In addition to all of the bureaucracy you’ll inevitably handle when moving to and/or studying (temporarily or otherwise) in Italy, finding an apartment is another thing on your never-ending to-do list. Many universities in Italy don’t provide international students with automatic dorm or apartment placement, nor are accommodation costs included in tuition (as with most universities in the world). While many universities may partner with certain international living services or student accommodation agencies, those aren’t known to be cheap. You’re paying for the convenience and comfort of having a place to live the minute you land in Italy. But if you’re willing to dig a little deeper and have a little patience (this isn’t my strongest characteristic, either), you can almost always find something to meet your needs.
SIX TIPS ON FINDING AN APARTMENT IN ITALY
Be Weary of International Student Accommodation Agencies.
The first time I studied in Milan (on a three-month exchange program), I used an agency that was specifically for international students. Their website listed apartments that I could rent for short or long term periods, so I chose one after emailing the representative a few times. When I wired my money, the apartment mysteriously wasn’t going to be ready in time for my arrival. When I said I would get my family lawyer involved to have my money returned to me, she then found another apartment for me. When I arrived, however, the apartment wasn’t going to be ready for two weeks, so I slept in the kitchen of my friends’ apartment for 15 days although the lady promised this wouldn’t be the case. She also required me to pay to sleep in my friends’ kitchen. When I finally got an apartment, it was in a completely different area than originally planned (it was closer to my university, though). Thankfully, my (six!) roommates were very nice and helpful. When it was time for me to leave, I didn’t get my deposit back for many months and when I finally did, it was less than half of the original deposit because they took out “taxes and other charges such as cleaning, service fees, etc.”
Needless to say, many international student accommodation services know you are in desperate need of an apartment as quickly as possible, and they know they have the upper hand. While not ALL agencies are like this, it’s good to be cautious when you go this route. Ask about the flexibility of the contract, ask to Skype to see the apartment, and ask how much you will pay to open and close a contract. If they give you a one-time fee for your entire stay, divide it by how many months you will stay to see if it goes over your monthly budget or if it seems excessive.
Skype. Skype. Skype.
I cannot emphasize this point enough. SKYPE. When I was looking for an apartment on EasyStanza, most people requested that you come visit the apartment. That’s when you should ask to Skype. This way, you can know if the person listing the ad is in fact renting out an apartment and if the apartment looks like the pictures (many people with fake ads pull old pictures from other apartments off the Internet). If they’re not willing to Skype, don’t waste your time. If they are willing to Skype, be sure to pay attention to details in the apartment and gauge the personality of the person listing the apartment to see if they would be a good potential roommate for you.
Map Your Location & Public Transit.
If your city is big enough to have mass transit, like Milan, know which metros, buses, and trams have stops near your university. Likewise, know which modes of transportation are near your apartment. The second time I moved to Milan, I knew I was looking for apartments that were near the green and red metro lines because both of those metro lines stop near my university. Luckily, I found an apartment just outside the city center that is near the red metro line AND is near a bus line that stops at my university. Once you find an apartment, you’ll want to use Google maps to virtually walk the streets and map the distances to the nearest grocery market, bus stop, metro stop, park, etc.
Add up All Expenses.
This seems like an obvious one, but it’s good to physically write down all of your expenses and see how much you will definitely spend per month. I knew when I was looking for an apartment that my budget would be 450 euros including utilities, gas, water, and Internet. Since I was looking for a single room at this price, I knew I would be looking outside the city center since those apartments tend to run a bit cheaper. I also knew that as a student, I would be paying 22 euros for public transportation every month and roughly 25-35 euros every couple of weeks for groceries. Considering I’m a working student, this means I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room in my max budget when searching for an apartment, therefore I didn’t even consider apartments that were above my budget. Also, be prepared to pay taxes to open and close a contract. Ask the person renting out the apartment if they plan to split the contract cost with you. Usually, if they’re nice, they will split it with you or pay it. However, a lot of student accommodation agencies require you to pay it in full. I had to pay 120 euros to both open and close my contract. This isn’t unheard of or uncommon, so just ask and be prepared.
Don’t Wire Money to Strangers.
Again, this seems like an obvious one, but you would be surprised at how many stories I’ve seen about students wiring money to people then never hearing from them again. If you haven’t Skyped them, don’t send them money! Skype them to make sure they are real. Ask them if you can pay the deposit upon arrival if possible, and make sure they provide you with a contract and a receipt. That’s another important note…do not agree to live in an apartment if they do not want to give you a contract. No contract means you have no protection if something goes wrong and they can ask you to leave at any moment without any legal consequences. They could also demand more rent money. Not to mention, if they aren’t filing a contract for you, that means they aren’t paying the correct taxes….which is illegal.
You should have at least ten questions to the person renting out the apartment. How far is the apartment from the nearest metro and bus? How close is the nearest grocery market? How many rooms and bathrooms are there? Is smoking prohibited? What is the price of the contract? What is the price of utilities per month? Are towels and sheets provided, or do I need to bring my own? How many people will live in the flat? What is the policy regarding the deposit? Are there any pets? These are ten easy questions to get you started, but ask specific questions that you know will be important for you.
I hope this will help you start your hunt. Please comment regarding any questions, suggestions, or concerns. All of the information is opinion and knowledge gained from my own personal experiences of apartment hunting in Milan on two different occasions. Others may have different experiences and opinions. Thank you for reading! Finally, I’ve listed some useful websites to help you get started. Facebook groups for certain universities can also be a good source.
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