Wherever you travel, you will need a place to stay. Whether your stay is for a few days or a full academic year, choosing safe accommodation should be your priority.
Whether you are choosing long term or short term housing, there are some key points to keep in mind when looking for accommodation.
No matter how long you are staying, you should consider:
Budget – Is the accommodation safely within your budget range? Are there additional costs that you may not have been aware of (e.g. room cleaning costs, additional utilities)?
Safety & Security – It can be very tempting to choose the cheapest place to stay, but is that really the safest option? Is it a safe neighbourhood? What kind of security (e.g. locks, fire alarms, surveillance cameras) does the place have? If you find yourself in unsafe housing, you should move to other accommodation as soon as it is safe to do so. For exchange students, you should talk with your hosts; for all other students, you could talk with local contacts or contact Safety Abroad for advice.
Location – Not only is it important to find a safe neighbourhood, but you should also consider where you will be travelling during the day. Is it safe to travel between your housing and where you need to go every day? Will you use public transport or taxis? Is there a safe place to wait for transportation? Pay close attention to the appearance of buildings in the area – do shops have a lot of security on the windows? Do buildings look well cared for?
Type of Accommodation – Depending on how long you will be overseas, you might be considering whether to stay in short term housing, such as hotels, or in longer term housing, such as subletted rental accommodation. In general, short term housing tends to be more expensive for longer stays, but this may depend on your destination. It may be worth comparing costs. In some destinations, levels of safety and security can vary depending on the type of accommodation you choose, so you should also consider what is legal, safe, and common.
Insurance – In general, travel insurance doesn’t usually include property insurance, so you may not be not covered if a thief breaks into your accommodation, or if your property gets damaged somehow. If you are travelling with high value items, or if you are staying for a longer period of time, you may want to consider having personal property insurance (rental or tenant insurance). For more information, see the Government of Canada’s guide to home insurance (see “Tenant’s Insurance”).
It is always better to see a property in person, but when that is not possible, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Consider if the place will be the right size for you.
- Consider if the place includes the facilities and services you want.
- Check for any photos or floor layouts of the place, and ask for them if they are not available.
- Research the area for public transportation, parking, attractions, etc. depending on your needs.
- Research whether the area is considered a safe one.
- Make sure you know who you are paying and how to contact them, especially if you are not staying in a hotel.
- Ask for recommendations from friends and family.
- Make sure you get what you were promised after you arrive.
For those looking for long term housing from a distance, more information is available under the “Long Term Housing” tab.
Before travelling you should check the voltage level in the country in which you will be staying. Electrical supplies worldwide can vary between 100 to 240 volts. As a reference, Canada’s standard voltage is 120 volts. Plugging a device meant for a lower voltage level into a higher voltage plug can not only damage your device, but also risks causing overheating, which can in turn cause fires.
You should also check the plug type before travelling. In Canada, most of our plugs are type A or B, but as you can see from the below image, plug designs can vary widely by country. Make sure to check not only which plug types can be found in your destination, but also which types are most commonly used, as you cannot guarantee that your accommodation will have a certain type.
General Safety Tips:
- Never touch electrical equipment with wet hands.
- Never plug equipment into a socket which looks cracked or damaged and/or is missing part of the cover.
- Always check cables are securely attached and are not cut, nicked, or damaged in any way. Replace damaged charger cables and keep an eye out for overheating or discolouration.
- If you replace a charger cable, make sure that the voltage and current are compatible with your device.
- Never force a plug into a socket, and always use the correct travel adapter for the country in which you are travelling.
- Do not leave devices charging on a soft surface. Soft surfaces can increase heat levels in charging devices and thus the possibility of fires.
- Switch off appliances when they are not in use.
- Never ignore any buzzing or crackling sounds.
- Do not try to fix any electrical work yourself!
Depending on your destination, power outages may be a regular occurrence. Some power outages can last only a few minutes, while others can last much longer. Power outages can be caused by weather, as well as by changes in temperature, or issues in infrastructure.
During a power outage, you may be left without lighting, water, heating, air conditioning, internet, and/or phone service. Given the impact of losing power, you should know both how to prepare for outages and how to deal with them when they occur.
