Finding a Home in a Foreign Country… in a Pandemic

In a month, I’ll be moving to Scotland (knock on wood) and, after a complicated search, I have a place to live.

I’ve been overanxious to go to Scotland since accepted to university in October. Heck, I began looking at properties in January! Around that time, a friend introduced me to a girl who was looking for a roommate where I’d be studying. We seemed to have a lot in common and I was excited to start looking for places together.

Then, the pandemic happened.

The girl with whom I’d hoped to live decided not to return to campus in the fall.

By April, I realised I should start figuring out accommodations. Here’s how it all went down…

I scoured Rightmove.

Everyday, I checked property listings on Rightmove and signed up for email alerts. Even as the weeks went by, there were few one-person flats available, especially for a September move-in.

I made an ad on SpareRoom.

SpareRoom is a flatmate and property share search website and app. Several friends recommended I try finding a place or someone to live with there. I put up a couple photos of myself, wrote a brief bio and listed my living preferences. A few landlords and other students reached out in the first couple weeks, but I didn’t find quite what I was looking for.

I applied to university accommodation.

There were some decent options listed for university housing. Some were shared flats with great amenities like fitness and recreation rooms. The best options were on-campus studio flats. However, university accommodation didn’t look very spacious. In price, it was comparable to or higher than private flats.

Just to be safe, I applied for university housing. I was asked to list six choices from the ten available. After a couple weeks, I was assigned to my fifth choice which was a five- to seven-person flat an hour’s walk from campus. I wasn’t able to select an alternative or flatmates. On the other hand, it was newly refurbished and each room was an ensuite.

Once I received this offer, I only had a week to accept it. Time was ticking!

I met Anya.

Back in July, a young woman named Anya reached out on SpareRoom. She was going to Stirling for her PhD and was looking for a flatmate. After exchanging a few messages, it seemed like we had quite a lot in common. We decided to videocall a few times to get better acquainted. We got on quite well and started looking for flats together.

Having a partner in this process was great! We shared the responsibilities of looking at ads and contacting agencies and landlords. Plus, when things were uncertain, we reassured each other. (Thanks, Anya!)

We looked everywhere.

We decided to look for two- and three-bedroom furnished flats at no more than £1,000 ($1,319) per calendar month total. We searched on Rightmove, Spareroom, Zoopla, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree adding our finds to a spreadsheet (yeah, we’re both nerds like that). We reached out to letting agencies and landlords for over 20 places.

We were rejected as students.

I expected that most properties would be available to students since Stirling is a university town. Sadly, I was mistaken. Even as master’s and PhD students, landlords didn’t want to let to us.

We expanded our search.

As the options became fewer, we started considering unfurnished flats and the prospect of commuting from Glasgow or Edinburgh. The latter wasn’t appealing. Even though I would only have in-person classes two or three days a week, commuting would require two hours of travel.

We needed to have a guarantor.

Of the few properties available to students, several required us to have a UK-based guarantor. Essentially, letting agencies and landlords wanted proof of financial security which I couldn’t provide as an international student.

The market was moving fast.

With the semester only a few weeks away, not many properties stayed on the market very long. We had to contact letting agencies and schedule viewings immediately to have any chance of being applicants.

Viewings were mostly virtual.

Most properties could be viewed virtually which was great for me as an international student. Letting agencies and landlords gave walkthroughs on Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. For two properties, Anya asked a friend attend viewings on our behalf. I highly recommend doing this if you’re looking for a property abroad. Pictures and videos can only show so much.

We found a place.

Last Friday, a new property popped up on Gumtree. It was a two-bedroom, furnished flat and only a fifteen-minute walk from the university (yay!). I contacted the landlord right away and within an hour, we had a virtual viewing scheduled for the next day.

The videocall walkthrough was helpful but not the best quality, so we asked Anya’s friend to check out the flat in-person. After she sent us some photos and a video, we felt this was the best option we’d found. Today, we sent signed the lease (woo-hoo!)!

After searching for three weeks, it’s a relief to have a flat figured out! We’re super excited to make our home cute, cozy and crafty (Anya does cross stitch and I do macrame). Plus, we plan to adopt lots of plant babies!

P.S. I can’t imagine what all of this would’ve been like in a non-English-speaking country! Yeesh!

Thank you!

This week, I’m saying thank you to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation. On the 25th of July. a Japanese ship named MV Wakashio hit a coral reef near the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar. The ship, which was carrying 4,000 tonnes of oil, has since spilled over 1,000 tonnes into the surrounding waters, devastating ecosystems. The Mauritian Wildlife Foundation was quick to respond, but this ecological disaster is far from over. Please consider donating to their vital work here (mention “Wakashio” in the message).

Read more about the Wakashio oil spill from the BBC.

The featured image was taken by my travel bud Amanda at the Highland Folk Museum which was actually used to film parts of Outlander! Much to our dismay, Jamie Fraser (aka Sam Heughan) was nowhere in sight.

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