How to find cheap s-t lodging as an expat?

Years ago, finding a home abroad was a difficult issue that binded you with local Real Estate agents, newspaper ads and phone cabins. In this article I explain how things have changed with my own experience.

Days before I arrived to Belgium, I started thinking where would I live. I could have done things the lazy way: looking at immoweb, contacting somebody that rents rooms and spend more than expected.

Leuven, capital of the Vlaams-Brabant Province is well known for its University, Beer Factories, Heritage and closeness to the capital of Europe: Brussels. But, as long as I knew from my hometown, living in a Student City is expensive.

Lesson one: Vraag en Anbood. Dutch for Demand and Supply.

I had to find a solution in a country I had never been before. And I guided myself with the data I had from Airbnb.

That´s why I went through Airbnb, spending its €15 voucher I had in my power. Sleeping in a place and walking through its streets can make up your mind about useful data like income per inhabitant, cheap and expensive places, etc. And the best option at that time (beginning of September) was Wijgmaal, in the suburbs of Leuven accross the Dyle river and 20 minutes in train away from Zaventem Airport. Wijgmaal´s Airbnb offered me a cheap room for that night and Het Werrek, typical Flemmish tavern where I could get the information I needed first hand, just talking to locals. I have to say that Belgian people and Belgian beer are awesome, and they explained me why you can´t drink and have tapas at the same moment. But the stakes they offered me were too high. That meant I had to continue looking for a place to stay.

´t Werrek, Wijgmaal, Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium. Photo Taken and Uploaded in Foursquare. Author: Jan.

Lesson two: Talk to your country´s expats.

After a couple of days going through Couchsurfing, Airbnb and other place I don’t want to remember where I stood for 30 minutes, I met in Aldi´s two Spanish expats that gave me access to the Local Community in Social Networks where I could learn how the renting market works in Belgium (Kots, Appartments and Single Family Houses). But everything I found there was expensive. The critical point was when one of them asked her fiancé, and he pointed out that the mother of one of his friends rented a room I could pay in Wijgmaal. Skies opened and I arrived to Gebroeders Tassetstraat. These expats and my landlord were lovely and explained me a lot of things, the most important for my integration were: lending me a bycicle and how to recycle.

Belgium is a well organised country, and EcoWerf doesn´t collect trash everyday. In the streets you can´t find oftenly litter bins. It is an incentive to make youself responsible for your consumption.

Calendar for collecting Garbage. Garbage bags are issued by the Town Hall (Leuven Stad). Huisvul means Home Garbage, it is a brown bag that costs €27 and you can throw there whatever you want. If you don´t want to pay €27 per bag, you can recycle with bags that cost less. Blue bag (PMD) and Pink bag (Zachte plastik) are cheaper. Empty Beer cans go to the blue bag, but the problem comes when you want to throw away hermetic half metal – half plastic Coffee bag. I still don´t know where it goes.

Lesson three: Couchsurfing hosts are good aanbieders.

After a month, I had to leave that room because of a former agreement. And Couchsurfing was the solution: if somebody was able to offer a room for a day, it meant there was an idle space I could rent. What about closing a monthly fee I could pay for a room? That meant I had to move to Groeningestraat (5 minutes walking from Gebroeders Tassetstraat with my suitcases). I made a good deal, and that deal included another bike lended. I stood there until the end of my happy days in Belgium for 2018.

In conclusion, don´t give up looking for lodging. There are alternatives to the statu quo. The most important thing is meeting people that are able enough to help you. And don´t forget to reward that help. They won´t help you again if you act selfishlessly.

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