Preparing for a power outage:
- Keep a battery powered flashlight and know where to find it in the dark.
- Especially if you are in a rural area or an area that frequently loses power, have a battery powered radio in order to listen for updates during outages.
- Consider purchasing surge-protectors for electrical devices, especially if you frequently have power outages.
- Have an emergency kit, including ready-to-eat food and water.
During a power outage:
- Check whether the power outage is restricted to your accommodation or part of a wider outage. If it is your accommodation, contact your hosts, landlord, or the staff.
- Turn off your appliances and unplug electrical devices, but keep one light switched on so you will know if the power comes back on.
- Don’t open your fridge or freezer unless necessary to keep the inside cold.
- If your water is drawn by electricity, avoid turning on the water.
- Be aware that toilets can also rely on electricity to flush – generally they will be able to flush once without needing more water. If you are in a place that frequently experiences outages, you may want to keep jugs of water nearby to help with flushing.
- If using candles, make sure they are placed on solid surfaces and don’t leave them unattended. If you are going to sleep, extinguish the candles.
- Listen to the radio for updates from authorities.
- If the temperature in your home becomes too high, consider finding somewhere to cool down during the hottest parts of the day. See Health & Wellness for more tips.
- During freezing temperatures, pay close attention to the temperature in the house. If it becomes too cold, you may need to move somewhere with heat, especially for sleeping. See Health & Wellness for more tips.
After a power outage:
- If there is any flooding, make sure the power is disconnected before entering any water. Do not use any flooded electrical equipment until it has been checked and cleaned by an electrician.
- Give the electrical system some time to stabilize before plugging appliances back in, in order to avoid power surges.
- Check your food for signs that it has spoiled. Food usually begins to defrost after two days, assuming the freezer door was kept closed. Food that is beginning to defrost should be cooked – if you can’t cook it, throw it out.
- When using water again after a power outage, leave the water running for a short while before using it, especially if you are using it for drinking or cooking.
Perhaps one of the most common environmental risks is from fires, so reducing the chance of a fire is important. When moving into accommodation, you should always check the building’s fire safety. Are there fire alarms? Fire extinguishers? How will you leave the building in the event of a fire? Is there a floor plan posted somewhere with all the emergency exits and contact information? If not, what is your plan in the event of an emergency?
Peer-to-peer rentals generally have more relaxed regulations than hotels, but in general should have working fire alarms and fire extinguishers. When checking the property, you should also pay attention to the windows. If there are bars, can they easily be opened from the inside so you can get outside? Are the windows large enough to get out of if you can’t exit from the door?
No matter where you are staying, you should have a Fire Escape Plan. Take a moment to check for all escape routes and exits, identify where the fire extinguisher is, decide how you would escape from each room, and plan a meeting point for everyone in case of a fire.
Cooking, smoking, electronics, and candles are the most common causes of household fires.
When cooking, do not walk away from the stove or allow yourself to get distracted. Use a timer to remind yourself of any baking or roasting foods. Avoid cooking or using other appliances when you are sleepy. Keep flammable objects (e.g. paper towels, oven mitts, long sleeves) away from the stove and oven, even if you think it is turned off. When you finish cooking, turn off all appliances promptly. Make sure to check that everything is off before leaving the kitchen, especially if you are going out or going to sleep. Read more about what to do in case of a kitchen fire.
Smoking is a significant hazard. Smoke outside! Any used butts should be stubbed in sand, or even better, doused in water. Make sure that any ashes are completely out before walking away.
Electrical products are also a leading source of house fires. Check all appliances frequently for damaged cords – if the cords look damaged or worn, they should not be used; replace them. Do not overload extension cords and wall sockets by plugging too many things into them. If you have a portable space heater, turn it off when leaving the house or sleeping. Use adapters: do not attempt to insert plugs into sockets not designed for them. If the voltage in your destination is higher than your devices are designed for, charging them directly can cause them to overheat, increasing fire risks. Read more about adapters and voltage in the “Electrical Safety” section.
Candles should not be left unattended; even if you are leaving the room for a short while, you should extinguish the candle and relight it when you return. Put burning candles on stable surfaces that cannot easily be knocked over, and keep all flammable items (e.g. paper, fabric) away from it. Carefully check that the candle is fully extinguished when you finish using it.
