An Expatriate’s Guide to Renting a Property

Unless you’re moving abroad to live with family, or your new job provides you with accommodation (as can be common in certain fields such as education), you’re going to want to find a new apartment pretty swiftly after you arrive to your new home. Exactly what type of apartment you’re looking for, where you want it to be, and how much you expect it to cost all depends on personal preferences, but there is some advice that can be useful no matter what you have in mind. The following guide should hopefully make that settling in period a little clearer and easier to deal with.

1. Research before you arrive

Whether you’re eager to move in quickly or are in no particular rush, researching in advance can still have its benefits. A few searches and questions posed in forums, on social media and across letting agencies should give you a rough idea of what kind of price range you can expect upon landing, and which districts of the city or town you’re moving to are the best to live in. It’s also a good idea to ask around about what paperwork you might need to prepare in advance to rent a property. In some countries, moving in is as relaxed as paying some rent in advance, while in others you may be required to obtain residency permits, large deposits and willing local guarantors.

2. Ask for help

If you don’t speak the local language, then chances are you’re going to find it difficult to rent an apartment on your own – especially if you’ve never lived in that country before. Start off by asking your new employer whether they offer any support in finding accommodation for new employees, as quite often they do. It might not be much more than an estate agent recommendation, but it’s not unheard of to be assigned a translator to help you in signing your documents and agreeing on a price. And you’ll probably also be informed of which local complexes or agents are worth looking into too.

Don’t forget though to consider also asking the locals, especially other expats and new colleagues. First-hand advice is usually the most reliable at determining which districts are worth living in, where offers good value for money, and which letting agents are worth your time of day. You’ll also no doubt be given advice about any documentation you’ll have to gather, any pit falls to avoid, and perhaps also ways of saving yourself a bit of cash here and there – which is always a good thing. Letting agents are salesman at the end of the day, and they can be negotiated with as much as they can offer up a good con.

3. Arrange a number of viewings

If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to arrange viewings as soon as you land – if not before you’ve even arrived. It pays to be a little patient though, and to make sure you’ve seen a variety of apartments so that you’ve got a good idea of the range in price and quality on offer. If you can, you might also want to take a peek into an existing employee’s home, as seeing what such an apartment looks like fully-furnished is often more evocative (and encouraging) than seeing that apartment either completely empty, full of junk, or clearly in need of work! It can also be a good idea to book viewings with a number of letting agents, although do be prepared for some pushy sales tactics should you suddenly confess your disinterest!

4. Meet the landlord

Although it’s not always possible, do try to meet the landlord before signing any kind of lease or contract. Any work that needs to be done on the apartment in the future will usually have to be signed off by that landlord, and if you’re planning on staying for the long term it might be worth seeing if your they are likely to do so too. A landlord on death’s door for instance may mean that a sale in the next few years is likely, and you wouldn’t want to be kicked out of your lovely new apartment before you’re ready, would you?

Landlords will also be able to fill you in a little on who’s currently living in the neighbouring apartments. From experience, middle-aged couples with children who have recently moved out of home tend to offer the most stable and honest situations. Most new tenants prefer to find a landlord that is professional and friendly, but that also keeps themselves to themselves. Being surprised in your new apartment at random hours with gifts (or general curiosity) can make settling in that little bit more… exciting/stressful(?).     

5. Negotiate a package

A year’s rent can be quite pricey in certain parts of the world, so you could be saving yourself quite an amount if you’re simply willing to engage in a bit of healthy haggling. Convincing the landlord to be around on the day of signing should make you much more likely to negotiate a better deal, and enquiring with your estate agent as to what the personal situation is with your new potential landlord can help too. If they’re looking for a quick sale, you’ll certainly have more wiggle room – especially if you can deliver the cash quickly up front and in full.

Your agent should be able to negotiate a good price on your behalf, particularly if you don’t have the confidence or language ability to do so yourself. Although it’s not just the monthly rent that you’ll want to negotiate. It can pay off to look into any additional fees that you might incur, such as building maintenance, parking, or local government taxes, as these can really add up. How long your contract will stay at the same price for, how furnished your new home will be, and whether any utilities such as gas or water are included are also things that can be discussed on the day. Of course, you’ll want to offer your new (quite human and hopefully personable) landlord a fair price too, so do keep that in mind when in the process of haggling. And don’t get too aggressive; they can back out as easily as you before anything is signed.   

6. Keep an eye on things

Find out if there’s a time-frame for when (and if) any white or brown goods are replaced, and enquire as to whether you’ll be responsible for things like the plumbing, or lighting and general fittings. Some countries will cover small items for the first month only, and then you’re on your own after that if you’ve got a blocked toilet or something similar. A good idea can be to photograph all of the little things that are wrong with the apartment and send them to your agent or landlord with a brief description, letting them know that you’re not too bothered about getting them fixed yet but that you want to raise them to their attention. That way, further down the line, these small issues once grown shouldn’t become your responsibility.