Choosing Off-Campus and On-Campus Accommodation in Canberra

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This article is jointly written by Catri Citraningtias and Tsani Fauziah Rakhmah, but due to technical limitations, the article can only be posted by using either author’s profile. Both authors undertook studies at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, Australia, during 2013-2016, and here they will share their experiences of living in off-campus and on-campus accommodation. They were motivated to write this article because a peace of mind is the most important factor for a rewarding study experience, and it starts with choosing the right accommodation.

When you search for accommodation-related information through the internet, there will be a lot of information to take in and that can be overwhelming. One way to get sorted information is to ask the international student office. For us, it is best to be in touch with Indonesian Student Association (PPI) or friends who are currently living there.

There are apartment-style accommodations available on campus, mainly single/couple studios and shared apartments. You can also rent a landed or flat house with several bedrooms. If you have some friends you want to live together with, get organized with them to find a house to share. The orientation period is the best time to find such friends. Living off-campus or on-campus accommodation both has positive and negative sides. Follow your personal instinct and make informed decision about accommodation that suits you best.

Temporary accommodation

We recommend you to arrange temporary accommodation once your visa is issued. Usually, the university will offer a temporary accommodation during your orientation period (1-2 weeks). The price is relatively more expensive than the average rent price with similar facilities and when you cook by yourself, as the accommodation includes meals. To get a cheaper accommodation, you may need to ask some colleagues (through Indonesian community group in social media, for instance) who are leaving for holidays and have their place available temporarily. The benefits of living in a sublet accommodation are: first, you don’t have to buy essential stuffs. We were very lucky to have a host that let us use her detergent, shower gel, toothpaste, cooking ingredients, food, kitchen tools, etc. Second, your host would become the best guide to provide information to help your transition to a new place.

After a couple of days in a temporary accommodation, you must start searching for a permanent one. We suggest you to search directly from the country you are going to live in once you have arrived there, since you could better judge if the accommodation suits you. From our experience, just because it is comfortable for others, doesn’t mean that it suits your preferences. Do not sign up for any permanent accommodation contract when you are still in your home country. Because prior to moving in, you must do a thorough room inspection and record any damages. On your departure, you will be responsible for any damages that were not recorded in the inspection day.

Living in off-campus accommodation

A photo collage of off-campus accommodation
A photo collage of off-campus accommodation

There are many suburbs around Canberra, some owhich are relatively close to the ANU are within the Canberra Central district, such as Acton, Ainslie, Campbell, Dickson, and Lyneham. Information around off-campus accommodation can be easily googled, or you can try www.allhomes.com.au. Additionally, you may find people who look for flatmates through the internet and they will provide information about themselves and the unit’s condition. Be advised that you need to do the inspection prior to signing contract, as you directly feel the unit you are about to permanently live in. Aside from inspection, you will have a casual interview with the flat mate(s) to identify whether you guys will be a good fit for one another. Do not feel offended when you got rejected because it is only a matter of preferences. You may have as many accommodation inspections as possible for better comparison. However, it is better to sort out your accommodation before the semester begins. Some required documents in signing contracts are: passport, visa, student ID, and bank account. Another easier way in finding information is through the Indonesian community group.

In general, there are two types of off-campus accommodation: shared house and shared apartment. Try to find fully furnished accommodation to save more money. When you take over a contract from a previous tenant, they usually leave almost everything for the new residents (bed, desk, cooking utensils, etc). Meanwhile, shared apartments are usually unfurnished because the tenants must clean and empty the unit upon departure. For shared apartments, taking over contract would not be as easy as shared house because your detailed information need to be recorded in the agency’s database before signing the contract.

Sharing accommodation would be the best fit for people who are more social and cannot bear living alone. You will have shared rooms that could help to ease up your stress when you get bored in your room. Also you have flatmates to talk to and spend time together with, and can even invite friends to have potluck party in your place. You can choose to live with people from the same or different country. Living in a diverse environment is an opportunity to make friends, expand your perspectives, and improve your English. Additionally, living off-campus will give you opportunities to explore the neighborhood, find many interesting spots, and feel the local way of living.