Longer term accommodation, whether for a few weeks or months, comes with additional safety and security considerations.
When looking for housing, there are some important things to keep in mind:
- Budget – before beginning your search, you should know the maximum monthly amount you can afford. Remember to include utilities, food, transportation, and other costs.
- Location – is the area safe? Do the buildings look secure? Are there amenities nearby? Is it worth paying for public transit in order to save on rent?
- Timing – start looking early. How early do people usually indicate they will move out? If you are going to arrive early and look for housing, where will you stay?
- Property Insurance – travel insurance usually does not cover stolen or damaged property, and some rental accommodation may require you to purchase tenant’s insurance before moving in. If you are travelling with high value items, or if you are renting private accommodation, you may want to consider purchasing property insurance. This information from the Insurance Board of Canada may help in your decision.
When talking with potential landlords, these helpful resources from the University of Toronto’s housing services may come in handy. Some highlights of questions you might want to ask are:
- Will the contract be in my language? If not, do I fully understand it?
- Can I speak with the landlord directly, or will I need to go through a third person?
- Who do I contact if there’s an issue? Who do I contact in an emergency?
- Do I control the heating/cooling? What type of heating/cooling is used in the building?
- What is included in the rent (e.g. water, gas, electricity)? Is internet included?
- When is rent due each month? How should I pay rent (e.g. cash, credit, cheque)?
- What deposit is required? (what is required and what is legal will be different in different countries)
If you are looking at the property in person, make sure to:
- Turn on the taps, run the shower, flush the toilets – are there any issues?
- Take a look at the air conditioning and heating systems.
- Have there been recent repairs? Fresh paint? Why?
- Are there good locks on the doors and windows?
- Is there a smoke detector? How does the alarm work (directly to fire station? sprinklers?)?
- Any mould? Any signs of insects (e.g. containers of pest control spray)?
When staying in accommodation arranged all or in part by a host institution, you will need to refer to their instructions. However, here are some tips that may be helpful.
First, check what is associated with the host institution and what is not:
- Is your accommodation a private dormitory, or one run by staff from the University? If private, check the private accommodation’s webpages for any information that might apply to you.
- Who can you contact if there is an issue? If you have an issue, is there a 24/7 contact available?
- Is there a meal plan associated with your residence? Are there refunds for remaining funds? If not and if there are multiple meal plans, which one makes the best financial sense?
When packing, you may want to consider:
- Especially if you are moving into student accommodation, asking what the residence already has (e.g. sheets).
- What you will buy and what you will bring – what things can you easily buy there to save on luggage space?
- Check ahead of time what items are prohibited (for example, do they allow hairdryers?).
It is always better to see a property in person, but when that is not possible, here are some things to keep in mind (courtesy of the University of Toronto’s Housing Services):
- Request photos and floor plans so you have an idea of what to expect when you arrive at your new home.
- Research common housing scams in your destination and know what average rental costs are in your destination.
- Consider if the place will be big enough for you.
- Consider if the place includes the facilities and services you want.
- Make sure you know who the landlord is, how they can be reached and to whom you will be giving your deposit.
- Ask for recommendations from friends and family who know your housing needs and have experienced living in your destination.
- Ask a family member or friend to view the housing for you if they live locally.
- Make sure you get what you were promised after you arrive.
Contracts – General Tips:
Always read over your contract carefully before signing it. If there is no English version and you do not speak the language fluently, ask questions and have the document translated if necessary.
Do not sign a contract that you disagree with, and never sign a contract on the basis that “it will be changed later” – only sign the final version.
In general, if you are not sure if you fully understand, do not sign and instead ask questions. Make sure all of your questions are answered and the terms of the lease are clear before you sign.
Ask for a copy of any rules and regulations that you must follow.
If the landlord promises anything that is not in the contract, such as repairs, ask for it to be put into the contract.
Keep a copy of the final, signed versions of both the lease agreement and the rules and regulations for future reference.
Inspection – General Tips
When moving in, make sure to photograph any damages or stains that you see on the first day. It’s best to discuss this damage with the landlord to make sure that you don’t have to take responsibility for damage you didn’t cause.
