Accommodation for international students: an overview
26 January 2012
There are a number of important things you need to do when you’re sorting out accommodation in the UK:
- Be clear what the options are
- Be clear what you want, what you need, what you can afford and what you would be prepared to compromise on
- Secure your accommodation in good time and get the deal confirmed. If you opt for institutional (or institutionally-allocated) accommodation, you should get this done before you arrive in the UK. If you are going into another type of accommodation, make arrangements for temporary accommodation before you arrive (often available through your institution), and sort out longer-term housing in the days following arrival.
Accommodation options which may be available to you
The options available to you will depend on your institution and your host town or city – and on your needs (if appropriate, see separate sections below on accommodation for students with families and for students with disabilities)
Institutionally-allocated accommodation may be owned and managed by the institutions themselves, or may be owned/managed by private, commercial providers working in partnership with institutions. Either way, you can be confident that institutionally-allocated accommodation is generally of a reliable standard and you can feel secure in booking it before you arrive in the UK.
In addition, there is student accommodation run by commercial operators or landlords not working in partnership with institutions. In this sector colleges and universities play no part in the relationship between the landlord and the student. In these cases, you will need to make your own checks on the quality offered.
Accommodation available to you is likely to include some or all of the following types:
- halls of residence
- shared accommodation in houses or flats (apartments)
- lodgings or family homestay
Halls of residence
Halls of residence are typically purpose-built developments, occupied by a large number of students.
In some halls some meals are provided and these are included in the rent (these are called catered halls). Catered halls can be a good option to help budget your money but the food may very different from the food you’re used to at home. Most halls are not catered.
Halls are normally divided into flats (apartments) but halls can also consist of a large building with many rooms off a continuous corridor with communal space provided for all residents, normally on the ground floor.
Where halls are divided into flats, small numbers (eg five or six students) share a kitchen/social space, in which they can prepare and eat their own meals from food which they buy themselves.
Each student normally has a study bedroom for their own use. Some institutions and commercial providers also provide some shared (normally twin) rooms. Shared rooms are more of a feature of towns/cities where accommodation is expensive (eg London and Edinburgh) and shared rooms offer a considerable cost saving.
Some rooms may have en suite bathrooms, ie a shower and toilet directly attached to a study bedroom for the occupant’s personal use. Students allocated to rooms without en suite facilities have the use of a shared bathroom, incorporating toilets, wash basins and a bath/shower.
Halls of residence and flats within them are usually mixed, ie men and women sharing together, but there is often a limited amount of single-sex accommodation available.
Most halls provide internet connectivity.
Usually, each student has their own individual contract with the institution/landlord.
Utility costs (energy and water) are normally included in the rent and the contract will state this.
Shared accommodation in houses or flats (apartments)
In this type of accommodation a number of students share a house (or flat) in the community. Again students will have their own study bedroom and a shared kitchen and bathroom. En suite rooms may be available, but this is unusual. Sometimes, the student residents have a joint contract with the landlord and are jointly responsible for the rent and for keeping the property clean and tidy. Landlords will normally offer individual lets (where you are only responsible for your room and your share of the communal areas) so if you would prefer this you should ask the landlord. In this type of accommodation the rent is unlikely to include internet costs and utility charges and you will pay these directly to the provider.
A bedsit is a room which includes all facilities for living and sleeping, and sometimes for cooking, but some aspect of services, either a bathroom or kitchen, will be shared. A studio flat will include everything: sleeping accommodation, kitchen and bathroom facilities.
This type of accommodation is usually for one person (but some larger bedsits and studio flats may be suitable for a couple).
If this type of accommodation is within purpose-built student accommodation, the rent is likely to include utilities and internet. If not, these costs will be extra to the rent.
Studio flats are normally the most expensive type of accommodation available to students and you should think seriously about the cost before renting. Although sharing a flat or facilities can raise issues, it is also a good way of meeting people. Living on your own in a self-contained flat can make meeting people more difficult.
Lodgings or family homestay
When a student is in lodgings they live in part of a property also lived in by the owner, who may have a family. The student is expected to share the facilities along with the owner (and their family) and to fit in with the lifestyle of the owner and any house rules which they set. Some or all meals may be provided. Family homestay is a particularly important part of the London accommodation market. It is also a popular option for students under the age of 18. Many homestay providers are experienced in housing international students and in the challenges they face in living in a new country. Homestay schemes are normally run through the education institution and if you are interested in this type of accommodation you should check with your institution first.
