The first article in the Renting Apartments Abroad series focused on the benefits of staying in apartments as oppose to hotels or hostels when traveling, and this article is going to show just how to find and rent them.
First off, there is generally two ways to land an apartment when traveling in a foreign country: A) Show up and find a place for yourself, or B) Book an apartment online in advance of your visit. Both options have advantages and disadvantages, which I will soon explain. This article will demonstrate how to book an apartment in person while the next one in this series will focus on strategies for finding an apartment abroad via the internet.
How to find apartments when traveling abroad, part 1: the show up method
The “show up” method of finding an apartment when on the road works best if you have a lot of time to work with. If you’re on a two week vacation forget this method, return to this site next Monday when I publish my tips for booking apartments online. In point, if you’re a perpetual traveler or on a long duration backpacking trip you have time to look around and shop for an apartment that best suits your needs at the best price possible. It generally takes me between one day and a week to land a suitable apartment, and I tend to stay in each one for one to three months at a time.
My travel strategy is now based on connecting travel hubs — locations where I stay for one to three months — as I travel the world. When I enter a country I make a mental list of places that I may want to stay for an extended amount of time. The criteria for compiling my list is based on recommendations from locals and other travelers, online research, and what issues/ topics I wish to investigate in a given country. It is in these prospective hubs that I aim to look for apartments.
The main advantage of the “show up” method of finding accommodation in apartments is that you can actually check out a city before committing to stay there. The times have been countless when I landed in a place that I intended to make into a base of operations just to realize that I didn’t want to stay. Likewise, I’ve stayed in many locations long term that I expected to just breeze through upon arrival. Seeking out apartments on locations allows a traveler to move a little more freely through the world and to fabricate their living situation with more detail.
Once I decide that I want to stay in a place for at least a couple of weeks I begin looking for an apartment. The strategy behind my hunt depends on what kind of place I’m in: i.e. a large city, a small town, a village etc . . .
Finding an apartment in a village or small city
If I’m in a village or a small to mid-sized city I will generally case the entire town, walking up and down each street looking for a neighborhood I would like to stay in for a while. What I’m looking for are apartment rental signs, supermarkets or corner stores with public bulletin boards, and any local who appears to be half way friendly.
“Do you know where I can rent an apartment near here?” I ask dozens of times as I walk through the streets of a prospective neighborhood that would like to move into. Shyness or a reluctance to talk to locals must be chucked when looking for apartments abroad. More often than not, I’m easily pointed towards what I’m looking for, and by the end of the day’s apartment search I generally have a nice list to choose from.
It is also very common for “apartment/ room for rent” signs to be posted on the front of the buildings they’re in. Knock on these doors to see if you can talk to someone in person and see the rooms right then and there makes apartment hunting simple and easy. I also carry a pad of paper and a pen to jot down the contact numbers on these signs in case there is no answer at the door. A cellphone will also help you greatly in your apartment search, and in most countries they sell cheap (in El Salvador I paid $US 8 for a phone, in Mexico I paid $US 20).
The bulletin boards at supermarkets are another prime location for landlords to post rental signs. They are generally located near the front of the store near the doors. These notices generally have addresses and contact numbers on them, and I record them down in my notebook and then go check them out in person as I do my rounds or call to set up an appointment with the landlord.
Finding an apartment in a city
In large cities, my strategies for finding apartments must be altered. In point, I’m doubtful of having quick success at finding an apartment in Berlin efficiently just by aimlessly walking city streets. Sure, many of the methods described above can and should be applied to finding apartments in large cities, but they must be refined and more directed.
When looking for an apartment in a large city like Rome I generally make a lot of inquiries to find out the neighborhoods or areas that tend to be safe, have a good location, are connected to a convenient public transport network, and tend to be cheap enough for me to afford while also being relatively secure. My first step towards these ends is to pick up a map of the city and find the large universities.
The areas around universities tend to be full of students, and I know that students tend to rent out apartments for a few months at a time, are generally not too loaded with excess money, like cheap food and bars, live in safe areas where there is action happening, and are, for the most part, transient residents. Many of these criteria can also be applied to long term travelers, so it is the university areas I prowl first in my hunt for accommodation in big cities.
Once near to a university I put the village/ small city apartment finding strategy into use: I walk through the streets asking about apartments and I keep my eyes peeled for room rental signs. I know that I’m at an advantage in university areas as many students that I may ask for assistance have a command of English and the landlords are use to renting to tenets on a month by month basis. Score.
When you rent an apartment in a foreign country you are acting more within the “local” sphere of the culture, and generally will need to use local languages/ know local customs to a much higher degree than just staying in a backpacker hostel. This is one of the major benefits of renting an apartments abroad — when you rent an apartment you’re a neighbor, not a tourists — but this is also one of the biggest challenges.
If you can speak a local language of the country you’re in or if most locals tend to speak your language then you’re good to go. If you can’t speak a language in common with the locals then you have a little work to do. It is not difficult to learn enough of a language to rent out an apartment just about anywhere. First of all, learn how to read an apartment rental notice. Learn the all the words for “apartment,” “rent,” and a few other terms that may be written on such a notice, like kitchen, internet, rooms, bathroom, utilities, etc . . . Renting an apartment is generally a pretty straight forward process and all parties involved seem to know how its done regardless of culture. But learning some basic vocab (or writing it down in a notebook to show) is essential.
Additional phrases to learn for renting an apartment abroad:
I’m looking for an apartment.
Do you know where I can rent an apartment near here?
How much does it cost per month?
Is there a security deposit?
Can I pay one month at a time?
What is the minimum amount of time I can rent for?
I want to stay for ___ days/ weeks/ months.
Are utilities included?
When can I see the apartment (if talking on the phone)?
Is there internet?
Is there a kitchen?
What do I do with my trash?
May I have a receipt?
Where should I pay?
How can I get drinking water/ gas?
Opening up to locals, talking to strangers, and making sharp observations is key when looking for an apartment abroad. Showing up in a town or city and checking out apartments for yourself is probably the best strategy for finding the cheapest and best suited room for your budget and tastes. This method also takes time and concerted effort — but the benefits are often more than worth it.
Read more of the Rent Apartments Abroad series to find out more about renting apartments around the world. Watch for articles on how to find good apartments when traveling, tips on negotiating with foreign landlords, how to not pay security deposits, how to find rooms to rent month by month, how to quickly rig up an apartment for good living, and more.