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Trying to find somewhere to live in a country you’ve never even visited before is especially difficult. It’s so hard to figure out even the most basic things you would automatically know in your home country.

Like how far it is to your nearest supermarket or office or anywhere you visit often. How bad the traffic is? Everything is brand new! Everything must be figured out from scratch.

Fortunately for me, the company that moved me around provided assistance with the housing, so I was not totally on my own. The realtors were able to search within the parameters I gave them to give me options.

However, before you begin working with the realtors, you need to do a lot of research on your own to figure out what you want and a reasonable budget. Keep reading to find out more factors to consider when looking for somewhere to live.

1. Budget

The first thing you need to do is sit down with my best friend, Microsoft Excel. I actually really do love excel so this isn’t a sarcastic comment.

I don’t want to lose any of you too early by speaking too in depth about this, if you want to find out more, I’ll link a new post soon.

What I do is map out take home income and any expenditures by categories of my current location. Then using Numbeo I look at the difference in cost of living and make a calculation based on this to adjust the current figures to the new currency.

Then plugin a 25% figure for my rent to see what’s the absolute most I’m willing to spend. Of course, your percentage may vary from this standard.

Once you have your budget, you can start looking at options available around this price online. This will give you an idea of if you need to adjust your budget.

If places you see are not up to your standards, then you can see where adjustments can be made in your budget to go a bit higher. Although I do not recommend living above your means as this can put you in financial difficulties.

Also, realtors usually send options above your budget so that they can earn more commissions. I wish I’d realised this sooner and not given them my actual maximum budget, but something a bit lower so I had more wiggle room when they showed me most options above budget.

2. Features

Then it’s time to decide on all the different aspects of a place to live in that are important to you and your family. Communication is keyyyy! And then compromise to find a middle ground if you don’t agree 100% with each other. (Now I’m wondering, does anyone agree 100% on a place to live without compromise? Let me know in the comments.)

MAIN QUESTIONS

Here are some questions to ask yourselves to balance the opinions and get on the same page:

  • Do you want to rent a house or an apartment?
  • How many bedrooms do you want?
  • How many bathrooms do you want?
  • Do you want it to be furnished?
  • If not, do you plan on shipping your furniture from the last country you lived in or buy items when you arrive?
  • If you plan on purchasing a vehicle, how many car parks do you want? Are the parks under a roof?
  • Are there extra spaces for the things that are important to you (for example: home office, gym, whatever is important to you)?
  • How safe is this area? Is it a gated community?

PERSONAL SPECIFICATIONS

And then for us specifically, there were certain things that are important to us to think about even though they are not necessarily make or break but very important (by all means think about what matters to you to add to this section):

  • Is it pet friendly?
  • We like to cook and do so on a regular basis. Does it have a big enough kitchen?
  • Depending on the climate of the country, one of my moves being to a hot country. Do they have air condition installed and their locations?
  • I am veryyy picky with bathrooms, they have to look clean! This is an obvious for me, but some people take for granted. If I walk into a bathroom, I can immediately spot the flaws and floors (oh the pun haha). I remember a house that was a top pick for my husband, but it was on my blacklist because the handles in the bathroom were rusty. Like the sink and shower knobs. Clearly this one is important to have its own rant, so back to my question. How does the bathroom look?   

AMENITIES

These provide great comfort in knowing that there are things you can do within your building complex. For example, gym, pool, game room, social room, kids play area, BBQ area and so on. Even though sometimes when you have it, you take it for granted (sounds like I’m writing a love song).

In Bogota, many residential buildings were between 5 to 17 stories high and some even had several buildings within the complex. These compounds usually feature at least a gym and social rooms.

Also, the gyms were usually basic and not equipped enough for a hard-core gym goer. Our building also had a running track which no one used before lockdown.

In Monterrey, amenities were not as easy to come by. However, with temperatures getting up to 40°C / 104°C, a pool is a big selling point. Despite being so hot, I don’t think I’d go in an outdoor pool if it’s that hot.

