Ask The Expat
Finding a Home Abroad
Do Your Homework and Get Local Help
Once you have figured out where you are going abroad, the next step is equally important and challenging: finding a place to live. If you don’t plan to hire a relocation company, you will need to plan ahead and do your research.
If you are moving overseas for a year or longer, it is a good idea to visit the country ahead of time to familiarize yourself with the local culture and get a feel for the city or town where you might live. This is also an appropriate time to determine if you should ship household belongings, or if you should instead rent a furnished place and acquire incidental items locally.
If you have an in-country connection, such as an employer or volunteer program director, find out if he or she can point you toward a reputable landlord or rental agency. Some exchange organizations and language programs, for instance, arrange room and board with a host family for their participants. This eliminates your need to look for housing, but it can be a challenge in itself to live with a family you don’t know. Staying with a host family works best for shorter stays, such as a summer volunteer program or language course. If problems arise, don’t hesitate to bring up issues with your host or your local coordinator. Many articles on this topic are available on TransitionsAbroad.com in the "Homestays Abroad" section of the site.
If living arrangements are not made for you, and you don’t have time to find a rental locally, you can make preparations before your departure. Many expatriate websites list rental agencies worldwide. The “Living Abroad by Country” section of TransitionsAbroad.com lists resources for 46 countries, including information on housing and real estate. Most rental agencies that cater to international or short-term renters offer furnished apartments with utilities included. Some of them have a local English-speaking agent. Their websites often provide detailed rental information, including photos and maps, and they let you book online. On the downside, these agencies may charge rent in U.S. dollars, and their rates are often high.
If you’d rather find an apartment on your own after your arrival, give yourself enough time to explore your host city, ideally between two and four weeks depending on the size of the city. In addition to classified ads in the local newspapers, many tourist information offices provide listings of seasonal rentals or rental agencies. Take a look at several apartments before committing, and find out about the safety of the neighborhood foreigners, utility costs, deposits, fees, and penalties in case of an early cancellation. The more you know about the local rental laws and regulations, the better.
Looking for a rental after your arrival gives you more time to visit a variety of neighborhoods, familiarize yourself with the local rental rates, compare prices, and make arrangements to pay in the local currency, which can be withdrawn from any ATM. Establish a budget and determine the size of the housing you need. Consider whether you need a bike or car, or if you can depend on public transportation. Also keep in mind the proxim- ity to recreational and cultural facilities, as well as to commercial areas.
Having a local contact can be immensely useful for navigating the local bureaucracy and getting advice on how and where to look for housing effectively. If you don’t know anyone in your host country personally, contact an expatriate club or organization to get valuable advice and assistance from other expatriates who have gone through the same process before. There are a growing number of expatriate websites that host free discussion forums, where you can post questions and receive advice. The “Living Abroad” section of TransitionsAbroad.com lists discussion boards, forums, and expatriate organizations.
Finding a home abroad is no doubt a challenge, but by being resourceful, doing your homework ahead of time, and finding all the local help you can get, it becomes a manageable task and a successful first step on your way to settling in a new country.