How to avoid housing scams an international student

  • student housing
Published on 2024-05-24 at 14:00 by Estelle
Embarking on an international study journey is thrilling, but finding yourself without a place to stay or, worse, caught in a scam can quickly turn your dream into a nightmare. Avoid spending your first night in a new country on the streets with our top advice on securing student housing and sidestepping common traps. Learn to spot warning signs and discover reliable housing solutions.

The student housing crisis affects everyone, including international students

Prominent universities and colleges around the world often face housing issues, leaving many international students without accommodation at the start of the academic year. The primary challenge is economic—students typically lack the budget to cope with rising rent prices and additional expenses like utilities and groceries. This financial mismatch leaves many unable to meet market rates.

Beyond financial constraints, the supply-demand imbalance means there aren't enough accommodations for everyone, resulting in long waiting times without guaranteed satisfactory outcomes. This situation sometimes forces students into drastic measures, like sleeping in their cars or on friends' couches or even abandoning their study plans altogether due to the risk of homelessness upon arrival.

In addition to the typical challenges of finding student accommodation abroad, scammers often take advantage of the situation. For instance, Ireland, a popular destination for students seeking enriching experiences, has seen a rise in fraud targeting students. Despite its appeal—international community, English language learning opportunities, vibrant social and nightlife—reality can be less than perfect. Recent investigations have uncovered that students are increasingly falling victim to scams: non-existent apartments, upfront deposits disappearing with fake landlords, and the list goes on. Moreover, housing conditions can be far from ideal, with overcrowded apartments and serious sanitation issues, including infestations of rats or insects in extreme cases.

How to spot and avoid scams

So, how can you protect yourself when searching for student housing abroad, especially if you're not in the country yet?  

Start by scrutinizing the listing itself. Check the language used (if you don't speak the language, get help from someone who does, if possible). Are there frequent spelling mistakes or odd phrases? These are red flags.

Pay attention to the rent price and its geographic area. An unusually low rent for a fully furnished apartment with Pinterest-worthy photos in an upscale neighborhood in New York, Paris, Singapore, or Milan is highly suspect.

Whenever possible, communicate beyond email. Make phone calls if you can. If the landlord doesn't have a number or refuses to speak with you without an apparent reason, that's a major red flag. Read email exchanges carefully. Does the landlord actually answer your questions? Are they asking for money too quickly? Some scammers will request your ID documents before showing you photos or the apartment itself. This is likely an attempt to steal your identity. Never send your personal information in these cases.

Whether you are present or not in the country, insist on meeting the landlord in person or via video call. This allows you to ask necessary questions and see the apartment, giving you a better sense of whether the person is trustworthy. Having someone with you for a second opinion is always a good idea.

Never pay anything upfront without a contract or written documentation, especially if you haven't seen the place in person. While some legitimate landlords might ask for a deposit or the first month's rent as a precaution, they should be able to provide proper paperwork. Be wary if someone insists on using untraceable payment platforms.

Refuse any "under-the-table" deals. A signed rental agreement is essential, even for shared housing. Ensure all transactions have a paper trail. Bank transfers are traceable, but if cash is requested, make sure a receipt is issued.

Tips for finding student accommodation abroad

Start by researching the housing market in your destination city as early as possible. The sooner you start, the better your chances are of finding suitable accommodation within your budget that meets your expectations.

Seek advice from the university or school you'll be attending. They often have resources or housing options for international students.

Contact your home country's embassy or the embassy in your host country. They can offer guidance on the steps to take and how to organize your search remotely.

Use reliable real estate websites and consider recognized agencies with traceable histories, especially if your search is difficult. Though it might incur extra costs, using professionals can save time and protect you from scams.

Consider university housing. These options are often affordable and managed by the city or university, reducing the risk of scams.

In many student cities, the most affordable housing options are shared accommodations or living with a host family. This can help you save money and integrate quickly.

Finally, be patient, determined, and cautious. Don't get discouraged; with persistence, you'll find a solution for your abroad experience!