Updated: Mar 31
Welcome back to Moving To The UK: The Ultimate Guide. If you have followed the guide so far, you already know whether you want to become a university student or if you want to work from the beginning, how to enrol to UK universities and how to manage your budget for groceries and home goods. Otherwise, check out the other posts here. In the article How To Manage Your Budget, I left you with a question: how much money you need for rent? Today, I will answer this question, but before let’s talk about the different renting options you have when you first move.
Whenever it was time to choose accommodation, thousands of choices popped up as search hits. Google can be a jungle, and looking for a place to rent is no exception. For students, this can be challenging. Coming from another country, I could not arrange viewings and I did not understand which area in town was the best for undergraduate students. However, as I mentioned, moving as a student is easier compared to moving to get a job.
Students often have a “safety net” in this sense. Most universities offer accommodation and they always have room for new tenants. You might find that, if you are moving to towns or cities where there is a university campus, there are a variety of private halls designed for those who could not get in university-led ones or just want more comforts.
If you are a student and you want to know more about the key aspects, you need to consider and the difference between private-rented and university-led accommodation, keep reading.
If you are looking for accommodation as a worker, skip to this section (link to section).
5 Things to consider when looking for accommodation.
The key concept I want to convey is that you need to look for accommodation early as soon as you decide which university to attend. Most of the students knows well in advance where they got accepted, so you should be able to begin your search before May.
When I decided to attend the University of Southampton, it was May 2018. As an Italian undergraduate student, I did not understand where to look for my new home. I did a quick search on the University website and found the different options that were offered. Looking back to those times, I wish I had more guidance on this. To be honest, I don’t remember if and at what point we were instructed on how to apply for accommodation, but I tried and figured it out by myself. However, if your university offers introductory sessions, attend them. Even online meetings can be so helpful. It won’t hurt to know first-had experience from those who are already there and know how to manage all the different aspects of choosing your new home.
My suggestion is to get in touch with the university accommodation team of your university to know more about how the acceptance process works and what are the steps to get a place in their halls. This is how the dedicated page of the University of Southampton looks like. There are a variety of options that you can choose from depending on your needs, preference and even location.
Taking Southampton as an example, there are 5 different campuses around the city. Most of them are near the main campus, Highfield, but depending on your course you might have lectures in different places around town. Marine Biology students, for instance, work at the Waterfront campus. Located at NOCS – the National Oceanography Centre Southampton – it is distant from the main campus. Southampton can become hectic around 8am and after 5pm, so keep in mind that you have to think about how much time you need to get to lectures on time. As a result, consider moving in a student hall that allows you to avoid commuting in the morning.
Last, it is important to know where supermarkets and shops are. Some areas in town might be perfect if you prefer peace, but you also have to keep in mind that you need to access shopping facilities. I live just two kilometres away from Portswood, where the main street is decorated with all the different shops that a student requires. Not only is there a big Sainsbury’s but also pubs, bars, international restaurants and take-aways, mini-markets and much more. In this sense, my current accommodation is in the ideal position. It’s just a 15-minute walk from the main campus and is near the entertainment and shopping area. Its major downfall is its distance from the city centre. There are two different buses that can take you there in around 20 to 30 minutes.
Private or University Accommodation?
To decide whether to rent a private or university-led accommodation, there are different factors that you might think about. To make things easier, I will describe the pros and cons of both types of rents. Keep in mind that I compiled this list on my personal experience, so it is not descriptive of how accommodation might be somewhere else.
· More modern looking;
· Often recent buildings, so new facilities and better equipped;
· More storage space in rooms and kitchens;
· Different rooms – en-suite, non en-suite, one or two-bed apartments, studios;
· Offer on-site laundry and even a gym.
· Often more expensive;
· Belong to big companies, so issues regarding the single tenant might be dismissed or ignored;
· Need to make sure that the room/mini apartment you are renting fits the quality standards that are advertised on the website. Rooms are divided by category, but some are awarded a higher “type” even though they do not have any extra comforts compared to the lower category;
· Less cultural variety. As they are more expensive, they attract people from the upper class, so there is less diversity;
· Harder to create a sense of community, as people spend less time in shared facilities;
· If extra services are down – internet or launderette – the tenant has to contact the service providers.
· Increased sense of community;
· Staff more present on-site;
· Offer cleaning service for shared kitchen and corridors;
· Can be financed with student loans;
· Different rooms.
· Older buildings. There might be issues with the condition of walls and furniture;
· Older facilities;
· Not as good looking;
· They can be more expensive than private-rented, if closer to the city centre.
