Adjusting to a new culture

Finding Housing Abroad As a New Expat

Post last updated on:


by Cyrus Kioko


Hunting for a house in a whole new country can be a bit of a wild ride. There are all kinds of paperwork and language barriers to circumvent, and the labyrinth of options available doesn’t make things any easier. So, how should you go about it?

Any sound strategy for finding housing abroad as a new expat must begin with listing the characteristics your home-away-from-home must have. Once that’s done, you can use local realtors, online real estate portals, expat networks, and other resources to find your ideal home.

Of course, there’s more to finding housing abroad as a fresh-faced expat than this oversimplified answer, and that’s what today’s post is all about. I’ll walk you through every fine detail, from what to look for when choosing a home to must-follow rules when house hunting in a foreign country.

Let’s dive right in!

Choosing a Home Abroad: Key Considerations

Before you begin house hunting, you need to have an idea of what you’re looking for so you don’t waste time on housing options that don’t suit your needs.

Now, I can’t tell you what housing option you should choose because every expat has different preferences. What I can do, however, is provide you with considerations to help you arrive at the best choice for your situation.

Here’s a rundown of those considerations. 

Your Budget

Let’s start with the most obvious consideration: how much you can afford to spend on housing. You’ll need to figure out how much wiggle room your budget affords you before you begin house hunting. This ensures you direct your time and effort to options you can actually afford and avoid getting stuck in agreements that are beyond your financial reach.

Your salary will probably be the biggest indicator of how much you can afford to spend on housing. If that’s the case, highly recommend sticking to the general budgeting rule of spending no more than a third of your salary on rent.

Keeping your housing costs within the 30% range lays a good foundation for not just your financial health but your physical and mental well-being as well. It helps ensure that you have enough income left over for other essentials such as groceries, utilities, transportation, savings, and miscellaneous expenses, effectively easing financial stress.

Sticking to this budgeting rule also makes squeezing in an allocation for fun activities easier. Remember, part of the fun of “expating” is discovering new places, cuisines, traditions, and experiences, and these adventures often cost some money. 

Whether You’re “Expating” With Family

It’s not unheard of for expats to travel with their spouses, kids, or even extended family. If you’re letting your family tag along, you must factor that into your housing choice. This goes beyond ensuring there’s enough room for everyone; you also need to consider access to social amenities.

For instance, if you’re traveling with kids, you’ll want to ensure that there are quality schools in what could soon be your neighborhood. Similarly, an expat relocating with a family member with a condition that needs ongoing medical attention will need to consider the availability of healthcare facilities.

Ultimately, the social amenities you prioritize will depend on your family’s needs. Just make sure you think of every family member (including you) when making that choice.

Your Long-Term Plans

You’ll also want to keep your long-term plans in mind when choosing a home abroad. Are you staying temporarily or eyeing permanent relocation? If you’re staying temporarily, how long? Ask yourself these questions, and consider the answers when choosing your housing.

You might want to limit your choices to short-term tenancy agreements if you haven’t figured out your long-term plans. These are safer bets than long-term arrangements because they give you enough time to get to know your new city and shop around for housing better suited to your needs.

Furnished temporary accommodations can be a great option if you’re moving abroad for half a year or less. Depending on your host country and what part of it you’re staying in, these could include serviced apartments, corporate housing, vacation rentals, condos, temporary relocation housing, or even rooms within a larger property.

Opting for this accommodation type means you won’t worry about furnishing costs. It also saves you the hassle of navigating the bureaucratic processes, paperwork, and legal requirements that often come with long-term agreements.

If you’ve worked out your long-term plans and they involve buying a house without relocating permanently, consider your exit strategy when making your buying decision.

Understand the complexities of selling a property in that country, the factors that typically affect property resale value, and how long properties similar to what you’re eyeing stay in the market. Keeping these factors in mind can go a long way to ease your exit and ensure you recoup your investment or even make a profit when you decide to sell.

If you’re eyeing permanent relocation, your considerations will be no different from those of a resident home buyer or renter. That is, of course, unless you start renting or purchasing property before your citizenship application goes through. In such a case, you’d still be bound by the same laws and regulations as a non-resident.


