What to Expect and Avoid While Apartment Hunting Abroad

You’re moving to a new country and don’t know the language. You also don’t know where you will be living once you arrive, now isn’t that an anxiety attack in a box? First, take a deep breath and relax. There are always going to be things that may seem daunting at first but with the right intel, anyone who is serious about moving abroad can help make their personal transition as painless as possible.

Don’t agree to anything unless your feet are touching the soil

Many mistakes people make coming to Spain the first time is trusting the photos and pretty little deals they find online. Anyone doing basic-level research can easily find about 50 different apartment websites with listings that promise beautiful and culturally stimulating accommodations in Spain. We're here to help.


Many of these sites don’t bother thoroughly investigating these homeowners/renters and they definitely don’t officiate documentation on the ‘true’ quality of said home. These piso postings can be from people who find it ethical to pull photos of the place from years previous and slap on a low, but fair price, all in the hope that some foreigner will take the dangling bait. In all the chaos that comes with moving to a new country, finding a place to live is usually the top priority. And let me tell you, you may arrive to a point in the process where you become desperate. But even if they post a piso that’s blessed with a king sized balcony and an atrium in the back…don’t agree to it. There have been way too many times where new travelers mistakenly committed to a place before arriving only to find that it looks completely different from the property posted and not in a good way. Trust your instincts and if there are any red flags, run in the opposite direction.


Honesty is EVERYTHING. Communicate with the owners!

You may find listings that are detailed and truthful on the condition of the apartment. These may be the real deal and you can give it a shot and check the place out. Many people try to make their place sound a little too good to be true, but others will be straight up and honest with you on what to expect. You may run into some: “la habitación es pequeña, y la cama está rota,  pero hay un balcón’ (The room is small, the bed is broken, but there is a balcony)

Personally, small rooms never really bothered me. I can always buy a new bed, and great lighting with a balcony is where it's at.  Always contact the tenant or landlord and ask the right questions! You can always appreciate brutal honesty when it comes to renting your home for the year.

Questions to consider:

How much do utilities run per month?

Always ask this. You never want to be put in the position where electricity or water is a good chunk more than it was the previous year.

How old is the piso?

We all can appreciate a good rustic look on a home, but older flats are sometimes notorious for their lack of functionality.


Be familiar with what to expect when it comes to contractual agreements, deposit, and first month's rent

First things first. Don’t let these owners fool you. Always sign a contract before agreeing to anything residential-wise long term. You will come across contractual agreements that state the housing rules and regulations as well as the month-to-month rent procedures. Always get someone to translate a contract if you aren’t strong with the Spanish language. Don’t make the mistake of signing something unaware of what you are committing to legally. In some cases, you may not be presented with a contract, I didn’t have one the first year I lived in Madrid. Sometimes a tenant will take your deposit plus first month's rent, pocket it, and you will automatically take the place of that previous tenant. Although it may seem a bit sketchy when nothing is being documented, it’s a common practice in Spain to have tenants moving in and out of rooms during the year. Not all landlords will present you with a contractual agreement.

To give an example, if the cost of your stay by the month is 250 euros, you will be paying 250 euros as a deposit along with 250 euros for first month's rent. Be prepared to drop 500 euro or more on arrival for accommodation in Spain. Some agreements even come with 2 months rent, so tread lightly and always ask the right questions when it comes to the money you may have to spend.

Keep an eye out for those dodgy realtors

It feels like a godsend when you get to a new country and find a hidden shortcut in piso hunting. There are agencies that would gladly try and help you find the perfect piso fit for your tired, traveled bones. Although this is an awesome way to broaden your options and make it an easier search, understand that you are a foreigner in an entirely new country. You’re going to look, walk, and sound different than any local on the street and on top of all that, you’re homeless. These people are out for blood, or just for the painfully oblivious.

Not all Spanish realtor agencies are trying to swindle you for cash but there are some who find it ‘necessary’ to withhold some information that many would otherwise like to know before committing to something. In my own personal experience, after we found a piso and had signed all necessary documentation - our guy decided to tell us that we owed the agency 1.000 euros for their service.

That “service” was 5 minutes of his time two days before we signed our contract. We were left slack jawed, broke, and confused while the keys to our new home burned a hole through the sweaty palms of our hands.

To be fair, most agencies do charge the equivalent of one month's rent for their services but usually they will inform you of that fee beforehand or during -  not after they have already helped you find the place and let you walk out of the door leaving legally binding contracts and empty pockets in your wake. Be aware of those who aim to take advantage of a foreigner's ignorance, because they will only go as far as you let them.


Location, Location, Location.

I will only say it once, or should say it it a million times. Location of your home could define how your experience goes abroad.

You can’t choose just any location on the map to reside - there are things to consider: where you are working, the closest bus stops to your residence, grocery stores that can be accessible during most hours of the day -- you could make an entire list on things to take into account but these are the most important.

You do not want to live somewhere where you would have to travel 30 minutes to an hour to buy eggs and milk. You also don’t want to get up at 5 a.m in the morning to make it to work at 7:30-8 a.m.

There are plenty of things to keep in mind when it come to the location of your piso. Finding a place to stay where the distance is convenient to where you are working and transportation will make the beginning of your experience a lot easier and manageable when everything else feels new and unsteady. You also will want to know how the neighborhoods (or pueblos) are in your region. You will not want to live somewhere where you will feel uncomfortable or threatened when walking home. Although you should always proceed with caution when walking alone at night, some places are known for violence and theft. Avoid these. Keep in mind that you are a foreigner and may be labeled as a target should a situation arise. Find an area where you feel at ease instinctively and that is comfortably populated and well lit.

Questions to ask yourself:

Where is this piso located exactly?

Is this price conclusive to other piso’s in the same area?

Moving to a new country can be scary and extremely overwhelming. I have found myself in situations where I had to stop in the middle of a busy street, collect my thoughts, and take a few deep breaths. But in the end, it is all worth it!  This will be the beginning to the rest of your abroad life and you have to cherish every moment- the good and the difficult. As long as you keep a good and level head on your shoulders when looking for a new home, everything will be just fine. 

Kala is a proud and true southern girl and alumni of Indiana University, Bloomington. Dedicated and curious world traveler with an aptitude for engaging in conversation with anyone who's willing to listen. Listening to music, riding horses and laying on the beach is some of her favorite past times. Hand her a violin and she'll play you a nice and complicated little tune, with a beer on the table beside her. She is a writer, broadcast journalist, musician and 'enjoyment of life' enthusiast.