3. Commutes

Another thing to thing about is commuting. First off, what will be your mode of transport? Do you plan to have a car, take public transport, use a bicycle or whatever other options are available?

If using public transport, the nearest locations of bus stops are extremely important. I mean, if you live somewhere and a bus stop is a 50-minute walk away, that may be a tad inconvenient. Also, for the mode you plan on using, are there any restrictions.

For example, in Bogota, there was “pico y placa”. This meant that on even days, private cars with number plates ending in an even number (0-2-4-6-8) were not allowed to be on the road during peak hours or rush hour.

And on odd days, private cars with number plates ending in an odd number (1-3-5-7-9) were not allowed to be on the road during peak hours or rush hour.

To us, it didn’t make sense to have a car if you couldn’t drive to work every day (since that would have been in rush hour) then we would have had to use public transport, taxi, bicycle, or scooter for the other days.

Also, people had given us the advice that we should live close to where my husband works (and we told them where he worked as well). This sounded like an ideal solution to beat the traffic.

However, when we visited an apartment in this area, we quickly realised that it was not an area we wanted to live in

Even though the apartment itself was decent, the area around was like a “slum”. Definitely not somewhere I would like to walk around alone to do everyday things.

Also, after having lived in Bogota for long enough, we realised that this area did not have much to do close by.

Fortunately, we got lucky with the area we chose, even though it was further away from my husband’s office, the area was amazing!

No matter the option, it’s good to know the time it takes to get to places that you visit regularly via that means of transport. Also, how long it will take in traffic during peak hours.

This will include getting to the office (home office for me, let’s hope there’s not traffic on the staircase), supermarket, gym, kid’s schools or wherever you go often.    

4. Neighbourhood and Safety

Based on your research from earlier, you should be able to recognise that certain locations recur within your specifications.

These will most likely be your target areas. It will be a good time to run these ideas past the realtor. However, as I mentioned before about realtors going above budget, careful they do not steer you into richer areas.

You should be able to find this out by doing a quick Google search specific to the city of your next move. Depending on the safety level and if you’re on a limited budget, you may not even need to live in the richest area.

I’ve lived in Colombia and Mexico where safety is very high on the list of requirements. However, I didn’t need to live in the richest area to make sure I was safe.

Also, be very aware of the neighbourhood. The street of the apartment or house you are looking at may look very decent, however, the next street might not feel very safe.

I would expect that if you have a realtor helping you, if this is part of your requirements, they will let you know. When looking at one of the houses in Mexico, it was quite nice and in a gated community.

However, right outside the gate, comprised of a very sketchy looking set of streets. If I was ever alone driving through there, I would not feel safe as all. Worse yet, if I had to drive there at night.

It’s really not worth risking your safety or peace of mind for a neighbourhood that you don’t feel comfortable in. Trust your instincts on this one.

5. Age of Building

Another important factor is the age of the house. As with everything, anything newer is less likely to give you problems.

Well, that’s the hope at least! Speaking very generally, the newer a building, the higher the standards and hopefully the more modern the look. So, if these are important to you then it would be wise to ask about these features as well.

The apartments we looked at in Bogota were very modern within these 17-storey buildings. The hardwood floors, balcony, rain shower head, built in cupboards that had a soft close feature so nothing ever banged when you closed them and probably many other things that I took for granted.

The biggest issue when looking at apartments in Bogota was the location and price, otherwise all the apartments we saw were lovely. Of course, they were all in up-scale neighbourhoods.

However, the issue with house hunting in Mexico (same prices as apartments so we preferred more space with a house), is the age of the buildings. The features were not very modern. Don’t get me started on the rust in the bathroom again!

Even though I had seen pictures online from my research, I was still shocked by this. This city, Monterrey, is very industrial and a hub for companies so I thought maybe online didn’t have the most updated options.

But sadly, they were. Don’t get me wrong, if money isn’t an issue, then you can find some good options, but not everyone has that luxury.