Where you choose to nestle can have a big impact on both your wallet and your peace of mind. Your home’s location plays a pretty important role in the grand scheme of things – from the rent you dish out to the vibes you soak in.

If you’ve been paying attention to the real estate market back home, you’ve probably noticed that homes in the happening parts of town, like those swanky city centers or posh neighborhoods, tend to come with a heftier price tag. It’s like they’ve got their own VIP club where the entrance fee is, well, not for the faint of heart.

I hate to break it to you, but that’s the reality in most parts of the world. So where should you be shopping?

Here’s where my two cents (and trust me, I’ve got plenty of those):

If you’re not rolling in cash and a luxury penthouse is just a dream for your future self, try finding that sweet spot in the middle – you know, like when you’re trying to pick the perfect amount of cream for your coffee. They call it the mid-range category, and it’s like the Goldilocks of housing. Not too fancy, not too shabby; it’s just right.

Now, don’t get too carried away with the penny-pinching. We all love a good deal, but you’ve got to be careful about diving headfirst into those super-cheap neighborhoods. They might come with a tantalizingly lower price tag, but trust me, they’ve got their quirks.

Insecurity might be waving its hand like an overenthusiastic kid in class, and chances are you’ll always find yourself in a wild goose chase for the nearest grocery store. That corner shop with the suspiciously blinking neon sign? Yeah, it’ll be your best mate.

But that’s not the grand finale of this show. Brace yourself for the rollercoaster ride of amenities – or lack thereof. You’re talking about healthcare that’s like playing medical roulette and roads that have more bumps than a teenager’s diary. And let’s not forget about social amenities. Parks? Not really. Community centers? Well, good luck finding one.

So while those bargain-basement neighborhoods might save you a few quid upfront, you’ll probably end up paying in other ways.

If you’re all about that frugal life and don’t mind roughing it up a bit, that’s cool, but hold off on planting your flag in the cheapest spot on the map. Get the lay of the land first. Dip your toes into your new city’s streams, scope out the neighborhoods, and get the lowdown on what’s what. Once you’re like a local expert, you can make a more informed decision about where to unpack your bags for the long haul.

How to Find Your Dream Home Abroad As a New Expat

Now that you’ve got a good grasp on what you’re after, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of tracking it down. There’s more than one way to skin this cat, and I’m about to let you in on the scoop.

So, buckle up and get ready to uncover the best tools you can use to find your dream home abroad when you’re fresh off the boat.

Online Real Estate Portals

Online real estate portals have made international house-hunting super easy. There are all kinds of apps and platforms you can use to find your dream home in a few clicks and swipes. Some even offer virtual tours, allowing you to stroll through what could soon be your home before you even set foot in your host country.

Here’s a step-by-step guide for finding housing abroad via a real estate portal:

  1. Start by searching “rentals in (enter your destination country here).” You’ll get a long list of websites with listings in your soon-to-be host country. 
  2. Select a couple of legitimate websites owned by real estate agents or property management companies based in your destination country. Don’t know how to evaluate a website’s legitimacy? Check out this guide by Chase Bank.
  3. Visit each website and evaluate its search function. Pick one or two websites with the best search tools. Your evaluation criteria should be how much a search tool allows you to refine your search. You want to be able to specify what you want in a rental as much as possible. 
  4. Refine your search by price, location (i.e., the specific region/neighborhood you’re looking to stay), and any other factors that may be specific to your situation. If you selected two websites in step 3 above (which I highly recommend for comparison purposes), repeat the process for the other site.
  5. Compare the results. Go deeper than just looking at the pictures and descriptions. Sure, these are important, but the point of comparing results from multiple websites is to see how similar rentals are priced on each website. When making this comparison, be sure to pick properties that are identical in not just size but also location, amenities, and so on. If a virtual tour is available, now would be the time to take advantage of it.
  6. Select the website with the best-priced rentals. You can now start comparing individual listings on that website and pick what best aligns with your budget and needs.

