Finding an Apartment Abroad

One of the first things we did when we decided to live in Spain for a year was start looking at apartments. We were so excited to see what we would find; imagining the quaint Spanish balcony where we’d be drinking wine, looking down at the bustling streets. While it was fun to fantasize, it quickly became a bit stressful for us to figure out – where are we going to live? Add in the fact that there was no time for us to visit Madrid before booking a place, we were really taking a leap of faith.

Here, we will talk about some of the ways you can find an apartment aboard with some tips, advice and warnings. While we will try to make this a general guide for moving to Europe, be sure to always look up rental and housing information specific to your future country and city.

Starting your Apartment Search Online:

Our search started online, like it will for many others, looking at various accommodation websites. Unfortunately, we had a long list of must-haves’ that narrowed down our available apartments to almost nil. Items such as pet-friendly, near Matt’s school, under 1,500 euros per month, furnished, utilities included, no roommates, and some kind of balcony for the animals to roam…hopefully your list won’t be as long. But here are some advice to help get you starts on your search:

  • Use rental sites such as Airbnb, SpotaHome* and Idealista. There are other sites, but we felt we got the best results here. 
  • Think about your priorities like the neighborhood you want to live in, utilities that are included, furnished apartments, etc. before you start looking. This will help you solidify what you are looking for when you search, saving you time and a headache. 
  • If you’re going as a student, check with your university about student housing options or student apartments they may have. We met other students whose universities were able to set them up in dorms or apartments with other students from the college, saving them loads of time looking for a place. 
  • If you are interested in living with roommates, Facebook Marketplace is also a great place to look for whole apartments and private rooms.  
  • Speaking of roommates, the theory, at least in Spain, was that the more people, the cheaper the rent. While this sounds nice, be mindful that some apartments can have 8 – 12 people living in 1 shared space! They will have their own bedrooms, but some had only 1 tiny kitchen/living space and limited shared bathrooms. But the rent is also much cheaper and you’ll always have someone around to hang with!
  • Plan on booking a place for 1 month if you cannot go view it ahead of time. We read this on a blog post, and it made perfect sense. If you aren’t finding the perfect spot online, book a place for just 1 month. That way, you’ll have a place to settle in when you arrive, but you’ll also have 30 days to look for something better when you are there. If you like the place when you arrive, ask to extend it!
  • Local landlords and ads might be better than online ads. Some European cities/towns are still pretty low-tech, and landlords might not post their openings online. When you arrive to your destination, you may find a lot more options just by walking around town or finding local rental agencies. If you don’t find everything you want online, don’t worry, there are always other options. 

*A note about SpotaHome – we ended up going with a SpotaHome property for our 1st month, and then continued with our landlord in a different apartment. SpotaHome does offer some interesting policies that I feel are worth mentioning. First, and what made us choose them, is their Fraud protection and Last-Minute Cancellation support. If something goes wrong when you go to move in – your landlord cancels on you, the place is not as pictured, yada yada, SpotaHome will find you a hotel or another rental property. Even though it would have been a mess with 2 animals, we felt comfortable having this protection. Second, they do not allow you to view the apartments in person before booking. When we arrived in Madrid, we kept looking to see if we could find something better. Even though we physically could go see the apartments now, they won’t allow it. So just be mindful that once you book, you won’t be able to see it before you move in.

Moving into Your Apartment:

By now, you’ve hopefully found your dream apartment, YAY! Depending on your housing situation and landlord, there may be a few items you need to get together. Just like your visa, make sure you are able to provide the following for your landlords:

  • Passport and visa (if you need one to stay for an extended time)
  • Employment or student status
  • 1st month’s rent and deposit. Our landlord only accepted cash, so double check what payment method they prefer. 

Also, make sure YOU ask for these items from your Landlord:

  • Lease agreement in writing (length of stay, rent, apartment policies, etc.) This isn’t always provided in Europe like it is in the USA, but you can always ask for it. We felt that, especially with our limited Spanish and communication skills, that a written lease agreement helped us understand the apartment policies and would protect us if something went wrong.  
  • 2 forms of contact information for your landlord (email, text, WhatsApp, etc.)
  • Receipt for rent paid. This can be really important if they ask for rent in cash because you’ll want to track that rent was paid and received. If they aren’t using checks that are trackable or bank accounts, you’ll want to be sure everything is good. 

*Be mindful of scammy landlords! Each country will have slightly different rules about landlord and tenant rights, so if you have time, check them out. Some landlords might ask for more information that is necessary, and you might be weary of identity theft. Some landlords might ask for 2, 4, 6 months deposit or a year’s worth of rent outright (which is illegal to ask in Spain). Just be knowledgeable about weird requests such as this to protect yourself from apartment heartache!

Starting and Ending Your Time Abroad:

Once you’ve moved in, here are some last tips to protect yourself and keep your landlord happy during your stay. 

  • When you first get into your apartment, take pictures of the current condition of the apartment. Make note of anything that may be warn, damaged, scraped or broken before you start living there.
  • If something breaks, it’s always best to let your landlord know ASAP. Sometimes it can feel like you’re being a pain, but letting them know quickly can help it get resolved and will not come back to haunt you when it’s time to move out. 
  • Your last few weeks in your apartment may seem far away, but it’s still worth noting that you’ll want to make a plan to get your deposit back. Your landlord might want to do a final walk-through to see the condition the apartment is being left in before returning your deposit. If you are relocating to another country, it’s best to plan ahead for this so you can get your money back without feeling rushed to be on your way. 

Soon you will be exploring your new neighborhood and settling in! Welcome home!

Matthew & Stephanie

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