Types of Accommodation Available to International Students in London, UK

students in common room

International students often find it more difficult than British students to secure accommodation in London. This post is designed to offer some advice on the main types of accommodation available to foreign/overseas students studying here in London.

Different Areas of London

One of the first things to decide is what area(s) in London you would consider. Look at the different areas of London, how far away from where you are studying they are, and how you would get around.

London is made up of Central London and Greater London, and is divided into Zones. Zone 1 being the most central part of London, going through to Zone 6 which is considered the suburbs.

Also check out the Tube map to get an idea of the different zones, or www.tfl.gov.uk to measure journey times.  Also, have a look at Transport for London’s (TFL) Journey Planner which helps you plan journeys on all London public transport. It is particularly useful if you want to get an idea of how long it takes to get to your place of study from an accommodation.

Main Postcodes in London

London South West:

SW1 Victoria;SW3 Chelsea; SW4 Clapham; SW5 Earls Court; SW6 Fulham; SW7 South Kensington; SW8 South Lambeth; SW10 West Brompton; SW11 Battersea; SW12 Balham; SW13 Barnes; SW14 Mortlake; SW15 Putney; SW16 Streatham; SW17 Tooting; SW18 Wandsworth; SW19 Wimbledon; SW20 West Wimbledon

London South East:

SE2 Abbey Wood; SE3 Blackheath; SE4 Brockley; SE9 Eltham; SE10 Greenwich; SE11 Kennington; SE12 Lee; SE13 Lewisham; SE14 New Cross;SE18 Woolwich; SE19 Norwood; SE20 Penge; SE21 Dulwich; SE22 East Dulwich; SE23 Forest Hill; SE24 Herne Hill; SE25 South Norwood; SE26 Sydenham; SE27 West Norwood; SE28 Thamesmead

London City West:

WC1 Bloomsbury; WC2 Holborn & Strand

London West:

W1 West End; W2 Paddington; W3 Acton; W4 Chiswick; W5 Ealing; W6 Hammersmith; W7 Hanwell; W8 Kensington; W9 Maida Vale; W10 North Kensington; W11 Notting Hill; W12 Shepherds Bush; W13 West Ealing; W14 West Kensington

London North West:

NW1 Camden Town; NW2 Dollis Hill; NW3 Hampstead; NW4 Hendon; NW5 Kentish Town; NW6 Kilburn; NW7 Mill Hill; NW8 St Johns Wood; NW9 Colindale; NW10 Willesden; NW11 Golders Green

London North:

N1 Islington; N2 East Finchley; N3 Finchley; N4 Finsbury Park; N5 Arsenal; N6 Highgate; N7 Holloway; N8 Turnpike Lane; N9 Lower Edmonton; N10 Muswell Hill; N11 Bounds Green; N12 North Finchley; N13 Palmers Green; N14 Southgate; N15 South Tottenham; N16 Stoke Newington; N17 Tottenham; N18 Upper Edmonton; N19 Upper Holloway; N20 Whetstone; N21 Winchmore Hill; N22 Wood Green

London East:

E1 Whitechapel; E2 Bethnal Green; E3 Bow; E4 Chingford; E5 Clapton; E6 East Ham; E7 Forest Gate; E8 Dalston; E9 Homerton; E10 Leyton; E11 Snaresbrook; E12 Manor Park; E13 Plaistow; E14 Poplar; E15 Stratford; E16 Canning Town; E17 Walthamstow; E18 Woodford; EC1 Clerkenwell; EC2 Barbican; EC3 Tower Hill; EC4 Blackfriars

Booking from Abroad

The main reason it can be more difficult to secure accommodation for international students is that overseas students are often not in London to view properties and make decisions.

Many overseas students also leave it until the very last minute to start looking. If you are booking from abroad then more planning needs to go into finding your accommodation. The London market for accommodation is a very competitive one, especially for students. As well as this there is a general shortage of property to rent in London. This does not mean that you will not find something, it just means that you have to prioritise and plan your search early.

Accommodation Options Available

The accommodation options open to you will often depend on the length that you need the accommodation for. As a general rule it is more expensive to book short term accommodation in London. Many landlords will expect students to commit to an accommodation for a minimum of 6 months, and less than this will usually be considered short term.

Student Halls of Residence

Halls of Residence are a very popular option with international students. They provide the opportunity to have a very independent living, make friends with other students and often are located in very central London locations. Generally the standard of this type of accommodation is very good (and consistently so) but depending on how central you want to be, it can be quite expensive and limited to students who are on longer term stays.

If you are studying at university then your university will offer advice on halls of residences available or linked to the university. Be aware that there is a difference between halls of residences that are provided and run by London universities and those that are run by private companies. Generally those run by private companies will be more expensive but often newer/modern buildings and facilities.

Prices tend to start from approximately £180 per week for a basic self-catered room in zone 3 and can be as high as £400+ per week for an en-suite studio in a central London location.

Many halls of residence will expect you to commit to a contract for between 9 and 12 months so if you are here on a short stay then this option may be unavailable to you.

Renting/Letting a Property

This is great option for longer term students who want a more independent life while studying. The lettings market in London is always busy and often there are more people looking to rent properties than there are properties available.

This fact has meant that rental prices have increased steadily in London over recent years so it can be quite an expensive option, especially if you want to be in central London.

There are many lettings agents in London and in every area. Most high streets in London will have at least 5 estate agents (and some will have many more).