Fortunately, we kept looking, and eventually found a 2-year-old house, which had a bit more minor damages than expected. Note to self: enough with the expectations!

6. Site, Size and Floor Plan 

The site of the place you’re looking at involves basically the sites around. To me, these are added benefits if a house has any extras that I would like, they’re not points that would make or break my decision.

What’s the view like? Do you have a spot to and watch the sunset? (Ok I actually do love doing this!) Are there a lot of stairs? My apartment in Bogota was on the 9th floor, with a balcony with a gorgeous view of a Colombia flag.

This was not something I specially looked for, but it was definitely a plus.

As for size and floor plan, again not too important for me but definitely deciding factors to my husband. The first apartment in Colombia was 92 m² which was a bit small once lockdown hit and there weren’t that many different spots to go within the apartment.

The house in Mexico is 162 m² which is significantly more space and has an upstairs. Especially now that I’ll be working from home and need designated spaces, that definitely helps.

Also, if you’re like me taking furniture with you, when you see the layout of the house, it may help to imagine it with your current furniture.

7. Accessories – Closets, Windows, and Lighting

Closets make a big impact to the finished look of a place. Also, closets are extremely expensive so having them built in, makes life much easier for you.

Of course, this depends on how many things you have, if it’s like an episode of hoarders, maybe some people need more space. In both Mexico and Colombia, most places had built-in closets, a small extra storage, and some with walk-in closets. Fortunately, it was not an additional expense that I had to think about.

Another feature to keep in mind would be lighting. I have been living in dark hotel rooms for close to 2 months at a time between moves.

Lighting is not a well-known feature of hotels; rarely will you see bright lights. I do like well-lit areas, better yet if it’s natural light. If you’re not that kind of person then curtains are an easy fix.

Does the place you’re looking at reflect your needs? Don’t forget about electrical outlets to accommodate what you need as well.

8. Utilities in area

Some countries split places using a hierarchy. Using this method, different areas attract different levels of rent, electricity, water, and internet bills.

For example, in Bogota, there are 6 strata – 1 being the least expensive and 6 being the most expensive (as well as safest) in terms of rent value as well as utilities.

This is not a make-or-break factor however it is something to be aware of. Even advertisements you see from companies may vary for your locality.

For example, with internet, the advertisement may say one price but for your strata it is actually more expensive. Also finding out when bills come (monthly or not).

9. Housing market

Any customs in the country or the dynamism of the housing market is definitely good to know beforehand. When I was looking at places in Monterrey, the real estate agent said we would need to walk with about $5,000 Mexican pesos ($250US) as a “separación” if we like a place.

Before this, I was never rushed to make such an instant decision that if I like a house, I will give money to the owner immediately after seeing it.

Apparently, the housing market moves so quickly in Monterrey that if you don’t do this, you could very well lose the house.

This actually happened to us! We hadn’t seen many options that we liked on the first day of looking so we struggled to pick a first choice so there was still doubt in putting money on a house.

Then later that day we found out that our number one choice had been taken by someone else as they paid the separación once they saw it.

But it worked out for the best because we found an even better house on the next day of searching. Seeing the options thus far and how quickly the market really moved, we made the decision instantly.

We had a couple other appointments to see houses and then went back to pay the separación. Then the offer letter would be drafted and then the official contract.

It was a very different process than I was used to and of course, I initially did not believe that the market could move that quickly until we lost a house.

Fortunately, Bogota was not like this, we were not rushed at all. We were able to sleep on it and then make a decision comfortably. Also, since complexes and areas tended to have pretty similar apartment layouts, it was likely that you would find more options.

A strange custom in Bogota was that if people liked a building, they would walk around to see the phone number to rent in the windows and stand with a pen and paper writing it down.

When you walked past people on the street, it was clear if they were looking for apartments as they would just be standing awkwardly in the way, looking up. It was pretty funny to see.

Conclusion

House hunting was pretty difficult for me! It stressed me out so much that I had to choose a place to live when I had no idea of the areas of anything I should be looking out for.

