Thursday, 20 September 2012

Study Abroad in Italy: Finding Accommodation

Once I'd made the decision to do the Erasmus programme as part of my degree, I went in search of anything that would help me to prepare. I found a French film called L'Auberge Espagnole (The Spanish Apartment) by Cedric Klapisch which showed many aspects of Erasmus life: the excitement, chaos, fun and above all the disasters. 

Many of the experiences rang true for me during my time in Bologna as an Erasmus student especially the idea that the disaster stories are the ones which you love to tell when you get back home! With that in mind, I've put together some advice for potential Erasmus students searching for accommodation  (especially in Bologna, Italy) so you that you might be able to learn from my mistakes!

1. Start Early (Don't risk being homeless like I did!) 

Italy is different to most other European countries as you are usually expected to organize your own accommodation. This is an incredibly daunting process but think of it as your initiation into the way Italy's mind works. You'll come across many problems but you really feel like you've achieved something incredible when you eventually move into your new apartment.

Ideally, try and find an apartment before you leave. At the very least have somewhere to live while you search for for an apartment. Sometimes it's not possible to choose an apartment if you haven't visited the city before, but having a place to live while you search is vital. We, my friends and I, were very naive and only booked two nights in a B&B thinking we could find an apartment in a day or two. Being in such a rush means that you might make snap decisions in a panic and limit yourself to only a few options. 

Photo: via @John1954Moi

2. There's No Shame in Rummaging Around Bins

You may be wondering why I've included a photo of some huge recycling bins in a post about accommodation. These bins are you best friend when it comes to finding a place to live, language lessons or even jobs. It's standard practice for students to plaster the bins in the Student Area of the city (via Zamboni) with posters and adverts . It's not unusual to have someone with a handful of posters approach you while you're looking at bin and ask if you need somewhere to live. 

My friends and I were searching the poster when we were approached by a lady who offered to take us and see her available apartment. We declined when we realized the apartment was a single room which included a kitchen, three beds and a flimsy partition leading on to a toilet. There's no denying however that the lady was accommodating. 'Don't worry we can put a fourth collapsible bed in front of the door!' she said. Needless to say, it wasn't for us.  

3. When and Where to Look

As well as the trusty bin system, there are also many useful websites you can search including:

Bakeca { } or you find them on Twitter: @bakecait
Bakeca Bologna } or on Twitter: @BO_bakeca
Erasmusu { }
Kijiji Italy { 
The latter has great information about housing, language courses and social activities.

In an ideal scenario, the best time to look for an apartment would be around July time before Italians go on holiday, it also means you'd have the whole Summer without a care in the world. Businesses tend to close for August and the residents go to the hills or seaside so it would be more difficult to find people. For most people however, the best time is at the start of September before University starts in October. This is when most Italians have returned from their Summer vacation and the majority of posters and adverts will be online or lining the bins and boards. 

4. Italians vs Email 

The temptation is to send emails rather than to face the fear of speaking on the phone in Italian. The problem is however that Italians generally prefer phone calls and face to face meetings rather than emails. I began my search by sending tens of emails but after only two or three people replied I realized that I had to bite the bullet and phone them up. 

When you do call people, you find that some people hang up when they hear you say the word Erasmus. This is normal as Erasmus students often have a reputation for being noisy and landlords often want someone who'll be there on a more permanent basis rather than for 6 to 10 months. Don't be put off though, there are hundreds of foreign students coming to Bologna every year so there is plenty of accommodation available.

5. Italian Landlords

My Italian friends inform me that I was conned into paying 340 euros a month for a shared room when I was Erasmus. This does not surprise me. The landlords noticed that we were desperate and that we couldn't understand a word of what they were saying. They probably winked knowingly to each other as we entered and saw euro symbols flashing before their eyes.

On the other hand, we were very lucky to find an agency who helped us. Going it alone was pretty stressful. If you allow more time to find an apartment rather than panicking as I did and you're able to understand Italian quite well, I'm sure you'll be able to find a good deal with an agency such as Unibo. They were very helpful when we had problems.

6. Expect Bizarre Things to Happen and Go with the Flow

Due to some strange reason, we were only shown one apartment (there were four of us in two neighbouring apartments) and as we were desperate for a place to live we agreed and hoped for the best. Thankfully, the other apartment was lovely. There was a corridor between our apartments and so we basically left the doors open between them when we were in and regarded it as one large apartment. However, on our first night, we only had access to the one apartment, This meant that we had to sleep with four students lying horizontally in the bare bed with our legs poking out. There was also a 6ft4 polish man sleeping on the marble floor...! (a long story)

We also shook hands with the landlord on the agreement that we'd have two single beds rather than the double that was already there. Of course, these single beds never materialised! I was very pleased that I was such good friends with the girl I was sharing with or it would have been a disaster! If I didn't know her before, I certainly did by the end of the year!

7. Health and Safety? What is that? 

Italians often turn a blind eye to safety. Smoke alarms don't come as standard and you'll need to adjust to the sight of electrical outlets in the bathroom from hairdryers to washing machines!

8. Enjoy Yourself! 

After reading some of my experiences you're either excited or feeling a little bit nervous but believe me I wouldn't change any of these experiences for the world. Erasmus completely changed me. I fell in love with the city and met my future husband in Bologna. Three years later, I'm still hear and loving every minute of it!  

Finally, just to excite you even more, here's an awesome video tour of Bologna from the perspective of  Erasmus Students

If you have any questions or experiences you'd like to share, 
please leave comments below and I'll get back to you


  1. What an informative post! Ive already done my erasmus but for someone who hasnt,this info seems perfect.a cool video too! :)

    1. I'm not I asked before, when and where did you do your Erasmus? x

  2. Any halal place

  3. Wow!!
    What a great writing, really I appreciate such kind of topics as Accommodation in Hong Kong. It will be very helpful for us. Waiting for more articles, blogs like this. I’m going bookmark your blog for future reference. Thanks a lot for sharing this.
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  4. loved the video:D bravissimo!:D cant see the time to go there:D

  5. There is lot to plan before you leave for the country where you going to study.

    Study Abroad in US

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Great post !!! thanks for sharing ..this post is very help for those peoples who facing such kind of problem like accommodation in abroad


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