We would always advise that if you are going to commit to a contract to rent a lettings property that you view the property first before signing anything. The quality of lettings accommodation can vary significantly across the capital and the description you read and photos you see many not always meet your expectations after you move in. If you have signed the contract and paid the deposits etc you are tied to this contract for its duration.

It can be more difficult for international students to secure a property to let for the reasons below:

1) Length of stay – landlords often require a minimum stay of at least 6 months and not all overseas students need their accommodation for this length of time

2) Referencing – lettings agents will have to carry references on prospective tenants before they offer them the property. Such references will usually involve:

(a) carrying out a credit check to see that you have no adverse credit history registered to your name
(b) contacting your previous landlord(s) to confirm that you have no history of defaulting on rent payments
(c) contacting your past and present employers to confirm your salary details and work history

The above checks are designed to ensure that you are in a position to pay the rent and also not likely to default. Many international students do not have a work history (past or present) nor do they have any previous landlord references if they are coming to London for the first time, so this can mean that you are automatically unable to rent property in the UK.

Some agents will be happy to offer you a tenancy contract if you are able to pay the entire rent in advance (usually a minimum of 6 months). If you are able to do this then they will usually not worry about carrying out references as you will have paid the rent upfront.

Usually the only other option is to have a guarantor. This is someone that signs the tenancy agreement on your behalf as a guarantee that the rent will be paid. The lettings agency will then reference your guarantor and he/she will be legally responsible if you default on your rent payments. The requirements for guarantors vary depending on the lettings agency you are dealing with but usually your guarantor will need to be a UK resident, property owner (in the UK) and in full time employment. If you considering this route to rent a property, then our best advice would be to ask the lettings agent what their requirements are on guarantors before you start viewing properties. This way you will not view a house or flat that you like and then later find out that you will not be able to rent it because of guarantor requirements that you cannot meet.

Also, note that you will be expected to pay a deposit on any lettings property that you rent. This can be between 4 to 6 weeks rent but don’t worry, this will be returned to you at the end of your tenancy (provided that the property is returned to the agent in same condition it was let to you).

There is often also a one off administration fee that can cost between £100 to £350 depending on which lettings agency the property is with. We would always advise you to ask if the agent has an admin fee at the start of your search. This is sometimes a cost that does not get discussed until you are about to sign the contract and can be an unwelcome surprise if you are not expecting it.

If you are staying on shorter term stays (less than 6 months) it is possible to rent a property, but note that short term properties to let (or “short lets” as they are called) will be 50%+ more expensive than the same property on a 6 month + contract. Traditionally there are fewer lettings agents in London that offer short lets but they do exist.

The other option you may wish to consider for short term stays is a “serviced apartment”. These are hotel style apartments usually of a very high standard and with all the conveniences of a hotel (daily cleaning, concierge etc.) but they can be one of the most expensive accommodation options in London with prices usually starting a £100+ per night for a studio. If you are in a position to afford this option then usually they are a safe option to book from abroad in that you are usually guaranteed a certain level of consistency in the standard of accommodation.

Hotels, Bed & Breakfasts & Hostels

There are many of these to choose from! Many international students will book this option for up to a week when they arrive in London to get started. Prices vary but expect to pay between £80 to £120 per night for a basic hotel or bed & breakfast within commutable reach to central London. Hostels will be cheaper (if you are prepared to share a room with up to 8 people!) so this is probably the best option if you are on a budget.

Homestay Accommodation

This is accommodation within a host family.  This type of accommodation is often the preferred option for (shorter term) international language students in London but it available to all (students and non-students).

The main advantages:

  1. Usually less expensive than other short term accommodation options in London. Prices at the time of writing start from around £19 per night for a self-catered room in zone 4 and go up to around £30 per night for a room in zone 1 or 2 so can be considerably less expensive than other options.
  2. Usually do not require you to pay a deposit of any kind.
  3. Includes options to pay for meals (breakfast and/or dinner) so that you do not need to worry about cooking when you are in London
  4. A good way to practise your English with a native English speaker
  5. The accommodation is inspected by the homestay agency so that you can better assured of a good standard or accommodation. Students often feel more comfortable therefore booking from abroad in the knowledge that the accommodation has been assessed by the agency.

Homestay is a good option for students looking for accommodation for more than a few nights but not as long as would be required on a lettings/rental property or a halls of residence. Typically students choose to book homestay for one or two months as a “find your feet” option. That said, there is no upper limit to how long you can stay with a host. Some students start with homestay, enjoy their stay and then decide to extend their stay later.

Where homestay may not be the best option for you is if you wish to view the accommodation before you book it. Many homestay agencies do not offer this service as they tend to cover large catchments of London and do not have local offices (unlike the typical high street lettings agency).

Also, bear in mind that most homestays are located in zones 2-4 in London so if you want to be very close (e.g. walking distance) to your place of study, then it may be harder to find a homestay accommodation. It is not impossible to find a homestay in zone 1 but you will need to book early if this is what you want as these hosts are often the most requested.

Interested in staying in a Homestay?

At HFS London we specialise in homestay accommodation for overseas students. If you feel that this is an option that might work for you, take a more detailed look at the different sections of our website. You can view current prices here.

If you decide that you do wish to apply then start by completing our online application form. One of the HFS London team will be in touch within 48 (working hours) with photo profiles of host family accommodation that is suitable for you. You will only be asked to make payment once you are completely happy with the options that have been suggested to you.

We look forward to hearing from you.