In the place where we’ve grown up, we have an idea of the different areas within the country or city so it’s already easy to know which areas you would like to live in.

However, in a brand-new country, this is just a dream. I hope this list helps you for your next move. Let me know what’s the most important point to you in the comments.

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25 thoughts on “How to Choose the Perfect House Abroad

  1. These are such great things to think about. To answer your question, no…you can’t buy a house without compromise! ha! I think neighborhood and safety is so important, especially because we have kids 🙂

  2. This is a great list of tips! Definitely saving this for whenever we are ready to take the plunge and look at moving outside of the United States!

  3. Wow I absolutely love this article!! These are really great tips that people can use in ANY country! I’ve been thinking about getting an apartment when I have enough money and your detailed list will help me choose the best (or close enough) apartment I see. Great post! I’ve bookmarked it.

    Taiwo | alifestylenerd.wordpress.com

  4. Wow, I wouldn’t have thought of so many of these things! I have never lived abroad, but I can imagine it would be a really shocking experience (in the best way!), kind of like my first time traveling abroad. Thanks for sharing!

  5. We looked and hunted for a place for a long time before we moved to Spain, and I think in the future I will rent a place for a week or two so I can go visually inspect the home we are staying at long term. It all worked out, but it wasn’t the best fit, so I learned a lot for next time!

  6. Very detailed and super helpful guide. We’ve only relocated once to another country. And luckily we had been able to come over, stay with friends and then look whilst already in the cpu try rather than look remotely. Made it much easier for us, but obviously that isn’t always an option.

  7. House hunting is stressful anyway, let alone in a country or place you do not know well. I remember trying to find a place when I first moved to Canada and the first one I ended up in was a rental that didn’t last long. I used it to really spend time finding the ideal place for me. Great tips on house hunting in general, but I think a lot of that could apply to hotels or accommodation while traveling too

  8. Finding a place to live is one of the hardest parts about moving abroad!! I’ve gotten very lucky the past few years, and also very unlucky. Thanks for these tips!

  9. I love this post because it puts me one step closer information-wise to my dream of owing a place abroad. Really want to do that one day!

    curatingstories.com

  10. These are some great tips! I can’t imagine how stressful it is buying a house abroad! I’ve only ever bought a house once and it was less than 5 minutes away from where we were already living so it was fairly straight forward! Thanks for this great checklist of criteria!

  11. I have relocated quite a few times and indeed, it’s so important to do your research before committing to renting an apartment or a house, especially that the contracts are usually on one year. I did live for a year in a place where the nearest supermarket was miles away, and that was harsh. Now I have a set list with things I don’t negotiate on when it comes to a new home.

  12. I also agree and recommend the numbeo site. It gives a great feel for the relative cost of living but so much more in terms of standard of living like crime, healthcare, etc. Your list seems quite comprehensive for housing considerations.

  13. It was similar when we moved countries when we first moved in to our home in Canada – we had to sign up straight away or we would have lost this apartment. It’s pretty stressful isn’t it!?

    I did soooo much research before we got here, but we weren’t sure about which area we wanted to live in until we walked around and started to explore in real life…

  14. I love your recommendations. I live in the US now but hope to spend extensive time in Europe in a few years. Hopefully about 6 months per year. I realize that the things I will need to consider living there will be very different from the things that I need to consider when I am just visiting for a few days. Thanks for the tips.

  15. There are so many things here that work everywhere, but I know that moving to another country brings with it so many other unknowns. What we think of as American standards for everything from kitchens to bedrooms is not the same everywhere. That’s not a bad thing! It’s just that you have to change the way you think as you look for a place to live. Such a great piece!

  16. I love this! I watch House Hunters International all the time just because I’m fascinated with how people live in other countries. Some of the places are so tiny and set up so weirdly, I know I’d never be happy living there. I love the Excel sheet idea too.

  17. This is super helpful. I haven’t moved abroad, but I used what you mentioned when moving to a new city. I had only visited once before I moved, and I signed my lease before I even visited — thankfully, it all worked out. 😊

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