These are normally owned by charitable organisations. Some hostels provide accommodation for single students and for student couples. Hostels usually provide some meals or have cooking facilities and allow students to prepare their own food. Staying in a hostel can give you the opportunity to become familiar with the area where you are studying and this is an advantage if you want to find private accommodation later. Hostels are a particular feature of the accommodation market in London.
An important thing to look out for is whether a property/landlord/institution is part of a reputable accreditation scheme. In joining an accreditation scheme a landlord commits themselves to offering accommodation and related management services which meet specific professional standards. Typically, these standards relate to the way the contract is written, how properties are marketed, how properties are managed, how quickly any repairs are done, health and safety, how deposits are handled and how any disputes are sorted out. Under accreditation schemes members’ properties are checked from time to time to ensure they meet these standards. If they don’t, they risk being removed from the scheme. If you move into accommodation which is part of an accreditation scheme, you can feel assured that your accommodation will be of an acceptable standard and that you will receive a fair and professional service. An important element of all of these schemes is a robust complaints procedure that students can use if any problems arise.
Look out in particular for the following UK-wide schemes:
- the National Codes – these schemes are designed for larger-scale student developments, one for properties managed and controlled by education institutions; and another for properties in the commercial sector) <www.nationalcode.org>
- the Student Accommodation Code - this code covers university-managed accommodation <www.thesac.org.uk>
- the AfS/Unipol Code: Student Property Accreditation Scheme – this scheme is designed for smaller-scale accommodation (eg shared student houses) in the commercial sector <www.accommodationforstudents.com/AFSUnipolCode/ForStudentsandParents.asp>
What to bring and what services are provided
In most accommodation you will have to clean your own room and wash your own clothes. In a few institutionally-provided halls a cleaning service may be provided.
Accommodation is normally fully furnished but you are expected to provide your own bedding and towels and often smaller domestic items (desk light, iron, kettle, toaster). It is best to wait until you see the accommodation to check what is present and to see whether another student has brought items that you can borrow.
How to apply for accommodation allocated by your institution
In most cases you must apply for accommodation allocated by your institution before you come to the UK. If you are offered a place on a course, you will usually be asked if you would like your institution either:
- to provide accommodation; or
- to help you arrange alternative private accommodation.
Make sure that you follow the college’s application procedures and, in particular, that you meet deadlines for booking accommodation. When you are making enquiries with your institution about available accommodation, you should read carefully any information they send you and make the time to find and read thoroughly all information they provide on the college website and useful sites for which they give links. In particular make sure, on the basis of the questions asked in this guidance, that you are clear about what you want and the detail of what options are available.
Where institutionally-allocated accommodation is available, it is the preferred option for most recently arrived international students. Their reasons often include:
- positive perceptions of the college/university and confidence in their reliability and trustworthiness and in the quality and value for money of accommodation which they allocate
- being at the heart of the institution
- feeling safer and more secure
- feeling better connected and having more social opportunities
- having easier access to institutional facilities and services
- the convenience and confidence that being able to book accommodation pre-arrival gives
These factors may or may not be true about your institution’s accommodation, but there is a strong sense amongst many new international students that these things are important for them. However, think about what is right for you and make your decision on this basis. Often living in the private sector can be rewarding and give you a real sense of what it is like to live in the UK.
A summary of the differences between institutional halls of residence and living in a shared house in the private sector
May look more expensive but is likely to include some or all utility bills and possibly some other services
May look cheaper but is likely not to include some or all utility bills
Gas, water, electricity
£15 per person, per week (approx)
Often inclusive, but check
£2 per person, per week (approx)
Flexible - often a number of ways to pay
Often negotiable (eg monthly or quarterly payment terms on request)
Insurance (basic cover)
Sometimes inclusive, but check
£2 per person, per week (approx)
Standard contract until June or September
Standard contract until June or September
Opportunity to move
Often possible to move to other university accommodation if vacancies are available
Generally not possible to change accommodation (unless you find a replacement)
Generally wardens/residential officers available
Usually no pastoral care
Generally not possible to choose flatmates
Possible to choose housemates
Often there is a service to remove rubbish and clean communal areas
Bins will be provided on site, normally in a central location
Usually no cleaning service provided
Your rubbish will be collected either weekly or fortnightly by the local authority. Ask your landlord for details
Accessibility of landlord
Usually management office on site (except in 'smaller residences') and Accommodation Office on campus
Usually a security presence and regular security patrols, sometimes 24-hrs a day
Generally not available
Repairs and maintenance
There may be a formal commitment to getting repairs and maintenance done within specified timescales
Varies, but if your landlord is part of a recognised accreditation scheme it is likely they will be working to agreed timescales
How to secure accommodation NOT allocated by your institution
It is generally not advisable to enter into a contract for longer-term accommodation before you arrive in the UK. There are, however, some exceptions. For example some accommodation providers (such as Unipol Student Homes in Leeds) have an online booking system offering access to their portfolio of accredited properties. It is always worth contacting the accommodation office at your institution to see if they can recommend any such organisations that they work with. For students attending institutions without these relationships, you won’t be able to look at the accommodation and you won’t be able to get a good idea of whether the landlord is trustworthy or not. Nor will you be able to get a full and proper sense of what is available generally in the private sector.
