Practical Tips for a Pain-Free Search
Here are some practical tips for a successful and pain-free search for a home abroad:
Search newspapers and web sites. While still at home, access your destination's newspaper and any arts, entertainment, or advertising papers to see what kind of accommodations and prices are available. Also search for the city
council and local tourism office online. (Editor’s note: See Tourism Offices Worldwide Directory, www.towd.com). Sometimes they offer accommodations searches and charge only a small finder's
fee once they have set you up. You may also find web sites for rental agencies or property managers, although their prices are typically more than I am willing to spend.
Seek out area universities or language schools. Many schools post notices of open accommodations in the area. Some of these frequently up-dated lists are kept online, so you may easily access them even if you are not a student.
And on a casual walk through the hallway at many schools you will see bulletin boards covered with notices of available housing. It’s also a good idea to meet the school's international student coordinator for information and connections.
Talk to people. Don't be afraid to make your search for housing obvious. If you're in a friendly café or neighborhood store, mention that you're looking for a place to live. Someone may give you a tip that you'd likely
never find searching in a newspaper. Also, if people notice you wandering around the same area with a newspaper full of circled ads, you may get a helpful comment or two.
Don't commit without viewing the place. You may wish to call, e-mail, or write to owners to introduce yourself and arrange a time to view the place. However, don’t commit without seeing the place first and meeting the people
to ensure your long-term happiness.
Go with your gut reaction. While finding housing abroad feels more urgent than it does at home, the same rules apply. Will you be comfortable in the space? Does it seem safe? Do you trust the owner or persons who live there?
Ask questions. At home you'd never think of signing a lease without understanding the contract. But in many places abroad, people don't fuss with leases or formal paperwork. The deal is hammered out verbally and agreed upon.
That means that you must ask questions. When does the owner expect payment? Is a security deposit required? Is water and electricity included? Does payment cover extras, such as laundry and meals?
Once you have your place, be sure to pay on time and keep records of your payments. While people in other countries are often more relaxed about money than Americans, prompt payment is seen as a sign of respect.
Living with a Family: Is Being a Lodger for You?
On two long-term stays in Europe I lived in someone's home. While I came across the option quite accidentally on my first stay abroad, the experience encouraged me to choose this method of lodging again. Being a lodger puts
you in the middle of someone's home and the complexities of life there. At the same time, these very things can be advantageous to the person who is adaptable and eager to learn about a culture head on.
You have a built-in family. In many cases, the people who take you in will treat you as family. In my first experience, I ate my evening meals with the family. This curbed my loneliness and gave me ample opportunity to ask
questions, learn about the culture, and enjoy the laughter and company of others. In my second experience, the woman I lived with kept her life separate from that of her lodgers. Nevertheless, I knew that I could ask her for help, directions,
or advice at any time. Her grown children also stopped over frequently with their own children, adding to my circle of acquaintances and friends. In both cases, I now have life-long friends.
You see a different side of life. If I had not sought lodging, I probably would have lived with young people, travelers, and students—the same group of people I normally meet when traveling. I lived with a working-class
family in England and a widow of a police superintendent in Ireland. Their experiences colored their stories and widened my eyes.
You have the comforts of home. For much less money than renting a furnished flat you can be a lodger and still have the comfort of a well-made bed, plates and silverware, and a radio or television. In my last lodging, my
husband and I had free rein in the kitchen. To save money, I baked our own bread and my husband cooked most of the meals. This also made us feel more at home.
You are part of the family. As a part of someone's family I witnessed arguments or heard raised voices in an adjacent room. While this initially made me feel uncomfortable, I realized that the family felt such ease around
me that they did not have to hide.
You must be aware of others. As a new member of someone's household you will be expected to be observant and keep things clean and tidy. If everyone takes off their shoes at the door, then you must do the same.
Your space is not your own. You are using a room in someone's home. That means that you, and only you, have permission to be there. If you wish to bring a friend over or have someone visit, you must ask the family for their
approval. Again, this is a matter of respect.
People take in lodgers for all kinds of reasons. Some have extra rooms and find it a good way to supplement their incomes. Some are lonely and want company in their homes. No matter what their reasons, these are usually
open-minded people who enjoy learning about other people and cultures. Make time in your day to have a chat and get to know them better. You may start your relationship as a lodger but you will probably continue your relationship as a friend.