurants.
People tend to prioritise being close to work, which makes perfect sense, particularly if you live in a city with terrible public transport and constant traffic jams. However, I prefer to be in a good area with shops, bars and restaurants but close to transport links to be able to get to work. Near or far, you have to go to work, so regardless, you will always make that commute. If your workplace ends up being far away from the social scene, you are more likely to turn down invitations on account of distance as you decide it’s not worth the effort. Also, if you live too close to work, you often end up never leaving that area. Next thing you know, your whole life takes place in a ten-block radius, and leaving it becomes too inconvenient. Living in a different area to where you work means you get to know more places.
Do your research online about which areas are good to live in, and have a look on local house-hunting websites to see what’s available, where and what the prices are like.
Also, be wary of living near main roads or construction works. Heavy traffic or constant drilling into your bedroom wall is not an ideal way to wake up in the morning!
At home or university, you live with your friends and life is just one big party. But when you move abroad, you live with strangers and it’s very different. You can’t leave your shit in communal spaces and have parties every weekend (unless you choose to live with students). You might become best friends with your new flatmates, you might not. Regardless, it’s still important to know a bit about the people you will be living with.
More importantly, you should find out about their schedules and general attitude towards co-habiting. If you work, you’d probably rather live with other young professionals. If you study, you’d probably rather live with other students. You don’t want to be the party pooper if your flatmates are having a party on a Wednesday night when you have to work at 6am. Nor do you want to be the inconsiderate flatmate that keeps everybody up. You would think anybody sharing a place with strangers would adhere to basic rules of respectful house-sharing, but unfortunately not everybody is as considerate as you might hope. Some people just don’t give a shit. A sneaky peak at the state of their kitchen or bathroom will tell you if they are sloppy and dirty or not. (If this doesn’t bother you then you are probably that housemate from hell that everyone hates).
If you desperately want to improve your language skills, don’t live with other foreigners! Living with locals is the easiest way to improve a language, small talk in the kitchen will contribute significantly to your language skills. Of course, it’s not necessarily a reason to dismiss a viable living option, just bear in mind that if you decide to live with other foreigners, you will have to put in more effort when you’re out and about to improve your language skills.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions!
- How many people are you sharing with?
- Are they young professionals or students?
- Do they smoke or have pets?
- Does the landlord also live there?
- What are the house rules? Re: parties, visitors, boyfriends.
More than the previous sections, this is a lot more subjective to personal preferences. Some people are happy with a mattress on the floor, running water and electricity whereas others demand a double room en suite with a balcony. I would advise trying to meet somewhere in the middle. I always look for a spacious double room with plenty of natural light, and hot water is a must. Everything else comes down to a compromise. As much as I love a good bath, you can learn to live without certain luxuries.
However, here are some universally important things:
- If you can lock your room – obviously, for security reasons.
- If the place is already furnished – a lot of places for rent are unfurnished, or they show you photos with furniture but it turns out it isn’t included… you don’t want to be forking out to buy new furniture, not to mention the effort of hauling it to the house.
- If there are shared kitchen items. It seems trivial but you don’t realise how much kitchen stuff you need until you have to buy it all… pots, pans, plates, spatulas, cutlery, cups… it’s just impractical. Not only does the money add up, but most will probably get broken or stolen so why bother. Better to share everything, then you don’t mind having to contribute a spatula here or there since you never paid for anything in the first place! Win-win!
Situations to avoid
I’ve had my fair share of good and terrible experiences when it comes to housing. Here are some things to try and avoid… this isn’t to scare you, but shit happens.
- Your landlord refusing to return your deposit for no reason, blatantly just trying to steal your money.
- Flatmates who play musical instruments at high volume at ungodly hours, especially the accordion.
- Flatmates with a coke habit and have coke parties in your living room (unless you’re into that, I suppose!)
- Flatmates who have really loud sex.
- Dorms with a six-foot high metal fence, a curfew and megaphones telling you not to lean out of the window.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to move house if you’re not happy where you are. It’s okay to live a few months here, a few months there!