It can be frustrating, arriving with uncertainty about your longer-term accommodation arrangements. However, there are things you can do to help prepare:
- read through what your institution has to say about private accommodation in your host town or city
- work out what the processes are for house-hunting and the level of support provided by your institution, your students’ union and any other local agencies. (They may have lists of local accommodation available for rent. They may also have inspected the accommodation to check that it is suitable.) The student office at your country’s Embassy or High Commission in the UK may also be able to give you information about accommodation
- have a look on the internet to get an early idea of what is available and the quality and cost of accommodation in your host town/city
- through social networking sites try and connect up online with other international students who are starting at your institution at the same time and who will be looking for private sector accommodation. This could give you a head-start in making new friends; it could also be a way of sorting out housemates with shared interests
- ensure that you book temporary accommodation before you arrive in the UK, even if this is just for your first night here. Your institution may be able to give you short-term accommodation – check early with them.
If your institution does not have any temporary accommodation to offer you, your other options are hotels and guest houses. Guest houses are like hotels but instead of having a restaurant, they may have a dining room where you have no choice about the meals served. Living in a hotel for a long period of time will be expensive. However, hotels and guest houses provide useful temporary accommodation which you can reserve while still in your home country. Student hostels (see above) also offer temporary accommodation.
Once you have arrived and you are in your pre-booked temporary accommodation, start your search for longer-term accommodation early. Make full use of whatever house-hunting support your institution offers. Internet searches, accommodation agencies, local newspapers (for example Loot in London) and advertisements in shop windows or on an institutional notice board are useful when you are looking for somewhere to live.
However, don’t forget to check if there is any type of accreditation scheme in operation. Also, you need to be aware that fraudsters have been known to operate in the private student housing market, preying on vulnerable (often international) students, for example by presenting themselves as legitimate providers online (eg through websites such as Gumtree) and getting their victims to hand over money for a deposit on a non-existent property.
Agencies sometimes charge a fee but, by law, they cannot charge you just for registering with them and you should not pay for details of places they have to let.
Time spent inspecting a potential house systematically is hugely important. This will save you time, money and, maybe, pain. You’ll need to be clear about what you want and work through a checklist each time you view a property:
- What amenities does it have and how good are they (eg washing machine or plumbing for one, a good cooker)?
- What sort of heating does it have and how efficient is it to use?
- Is it furnished and if so, how well for your purposes?
- Are the bathroom and kitchen facilities adequate?
- Is the house in good repair, inside and out?
- If there’s a garden, who is expected to look after it?
- What are the electrics like? Are they adequate?
- If there are gas appliances, has the landlord shown you a gas safety certificate which they are required by law to have each year
- Is there a decent fire detection system and fire escape route?
- What’s security like?
Properties over a certain number of storeys and occupants (known as Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) need to be licensed (usually five or more rooms over three or more storeys). You can check this with the local authority, which should hold a database with details of properties that have been issued with a licence.
Unipol Student Homes has produced a checklist <www.unipol.leeds.ac.uk/Leeds/IFS/Viewing_properties/House_hunting_checklist.asp?sch=checklist> that you can print off and take with you when you’re going to view a property.
If you take private accommodation, read the contract and any associated documents carefully before you sign. If you have any concerns or queries about the contract or if you want any help with your legal rights, you can get free advice at a local law centre or Citizens Advice Bureau, or from your institution or students’ union. Once you have signed a contract, make sure you get and keep a copy and written receipts for all payments you make.
Accommodation options for students with families
Check early if your institution provides:
- accommodation suitable for families
- short-stay accommodation for families or for international students individually
- house-hunting support for students with families or international students more generally.
Few institutions provide accommodation for students with families and where there is some provision it is in very short supply, both for long-term and short-term temporary accommodation.
Check before you arrive whether and how your institution can help you in your search for suitable accommodation. Be aware, however, that generally, it takes several weeks for newly-arrived international students to find suitable family accommodation.