If something goes wrong, your contract with your landlord is the first document to consult for how rights and responsibilities are divided.
Make sure when you are moving in that you get what you were promised in the contract.
Although the following documents are specific to Canada, they may be helpful:
Make sure to pay the required amount of rent at the time that is written in the contract.
If something goes wrong, your contract is your first stop in understanding your, and your landlord’s, rights and responsibilities.
Try to ensure your requests to your landlord, and any promises from your landlord, are in writing (e.g. email).
Keep your landlord up to date with any issues that you are having with the accommodation.
Make sure to keep your place as pest-unfriendly as possible: frequently take out the trash, store food items in sealed containers, wash your clothes and bedding frequently, and keep the unit clean.
If you are planning to leave for an extended trip, don’t forget to:
- Clear out from the fridge anything that might go bad.
- Empty the garbage, recycling, and compost.
- Unplug appliances and electronics to reduce the chance of fires.
- Adjust the thermostat (turn the heating/cooling down).
- Ask someone to take in your mail or ask your building/the post office to hold your mail for you (to avoid it being obvious that you aren’t picking up mail).
In Toronto, tenants usually give up to two months advance notice before moving out. Make sure to check what are the normal and required times for notice in your location. You may need to use your landlord as a reference in the future, so be respectful about how you leave.
Check to see if there is any paperwork or procedures that you need to follow upon moving out. Sometimes this paperwork can take a while to fill out, so the sooner you know, the better.
Make a moving day list to ensure you don’t leave anything behind.
If you have a lot of things that you would like to bring with you, consider sending them by post to save on luggage space and overcharge rates. Also make sure to compare prices – depending on what you need to send, courier services can sometimes be cheaper than national mail services.
If you are throwing away items, make sure that you divide the garbage according to the regulations of your host country. Your landlord or others in the building may be able to answer questions about how to safely dispose of items.
Make sure to check around the space for any damage and ensure everything is clean. Some places may charge additional cleaning fees if they find any mess.
Update your address and/or leave a forwarding address for any important mail you might receive.
If you plan to sublet your accommodation, make sure you know the procedures involved.
- Will you continue to be responsible for monthly rent payments? For any damage to the unit?
- How will your tenant pay you?
- Will they pay you a deposit to secure the unit? How much? What is a usual deposit amount?
- Is there a contract to fill out? If not, where can you obtain a contract for the subletter to sign?
Be careful of scams. Do not accept any money until after the person has signed the contract. Never accept an amount of money that is different than the amount that the person has agreed to pay. Never agree to pay any fees in order to receive money, even if the sender says they will reimburse you.
Ask for certified checks if possible, as these are issued by banks and are less likely to have issues.
Finally, consider what might happen if you cannot find a subletter at the time you hope to find one, or if something goes wrong. Are you able to cover a few months if necessary? What penalties are there for breaking the contract?
Above all else, remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.
While living in long term housing, you may be living with roommates. A roommate is a person you share a room or a house/apartment with. There are many benefits to having a roommate, from splitting costs to having a friendly face at your home away from home.
In some cases, you may not be able to choose your roommate, but in those cases where you have a choice, it’s important to find somebody you can live with on a day to day basis! Some things to consider when looking for a roommate include:
- Opinions about finances: Should bills be paid immediately? When they are due? Whenever you have time to do it?
- Plans around household items like cleaning supplies: Should you take turns buying? Should you split costs? Should you each buy your own?
- Cleaning schedules: How often will you need to clean? Daily? Monthly? When you feel like it needs doing? Will you take turns or do it together?
- Sharing: Can you use the other person’s things? Do you need to ask first? Are they willing to share some small appliances (e.g. toaster, coffee maker, microwave)?
- Noise levels: When is noise acceptable (time of day, day of week)? How much noise is acceptable (e.g. should I wear headphones all the time? Is a little noise okay?)?
- Food: Are there things that can’t be in the house because of allergies? Is your roommate vegetarian? Vegan? Do they have any dietary restrictions that you should know about?
- Cooking schedules: How often do you cook? Can you share cooking utensils or containers?
- Alcohol/other substances: How do you feel about these substances? How often do you consume them?
- Guests: How do you feel about guests? How often can guests stay over? Can guests stay overnight? How about partners (e.g. boyfriends/girlfriends)?
