How to Secure Affordable Housing as an International PhD Student

Wondering how to secure affordable housing as an international PhD Student? Well, this is your “Guide to Secure Affordable Housing 101”. Being an international student pursuing doctoral studies in the US, Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, or Ireland can be an amazing opportunity. However, it also presents many challenges, not the least of which is finding suitable and affordable housing. In many universities, international students often find it difficult to secure on-campus housing.

Many are ineligible, and many others find that the cost of such housing is prohibitive since it often carries higher costs than off-campus housing, and that cost is not modifiable to family size. Fees for US students are particularly high given that they may include room and board plans requiring the purchase of very expensive and sometimes obligatory meal plans.

The first question that many international doctoral students have is if they are even eligible for subsidized housing. If the answer is no, they are often left trying to compete in a daunting private housing market. In many cases, newly arriving international PhD students are left to search for housing on their own, and due to limited information and time from abroad, the only option is to secure temporary housing which is expensive mostly and continue the housing search after arriving in the host country.

To lessen the troubles of securing affordable housing/accommodation, we have developed this content “How to secure affordable housing as an international PhD Student” as a “Guide to Secure Affordable Housing 101” for you.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Housing

As a PhD student, your circumstances are unique, defined both by the demands of your degree and the source of your income. Most students live fairly close to the bone, scraping together a living from modest stipends, and often supporting a partner and children as well.

Considering the USA, at a national level, housing is commonly considered affordable if it comprises less than 30% of gross income. Therefore as a PhD student, you can do the calculations yourself. However, while you are searching to secure affordable housing, there are some factors to consider when choosing housing. These elements are necessary so you do not regret your efforts. Please consider the following:

  1. Location and Proximity to Campus

When searching for off-campus housing at your chosen university, it is important to consider proximity to campus. How far are you willing to walk, bike, or drive to campus each day? It is commonly known that living further from campus often incurs lower rent costs.

However, it is important to weigh rent savings against the costs of transportation. Ultimately, living further from campus can be a good way to save money, but it should be done with the knowledge of all additional costs involved.

  1. Rent and Utilities Costs

The cost of renting varies greatly depending on the location and type of housing. When considering housing options, it is essential to carefully assess all costs and factors involved. By thoroughly researching and considering all aspects of renting, you can make a well-informed decision about the housing that best suits your needs and budget.

  1. Amenities and Facilities

Students who have lived in student accommodation for an extended period know how critical good amenities within the housing area are. High quality accommodation with facilities such as parks, libraries, study areas and beaches are incredibly useful to students who need some downtime for leisure, as well as those who endeavor a high academic success.

Well, you are searching for inexpensive accommodation, not luxury. So the choice is yours as all these come with extra costs.

  1. Safety and Security

While living in certain areas can have benefits such as lower costs, nearby amenities, a quiet environment to study, etc., it is important to consider the levels of safety of an area before relocating. International students are often unaware or misinformed about the safety levels in suburban areas and choose accommodation based purely on recommendations from friends. This often results in some students finding themselves in unsafe or threatening situations due to a lack of knowledge about their new environment.

How to Secure Affordable Housing as an International PhD Student
How to Secure Affordable Housing as an International PhD Student

How To Secure Affordable Housing as an International PhD Student: Best Tips

To successfully secure affordable housing while pursuing a PhD program in the US, Canada, UK, etc., as an international student, it is important to plan. Here are some tips to help you get started:

  1. Plan Before You Land

Begin as early as possible. Access to international student housing is very competitive. The later you start your search, the smaller your pool of options. If you can make an exploratory trip to your university before you arrive, take advantage of this time. If you are already in the city, you will be able to explore neighborhoods surrounding the university and look for housing.

If this is not possible, utilize the internet to research available housing. 90% of universities will have off-campus housing resources available on the web. If you can speak with a housing advisor, a professor or a current student about housing, this will be helpful. A great housing option could fall through because you heard about it too late. Overall, it is best to start looking for housing early and find something that relieves stress and best suits you.

  1. On-Campus vs. Off-Campus

Consider the costs of on-campus versus off-campus housing. Dorms can be convenient but expensive, while a kitchen at home can save money. The type of dorm and potential price fluctuations should also be considered. On-campus apartments offer more flexibility, while off-campus housing usually requires signing a contract in advance. The commute to campus and availability of subsidized housing are additional factors to consider. Contact your school’s housing department for more information.

  1. Find Roommates, Share Costs

The idea of getting started on a roommate search can be daunting. Start by asking any contacts you already have in your new university about potential roommates. Email your department secretary to forward your request to other new students. Check the housing bulletin boards or online resources of your university. Sometimes there are specific resources or welcome events for international students.