It comes down to preference, location and money budget. Both categories have their pros and cons. Personally, I am living in private-rented accommodation and will continue to do so for the next academic year. The only change I’ve made is that I will live in a one-bed apartment. Communal kitchens can cause so much drama, trust me.
Accommodation for workers.
If you want to start your life abroad and work, this is the right place for you. As I mentioned in my other posts, some aspects of moving are more difficult, if you don’t already have a job offer.
One of the main aspects you need to think about is that some landlords require references or a guarantor living in the UK. References should be written by a previous landlord and they ensure you paid rent on time and fully, you did not cause issues and you left the place you rented in good conditions. The new landlord should tell you what is required of you in more details. A guarantor is responsible for your rent if you cannot pay or if issues arise. For a student, parents or legal guardians are allowed, even from other countries. However, this may not be the case if you are seeking a job. By this I mean that agencies and landlords may require a UK resident to vouch for you. There are websites and law firms that offer this service, but you need to be careful not to spend a fortune on the wrong documents.
You might need a bank account to pay rent or the bills. The issue with opening a bank account is that banks require a proof of residence – a utility bill, tenancy agreement or council tax – to verify your home address. This process is even more complicated for international people. I had bad personal experience with bank customer service and I am still trying to open an account. You need to make sure you have got with you the right document, or you might need to go back and forth multiple times. The safest bet here is to discuss this issue with your landlord or agency, to see if you can come up with a payment plan that doesn’t require a UK bank account.
It is difficult to judge the state of an apartment or room without arranging a viewing. Consider living in a temporary apartment or room. Lots of landlords offer to rent a room in their house for a brief period. Look on Airbnb (link) for a place to stay on your first few days. If you arrange viewings in the week following your arrival, you can get an idea of what you would like to rent and you can head back to your headquarters afterwards. This option allows you to be present for a viewing before signing a contract and save some money. Booking a hotel room for a week might be too expensive, more so if you are moving on a budget.
Last, check the house and the contract before signing it. It seems obvious, but you can trust me when I say that lots of people signed a sketchy contract and regretted it later. Make sure you are not expected to pay for the maintenance of facilities and that the landlord has to respond whenever there are issues in the house. Inspect every room and be confident there is no previous damage to furniture and walls. Upon finding something that needs repairing, make it known to the landlord immediately.
The cost of renting.
And here comes the ultimate question: how much does rent cost in the UK?
What if I told you that the answer is not a definite one? It depends on so many factors it’s impossible to tell you a number constant throughout the kingdom. I will give you an approximation of the prices in Southampton, but use it as a guideline, not a fact. I am considering private-rented accommodation on one side and private and university halls on the other, as the last two are similar in prices.
For a private-rented apartment or room, you can expect to pay at least £300 per month for a non-ensuite room, around £450 for en-suite and £800 for a one-bed apartment. Rent is expensive, but prices vary on how many other people are living in the same house, how many bathrooms there are, the conditions of the house and the location. Consider whether or not bills are included, and if you have to add services such as Wi-Fi. As a general idea, you can expect to pay anywhere from £300 to even £850 per month, depending on the factors I mentioned.
For halls of residence, prices vary depending on how many weeks you are renting for and the room you prefer. Between a 43-week and 51-week contract there is a difference of £10, so I will take the average between the two. For a non-ensuite, the rent starts from £400 to £480, while for en-suite it can go up to £680 a month. One-bedroom apartments are at about £720, while studios cost 900 to £1000 per month. They can be expensive and prices are going up each year.
I have been told that Southampton is expensive for accommodation. Let’s not even talk about London. Other cities may be far less expensive, especially if moving to the North. The fact remains the same: if you want to successfully move to the UK, you need to be ready to face some substantial expenses. When on a budget, the best option is to find something on the lower end of the spectrum – a room at £350 per month should be fine, so you have time to settle, find a job, get paid and upgrade your living conditions.
Students might get loans from the Government, but international students need to consider that they may not be granted to everybody. As a result, I would not recommend private accommodation to all of those that are moving. Think about your parent’s or your finances and then decide.
If you followed me so far, have a rough idea of what are the different possibilities for renting in the UK and its costs. Check the other posts in the series Moving To The UK: The Ultimate Guide to know more about it. Now you moved, you rented a room, you bought everything you needed. Or did you? Stay tuned for my next post, where I will talk about the essential following steps to get ready for your new life abroad.