- Parties: How do you feel about parties? Do you need prior warning? How late can guests stay?
- Roommate type: What kind of roommate are you looking for? Do you like hanging out or do you prefer keeping to yourself?
Ideally, both you and your roommate should be respectful, responsible, and conscientious around each other.
You and your roommate should not expect each other to cover bills, lend personal property without any conditions, take care of or entertain the other’s guests, or clean up after the other person’s messes.
Even if you are aware of some common housing scams in Canada, you should also check for the kinds of housing scams that are common in your destination. Expat websites and foreign student communities can be especially helpful when you’re trying to find this kind of information.
The University of Toronto’s Housing Services provides not only a list of the most common housing scams in Toronto, but also some tips for preventing scams. These tips may or may not apply to your destination, but are good suggestions for what to keep in mind. These tips include:
- Never deal in cash, and especially never deal in Paypal or Bitcoin, etc.These payments cannot be tracked.
- Do not hand over confidential information that can be used for identity theft (e.g. your SIN or banking information). If the landlord requires a credit report, check the process. In the Canadian credit check system, the landlord can use your name, address, and birth date. You can also run your own credit check and show that to the landlord if needed.
- Meet the landlord in person. Be wary of any landlord that refuses to meet with you in person or gives excuses. Be especially wary of any landlord that refuses to have a video call, or at least a phone call.
- Conduct basic research. Know the rental rates in the area – be suspicious of any property that sounds too good to be true. Search online for your potential landlord, their contact information, rental company (if applicable) and the address of the place to see if there are any scams. Be wary of any landlord that prefers to remain anonymous.
- Beware pressure – if you feel like you are being pressured into signing a lease or sending money, consider this a bad sign and conduct more research on the landlord and property.
- Only agree to a written lease. Ensure you have a copy of the lease that is signed by both yourself and the landlord. Make sure that the price, how it will be paid, how long your contract will be for, what is included in the price, what happens if you break the contract, and any other rights and responsibilities are clearly laid out in the contract.
- Consider renting from a property management company – this may not be the cheapest option, but there is usually more information available. Especially if you have to rent without first seeing the property, such companies may be a safer choice.
If you think you might have been scammed, reach out to your hosts, local contacts, International SOS, or Safety Abroad for advice.
If you know you have been scammed:
- File a report with the local police.
- If you need immediate help, contact International SOS for support.
- Report the scammer to any listing site you saw the advertisement.
- Contact Safety.Abroad@utoronto.ca to report what happened.
Whether your stay is for a few days or a few weeks, safety and security should be front of mind when choosing short-term accommodation.
When choosing short-term accommodation, you may find that there are many options available to you, including both traditional (e.g. hotels) and non-traditional options. Whichever you choose, keep in mind that the rules around housing may differ around the world, so make sure your housing option is accepted in your location. In some places, room sharing companies such as AirBnB are subject to strict rules or may be illegal, so make sure to check.
While it may be tempting to go for the cheapest place, keep in mind the security of your accommodation. It may be worth paying more to ensure that your door locks or secure or that the area is a safe one.
Choose acommodation that has fire exits and an emergency evacuation plan.
When booking, choose a room that is not on the ground floor. In traditional hotels, the safest floors are generally considered the 3rd to 6th floors – difficult to break in from outside, and reached by most fire truck ladders.
Arrive before dark if possible, especially if the place you are staying is not on a main road.
When checking in or out, keep your luggage nearby, preferably with a hand or foot on it. If you are distracted and the lobby is busy, thieves can easily take advantage of the situation.
Instead of announcing your name, show a piece of ID to the front desk. Not only does this ensure those nearby don’t hear your name, but it also means that the front desk won’t have to ask you to spell your name.
If your accommodation requires an ID or card as a deposit, make sure to give them something that can be replaced (ID) or cancelled (a credit card, not a debit card). If you are asked to leave your passport at the front desk, ask if they can accept a photocopy of your passport instead. If they need your passport for registration purposes, ask if they can photocopy the passport now instead of later on.
If they ask to hold a payment card, do not give them a debit card, but rather a credit card. If they insist on a debit card, ask if they would be better with cash, or offer a piece of replaceable ID (e.g. driver’s license) instead.