Sharing with others also has the added benefit of providing a social environment and support system while you are away from your home country. Many who have pursued PhDs have found that the friendships and study groups formed in shared housing situations last a lifetime.

  1. Utilize International Student Resources

Many institutions have an office or department specifically designed to help international students with a wide range of topics and issues, from visa and immigration regulations to providing social and cultural opportunities to help you integrate. You can often receive assistance in finding housing through these services, sometimes even before you arrive in the U.S.

Often you can get solid advice from someone with specialized knowledge or experience in housing international students. This service may be able to help you long after you first arrive in the United States, so keep it in mind if you ever find yourself in a bad living situation down the line.

  1. Understand the Lease

No matter who you are leasing from, landlord or housing organisation, it is important to understand the terms of your security deposit, as at the end of your tenancy it can be a costly process for international students to dispute any damage deductions from the deposit. The deposit is a protection for the landlord in case of damage, and it is standard for an amount of one month’s rent to be requested.

Ensure that you get a receipt for the deposit, as it should be placed in a secure scheme. To ensure that you obtain the housing situation right for you, it is crucial to understand the contents of your lease and exactly what you are agreeing to. Different types of accommodation are associated with different types of leases.

  1. Location Matters

You should always consider the location of your housing in relation to the university. Prices of housing can even vary on different sides of the street, so keep location in mind when searching. If there are good public transportation options and it’s a reasonable distance to the university, don’t be afraid to move further away from the university.

A longer transit time can be more than worthwhile if you’re saving money each month and can live comfortably on the funds available from your student stipend. As an example, if your monthly transit pass is $80 while living 5 minutes from campus costs around $400 for just rent. Moving to a location where rent is $600, but passes by 50% and takes 20 minutes on transit, you are spending $430 rather than $400 and buying an extra hour each day to be somewhere $200 cheaper.

  1. Skip the Car

Consider parking costs and availability near your university. Contact the university parking service for options and costs. If having a car is necessary, compare the total costs with transportation and housing. Keep in mind the inflexibility and commitment of owning a car.

If there are no cheap transportation options, find housing further away with convenient public transportation. Visit the area and speak to locals for insight. Contact the international students’ organization for advice. Be certain about your housing location to avoid high transportation costs.

  1. Budget for Extras

Utilities such as gas and electricity are not always included in rent and can be expensive, so visually inspect the house and ask the previous tenants what their costs were during the summer and winter months. If utilities are not included, request the monthly average from the utility companies to factor into your costs. You’ll also want to inquire about rubbish removal fees, telephone costs, and the rates for an internet connection.

These may or may not be included in the rent, and internet, for example, can vary from $15 to $50 per month. If you agree to pay only a portion of these bills with the landlord, it can get complicated when bills arrive and he requests more or less money based on individual usage. In this case, it is best to ask the landlord to put the bills in your name and you can pay them directly, given that you will already be jointly paying the aforementioned utility costs.

  1. Scholarships & Grants

Research if your financial aid package offers any housing support. Your university may offer housing support for domestic or international students in the form of scholarships, grants, loans or work-study. This can be awarded by the university as part of its financial aid. If you have been awarded a financial aid package from your educational institution, there is likely some form of housing assistance included therein.

Usually, the award will be applied directly to your tuition or housing bill, but sometimes funds are disbursed directly to the student and can be used for any living expenses. Check with your financial aid advisor to see what options are available for you.

  1. Find Your Happy Place

An ideal place may vary on the individual wishes, ideas to live, and the activities that will be done. By identifying personal requirements and preferences, one can get a clear understanding of what is a priority for the best place to live. This requirement includes the workplace, schools or colleges for children, transportation, and the desired type of house.

Whether your idea of a happy place is a secluded countryside retreat, bustling city center, or somewhere in between, there is affordable housing available for all needs and preferences. It is a good idea to envisage where you see yourself living as a PhD student abroad and this vision needs to be realistic given living costs and accommodation availability.


In conclusion, affordable housing is out there; it just may take some time, effort, and creativity to secure it. When weighing your options, remember to factor in the cost of the housing in relation to the total funding support. While a slightly bigger stipend may allow a more comfortable lifestyle, it may also affect the amount of taxes owed and reduce the amount of financial aid received.

There is often a trade-off, so be sure to understand the total financial picture in making the decision. The housing security you choose directly affects your PhD journey trajectory and personal well-being, so do not be afraid to seek advice from older students and shop around, and remember, what you settle on initially is not set in stone. With some persistence, it is possible to cut costs and improve the quality of your housing situation over time.


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