Renting a house or an apartment is one of the biggest headaches of an overseas assignment for most expats. Some expats are lucky enough to have their employer organize accommodation in advance – which doesn’t take the headache away, it just transfers it to the GM team looking after them.
So whether you are an expat sorting out your own place, or a professional doing it for someone else, these are the key five points you need to consider.
We present The Big Five: get these right and you have foundations in place for a successful and happy overseas assignment.
The right location
Which is the right neighbourhood? Clearly this depends on expat needs and budget. Many unattached, younger expats may want to be in the thick of the action in the middle of town, whereas families may prefer quieter suburbs.
The best way to get a measure on the best places to live are to talk with former expats with direct experience of the city or country in question, or simply to ask the question in online communities such as Reddit.
But there is a bigger question to ask first: does the expat want to go where all the other expats go? It will make it easier to strike up new relationships, but some expats prefer to immerse themselves in the local culture rather than trying to re-create a “home-from-home” in an expat bubble.
The right contract
It is not the place of this post to offer legal advice but we can strongly recommend the importance of getting it.
Contracts vary from country to country – for example with regard to what is included and what fees are payable – so it is essential to take professional advice. The SmartShanghai website offers salutary tales of what happens when contracts are overlooked/abused – something that happens to too many expats.
The right price
It’s always a shock. Even if you believe that you are moving into an area with a lower cost of living than your hometown, the prices can still seem steep. Part of the problem is that property searches invariably start with the most desirable areas where the highest rents are payable.
Reasonable rents are available, however, as demonstrated by the highly useful expatistan.com cost of living comparison site, which shows for example that a 45m2 furnished apartment in a ‘normal’ area costs $582 in Osaka, $861 in Dubai $1,111 in Stockholm, and $1,377 in Toronto.
As always, the nicer places cost more, but the most important advice is to understand the real cost. Is there an additional agency fee payable on top of the rent? How much is the service charge? How much deposit will you be expected to produce – and what are the chances of getting it back? In Tokyo, for example, one blogger noted that the combination of the deposit and various fees came to the equivalent of 4-5 months’ rent.
The right people
The majority of the people you deal with will be honest, well-regulated and helpful – but it is always best to follow trusted recommendations on lettings agencies and landlords if possible.
However, be prepared for the lettings agency system to differ from the one you are used to at home. There will almost certainly be different processes and pricing systems in place – which makes it all the more important to have a trusted (and preferably bi-lingual) agent working with you.
It is important for the expat to have a good relationship with the landlord, so the best advice is to encourage them to communicate openly and be frank about responsibilities and expectations. However, one expat notes that tenants need to be prepared to stand up to landlords if required and recommends holding onto keys until satisfied (i.e., returned deposit) since it is the only real bargaining chip.
Another good tip is to take photos of everything in the flat upon arrival (especially if furnished) in order to prove the condition, it was in and to defend the tenant’s position when the landlord tries to withhold deposit money.
The right timing
It is almost never too early to start looking. As soon as you know where the destination is, start your research and read up online about other expat experiences and guides to the particular city you or the expat will be living in.
However, this does not mean that you need to have everything sorted before you arrive. The research will give you a good background, but many expats prefer to live awhile in their new host country in temporary accommodation. Typically, this would be a hotel or Airbnb-type arrangement, where hosts will also be usually willing to offer local advice on available options. Another advantage of this is that the tenant can deal in-person with lawyers, landlords and agencies.
Where can you get help?
Since you’re probably online as you read this, you’re in the right place. Start with one of the many online guides, (Expat Arrivals, for example) that include useful advice on accommodation that is specific to the destination.
However, the best guide is likely to be the relocation partner that you choose. FIDI Affiliates cover virtually every expat destination in the world, and offer a number of services: they will use their local knowledge to help you find the right location and accommodation, and can also support you in the legal and administrative side of things.
And of course, in addition to finding your dream home, they will also help get your belongings there safely.
Want to know more? Read all about the 5 biggest reasons for expat failures.