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Finding Accommodation 101: How to look for accommodation in Vancouver as an International Student

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

Finding a place to call home is always hard, regardless of whether you are moving to a new city, country or even if you are just moving a couple of blocks away. It’s always a difficult and time-consuming thing to do. Luckily, we have prepared this short 5-step guide for you to find accommodation in Vancouver. Check this out!

Step 1. Define which type of accommodation you are looking for.

First things first! It’s easier to find something if you know what you are looking for, don’t you think? That’s why the first step you should take is to know which type of accommodation you are interested in staying at. Here are the most common ones:

Apartments and houses: Probably the most common types of accommodation for anyone. You can rent by yourself, with your significant other or just with some friends or roommates. Who you want to live with is also an important thing for you to consider 🧐.

Unlike the rest of the types of accommodations on this list, these need you to invest more time to find the right property. Therefore, think of how much time you have to look for one. Especially if you are new to the country.

@Paul Siewert

Homestay Families: If you have been looking for information about studying in Canada you probably have heard the terms Homestay or Host Family before, as it is the most common type of accommodation for international students. But what is this and why is it the most popular?

Well, Homestays are basically local families who are willing to receive you in their home and provide not only a room but also include a meal plan for you! This makes it the most affordable type of accommodation of all, although it’s not for everyone. It is usually recommended for minor students or students who don’t have experience living abroad or a good English level. Therefore, more mature students tend to find other types of accommodation as they like the independence that living alone provides.

The most common way to find this type of accommodation is through a third-party provider or through your school. If you have already picked a school to study at, make sure to ask them if they have a Homestay department or a Homestay provider you can contact. 😉.

Student Accommodations/Residencies: Last but not least, student living options! Known as student accommodations or residencies, they are probably the most expensive option on this list. It basically consists of a dormitory in either a building or a house that is exclusive for students. The rooms in this type of accommodation can either be shared or private and in most cases have shared kitchens and washrooms. This is the type of accommodation that you frequently see in American movies when a student moves into the campus housing or they join a fraternity, for example.

Your school and third-party providers, like GEC, are normally the ones providing this service. Be aware that it’s also hard to get a room in these types of accommodation because of how convenient they are. Waitlists to get into these accommodations are sometimes over a year and their prices are not as attractive for someone looking for a budget-friendly option.

Note: Keep in mind that these are only the most common types of accommodation, other options include: renting a suite, a basement, just a floor from a house, a laneway house, etc.

Step 2. Define a budget.

Try defining a budget as soon as you can! Having a budget in mind will also help you in your search for accommodation. Do some quick math and define a range of what you would be willing to spend on your rent. Doing so will give you a better idea of the type of accommodation you can afford, in which part of the city you can live in, and if you can actually afford doing so. It will also tell you if you need to live with roommates to share the expenses or not.


Step 3. Pick a location!

Choosing where to live can be overwhelming, especially when you don’t know the city. Here is a quick overview 😉

Introducing the Vancouver 3-Fare-Zone map! For those who don’t know it yet, Metro Vancouver, or Greater Vancouver, is divided into 3 different Zones. Zone 1 (yellow), Zone 2 (blue) and Zone 3 (pink).

Now, you can use these zone divisions to have a reference of the prices around the city. The closer to Downtown (DT), which is represented as the area with a star, the higher the price. Here are the average prices from 1-bedroom apartments in DT and the rest of the 3 Zones 😉

  • Downtown: $2,800

  • Zone 1: $2,525

  • Zone 2: $2,200

  • Zone 3: $2,000

Even within the zones, the prices can vary from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. Therefore, it’s always a smart idea to use a tool like Zumper to compare prices within each of the zones.

Keep in mind that when it comes to international students, most private schools are actually located in Downtown Vancouver, so that’s something for you to consider. When it comes to public colleges or universities, these can be found all over Metro Vancouver.

Step 4. Search for your new home.

Now for one of the most important steps! Where can you look for good rental listings? Well, there are many places to do so, however, we’ll list the ones we consider the most relevant for international students:

  • Craigslist: for years it has been the leader when looking for a place to live in. It has always been the most active platform for housing for international students and locals! However, despite still being relevant, its bad user experience and design + the number of scams within the platform are pushing users away from it.

  • Facebook Marketplace: Currently the most used platform, it’s way more user-friendly than other options. It has plenty of activity and it’s full of short rentals which are great for some international students. Plus, FB marketplace allows you to add a bunch of filters which help you narrow your options a lot. The number of rooms, the budget, the location… you can even look for pet-friendly options!

  • Facebook Groups: Another great alternative to finding a place is Facebook Groups. You can join either a rental specific group like Vancouver Rentals and Roommates, a group with more than 30k members, or you can look for a group of people you have something in common with, for example, if you are from Colombia you could join Colombianos in Vancouver and look for a place to stay. Plus, these kinds of groups are always useful to ask a bunch of other stuff 😉 You can go through the most recent post and look for something you are interested in or you can also create a post yourself and specify what you are looking for 😄. Most of the time you’ll receive at least a couple of answers with options.

Step 5. Contact the listing owner.

Finally, the last step… Contacting the listing owner! Here’s something really important for you to take into consideration for this step. When contacting the listing owner there are two possibilities; you will either talk directly to the owner, a property manager, or someone who wants to sublease. This last one is a person who is currently renting the place and renting you a room or a part of that place without you being in the contract. Now, what are the advantages of each of them?

  • Renting directly from the Owner or Property Manager: The advantage is that you will have a contract and this contract protects you as a tenant. This is useful because the contract will specify a fixed period of time that you are renting for (which is better than a month to month, because you never know when they could want to kick you out ), details exactly how much you will need to pay each month, and it forces the owner to make sure that the place is well suited for you to live in it. It basically means that the place needs to be in a good condition for you 😉. The disadvantage, however, especially for newly arrived international students, is that it is quite common for landlords to ask for plenty of information before actually signing an agreement with you. This information could include bank accounts, employment contracts, credit score, reference letters from a previous landlord or from your employer, etc. And as you can imagine, this could be really hard to pull off as a newcomer 😒.

  • Subleasing: The opposite of having a contract as you can imagine hahaha. The advantage of subleasing is that you don’t need any proof of funds or references to get a place, but you will get in return the uncertainty that comes from not having a contract 😒. This means no law that protects you as a tenant, the possibility of having your rent increased at any time, and being kicked out of the place with no notice.

Regardless of what you go for, always be careful of the type of information you provide and make sure you are talking to a trustworthy person. When renting a place it’s common for people to ask you about what you are doing in Canada, your backstory, what you do for a living and so on. But never, ever provide any documentation unless you have been approved and are about to sign a tenancy agreement!!

Also, the only payment that you should be giving in advance is a security deposit, which tends to be half of the month’s rent. This should be returned to you once you leave the place you are staying at, providing you did not damage the property. Other than that, if they ask you for money in advance, without a contract, or way before your move-in date, that’s a red flag!!

THRIVVE’s Recommendation for International students

One last thing! Looking for accommodation is always easier when you are here. Therefore, we encourage you to consider the following. Arrive in Canada by using a Homestay provider. Although not the best type of accommodation, it’s cheap, it’s safe, and it will give you the opportunity to spend some time in Vancouver. You’ll be able to get familiar with the city and start doing some scouting for yourself, book some accommodation viewings, and see with your own eyes which place you like best!

We recommend you to book at least 4 weeks in a homestay, although 6 to 8 weeks would be a better option because that’s usually how long it takes you to find a new place to stay.

Note: you can always look at other alternatives, like AirBnB or local Hotels. Although the prices are often higher… but you never know 😉.

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