When I first moved to Rome in 2015, I was a complete mess. In between visits to the Italian consulate and meetings with my Study Abroad advisor, I spent most of my free time daydreaming about twirling pasta in front of the Colosseum and not on critically thinking about where I was going to sleep once I arrived in the eternal city. In fact, I thought it was already decided for me. The “mandatory” student housing looked pretty perfect on paper and it required very little preparation work from yours truly. Surely things would work out, right?
Spoiler: Things did not work out.
Now it’s 2019, I have lived abroad in five different countries, and I’m a self-declared master at finding housing abroad. I know the search may seem daunting, but I am here to help you learn from my mistakes so you don’t have to fall flat on your face as I did.
Let’s start with student housing… Is it worth it?
While leafing through the acceptance packet for your dream program abroad, you should come across a tidbit on housing. In some cases, faculty-arranged housing is mandatory (usually if you’re in a small group). In other cases, student housing at an additional price is “strongly suggested.”
When I flew to Rome in 2015, I ignored the fine print and thought student housing was mandatory. More importantly, I did not realize that the “budget” housing I signed up for (in an apartment of seven people, mind you) was more than THREE TIMES the normal rent for a room in Rome. Yes, I bolded that for emphasis.
In addition to the ridiculous rent, the school housing came with a special set of rules that were punishable by fines. My favorite one was that if someone stayed overnight in your room, you could be charged a fine of over 1,000€. Yup, you read that correctly.
In fact, one day I woke up to a fine of 100 euros billed to my account. Apparently, an undercover maid discovered a bottle of margarita mix in our fridge and we were all found guilty of breaking the contract. *Eye roll*
I visited my Sicilian aunt that weekend who lives in the countryside and she was not amused by my story. I’m not kidding when I say that she called the housing director and threatened to march up to her office the next day with a head police chief (who was somehow connected to our family). The whole situation ended with me slipping 20 euro under the table to the housing director so we could all move on with our lives.
I think I might have gone off on a tangent, where was I?
Moral of the story: If you’re 100% sure that student housing is not mandatory, make sure it’s worth it. Use the resources I provide in further steps to compare the prices with normal rooms in the host city. Read the housing manual so you are familiar with the rules and regulations along with relevant fines and punishments. Lastly, look up housing reviews on sites such as iAgora to see what past residents have said.
If the housing costs double or triple the price of a regular room in the area, the rules are whack, and the reviews are iffy, it’s time to summon our inner Ariana Grande and say:
Thank U, Next.
Now let’s delve into those housing search tips
Tip #1: Take Advantage of Facebook
We are all guilty of wasting hours and hours on Facebook, but what if I told you that this website could be your best tool for finding affordable housing?
Right before I moved back to Rome in 2017, I decided to join the Facebook group for full-time students at the university I would attend abroad. As soon as my request to join was accepted, I drafted a nice paragraph including my name, my major, and the fact that I was looking for housing for the Spring semester. After a few days, I received a Facebook message from a girl who later became one of my best friends in life. She was desperately looking to fill a 600 euro single room in her spacious apartment smack in the middle of the historic neighborhood of Trastevere. Long story short, my time living with her in our cozy apartment was a dream. The fact that she was my only roommate and I was paying incredibly less than I did in 2015 reassured me that I had made the correct choice.
If your host institution has full-time degree-seeking students, then search for their Facebook group and join it as I did. If you’re doing an Erasmus program in Europe, join groups for Erasmus students. You’ll always find students looking for housing.
Afterwards, head back to Facebook’s search bar and look up groups for room listings in your host city (Preferably in the local language).
Here in Bologna, where I live now, I found 6 housing groups with thousands of members by using search terms such as “appartamenti,” “affitto,” and “case.” (These are the Italian words for “apartments,” “rent,” and “houses.”) If you’re having a hard time searching, just find one group and then more will show up as “suggested” on the sidebar.
In these groups, dozens of listings are posted per day and you can easily message the lister for more information. If you’re living in a city where housing is particularly scarce, then activate group notifications so that you will be notified each and every time a listing is added.
Tip #2: Investigate Third Party Sites
After doing a sweep on Facebook, be sure to check out listings on third-party sites. These vary from country to country so you might need to do some separate research on Google to figure out where you need to look. Some sites that can be used in most countries include.
The benefits of these websites include that you can narrow down your preferences based on criteria such as price and location.
Tip #3: Browse Airbnb
Airbnb has a reputation for being one of the more expensive options; however, it can be a great tool if you book far in advance and use it strategically.
When I read my acceptance e-mail to Study Abroad in Athens for six weeks in Summer 2017, I found a letter attached stating that I would need to choose an on-campus housing option ranging from 2000 euros for a double room to 3000 for a studio. Needless to say, I burst out laughing and crafted a reply which may have said something like “I have family living near the university so I would like to be waived from student housing.” Although this may not have been necessarily true, it ended up working.
Afterward, I had a difficult time navigating Facebook and third party websites in order to find a room in the specific part of Athens I would be studying in for such a short period of time. Eventually, I turned to Airbnb and secured a stellar deal.
Once I landed in Athens, a sweet little Greek γιαγιά drove me to my luxury penthouse apartment with a private terrace overlooking all of Athens. I paid HALF of what a double room would have cost me at the university – and my view was something similar to this
Remember that once your bookings last over a month, Airbnb applies a monthly discount. This is how I was able to afford my beautiful apartment. In addition, there was no security deposit and no contract!
How have YOU found housing abroad in the past? Did you use any methods not mentioned here? Tell me in the comments below!