If you are intending to have your family or any dependants with you while you study in the UK, you should:
- EITHER come on your own first and stay in temporary, single accommodation while you look for a family home. Once you have fixed up your longer-term accommodation for yourself and your family, you can send for your family;
- OR, if you must arrive with your family or any dependants, bring enough funding to cover the high costs of temporary family accommodation – check with your institution what the minimum needed per night is, eg for a family of four.
Requirements for students with families will vary, but, as a guide, these are the kinds of factors which students with families attach importance to when looking for suitable accommodation:
- accommodation made safe for children
- a location close to healthcare services, childcare provision, schools, parks/play areas, bus routes, supermarkets, car parking, parent and toddler groups, ante-natal classes and other forms of local infrastructure that can support family life and reduce the risk of isolation for non-studying parents
- a quieter location, removed from undergraduate residences
- a stronger emphasis on the quantity and quality of social space
- a stronger emphasis on the quality of study space
- longer-term accommodation contracts
Meeting your accommodation needs if you have a disability
In the UK colleges and universities are legally required not to discriminate against students with a disability and not to treat them less favourably than students without a disability. Institutions are also required to make adjustments to services for disabled students so that they are not disadvantaged in comparison with non-disabled students. These laws apply to international students as well as to students who are UK citizens.
Because the law is strong on disability rights in the UK, you should find your institution helpful in supporting you in your search for suitable accommodation. Some institutions include accommodation in their portfolio which is designed to support students with a disability, for instance wheelchair users. Your institution may also make changes to accommodation to support your particular disability. In some institutions it may even be possible to secure accommodation for the full duration of your course.
There may, however, be no suitable accommodation available at your institution and no accommodation which can be reasonably adjusted to support your needs. In this case, it is important you review the options carefully and seek your institution’s support in helping you find accommodation in the private sector which is suitable for you.
The most important thing here is to let your institution know as early as possible that you have a disability which means you have particular accommodation needs. Although you might declare this as part of your application for a place on a course, it is also advisable to contact the institution’s accommodation service and disability officer to raise and discuss the matter directly with them. In this way you are likely to receive the best service that your institution can offer you. If you do not raise it early, you may be disappointed and struggle to find anything appropriate.
You should also be aware that international students with a disability do not generally have access to additional funding from UK authorities to support their living costs, although funding may be available from your institution to assist with direct study-related costs. (See our information on international students with disabilities <www.ukcisa.org.uk/about/disability.php> for further contacts.)
Choosing your accommodation
Please also read the Information Sheet on Things you need to know when choosing accommodation <www.ukcisa.org.uk/student/info_sheets/accommodation_things_to_know.php>, which gives you more detail about how to choose between the options described above.
Further information and contacts
The National Union of Students (NUS) provides some useful information about accommodation on its website: <www.nus.org.uk/en/student-life/Housing-Advice>
Unipol Student Homes has a website which is a valuable resource for all students looking for guidance on securing accommodation in the UK: <www.unipol.leeds.ac.uk>
For short- and longer-term accommodation:
International Students House (ISH), London
ISH is a residence and club for both international and British students. For bookings see their website or telephone +44 (0) 20 7631 8310.
Goodenough College Mecklenburgh Square
London WC1N 2AB
Tel: +44 (0) 020 7837 8888
Goodenough College provides residential accommodation for postgraduate students.
International Lutheran Student Centre
30 Thanet Street
London WC1H 9QH
Tel: +44 (0) 020 7388 4044
Fax: +44 (0) 020 7383 5915
The International Lutheran Student Centre is a modern home for international students in central London. The Centre provides good facilities and comfortable, moderately priced accommodation for 80 residents. It is intended for full-time postgraduate students, but accommodation for non-students is available during the summer and occasionally at other times.
For temporary accommodation:
Hotels, bed & breakfasts and guest houses
The London Tourist Board
Accommodation bookings can be made through this website.
The Scottish Tourist Board
for information about hotels, bed & breakfasts and guest houses.
Hostels in Scotland
Scottish Independent Hostels
Welsh Tourist Board
for hotels, bed & breakfasts and guest houses.
Hostels in Wales
Northern Ireland Tourist Board
for hotels, bed & breakfasts and guest houses.
British Tourist Authority
for hotels, bed & breakfasts and guest houses.
Youth Hostels Association (YHA)
Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA)
Endsleigh was set up by the NUS in 1965 to negotiate suitable cover and preferential rates on insurance for students.
© Unipol and UKCISA
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The information in this information sheet is given in good faith and has been carefully checked. UKCISA and Unpol, however, accept no legal responsibility for its accuracy.