Originally written in 2014, this post was later updated recently.
It is not always an easy task to move to a country, which doesn't speak a common language as you do. Moreover, the visa requirements make it a time consuming process. Following my blog post on how to apply for a visa to study in Portugal (mostly focusing on Sri Lankan students; but also applicable to many other third countries), I started to receive questions from students seeking information on apartments and studies in Lisbon. There are a few issues that you may have to face. This post tries to discuss those concerns.
1. Universities provide a list of landlords to the students. But in my observation, these apartments tend to get booked faster and are also more expensive than the other available options. You are left with no choice other than to follow this list, as it is safer to reserve a room that your university recommends, than a random one as you will have to send one month of reservation/deposit of the room to the landlord. You will also have to be quick for the visa processes and also to make sure that you are not running out of the good and affordable apartments.
2. Not all the landlords will be able to understand English, and communicating with them regarding the visa requirements such as accommodation letters may be hard.
3. You are reserving a room without seeing it yourself, unless you are already there in the city. Mostly, descriptions by words are available, which are written by the landlords themselves.
4. It is very hard to send money to a third person by bank-transfer from Sri Lanka, due to the local regulations. This is done by the banks, case-by-case. It took me a considerable effort to send the reservation fee to the landlord. A transfer by paypal would be more convenient, though not many landlords would accept that. This issue may be specific to Sri Lankans.
UniPlaces provides solution for these issues. UniPlaces.com is a third-party web site that provides accommodation options to students away from home. It lets the landlords list their apartments for free.
1. UniPlaces is partnered with the major universities in Lisbon, including the University of Lisbon (ULisboa). This makes UniPlaces a trusted web site for the students. It also includes a large number of options to choose from.
2. Having a proactive support service very fluent in English (and Portuguese, of course), it makes it easier to communicate via their support system (chat) or phone. If you need some assistance you may drop your number and information for UniPlaces to contact you.
3. UniPlaces provides neutral descriptions on the apartments, with photos. Searching for your apartment with specific requirements such as price, room type, and other features is very promising. As you may not be able to see your room before arriving at Lisbon, having a verification from a third-party makes your journey to Lisbon stress-free.
4. UniPlaces provides secured payment option via PayPal. Nevertheless, for those who have trouble with PayPal, UniPlaces still offers an option to pay through bank transfer.
5. As a start-up consisting of an international team of geeks, fresh graduates and students, UniPlaces has managed to have the student-feel in their listings. Learn more about the recommended areas in Lisbon, from UniPlaces.
Apart from Lisbon, UniPlaces lets you find apartments in London currently.
Later update on the 8th of September, 2016
It is expected that as a company grows, its approach changes considerably. Recently I was able to book an apartment through UniPlaces. The landlord accepted the booking, and hence the full charge of the first month rent as well as the service fee was reduced from my account.
However, after 10 days, the landlord cancelled the booking through UniPlaces without even letting me know for as a matter of courtesy and professionalism. It is funny that after accepting my payment the landlord also claimed one of the room mates has a dog, and asked whether I am fine with that. I mentioned him I am fine with the dog. It is contradictory with his UniPlaces posting where it indicates "No Pets Allowed"
Also after cancelling my booking for no reason, he immediately made the same apartment open for the same dates! See (October 1st, 2016 listed as available - the same dates I booked before).
I suspect there is a strong scam going on here with this landlord. Probably he is collecting the tenant details. Probably he is plain crazy and nasty.
But what saddens me is the UniPlaces' don't care policy. I warned them with all the details on this, to no proper response. The landlord now will go on to scam other students, wasting their time, and making their money locked between the bank transactions. I am awaiting the money to be refunded to my account. UniPlaces claimed that it has been refunded already - so I guess I will get it back again.
While I will still use UniPlaces for booking as I know the team and they are legit, I must warn them to be more caring regarding students. I mean, if as a student I cancel my booking, my service fees is gone and in most cases I won't get the security deposit (the first month rent paid to the landlord through UniPlaces) back. But on the other hand, the landlord can get away with his tactics by accepting the student/tenant at will, and rejecting later at will - with no reason whatsoever.
Users are the major pillar of any business. I hope UniPlaces will learn to respect the user reviews given to them in a private manner more positively, hence not requiring me to update this blog post.
For students, if you are searching for apartments, feel free to use UniPlaces.com. However, be aware of the scam artists as landlords. On the other hand, be warned that the prices are increased (which is reasonable for multiple reasons: UniPlaces needs to be paid for their services and employees. Second, there is an 8% flat rate per monthly rent charged on the landlords, which the landlord in turn collects back from the student by increasing the price. In addition there is a 25% charge for the first month as well). In addition some landlords tend to increase the price arbitrarily further more - as an unsuspecting student may pay more - why not. If you compare the price, I was able to find an almost identical studio for 450 Euro in Alameda listed as 675 Euro.
I wish the services be more transparent and caring of their all customers, than focusing on a specific subset (in this case, only the landlords, as the landlords tend to be the permanent customers with students being the one-time tenant customers).
In case, if you are looking for an apartment in Lisboa, NEVER find this landlord, who hides the existence of a dog (going to an extent to say "Pets are not allowed" in the listings - double standards!) and informs later after paying, and also cancels the booking once you have paid! Most probably his descriptions are fake too.
I wish good luck and success to my colleagues at UniPlaces despite these issues. Hope they will filter out these scam landlords sooner, and be more caring towards their student customers too, as they used to be - in the good old days.