Finding accommodation as an international student with family

This article was written by Uwa, a postgraduate student from Nigeria studying at the University of Coventry (London). Her family located to the UK once she had settled into life and study in the UK.

It is a common occurrence to see families relocate from one country to another. Having gone through this route - and experienced first-hand the many twists and turns - it is apt that I share my experience, because I believe it will help others (especially families relocating with school-age children).

To start with, you need to have enough money to fund this project. It is capital-intensive, and there is no shortcut to that. In my case, moving my family to join me in the UK from Nigeria was sapping financially, especially as my country was in a deep recession when we moved. Exchange rate of my currency (the Naira) to the UK pound (GBP) made it especially tough financially. So, please do the numbers for your country and currency.

After my family got their visas and the celebration ended, we settled down to reality and started looking for a house for a family of five. This comprised myself, my husband, 2 teenage boys (17 and 14), and a girl (9). Some universities offer family accommodation but - even when this is the case - supply is often limited, so you will likely have to look to the private market.

I registered with various platforms; Zoopla, RightMove, and OpenRent, which are the popular platforms for house search in the UK. They are very easy to use, and you can set up alerts for house openings in the various locations you are contemplating. So, it is advisable that you carefully consider the city you want to settle your family in. In most cases, the city where the university of study for the primary applicant is located is where most families settle, or somewhere not too far off.

Private accommodation varies significantly in price across the UK, and it is particularly difficult to find affordable family housing in London and the South East.

I had the privilege to look beyond London, which is where my campus is located, and I was able to choose other locations because all learning had been moved online due to the pandemic. Some of the places we considered were the surrounding area of London – Kent, Milton Keynes, St. Albans, and so on. However, these options are still expensive and the further from London you go, the more affordable the housing tends to be.

Some of the things to consider in making this decision include the location of your chosen university, your budget, availability of good schools for children (I had to consider both primary and secondary schools), job opportunities, access to transport systems, safety and security of the neighbourhood, and access to support systems. This information can be found online.

As the search for a suitable house or flat begins, decide the kind of property you want - an apartment (often called a flat in the UK), or a house. Houses could come as terraced, semi-detached, detached, and townhouses. Mansions are not included here, because I am taking the liberty to assume that most students will not be able to afford them.

A house has obvious advantages over a flat – privacy, more space, more features like a private garden, and amenities in some cases. I will suggest that you do not have too high expectations. For example, I was frustrated by the fact that many houses/flats in the UK come with just one toilet/bathroom. In Nigeria, the average 3 bedroom flat would have a minimum of 2 toilets and 2 bathrooms. This was a major struggle for me, which I had to come to terms with.

Another area of frustration was the refusal of agents to allow me to view a place, because they thought the place would be too small for my family. For example, I could not view a good number of three-bedroom properties, because the agents decided on their own that it would be too small for my family size). In fact, some told me that the landlords do not want families with children in their property. Others felt my children were too grown to be sharing a room!

As the search begins, shortlist your preferences, call the contact numbers on the listings, and request a viewing. It is sad to note that some agents I encountered were not willing to give me the opportunity to even view once they heard that I was a student. I later found out that my experience was not an isolated case. For every rejection you get from an agent, make five more calls. To create a balance, their concerns are valid because some agents later explained to me that they have had a history of some students not being able to reach payment obligations.

As you make the calls for viewing, get ready to answer and provide proof of how you intend to keep up with your monthly payments. Once you see a house or apartment that you like, put in your offer immediately. This indicates your seriousness by informing the agent or landlord of how much you are willing to pay as rent for the house/apartment. It is also worthy to mention that, when renting an apartment or house, you are required to pay a deposit. It is usually the equivalent of one month’s rent or more. If your offer is accepted, you will then go through the checks – credit, identity, employment, visa validity, etc. Some of the documents you will need to provide are your visa or biometric residence permit (BRP), employment letter (if relevant), pay slip, bank statements, etc. The aim of these checks is to prove that you are who you say you are, and you can sustainably afford the property.

Note: you will need a 'guarantor'. This person must be a UK homeowner. However, if you can’t find a suitable guarantor you can use a rent guarantor agency, such as RentGuarantor

If all the checks are passed, you proceed by making payment (usually the deposit and first month’s rent). You are also sent a rental contract/agreement, along with some other documents to read and sign. As long and voluminous as the documents may be, please try to read them and ask questions where you are not clear. Don’t sign without reading them!

The last stage is the handover ceremony (as I humorously choose to call it). This is when you are given the keys to the property. Please take note of the documents that list out the features/amenities in the property, and confirm that they are physically in the property when you have been given the keys. Another piece of advice is that you should ensure that the process of/funding for repairs is well laid out and understood.

In summary, here is a brief of the steps that need to be taken:

• Have a shortlist of the areas you would like to live in with your family

• Check that the locations have good schools, a safe neighbourhood, and access to transport systems (such as buses)

• Make a realistic budget based on the cost of property in the selected areas (you will need to factor in costs such as council tax and utility bills, on top of your rent)

• Have your funds ready

• Search for the property, book for viewings, and make a quick offer when you see one that you like and can afford

• Don’t be discouraged when you get refusals from agents or landlords

• Ensure you have the needed documents and responses to pass the checks

• Read your contracts before signing and cross check all features in the house against what was listed in the contract

Wondering if we got a property that we like? Yes, we did! A very lovely 4-bedroom house in the city of Sheffield!

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Uwa Agbogun
Uwa is an MSc student from Nigeria studying at Coventry University London
Published on 8 April 2021
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