As I was preparing my budget sheets for my new independent study abroad program, I realized that, broken down in my study abroad program’s costs were housing costs that were ridiculously expensive, even for the very posh area I was living in. It was student accommodation with almost 100% international students who didn’t know any better when it came to paying nearly $400 AU per week for a twin share room. Keep in mind that this shared room was in an apartment with 7 other flatmates to share a kitchen and living area with, and in a building that offered few amenities to make that cost remotely reasonable.
It’s great to live in program housing because you meet/live with other people in your program, pickup spots for any included excursions may be there, and your program can organize your rental agreements and any discounts so that you are protected from potential tenant/landlord discrepancies that can arise in independent housing. However, have a look at how much it’s really costing you and what inclusions and amenities there are for that price compared to others in the area. Sometimes it may be worth the ‘premium’ price to be with others in your program and to have any amenities/perks of program housing, but I encourage each individual to look at their circumstances and consider independent housing. Some noteworthy factors are:
- Program Housing Rules Does your contract stipulate no guests, no drinking, or other rules that may affect your experience abroad? If you hope to have a friend or family member visit you in your host country for a few days, or want to bring over a friend you met at university, will you be allowed to? I realized one of my program housing rules was no drinking in the building, even though other residents were allowed to. So as for the traditional Australian BBQs allowed to be hosted on the rooftop with ‘snags’ (sausages) and beer, people in my program were not supposed to engage, even though we could legally drink.
- Program Duration My program was initially supposed to be ~4.5 months total, so for that time, I would have definitely preferred to be in program housing, even though it would have saved me more than $1,000 US to go elsewhere. This allowed me to bond with others in my program, avoid negotiating a short-term lease elsewhere, and kept me safe given how new I was to the country, so I’d be willing to pay that amount. For longer-term programs though, I’d definitely recommend looking into independent housing, even if you do the first few months with your program and spend the remainder in independent housing. This will allow you to find a temporary home that caters to you and potentially save you heaps of money for travel and more.
- Housing Amenities Shared vs. private rooms and bathrooms, gyms/pools, free laundry, bills and wifi included, etc. are all factors to consider and note whether they could save thousands of dollars that could be used for travel, nights out, and living expenses. My first place after moving out of program housing (recall: a twin share room in an apartment with 7 other flatmates, expensive laundry, 30 minutes from my campus, many rules) was less expensive and had a queen bed, my own bathroom, all bills and laundry included, only 4 housemates, and was a quick 10-15 minute walk to campus. It was still expensive, but so much more valuable considering what I was previously paying for so much less. My current place costs even less (actually a steal for the location and amenities) and includes garage parking, a private bedroom with a sunroom office for my studies, a gym and pool, all bills/laundry/wifi included in rent, and so much more with only 3 housemates to share with. And if I need something cheaper, I can still consider somewhere with fewer amenities or that is a bit further from campus. The flexibility of independent housing allowed me to find a home that was the best fit for me and saved me heaps of money!
I encourage students studying abroad to do some research on your host country/city and ensure that you are paying a fair amount and that private rentals are safe and common where you are. Inspect the home and meet your flatmates before you place a deposit (even over video chat, if necessary), and know your rights when signing leases and rental agreements. Remember, this will be your home for a while, so make sure that wherever you are, you feel safe and happy, even if that means taking a bit out of your travel budget to pay a bit more. Finally, don’t let living outside of your program/off-campus limit you. Take advantage of program events and still get to know your fellow students, go to events hosted on your campus, meet people in your sharehouse and in your community and in your classes. Take advantage of all there is to offer to make your study abroad experience great, no matter where you live.