Searching For and Securing International Housing – What to Consider

There are several points to consider prior to securing your housing abroad. Ask yourself the following 10 questions:

1. How long do I need housing for?

Consider how long you will be in the country for—is it a short stay, the semester, a year, and is there a possibility for your time in that country to be extended?  In Boston, the typical term of a lease is one year.  This may be different in your global experience location. If you do not plan to be in a country for a full year, a short-term lease may make sense.

If you plan to be in the country for the duration of a typical semester, university or student-specific housing may be a good option.  If your time in the country is longer than a typical semester, you may consider looking into other organizations that offer short-term accommodations that are not necessarily student-oriented.  Another option may be splitting up your accommodations for the duration of your stay, such as temporary accommodations (hotel or hostel) for a portion of the time, and student-housing for the remainder of the time. See the below table outlining accommodation suggestions depending on the duration of your time in the country. To learn more about each of these accommodation types, visit our Types of International Housing section under Question 5.

Length of Stay Suggestions for Types of Accommodations to Research
Less than 1 month
  • Hotel
  • Hostel
  • Home sharing
  • Student-housing organization that offers short-term housing
1 – 4 months
  • Hostel
  • Home sharing
  • Homestay
  • University housing, especially if your timing lines up with semesters in that country
  • Student-housing organization that offers short-term housing
5-6 months
  • Student-housing organization that offers short-term housing
  • Expat organization that offers short-term housing
  • University housing, though you may be granted only one semester  
  • Home sharing – filter for long term rentals or sublets
  • Homestay
1 year
  • Student-housing organization that offers long-term housing
  • Expat organization that offers long-term housing
  • University housing (multiple semesters)
  • Rental agreement with privately owned accommodation
  • Homestay
2. What is a realistic housing/living budget for this location?

Before securing housing, or deciding to study or work abroad, it is important to consider a realistic monthly budget.  Research what the exchange rate and cost of living is for that country, and what that looks like for your wallet.  Generally, you should aim for your housing costs (rent and utilities) to be around 30% of your income or allotted monthly finances.  If you won’t have a monthly income while you’re there, ensure you have this amount saved up, or have funds coming from other sources.  Utilize the following resources to know what the cost of living looks like in your specific country, how to create a monthly budget, and tips on saving while abroad.

Northeastern’s Center for Financial Independence (Thrive)

Thrive supports all Northeastern students in the pursuit and achievement of financial competency and, ultimately, financial independence. Its programming imparts the knowledge and skills needed to make informed, savvy decisions about personal finances, both short-term and long-term, across the spectrum (investing, debt management, saving, credit cards, student loans, living on a budget, home/car purchases, retirement and more).  Specifically when going abroad, Thrive can help you build a budget that will incorporate housing costs abroad.

GoinGlobal

GoinGlobal is an online resource that Northeastern students have access to for free with their Northeastern credentials.  GoinGlobal delivers useful and unique material that is hand-gathered at its source, not simply compiled from publicly available Internet sources.  It provides information that is location-specific in detail and global in perspective, and delivers useful, actionable information that is constantly expanding to meet the evolving needs of the global job seeker.  GoinGlobal also provides industry-specific salary ranges and cost of living data to help you financially prepare for your move.

3. When do I need to secure housing by?

Starting the housing search early is always a good idea, as it will ensure you have the time to find a place that fits your criteria, enable buffer time should any issues arise, and provide peace of mind that you have housing when you arrive for your Northeastern global experience. 

Take note if there is an actual date that you’re required to secure housing by.  For example, some countries require proof of housing documentation for visa appointments.  If you’re not able to provide proof of housing, you may be at risk of your visa not getting approved.  Check with your co-op coordinator or your GEO advisor about what is required for the visa appointment, and if proof of housing is one of these requirements. 

