I’ve just been going through a highly stressful flat-hunt in London, although it needn’t actually have been all that stressful because I’ve done it a total of four times before. Compared to flat-hunting abroad, it should be easy-peasy in my own country.
And I’ve just realised that thousands of students are heading abroad about now to start their Third Year Abroad, and they’ll all find themselves in the same turmoil of frantically searching for somewhere decent to live.
First of all, don’t panic.
You will still panic, it’s inevitable really and no matter how much everyone reassures you, your impending homelessness will still play on your mind and keep you awake at night, worrying, worrying, worrying. Flat-hunting in a foreign country, in a foreign language, trying to understand words you’ve never used before such as “deposit”, “gas and electricity bills”, etc. is always going to be stressful. As you’re probably searching on your own, it can feel very lonely, like no one else is going through the same thing. So although I can try telling you to relax, I don’t expect it’ll work.
Second, do some research before you arrive.
Look on websites to see what sort of price range you’re aiming for. Then look at a map and work out where you need to be: near to your workplace/university faculty/school/train/bus stop. Now try and speak to ANYONE you know in that city. If you know absolutely nobody then try asking your Year Abroad Coordinator for the names and email addresses of other students who’ve gone there previously from your university. If that still doesn’t work, try contacting anyone you know who lives in that country. Ask them if they know anyone who’s lived in your city. If you’re still not having any luck, at least ask them how people look for flats anywhere in that country: which websites are there? Do people put up adverts for spare rooms on walls around the city (as in Spain)? Or on notice boards in information centres (as in Italy)? Through doing this, a small number of people manage to find a room even before they’ve gone out there, so they “Go Straight to Go and Collect £200”, as it were, skipping all the stress of the actual flat-hunt per se. And at the very least you can ask which areas of the city are dangerous and best avoided, etc.
Flat-hunting websites abroad:
If you know of any other good websites then please let me know so I can update this list.
Thirdly, book yourself three or four nights in a hostel as soon as you’ve booked your flight.
The hostels are really full in September as hundreds of other foreign students are doing exactly the same thing as you and searching for a flat. There’s also a really sociable atmosphere in hostels and you’ll probably hear of available rooms from other students. I met some of my best friends from Erasmus in my first three nights in a hostel! The only downside is that it’s very tempting to meet other foreign students, in a similar predicament to you, and decide to flat-hunt together. No doubt this will be great fun over your semester or year abroad (and in fact the best parties were always in Erasmus houses of 10 or 11 people), but you’ll find it very hard to improve your language. It depends what your goal is really. If your goal is perfecting your language, then make the effort to live with natives.
Fourthly, look around as many flats as humanly possible.
By now you’re in the city and you’ve found out where adverts for flats are posted (and if you haven’t then ASK! Ask anyone: tourist information centres, your hostel receptionist, your university… just ask.) You’ve got lots and lots of numbers jotted down and now you just need to build up the courage to call them. If you’re not too confident speaking in the language then write down a sort of script with the help of a dictionary. As you start organising viewings and start repeating your script you’ll start getting the hang of it.
Fifthly, don’t leap at the very first apartment you see.
Tell the landlord or tenants that you’ll get back to them soon and go and look round some other flats to get a feel for whether it’s fairly priced for its location and size, etc. And to add another issue into the mix, you’ve got the duration of the 5- or 10-minute viewing to decide whether you’d get on well with the current tenants. I looked around a gorgeous and very spacious flat in Modena that had one other tenant: a man in his late 30s. He’d failed to mention this key fact in his advert… We both took one look at each other and simultaneously started making excuses as to why the flat might not be quite right! Good lines are: “It’s a little out of my price range.” “It’s not close enough to [fill the gap]”, etc. He started emphasising how he didn’t want any parties in the flat, how he needed to be in peace, etc. Very important to get on with your potential flatmates! If not all of them are in, then ask who they are, how old, whether they work or study, etc.
And last of all, choose!
Make sure you don’t hang about too long in deciding, in case someone else has already nabbed your dream flat, and get a written receipt for any deposit your hand over. Move in and voilà!
No matter how many times you’ve flat-hunted, it’ll always be stressful. But you just have to try and get it over and done with and then you can start enjoying your Year Abroad! Flat-hunting (in two different countries) was easily the hardest part of my Third Year Abroad, far worse than any university exam or my first day at work. So once it’s over you can relax because the rest of it’s a piece of cake!