The Perks Of Living In A Shared Apartment Abroad
Landing in a decent roommate situation can often seem like an impossible task. With the unique complications of finding housing abroad, roommates or flatmates can easily become an afterthought in the chaos of the search. As such, for many it might appear better to search and secure independent housing. But, especially for the newly-minted traveler or expatriate, there are particular advantages to undergoing the potential added stress of securing shared housing.
For those unfamiliar with some of the different types of shared living situations (called a colocation in France), here is a brief rundown of the possibilities.
Shared loft or one-room apartment
Shared common area with separate rooms and bathrooms
Entirely shared apartment with shared contract
Shared common spaces (kitchen, living room and bathroom) but separate contracts for individual rooms with their own individual keys and locks
Each of these options have their own drawbacks and benefits. The shared loft is likely to be the cheapest, smallest, and least private. The second option is the most private as you have your own space and only encounter your roommate in the shared living room and kitchen. The third option is the most communal. Everything - including the contract - is shared. This means that if a roommate breaks their contact, you will have to pay their share until you find a replacement tenant. The last option is both communal and flexible. You can expect to see your roommates in the shared spaces but retreat to your room if necessary. Since your contract is between you and the landlord, if you leave, your roommates do not have to pay your share.
If you find the right colocation, the perks are many. You gain:
A built-in social network. You have the opportunity to meet your roommate’s friends and learn more about your new culture (if they are locals). While an apartment shared with locals is recommended, if you find yourself in an apartment of expatriates, you have still expanded your social network.
Ready-made support system. Living abroad can be a lonely and frustrating experience. If you have roommates, you have someone with whom you can share your concerns or ask for advice.
Bigger living space & more amenities for less. Shared apartments often are cheaper than an individual apartment for the simple reason that you divide the cost of living between roommates. While you lose some privacy, many shared apartments will be more spacious with more amenities (like an oven and freezer) than if you opted for an equally priced single apartment.
More cross-cultural exchanges. Assuming you live in a shared apartment with international roommates, you not only have the chance to meet their friends but also to talk about their cultures. While there might sometimes be growing pains related to cultural differences, you will hopefully enrich your time abroad as you learn about other cultures.
Now, finding that perfect shared can be difficult. So here are some tips to start your search:
Think of shared apartment searching like dating. You want to leave a good impression but also recognize that your relationship might be a long-term one. So dress nicely when you first go to meet your potential roommates - you do not want them to think you are messy!
Bring a food gift to your first meeting (if possible). Some options of food gifts are beer or little snack cakes (like madeleines in France or little cookies).
If you're offered a drink or a snack upon your arrival, accept it! While you might not arrive at the apartment thirsty, the offer of a drink or snack is a welcoming gesture. If you refuse, it instantly closes off conversation and makes you seem less agreeable. If you accept, your potential roommates will feel like good hosts.
Try to receive a full tour of the apartment and ask about house rules. Examples of house rules would be their cleaning and sleeping schedule, policies on guests or parties, and shared versus individual property (does everyone have their own shelf in the fridge? Do they cook together or separately?). These will help you get a better sense of the workings of the apartment and see if it's a good fit for you!