Additionally, if proof of housing is required, ensure you know what this proof entails.  Depending on the country, you may be required to present a rental agreement, hotel reservation, or invitation letter in the case of a private accommodation that includes the inviting person’s name, full address and passport copy.  It is your responsibility to obtain this proof of housing by the required date if your visa process requires it.

4. What are the requirements to secure housing in a foreign country?

In the United States, student renters are often required to name a co-signor so landlords can ensure  their tenants are financially competent and will pay rent each month, as well as provide a social security number for a background/credit check.  As a student in another country, you may also have to prove financial competency before signing a rental agreement.  Evaluate the validity of what is being asked of you to share, and provide proof in the form of a co-signor, visa, or bank statements if necessary.  Because it is risky to send sensitive information to organizations or individuals you have not met in-person before or are unfamiliar with, this may make it logistically difficult to secure housing before going abroad if the organization requires sensitive information.  To make this process easier, it is best to secure housing with organizations you are familiar with, such as universities or via Husky connections such as peers, alumni, or parents.

Consult with OCHSS if you are unsure about disclosing the information being asked of you from a potential landlord, realtor or organization.  We do not recommend sending sensitive and/or personal information to organizations or individuals that you have not met in person or are unfamiliar with.

If you cannot secure housing through reliable sources, it may be best to secure temporary accommodations first (hotel, hostel, or home share).  Then, when you’re on the ground in the country, you can visit places in-person to verify the accommodation.  From there, you will likely be able to secure reliable housing accommodations for a longer period of time. See Question #5 for housing and resources to begin your search.

5. What type of housing and resources are common and available in this country or location, and how do I go about finding it?

A.   Employer or University Provided Housing

The first step, prior to seeking accommodations on your own, is to reach out to your global employer or host university to ask if they provide housing.  If they do not, ask if they have any recommendations for housing, knowledge of where previous Northeastern students have lived in prior terms, or have any resources on hand regarding what to look for or avoid in the housing search process. Keep in mind, it is likely that your employer or university will be more knowledgeable about the specific area than yourself (unless you are from this country!) or OCHSS. This is why you should utilize the organization or institution as a first resource!

B.  Non-Employer or Non-University Provided Housing

If your employer or university does not provide housing or has very limited housing resources, there are other types of accommodations you can secure and resources you can use.  Read more about in-country resources, how to be connected to Huskies who have had experiences in that country before, using third parties to find international housing, and the different types of housing to research.

C.   Types of International Housing

A furnished or unfurnished apartment (sometimes referred to as a flat) is what you may be most familiar with.  Keep in mind that when going abroad, a furnished apartment will likely be easiest to work with.  It’s likely that you could have your own room (or a shared room), with shared common spaces such as a kitchen, living room, and/or bathroom.

Dorm-style student housing may be available, even if it’s not at the university you’re studying or co-oping at.  There may be universities nearby that offer on-campus or off-campus accommodations, and OCHSS can help you find these.  Northeastern University has affiliations with universities globally, and these universities may offer housing options for you while abroad.  Additionally, there may be non-university affiliated student housing organizations as well.

Homestays are accommodations in which you live in the residence of a local “host” family.  Homestays can be a helpful way to truly immerse yourself in the culture of the country, learn the native language, and meet people that know the area incredibly well.  Homestays should only be arranged through a known and trusted homestay agency.

Hostels are inexpensive lodging facilities for travelers and typically have dormitory style sleeping arrangements, sometimes offering meals and planned activities.  Hostels can be a budget-friendly option for temporary housing until you find more long-term arrangements, or for side trips that you may plan outside of your scheduled international program.  Hostels are generally not recommended for long-term stays given the limited amount of private space and security.