However, conflicts may also arise between flatmates even for trivial matters due to differences in characters and habits. Communication, tolerance, and understanding are indeed important to minimize conflicts. Bear in mind that everyone is fully responsible on every aspect in the unit. You need to take care of the unit’s cleanliness and utilities bills. When you have broken appliances (e.g. heater, sink, stove), the tenants need to set up all the technical reparation together. Another drawback of living off-campus is transportation. During the exam period, students usually study until late on campus and it may be difficult to go back home late. One option is to buy a car (AU$1,500-3,000) or bicycle (AU$70-200). Using public transportation (such as bus) would be a bit challenging as buses in Canberra are less frequent. Thus, when you decide to live off-campus, consider factors such as proximity to the university and bus station (nearest bus stand from your unit, bus timetable, time spent to walk, transit station, etc).

In terms of price, living off-campus is relatively cheaper than on-campus as the former offers less facilities. The rent price would be around AU$100-AU$150 weekly (in 2016). This price excludes utility bills (electricity, gas and internet), which is approximately AU$150-AU$200 per month/unit. The bills would vary depending on the number of tenants and their daily use. Remember that in winter, the bills could go up due to the use of heater. You can, however, manage your bills to meet your budget. For some, off-campus accommodation is more desirable as they pay according to what they use. At the beginning of the contract you are obliged to pay a bond (usually equivalent to one month rent price) and fortnightly rent in advance. The bond is returned fully when you leave the unit and there is nothing to be repaired.

Living in on-campus accommodation

A photo collage of on-campus accommodation
A photo collage of on-campus accommodation

There will be some on-campus accommodations available for students. Information with regards to location, prices, facilities, room layout, application procedure, etc is available in their website. On-campus accommodation is suitable for single or students bringing along their spouses. Unfortunately, students with family may need to find off-campus accommodation. There are single studio room (en-suite bathroom and kitchen) or a share apartment (some bedrooms with communal bathroom, living room and kitchen). Although the price could vary, most of them are within most scholarship budgets.

Living in an on-campus accommodation is convenient to some extent. First, you will be living in a multicultural society. University accommodation hosts students from all over the world, a place where you can get to know other cultures and develop international friendships. Second, apart from being fully furnished, it has many supporting facilities. For example, laundry room, barbecue area, bike garage, and common room – usually occupied with quiet rooms for study and living room for party (potluck, movie nights, game day, etc). Third, building and rooms are well managed. Suppose there is a trouble in your room (e.g. there were spiders on the balcony lamp), you can just email the building management and a technician will come and spray the bugs at no cost. Finally, there will be no transportation costs during weekdays because on-campus accommodations are on the vicinity of your classrooms. The proximity to library is also an advantage because during exam periods students usually study until late at the university. We experienced going home from the library at 10-12 PM during the exam period.

However, living in an on-campus accommodation comes with some drawbacks. For example, you may feel a bit lonely as you live alone in a tiny room. This is particularly prevalent when you get stressed out because of the exam or the cold weather. If you live in a shared apartment, you cannot choose your roommates and may end up with people with undesirable behavior. When you have such misfortunes, communicate it with the accommodation officer. In addition, living on-campus is a bit more expensive as compared to living off-campus. However, the cost differences may not be significant as the rent price includes electricity, internet, gas, building maintenance, hall events, etc. The total rent price for our accommodation (Laurus Wing) as per 2015 was AU$490 fortnightly. You also have to pay the bond (returned later) and fortnightly rent in advance.

If you have any difficulties in getting accommodation and any other concerns (personal, study, finance, health, etc), don’t hesitate to contact the university because help is always out there and confidentiality is their utmost priority.

We hope you find this article useful and you could make the most of your study time overseas!

Photos are provided by the author.