Where to live?

Where to find accommodation as an international student? How does housing work over there? Does the University help somehow? How much does it cost? Big questions for international students coming to a new country. In this post, I’m sharing my experience of finding accommodation and living in Guildford

The lovely street where I live in Guildford, 10 minutes walking from campus

I hope you’re all having a fantastic week!

In this post, I am going to talk about accommodation, which is a topic that has always worried me. As mentioned in my first post, before settling in in Guildford, I had been living in different European countries for a short period of time. Every time I had a bit of a hassle to find a place to live, especially because I needed semester contracts and landlords were not always happy to offer these.

Here at Surrey, however, the University guarantees accommodation on campus for first-year international students, as long as they apply with sufficient time. In my year, the deadline to apply was in early August to start the course in late September, which is very reasonable. They also guarantee that postgraduate students share the flat with other postgraduates, which is highly appreciated. Some undergraduate students might have very different interests or social and study routines than us.

I appreciated to have accommodation on campus guaranteed but I preferred to look for something else. I did not want to share a flat, including the kitchen, with 6 or 7 more students. I feel like I am a bit picky with organisation and tidiness, especially with the kitchen! Even though there is weekly cleaning on student accommodation, I decided I want to have my own space with fewer flatmates. So I decided to look for private accommodation, even if I had to pay a bit more.

While doing my research on housing, I found the University of Surrey Lettings Facebook group. They connect people looking for rooms with students searching for flatmates and it is run by the University team. Finding a place was easy-peasy: there were several offers that suited my needs and I could contact any of them. Instead, I just posted a room wanted ad talking about myself and what I was looking for and one of my current flatmates reached me. He found this house in Guildford and needed some students to share it with. He visited it, recorded a video for us and after a few weeks, we were signing the contract with the landlord.

The downside was that as an international student without a British guarantor I had to pay six months of rent upfront or to go through an agency that would charge a fee to act as my guarantor. As I had some money saved and friends to lend me, I decided to pay it upfront. The house also needed some repair with the water pressure, the heating, and the floor, but nothing horrendous. Also, everything was solved after a few weeks and now I am really happy to live there!

My two flatmates are final year undergraduates in the field of Economics and Music Studies. They are nice and we respect each other’s space but we also play videogames or do groceries together sometimes. Each one of us has a large room and we share a big bathroom and kitchen. The house also has a garden but I did not have a chance to use it yet – it has not been warm enough to go outside, even for someone who has lived in Glasgow for a year! Finally, it is one of the most convenient locations I could get: it is in between the main campus (10 minutes walking) and the area where the big Tesco supermarket and the Surrey Sports Park are (15 minutes walking). It’s such a quiet area, with a lot of family houses and a local school just around the corner. I walk everywhere and, to be honest, I have never taken the bus since I got in Guildford!

Finally, rent prices are something to consider before coming to Surrey. Housing in Guildford is pricy, as it is in general anywhere in the SouthEast of England and that close to London (45 min by train). Other towns or villages around Guildford such as Woking offer more affordable accommodation options if you are happy to commute — and many people do. Some PhD students in my Department live in London and come to Uni only a few times per week and that also suits them. The University does offer cheaper accommodation than the private market with a variety of facilities and, as I said, it is guaranteed to international first-year students. Prices range from as low as £72 per week for a shared bedroom up to £225 per week for a studio flat (prices for the 2019/2020 academic year). So, depending on how much (or little) you can pay, this is an interesting option.

You can find all the information regarding student accommodation on campus including prices here. Besides the USL Facebook group, they also manage private properties on this website. When I was in Glasgow I used SpareRoom and GumTree too and they operate all over the UK. My only recommendation is to follow their guidelines to avoid scam, including visiting the accommodation in person if possible and not sending any money to the UK without making sure everything is legit. I could not visit my house before sending the money or signing the contract, but the rental agreement was through a well-known letting agency and I trusted them. My flatmate also made sure everything was alright before sending any money, which made me feel safe.

That’s all for today! I catch up with more of my student experience next week, as days are getting shorter and the wind is blowing stronger. The winter is coming, so they say.

Thanks for reading!