6) Dorms or flats – the big question for international students
One of the first challenges foreign students in Czechia face after arriving in the country is finding accommodation. While most universities offer places in dormitories, many foreign students prefer to stay in private housing. How difficult is to find a place to live in Czechia when you are a foreign student? And what are the advantages of living in a shared apartment? Find out more in the next edition of our miniseries dedicated five top Czech universities.
Some 20,000 students on average arrive in Czechia every year to study at one of the country’s universities. Most of the foreigners head for Prague, but many of them also study in other cities, such as Brno, Olomouc or Liberec.
Finding a temporary home may prove to be a challenge, especially for those staying in the capital, where the demand for housing has been steadily rising in recent years, and so have apartment rental prices.
While foreign students can chose to live in university dormitories, most of the ones we spoke to prefer private accommodation, including Eliot from France, who studies at Charles University’s Medical Faculty:
“First of all, this accommodation is very far from the centre of Prague. Also, it is mandatory to share a room with someone if not with several people and the kitchen is shared by fifty students.
“On the other hand, it is not expensive at all, only about 100 euros per month, so it can be a good option for those with small means.
“But all the people I know who have been to these residences have stayed for a week or two, just long enough to find an apartment, and then moved downtown.“
Jonathan Teufel from Germany, who is currently completing his bachelor’s degree at the Faculty of Tropical Agricultural Sciences at the Agricultural University in Prague, also didn’t like the idea of sharing a dorm with strangers.
“The university has dorms that house a lot of people, but I decided against it because they are double rooms. Also, I already stayed in a dorm in Germany, so I opted for a shared apartment. But in retrospect I regret that a bit, because there are a lot of social connections when you live so close together.”
Upon arriving in Czechia, Jonathan found a shared flat on Facebook. Recently, he moved to a different apartment which he shares with his friends:
“I consider myself very lucky, because my friend found an extremely cheap apartment in Bubeneč. I think it’s mostly a matter of luck and it's very competitive. Especially if you don't know Czech, your choices are limited. Luckily we have a Czech roommate, which makes it a bit easier.”
Jonathan’s compatriot Hasan, a mechanical engineering student from Aachen, also considered staying in a dormitory, but was put off by having to share a room with a stranger. Instead, he found private accommodation via Facebook:
“I originally wanted to live in a dormitory. The problem was that I didn’t like sharing a room. This is one of the things that bothers me a bit - that there are no dorms here where you have a private room.
“That's why I used Facebook groups to find private accommodation and I currently live in a shared apartment in the wider centre of the city.
“It would be nice to live with some Czechs, but unfortunately, all of my flatmates are from abroad.”
While Elliot, Jonathan and Hasan, who all come from EU member states, had the luxury of choosing between a place in a dormitory and private accommodation, students from non-EU countries often struggle to find any place to live.
Luis Orlando Leon Carpio, a 32-year old student from Cuba studying his Masters here in Prague, was searching for a flat together with his two classmates from Brazil and says they were turned down several times due to their origin:
“It happened to us two or three times -that we faced discrimination. When we did get a reply, the agent asked us about our nationality, and if any of the three of us were European. And when we said we weren’t, they would say “I’m really sorry but it’s just a matter of the landlord's preference, he prefers someone who is a Czech citizen, a Czech permanent resident, or an EU citizen.”
Sandra Abdelbaki, a 22-year old from Lebanon studying her Masters in Journalism here in Prague, had a similar experience. Besides dealing with extra documentation, and hefty deposits, she says she was even questioned about her religion by landlords.
“There were a lot of barriers I would say. One of them is asking for more than one month of rent and a huge deposit. But also because I don’t come from the EU, I am required to present certain documents for my visa and registration in the country, and a lot of people thought this was difficult for them so they would just reject me in the first place because it requires extra documentation.”
“Also as a person coming from a non-EU country, I found it even harder because I've been asked multiple times about where I come from, what my religion is, and what I’m doing here in the first place. I also got multiple rejections because I wasn’t from the EU.”
Despite the obstacles some foreign students face while looking for accommodation, most of them agree that Czechia is a great place for university studies, offering quality education, a relatively low cost of living and a great location in the heart of Europe.
And whether they end up living in dorms or shared apartments, most of the students we spoke to have not regretted their decision to make Czechia their temporary home.
One of them is Angelina Duaa Hashir, a 24-year-old Masters student in the Society, Communication and Media program at the Faculty of Social Sciences, who is originally from Pakistan.
“Prague is so beautiful, it’s just an amazing city. It’s not too expensive and the cost of living is affordable. A friend of mine suggested I look into Prague, and after watching some videos I realized it’s a pretty great option, and what’s better than living in the heart of Europe and getting to travel all around.”
Taine from New Zealand, who studies at the Agricultural University in Prague, lived in student housing when he first moved to the city, but later decided to find private accommodation with his girlfriend.
“We live in Žižkov, which is a really cool neighbourhood. It’s close to the main train station and the city centre. There are lots of cool bars and young people, which can be good and bad since there are a lot of parties going on around, but overall it’s a great environment.”
Just like Angelina Duaa Hashir, he too appreciates the location of Prague in the centre of Europe:
“Prague is really cool, it’s super close to everything, not as cheap as I originally thought, but it’s still relatively affordable. As a student here, I can teach English or work at a bar and make enough money to get by and still go on weekend trips to Germany and Austria. I really enjoy living in Czechia.”