Flatmates laughing

4 Ways to Make Flat-searching Easier in a Foreign Country

Flatmates laughing

Finding a flat can be a challenge in your own country, but plop you in a new land where your language skills are subpar to a toddler’s and you’ve got yourself some colourful times ahead.

But don’t rip up your passport just yet.

Here are four key steps to ease the pain of landing a new flat – especially in non-English speaking countries…

Work backwards: Find your future flatties first

It’s way more fun – not to mention far easier – to find an apartment with the same people you’ll be living with. 

“But I’ve just gotten off the plane and don’t know anyone,” I hear you saying.  But seriously, it’s not as hard as you might think.  Have a think.  Where’s “home” for you right now?  Make your job easier and start there.

Where’re you and your overflowing backpack living now?  In a hostel?  Couchsurfing?  Staying with a friend of a friend (of a friend of your Mum’s cousin’s tennis partner)?  You get the picture.  Find out if others there (travellers, your host, their friends etc) know either of these two people:

  1. Someone (a friend, colleague, acquaintance or family member…) who’s renting out a room or apartment
  2. Someone who – like you – is also apartment hunting

If these avenues don’t pan out, check out online expat forums.  Ask at that café with great wifi which is quickly becoming your new hangout.  Look at the bulletin board at your language school.  There are other options, trust me.

Found a future flattie?  Search together…

Flat searching with others in the same boat makes your life easier in these awesome ways:

  • If they’re locals, they’ll handle all the language barriers (excellent!)
  • If they’re fellow foreigners, then you’ve found an instant kindred spirit
  • More of you will double/triple your efficiency.  It will let you do simultaneous online searches and split neighbourhoods between the group.  You’ll see how your time spent trawling listings is slashed in a trillion pieces!
  • Searching with others also instantly makes your network more enormous.  Think about it, your future flatmate’s also in this brand spanking new city for a reason.  Find out their story:  How long have they been there?  Who do they know?  Are they working?  Do they have colleagues, friends?  Are they part of an online network such as Couchsurfing?  Do they have exes they’re on good terms with?  These are all people who’d potentially have an apartment lead…

Get help with making phone calls

If your language skills aren’t crash hot, research key vocabulary and compile a list of necessary questions.

Now folks, this part is really important…

Three days after moving to Barcelona (when I barely knew the difference between hola and chao) I met up with a Spanish friend of a friend who I’d been introduced to while travelling.  He sat me down and nutted out a pile of useful questions I’d need to ask when responding to ads.

Questions like…

  • How much is the rent per month?
  • How much is the deposit?
  • What’s the address?
  • Where’s the nearest Metro station?
  • When is the flat available?
  • Does advertised price include utilities?
  • When can I go and see it?

…were essential.

Also essential was the ability to understand people’s responses.  But did I think of this?  Nope.  I went, merrily off home to call up randoms, faithfully ploughing through my questions.  But did I understand their answers?


Moral of the story:  Whether you had help composing your list or nutted it out solo on Google translate – research possible answers you might be given too!


Have someone else do the actual talking

If neither you nor anyone you’re flat searching with can string together a sentence, you’re gonna have a world of pain on the phone.  Of course, it’s great to “grow” and “face challenges” and all that…so you could tough it out and make those calls.

But if what you hear on the phone is just going to sound like “Onimquétamercikoñihiarrándaitalkommskurtatón” spoken at speed, then it’s better to focus on getting you housed.

(You can start all your personal development schtick once you’re sleeping in a bed that’s truly yours and no longer storing your things in a broken locker.)

Find someone with mad language skills

You’ll need to sweet talk someone into making your calls for you; perhaps a local or fellow expat whose language abilities are shinier than yours.

Work on the list of questions together, or if your interpreter’s keen, just show them your preferred flats and let them get-a-dialling.

Don’t know anyone who’s speaks this crazy new language?

Then find this mythical helper and bearer of badass language skills in the same place you went looking for potential flatmates…

Part of the fun

When you first arrive in a new city, the idea of having a place to come home to sometimes seems a long way off.  But stick with it (and don’t be afraid to get help!) and soon enough, you’ll no longer be queuing for hours outside a hostel bathroom, shower flip flops and tiny travel towel at the ready.

And it will be worth it.

Over to you…

What tips do you have for expat flat searchers?


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