Even if you end up snagging a great deal after step 6 above, consider subscribing to one or two websites’ mailing lists. This way, you’ll get notified when new, potentially better deals crop up. 

Expat Networks

Networking isn’t only one of the top job search strategies for expats; it can also be an unorthodox way to score a home abroad. So if you’re not already actively trying to connect with other expats in your destination country, you seriously need to get on that.

There are several ways you can go about it, but the simplest one would be to use social media.

I highly recommend Facebook because it still has the largest user base, meaning the chances of finding a community of expats in your host country are higher. Simply search “expats [city/country name],” “[city/country name] expat community,” or similar keywords, and join communities with the most participants.

Of course, you can always use other Linkedin and other social platforms, as well as websites such as,, and Reddit is also a surprisingly great way to connect with other expats. Look for subreddits related to the specific location you’re interested in, such as r/expats or r/[city/country name]. I plugged in a few locations and found subreddits with a decent success rate. Worth a try if you ask me.

Expat communities are almost always responsive and willing to help, so don’t be shy once you get in. Get active. Post your housing preferences, budget, and requirements, and ask the community to share their experiences, tips, and suggestions. Engage in discussions and seek advice from those who have already navigated the housing market in your chosen destination.

You’ll be surprised how much of a goldmine these communities can be. You might even find a roommate if you’re on a tight budget and interested in that sort of arrangement.

A Reliable Local Real Estate Agent

Working with a local real estate agency is arguably the most convenient way to find housing abroad. Real estate agents usually know the local housing market and legal procedures more than the average resident, never mind a new expat. Enlisting their expertise can streamline your house hunting and provide insights that you might not be able to find elsewhere.

The trick is to work with an agency that specializes in helping expats find housing. This a safer bet than a conventional real estate agency because an agency that has previously worked with expats has a better understanding of their unique needs. Put otherwise, they’re better positioned to offer personalized guidance to new expats.

The question is, how do you find such an agency?

Crawling online directories, real estate portals, social media, and professional networking platforms like Linkedin is always an option, but I’ll do you one better:

Go to the official website of your host country’s local chamber of commerce or business directory. You’ll find a list of registered real estate agents. This is a great way to avoid unlicensed slackers and scammers posing as real estate agents because this lot rarely appears on those listings.

If that doesn’t yield satisfactory results, look up real estate associations or professional bodies in your host country. Most countries have these. In the US, this would be the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Its UK equivalent is the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). These associations typically have member directories you can search through.

The Classifieds Sections on Local Print Media 

While the internet has significantly changed the way people consume news and information, magazines and newspapers are still hanging around and doing their bits in many societies. If that’s the case in your host country, consider checking the classifieds section of these publications for listings.

You don’t necessarily need to be in your host country to start house hunting this way. Many magazines and newspapers today offer digital editions that you can access on a mobile device for free or at a small fee. That means you can start looking at the classifieds on local publications in the soon-to-be your city long before you leave your home country, which gives you enough time to analyze listings over a longer period to find the best fit for needs.

I recommend focusing more on city-specific magazines because they offer location-specific housing market insights and listings. If you can find one that caters specifically to expats, newcomers, or any other similar audience, that’s even better.

To give you an idea of what to look for, here’s a table showing renowned city-specific magazines that cater to newcomers in popular expat destinations around the world:

Magazine Name Focus City
Time Out Sydney and The Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend Sydney
Toronto Life Toronto
The Georgia Straight Vancouver
Barcelona Metropolitan Barcelona 
Madrid Metropolitan Madrid
Expatriates Magazine Paris Paris
Metropolis Magazine Tokyo 
Time Out Dubai Dubai

Location-specific magazines that cater to specific groups of expats can also be a good source of housing listings. Examples of such magazines include:

  • The Local France: Provides news and lifestyle content for English-speaking expats in France.
  • The Local Germany: Geared toward English-speaking expats in Germany.
  • Savvy Tokyo: Offers information and advice for women living in Tokyo, including housing and local tips.
  • ExpatWoman Dubai: Caters to women residing in Dubai, covering topics such as housing and lifestyle.