Home sharing, such as Airbnb and couch-surfing, is strongly discouraged by the university due to the unregulated nature of the sharing economy and the difficulty for students to vet such arrangements.  The university recommends against sharing apartments with strangers.  If travelers disregard the university’s recommendation regarding home sharing, travelers should consider renting the whole apartment/home.  Airbnb also has options to filter for sublets and long-term rentals.  As always, read reviews, look for “Super Hosts,” know what’s included, and take note of the cancellation policy.  Oftentimes, the accommodations through Airbnb are furnished apartments (though there are a range of other types of accommodations, such as whole houses or single rooms). See below for special tips if you choose to disregard the university’s recommendation against home sharing:

Planning to secure housing through a home sharing company (ie. Airbnb) while abroad? Use these tips!

BEFORE YOU BOOK

  • Home sharing is NOT couch surfing.  Even if you have friends in the country you’re headed to, securing your OWN space is the safest and most reliable option. Do NOT couch surf! Additionally, do not book an individual room in an apartment–ensure you have the whole unit to yourself.
  • Pay close attention to what is included and what is not in the rental. We recommend renting the entire apartment vs. sharing a home with someone you don’t know.
  • Ask questions about the safety features of the home/room:
    1. Are there smoke/carbon monoxide detectors?
    2. Ask if the unit has an electronic lock and prioritize locations with electronic locks over those with residential lock and keys.
    3. Ask about exterior lighting, cameras, and security/front desk staff.
    4. Read prior reviews of the property with a focus on safety and security.
  • Ask questions about the local area.
  • Research local travel alerts and warnings using My Travel Plans.
  • Read the cancellation policy carefully – they can vary tremendously.
  • Look at the host’s profile verification and reviews. According to Airbnb, a “Super Host” is an “experienced host who provides a shining example for other hosts and extraordinary experiences for their guests.”
  • Take a close look at the neighborhood and surrounding community on the internet (Google Earth is a great tool!), and ask yourself questions like:
    1. Is it located within a residential area?
    2. Is there a nearby grocery store or park where you can read reviews about safety considerations?
  • If you have doubts about the location or concerns about the host’s reliability, trust your instincts and look for another alternative.

AFTER YOU BOOK

  • Enter these accommodations (and flights or other transportation to get there) into My Travel Plans on myNortheastern.
  • Let family/supervisor know exactly where you’ll be staying—including the address and the host’s name and contact information. Additionally, let them know when you plan to arrive.  Once you arrive, let them know.
  • If you schedule a meeting with the host, agree only to do so in a public place during daylight.
  • Avoid arriving at the lodging initially late at night.
  • Have a charged cell phone and know or have programmed in your phone the emergency telephone number for local law enforcement response.
  • Once you have arrived at the apartment or lodging, take a look around with safety and security in mind. Look in the closets and adjoining rooms.
6. How can I verify this housing exists and my lease is legitimate?

It may be difficult to verify that a housing opportunity exists when you’re not able to travel there and visit the place ahead of time.  However, there are a few actions you can take to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success before arriving, including the following:

  • Seek housing opportunities only through trustworthy connections: fellow Huskies, relatives or friends in the area, OCHSS, established and reliable entities (such as your employer or a nearby university) 
  • Ask the landlord for a live video tour of the apartment
  • Ask your landlord for the contact information of current or previous tenants (your landlord is not required to disclose this information, but it could be worth a shot!)
  • Similar to RentSmart Boston, there may be a local tool on the city’s website that will help you verify the owner of the property (make sure it matches up with your lease!)
7. Does this neighborhood or housing option fit my health and safety needs?

Northeastern University has resources to ensure students’ safety, such as NUPD,  the SafeZone app, and UHCS. But, who do you contact if you experience a health or safety issue while abroad? These are important considerations prior to your departure.

Your main resource for safety while abroad will be the International Safety Office (ISO). You should utilize this office as much as you can prior to traveling abroad.  ISO provides one-on-one travel consultations, especially for those going to high risk destinations.  In these one-on-one consultations, ISO will be able to discuss health, safety, and security concerns prior to your departure, including reviewing itineraries, creating custom maps, identifying key services in your destination, and developing emergency and communication plans.  Additionally, Northeastern University’s Travel Support Network  consists of security, medical assistance, and travel support vendors with capabilities that span the globe, making assistance accessible wherever your educational experiences may take you. These services are available to students, faculty, and staff on university travel. 

