Renting Abroad: Easier Than Here?

renting abroadThere are endless reasons for renting abroad. Since the advent of the airplane and the internet, the world has grown considerably smaller. People move overseas for reasons as disparate as falling in love with a foreigner to falling in love with a new culture. Some people get a job abroad, while others just want to take a few months out from their daily life and experience someplace new.

Whatever your reasons for moving, one thing stays the same: Where will you live once you get there?

"If I remember correctly, when we tried to find a place in Spain from the U.S., we didn't have much luck," says John Wynn, who moved from Oregon with his wife for work. "We didn't know the city at all, and didn't know the neighborhoods. So we ended up getting a cheap vacation rental for 10 days so we would have somewhere affordable to live while we found an apartment."

Obviously, the rules of renting will vary from city to city and country to country. However, there are a few tips that can be applied anywhere:

1. Don't Necessarily Trust the Tried and True:

"Craigslist is worthless in Spain," cautions Wynn. "Almost every ad was a scam. I would contact people, and the reply would be something like, `I am in London right now -- just send me 1,000 euros, and I will send you the keys.'"

Find out the real estate websites most trusted in the city to which you are moving.

"There are legit local versions in Barcelona, such as," he adds, "but they are in Spanish or Catalan."

If you do not speak the local language, see if someone you know can translate for you. If not, read on.

2. Find an English-Speaking Landlord or Agent:

"If you don't speak the local language, it is often worth the money to deal with landlords who speak English," suggests Ohio native and current Prague resident, Lucy Right. "You will want to have your lease [and any other paperwork] in English and many visa requirements involve landlord cooperation and official leases, so you will need that cooperation."

"We worked with a British agent online," adds Wynn "and then we worked with [an English speaking] local. We never met the owners, only property management companies."

3. Find the Expatriate Community:

Most big cities will have some Anglophonic population living in its midst. Even if they aren't American, you will soon learn that Australians, Brits, Irish and South Africans (among others) are nesting in almost every city in the world. Look in guide books to find them, or Google the cities (or nearby cities if you are headed for a small town) for English-language newspapers. Then see who you can contact before you arrive for help.

"One of my first apartments I got from a bulletin board in an expat coffee shop," says Right. "Now bulletins are on the web, so find those listings and you can get a place before you get here."

4. Start With a Vacation Rental:

Like John Wynn and his wife, sometimes arriving in the city and giving yourself a few weeks to find the right apartment in the right neighborhood is a great way to go.

"Once you get in the country, you will have better luck with real estate companies," he says. "Sure, you will have to pay one month rent to the listing agent, but it is worth it to have someone show you properties."

Also, once you have arrived, use a guide book to find English speakers who can give you tips to -- or who might even know of available apartments.

If you are confident in the city's language, you might even be able to do it yourself. "Walk around and call phone numbers you see on buildings," Wynn suggests, "then you can avoid dealing with agents."

5. Be Prepared to Pay...With Cold, Hard Cash:

"Our first apartment, we paid our rent each month in cash," says Wynn.

Bank transfers are equally common. Checks and credit are a lot more challenging to pay with than you'd think. So make sure you are able to easily access your funds without them.

Also, don't be surprised if you have to pay more than first, last and a deposit. Some landlords will surprise you with a deposit that is anywhere from 6-12 months in advance. If you are not prepared for that, keep looking.

"Some of our friends ran into those super deposits but we never did," Wynn offers reassuringly.

Searching out a rental in a foreign country has its challenges but nothing insurmountable and if you are patient, you will quickly learn the rules of renting that are particular to your adopted city.

"We missed out on the first place we saw, because we waited to long to tell the agent we were interested," says Wynn. "She rented to the couple who looked at it right after us. After that, we learned to take a place right away if we liked it."
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