As you research your study abroad options at Veritas, you might find that it is possible to choose independent housing. What you might not find is information about what to do next.
This semester at Veritas, I’ve had a fantastic living situation that I arranged myself. While the vast majority of students do choose to live in a homestay, an invaluable experience and definitely the best choice for many, independent housing could be right for you. Here’s a brief guide to finding the best housing option.
Your Housing Options
Independent housing could be an option for you depending on the program through which you enrolled. Independent housing means that neither your program nor the university organize a host family for you. Essentially, you’re on your own to find an apartment, house, or any other place to lay your head. Considering I have no experience with a homestay, I can’t make an objective list of pros-and-cons for the two options, but I’ll try my best.
Homestays: Homestays offer a rich experience. They are immersive, deeply personal, supportive, and offer delicious local food. I believe they are the best option for students looking for intense cultural and language immersion or for those with little experience abroad or living independently. They could be problematic for those who thrive with a high level of independence or privacy, or for those that need to keep a budget or cook for themselves. If you have problems with your homestay, you can talk to your program or the school to help solve them.
Independent housing: Independent housing has been an incredible experience for me. I initially chose to do independent housing because it can be a cheaper option. But I soon discovered that it could be a good fit and a valuable adventure, albeit a big challenge. For me, the benefits included saving money, independence, the ability to cook, living with friends, and generally being able to choose my roommates and house.
After I made the choice to live independently, I got to work figuring out the details. The main options to choose from are a room in a house or apartment, or a work exchange. I opted for the work exchange, which I will discuss later. Housing in San Jose, Costa Rica is cheap compared to its American counterparts. Depending on the neighborhood and the quality of the living area, you can expect to pay $200 to $400 a month for a private room. Put aside at least $5 a day for food, depending on your needs.
How to find a room: First and foremost, do your research. There are many websites with classified ads for San Jose. Try OLX, Encuentra24, and Craigslist. Ask your new Tico friends and teachers if they know any places that have availability. Remember to take location into consideration. Zapote, Cordoba, Los Yoses, Escalante, and San Pedro are all neighborhoods that are within walking distance of Veritas. Have a critical eye: sometimes landlords will try to charge extra for use of the kitchen, etc. Be wary of moving in before meeting the landlord and roommates and before seeing the space. Sometimes these will offer breakfast, laundry service, and cleaning by the landlord, much like a homestay. This can be a good option.
How to find work exchange: Another option is doing a work exchange. This essentially means volunteering in exchange for room and sometimes board. In a good situation, you only have to work a few times a week and your food is provided. In less optimal situations, you have to work 5 days a week and don’t receive food. Most work exchange opportunities are in hostels where you will live and work with foreigners and locals, becoming like family. This is what I do. A great website on which to find work exchange opportunities is Workaway. It’s also very effective to just ask around. Visit, email, or call various hostels and ask if they need volunteers. Expect to live in a shared room and learn a lot of Spanish. Keep in mind this is a huge amount to juggle on top of class and a social life.
Remember, homestay or independent, living in a new home is a stressful experience. It is challenging to arrange your own living situation in a new city but more so it’s an opportunity to learn and connect like never before.