Preparedness and Research

The International Safety Office requires all students to enter their travel itineraries and housing accommodations into “My Travel Plans” on myNortheastern.  This requirement provides the university with up-to-date information on the traveler’s current and future location. The information is used to alert travelers of unanticipated events or conditions, which may create trip disruptions.  In addition, the registry data enables on-campus resources and external support providers to better assist students, faculty, and staff obtain medical or security services.  To register your travel plans into “My Travel Plans,” follow these instructions.

Additionally, utilize the free online resources available to you prior to your departure that can teach you about health and safety in the country you’re traveling to.  GlobeSmart has “Culture Guides” that allow you to research the country extensively beforehand.  Particularly, under the “Travel” section of these Culture Guides, the “Safety” and “Health” sections convey helpful information, such as local emergency numbers for medical, fire, or police help.

Before securing your housing, it’s a good idea to obtain as much information as possible from the housing provider, such as:

  • Safety or incident reports related to the housing
  • If the housing provider knows of any Northeastern (or other university) students who have lived there recently and their contact information
  • A list of what is included and not included in the accommodations
  • Safety features of the accommodations
  • The cancellation policy or deadline
  • Verification and reviews

If you plan to stay with a host family through a homestay, ask which members of the host family will be staying overnight at the residence and if other students will be residing there.

Personal Safety

In general, the following safety tips are important to consider no matter where you are—in the United States or abroad.

  • Practice ride share safety when using Uber, Lyft, or other for-hire car/taxi services.
  • Know your neighbors.
  • If you decide to walk alone, especially at night, use well-lit, familiar streets.
  • Never take poorly lighted shortcuts through alleyways or wooded areas where someone may be hiding.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Plan your route and walk with confidence. Avoid wearing earbuds or talking on the phone.

Housing Security

No matter where you are, it’s important to ensure your housing is safe and secure. Read the following tips to consider when you arrive at your housing abroad.

  • If your building has a security desk in the lobby of the building, introduce yourself. Ask about their hours, policies, or rules that the security team may enforce.
  • Check the door locks to make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Make sure your door has a deadbolt lock and a peephole.
  • Become familiar with how your door locks operate, and remember to keep your door locked at all times.
  • Whenever you leave your apartment, lock your door and take your keys.
  • If you have a sliding glass door, place a wooden rod in the door so it can’t be opened from the outside.
  • Immediately report all suspicious activity, strangers loitering in or near the building, or behavior by other residents or tenants that you feel presents a safety or security risk.
  • Make sure that you know who has the master keys. That is, who has access to your building.
  • The mailboxes should be locked.
  • Know who handles your maintenance (snow, trash, burned-out lights). Hazardous situations should be handled immediately.
  • Fire escapes are to be used for emergency exit use only.

Fire Safety

Make sure your apartment is fire safe.  Though there may be different laws and regulations governing fire safety in your destination, the tips below are important to consider anywhere.  Do you have working smoke alarms and two ways out? Take these 3 steps towards safety today:

  1. Watch the #BestRoommatesEvah video here. Review fire safety tips and share with your friends and roommates.
  2. Check your apartment using the Off Campus Housing Fire Safety Checklist.
  3. Follow @campusfirewatch for a Fire Safety Tip each day!

Fire Safety Resources

Protecting your personal belongings

When going abroad, it’s a good idea to protect your belongings. Even though you may have renter’s insurance now to cover your belongings here in the United States, check your policy to see if it covers your belongings abroad.  If not, consider purchasing travel insurance that will protect your belongings, and yourself, while abroad.  The International Safety Office outlines different types of insurance you should consider, and may be required to have, while abroad.  Read up on these insurance requirements and recommendations here.

