Leasing from Abroad: A Q&A with an International Student Renter
Finding housing is tough, but finding it as an international student renter comes with a whole new set of challenges. To ease the process, we asked Andrea Sánchez Vicente, an international graduate student from Spain, to answer some questions about her own experience.
Andrea arrived in Madison from her home town of Valladolid, Spain to begin pursuing her MA in the Spanish Department. Of course, before moving, she first needed to find housing.
She ended up living comfortably in the Regent Apartments (managed and owned by Steve Brown Apartments). However, getting there was no cakewalk. See what Andrea had to say about navigating the housing process as an international student and what others can do to make it easier.
Were you already living in Madison when you began your search for housing or were you still in Spain?
I started to search from Spain through the Internet, but I continued my search and I did not make any decision until I arrived in Madison. (I arrived earlier in order to look for a place.)
Would you say that coming to Madison before searching for housing is instrumental?
I wouldn’t say that it’s instrumental because I have met people that have signed a lease before coming with good results. However, for me, it was instrumental because I wanted to see with my eyes where I was going to live.
As an international student, what were your primary concerns regarding housing?
I was worried about scams and selecting a dangerous or very noisy neighborhood. Also, because I began my search from Spain, I was nervous about getting the wrong idea of an apartment by depending solely on pictures.
To avoid those concerns, I decided to visit my selected apartments in person. I also got in contact with some students first to help me. Then, I avoided searching for housing through Craigslist because I heard that sometimes there are scams, although I have also met people who have had wonderful experiences with it.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in trying to find housing?
The kind of leases in Madison (starting so early in August) posed a huge problem. In Spain we have 9-month leases for students, whereas in Madison, except for some Steve Brown Apartments, the rest are 12-months leases.
In addition, leases are much more flexible in Spain, and if you want to quit your lease, you can usually do so by notifying your landlord in advance. Also, in Spain there isn’t a typical day that leases begin. You can find places whenever you want, although the typical for students begins on September 1st.
The fact that leases begin in August posed a problem because classes do not begin until September, so if you want to visit the places before signing the lease, you need to arrive in Madison earlier. As an International Student, that was a problem for me because I prefered to spend more time at home.
Because of this, it was too late to obtain one of the University Apartments (because of the waiting list), and most of the best places of the off-campus housing were already rented by the time I started looking. Also, it was really difficult to find housing from a different country without knowing the town, or even the country.
Did you prefer to live with another international student?
It was not a specific desire of mine, but in order to complete the application for the University apartments, I needed the personal information of my desired roommate. The coordinator of UW’s Spanish Graduate Program passed me the contact of the other new students in the program, so I emailed one girl in case she was also looking for a place. She was interested and we decided to look for a place together.
If an international student wanted to get in touch with a student the way you did, what should they do?
The advisor that helped me was my future academic advisor here in Madison, in the Spanish Department. (We have to select an advisor as soon as we accept the program in order to help us select our courses, etc.) Other students could try doing something similar by contacting their advisors as well.
What worked well when you were trying to find housing and what did not?
It worked to get in touch with other students that gave me tips and advice. Besides contacting other students through their departments, a good idea could be to get in touch with the Madison Friends of International Students.
As for what didn’t work, trying to find a place from Spain was a nightmare.
What factors led to your decision to live in the Regent?
It’s a very convenient location, safe, has a lot of facilities, and has two-bedroom apartments. I also liked that it is an apartment building and not a house. And, honestly, by the time I arrived in Madison, it was one of the few places available if you did not want to spend days and days searching on Craigslist and visiting a lot of different houses.
What advice would you give other international students trying to find off-campus housing?
Try to find a contact in the city that can help you in some way (giving you advice, tips, recommendations…). Do not give up; you will always find a place for you.
Any other international students have suggestions? We’d love to hear! Feel free to comment on this post. Are you an international student looking for nine-month leasing? Check out The Regent!