Choose a room that is not on the ground floor. The safest rooms are generally considered to be on the 3rd to 6th floors – difficult to break in from outside, and reached by most fire truck ladders.
Check online or ask at your accommodation about any additional charges that may apply (e.g. internet fees).
If you are travelling alone, avoid letting people see your room number on your keys or having the concierge announce it loudly
Avoid taking the stairs when you are alone
When you first enter the room, make sure to check everything, including the closets. If an employee or another person comes with you, keep them with you and keep the doors open until everything is checked.
Check the window and door locks to ensure everything is working properly. When inspecting the door lock, make sure it works from both the inside and the outside (test by locking the door and trying to open it again).
Check that there is a deadbolt – if there is one, keep it locked whenever you are in the room.
For further security, you can use a door wedge to keep the door closed, especially when you are sleeping or showering.
Check the evacuation plan by the door for what to do in an emergency. If there is no evacuation plan, ask your hosts what the procedures will be, and where emergency items such as fire extinguishers or first aid kits are located.
Walk the route that you would take in an emergency (remember elevators might not be working) – this will be easier to remember than the evacuation plan. Take note of any emergency exits, as well as the locations of fire alarm buttons and extinguishers.
Keep your valuables close to you when you are sleeping, or lock them away in a safe or lockbox (if available). In situations where you are sharing a room with others (e.g. hostels), sleeping on top of your valuables might be the best choice.
Do not open the door to strangers. If somebody claims to be an employee and you weren’t expecting them, call down to the front desk to verify their identity. When you do open the door, keep the security chain on the door until you are certain it is safe.
If housekeeping or someone from the hotel comes to your room, stand at the door and keep it propped open. Not only does this keep you safe in a room with strangers, but it also may help the employees feel safer. This method also reduces the chances that you will get accused of something by staff.
If you receive a phone call from the front desk or hosts asking you to confirm card details or other personal information, tell them you will call them back, hang up, and dial the number you already have. Remember that phone numbers can be masked.
Avoid giving your credit card details over the phone, including to food delivery services that are advertised by your accommodation.
Assume your room’s, and the building’s, WiFi is public and accessible by everyone and treat it as such. Always tell your devices that the WiFi is public to increase your devices’ firewall level. If you are transferring sensitive data, consider using a VPN.
As when checking in, if you are adding items to your tab at the hotel’s restaurant or bar, make sure to write down your name and room number for the staff. Do not announce your name and room number out loud.
Leave as many of your valuables behind as possible, or divide them up so that you don’t carry them all in the same place. Leave behind anything that might indicate wealth.
Lock valuable items you won’t be carrying with you in the room safe, if applicable. If no safe is available, consider where you will store items.
If the safe doesn’t seem reliable, ask the hotel for a written receipt and ask about loss coverage
Leave the do not disturb notice on your door, if possible, to deter thieves. You can also leave a radio or television on to give a further impression that somebody is in the room.
Check the locks on the windows and doors before you go out and when you return. If you notice any issue, contact the owners or the front desk.
After locking the door to leave for the day, try it to check the lock is working properly.
Use the main entrance when going in and out, especially when it is dark outside.
Avoid any situation where you will be alone. When waiting for a taxi or for someone to pick you up, stay inside the lobby. If there is no lobby, try to stay where there are security cameras, more people, or where your hosts can see you.
If you lose your key or key card, immediately inform your hosts and ask to be moved to another room if possible. You may have lost it, but it also may have been stolen.
Don’t talk about where you are staying, especially if you are travelling alone. This approach helps reduce the chances that someone will use the information for a scam.
Checking out of your short term accommodation and leaving also brings some security concerns.
When packing to leave, make sure to check everywhere to ensure you haven’t left anything behind. Things often get forgotten under the bed, in the bedclothes, in drawers, and in closets.
Make sure to check all plugs for chargers.
If the front desk calls to offer you help with your luggage and you would like help, say you will call them back, hang up, and then dial the front desk. Always stay with your luggage as it is being moved to the lobby.
When checking out, make sure to ask for an itemized list of all the charges. You should receive a detailed receipt. Make sure that all of the charges are correct before paying.