Real Estate Events

Rounding up our list of ways to find housing abroad as a new expat are real estate fairs, property expos, and open houses.

Attending these events can be a great way to get a firsthand look at various properties in a single location. It’s also a prime opportunity to interact one-on-one with real estate professionals and fire away your burning questions.

There are a couple of methods you can use to find real estate events happening in your city:

  • Search online platforms.  Eventbrite, Meetup, and Eventful are solid choices because they allow you to filter events by location and category, making it easier to find real estate-related events in your area.
  • Check the official websites of real estate associations in your area. These organizations often host events, conferences, and seminars related to real estate. When they do, they usually advertise them on their websites. 
  • Check with the local chamber of commerce. Like real estate associations,  chambers of commerce sometimes host or promote real estate events. Check their website or contact them directly to inquire about upcoming events in your area.

Of course, you can always use social media and expat networks to catch wind of upcoming real estate events.

Tips to Keep in Mind When House-Hunting Abroad

There are three rules you must keep in mind when housing-hunting abroad to avoid falling prey to scammers and getting stuck in a not-so-great lease or rental agreement:

Never Pay Before You See the Property

Putting down a deposit or any other form of payment for a house you haven’t seen is a surefire way to get scammed. Scammers often target people relocating abroad by creating fake listings or misrepresenting properties online, duping unsuspecting expats into making payments for a place that doesn’t exist or doesn’t match the description.

Even if you can verify beyond doubt that the listing is genuine, you should still hold off making any payments until you physically examine the property. Doing that might mean spending extra on a hotel, but that’s justified when the alternative is finding out that the photos you saw online look nothing like the actual living space or discovering that the property is in a bad neighborhood.

Read the Fine Print of Your Rental Agreement

A rental agreement isn’t something you want to skim through. Every word on it becomes legally binding from the moment you sign it, and any violations on your part can have serious legal consequences.

So take your time to go through it word-for-word, paying special attention to the following details:

  • Whether the property is as described on the rental agreement. This is particularly important when you’re renting a fully furnished house. Make sure the paperwork accurately details all the furnishings and their current condition. If anything is damaged or not as stated, follow up with the property manager, landlord, or any other appropriate party.
  • How much repair and maintenance you’re responsible for. The responsibility for repairs and maintenance can vary depending on the rental agreement and local regulations. Ensure you understand who pays for what to keep the property in good shape.
  • The lease term. Understand the start and end dates of your lease. Find out if there are automatic renewal clauses, when you should give notice if you decide to move, and what will happen if you prematurely terminate the lease. 
  • Rent due dates. The rent amount isn’t the only thing you should consider. You also need to know when it’s due, what payment methods you can use, and whether there are fees or penalties for paying it past the due date.
  • Security deposit. Know the amount of the security deposit, the conditions under which it can be withheld, and the process for its return.
  • Who pays for utilities and services. Determine which utilities and services (water, electricity, gas, internet, etc.) are included in the rent and which ones you are responsible for.

If the lease or rental agreement is in a foreign language and some things aren’t clear, hire a translator.  

Negotiate, Always!

This is one trick many new expats miss. The list price isn’t always the last price. Property managers and landlords usually set the list price bearing in mind that potential renters will try to negotiate it down. That means you’ll likely end up overpaying if you don’t negotiate.

Property managers and landlords may be more open to negotiating if you’re looking to rent long-term because it guarantees them a stable income for a longer period. So if you’re staying for anything longer than six months, you’d be doing yourself a huge disservice by not tapping into that bargaining power.

Cyrus Kioko
Cyrus is a seasoned blog post writer with over five years of experience in crafting and editing articles spanning technology, lifestyle, and finance niches. Fueled by an authentic passion to contribute valuable insights, he has invested thousands of Netflix-less hours in research for this site. Each piece he writes is aimed at empowering readers to make well-informed, real-life decisions. Holding a degree in commerce and armed with ample copywriting courses, he brings both expertise and a touch of nerdy flair to the table.
Photo of author