If your apartment and/or building does not allow you access to a rooftop or deck, respect this limitation. It is in place because those areas are not deemed safe for occupancy.

 

8. What is the proximity of this housing to my work or study location, and how will I be getting around?

While it may seem obvious, you’ll want to make sure that your accommodations are within close proximity of your place of work or study.  A two hour commute each way will be draining, and also take time away from other opportunities to explore, socialize, relax, or be productive.  Your proximity to public transportation in your location is an important consideration as well.

Unless the country you plan to work or study in is your home country, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a car. The university advises against self-driving vehicles or motorized scooters/bikes while abroad, and does not provide insurance for these activities. As such, consider how you’ll commute to your workplace or university, and how reliable the public transportation is in that area.  Additionally, are there other viable options such as biking, rideshare, taxis, trains, or some other means of transportation?  If you plan to bike, how will you acquire a bike once you get there?  If rideshare is an option you plan to use, what are the apps needed on your phone?  How safe and/or reliable are the taxis in that country?  Have a plan for transportation prior to arriving at your destination.

9. What will happen to my on or off-campus housing accommodations when I leave the country, and how will I find housing when I return?

Prior to going abroad, you’ll want to make sure that you think about your housing here in the United States in the necessary capacity.  If you’ve already committed to on-campus housing or signed a lease for off-campus housing, determine what your options are. This may be cancelling your on-campus housing or finding a sublet for your off-campus apartment so you are not paying double rent. Additionally, have a plan for how you will secure housing in the United States upon your return. 

Cancelling Your University Housing

If you’ve secured a co-op that is further than 20 miles outside of the Boston area, plan to study abroad, or partake in some other international experience but you’ve already committed to on-campus housing, you can cancel your housing, regardless of the cancellation schedule.  To submit your request, e-mail housing@northeastern.edu.  In this email, include your name, NUID number, the semester you are requesting to cancel, and a detailed reason for the request.  Documented verification from your co-op or academic advisor is required and should be forwarded via email. Once received, University Housing can cancel your housing assignment without penalty.

Subletting Your Off Campus Apartment

Off Campus Housing may be a bit more complicated if you’ve signed a year-long lease with term dates that overlap with your international work or study experience.  For example, perhaps you signed a year-long lease beginning September 1, but plan to leave for abroad come January.  Since you’ve signed a legally binding contract for the term dates indicated on the lease, you are still responsible for making monthly rent payments during this time.  Read your lease and determine if subletting your room is an option. Subletting your apartment usually requires written permission from the landlord, and may involve extra subletting fees depending on what your lease indicates.  Visit our webpage on subletting to ensure you know the best practices for subletting your off-campus apartment.

Finding Housing Upon Your Return

Finding housing upon your return may be difficult to navigate while you’re in another country, but this is an important consideration to think about even before you leave for your global experience.  Will you have access to the Off Campus Apartment Database while you’re abroad?  Can you designate a roommate or parent to find off-campus housing arrangements on your behalf while you’re abroad? Is subletting the best option upon your return?  If you’re returning to the United States at the end of the semester or end of a usual 6-month co-op term, it is unlikely that there will be year-long leases available (most year-long leases in Boston begin in September).  Have a plan before you leave for how you will find housing when you return to the United States.

10. How do I go about moving there and shipping my belongings?

Consider how you’ll travel to your global destination, and ensure you make these arrangements well in advance.  The earlier you book, the less expensive your trip will be. Also, consider how you’ll transport your belongings to your destination.  OCHSS’s moving and storage website has helpful options to transport your belongings.

However, when traveling internationally, many students also just bring one suitcase full of clothes and essential/starter items, then purchase other household items or furniture once they arrive at their destination.  At the end of your co-op, consider donating, selling, or leaving your items for the next tenant if you can coordinate with them.  Be careful not to leave furniture or household items if you have not coordinated with the next tenant or your landlord – you don’t want to be charged for any furniture or trash removal your landlord may have to do as a result!

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