Ten Tips for Renting a Home Overseas

When moving abroad, renting a place to stay is an attractive option that offers a lot of advantages, whether you’re headed to Costa Rica, Malaysia, France, Mexico, Ecuador, Ireland…or any country. If you plan to buy or build a home eventually, renting allows you to investigate a region and/or community…or several…before you put down roots.

You don’t want to be stuck in a neighborhood, region, or home you don’t like. You might even discover the country you chose to move to is not for you and decide to move elsewhere. That’s much easier to do without having to sell a home first.

So renting has a lot of advantages. And the great news: it’s a relatively painless process that, in many cases, is similar to renting in the U.S. For instance, you’ll sign a lease (most landlords prefer a year, but three-month and six-month contracts can also be found). You’ll also need to put down a security deposit (an extra deposit if you have pets). But if you move to a country with a low cost of living, you’ll most likely pay much less than you would in the U.S. for a similar property.

Try a two-bedroom home in Costa Rica overlooking the Pacific for $600 a month. Or a two-bedroom apartment on the water in Latin America’s hottest resort town, Uruguay’s Punta del Este for $1,250 a month. A luxury condo in the heart of Penang Island in Malaysia is $670 a month.

Start Your Search from Home

Property management companies and real estate agents in most countries have extensive listings of rental homes, condos, and apartments online. Simply Googling “long term rentals [the region you’re interested in]” is a great way to find these types of sites. And you’ll save a lot of time on the ground, too. Scan the properties available and create a list of potentials. Once you get to your chosen country, meet with your local contacts and tour the properties in person. One thing to remember is that sometimes website listings are out of date or another agency has rented out a property, so always check that a property is still available.

Of course, keep in mind that the best deals can often be found “on the ground.” Local newspapers and magazines have listings. And you can get a lot of leads by “networking” with expats and locals—some properties are snatched up before they make it online because they’re such great deals.

Don’t Pay Sight Unseen

Don’t put down a deposit or send money without seeing the property. Yes, this might mean the extra expense of staying in a hotel while you narrow down your search. But better that than discovering the photos on the website don’t match up with the reality…the supposedly “beachfront” property is anything but…or your neighbors play loud music into the night. Most property managers and owners are honest folks but better safe than sorry.

Contact Vacation Rentals

If you’re striking out in a certain area when trying to find long-term rentals, it may be because too many owners are only offering vacation rentals of their properties. This is especially the case in popular beach resorts. In this case, you should try to contact a vacation rental owner or manager and offer to stay in the home long-term. Often, the allure of guaranteed income for many months is enough incentive to come up with a long-term arrangement.

Read the Lease Carefully—Get a Translator if Needed

A lease is a legally-binding document, so it’s important that you read and understand every line. Check for things like who is responsible for maintenance and repairs of the structure and appliances. Or how much notice should be given to terminate the lease early. You don’t want any surprises. If the lease is in a foreign language (often, as in Panama, it’s in the country’s official language by law), don’t be shy about getting someone to translate the document for you.

Review the Property ThoroughlyWhen renting, you should always rigorously document the contents of the home and any existing damage. Rentals that cater to expats tend to be fully-furnished, down to the sheets, plates and silverware, appliances, stereos and TVs…even a shelf full of DVDs. And the owners/property managers are usually sticklers for spotting anything missing or damaged when you leave (and charging you for it). So make sure anything they list as being in the rental really is. And take pictures of any damaged furniture or other items.

Check for Documents You Might Need

In the U.S. landlords often will want to run a credit report on a tenant to determine their financial stability. When you move overseas you have no credit history in that country. So in some places they’ll ask for other documents to help them assess the risk of renting to you, including proof of income (as in France, for instance) or a letter of recommendation from a local (as in Panama). Be sure to ask about the particulars in the country you’re heading to in case you need to bring any documents from home.

Always Negotiate the Price

There’s always a list price. But many owners and property managers are flexible with long-term renters because they have guaranteed income for a certain period. And that means you have some bargaining power. So be sure to ask for a break in the monthly rent before signing a lease. You’d be surprised at how often the landlord agrees. And it’s definitely worth trying if you could get a few hundred bucks off your monthly payment.

As far as the deposit, the standard in most places, including Costa Rica and Panama, is one month’s rent. But in Uruguay, your landlord may ask for three to five month’s rent as guarantee.

Research the Costs beyond Monthly Rent

Remember that your monthly rental payment is only the start. You’ll have one-time expenses like move-in costs; deposits on water, electric, and Internet; and in some countries, like Uruguay and France, commissions due to the real estate agent—usually equivalent to one month’s rent.

Then there are ongoing bills for utilities (the electric could be very high if you live in a hot coastal area), gardener and maid (if it’s not included in your rent payment); and gas for heat and/or the stove if that’s the set up. In some communities and buildings tenants are also on the hook for a monthly fee to help with maintenance and upkeep. Ask the owner or property manager for estimated costs of all these fees and services.

Ask for Extras

Another part of bargaining with landlord is to ask for more services included in your monthly payment. You could get free Internet or cable TV, maid service, landscaping service, free water or electric…even use of a car. There are a lot of possibilities—don’t be afraid to ask.

Check for Cell Phone and Internet Coverage

In today’s digital world, you probably want to stay connected when you move overseas, whether it’s for Skyping with friends and family or working from home. To do that you need a reliable way to get online and/or make calls or surf the web on your mobile phone. Most countries these days offer high-speed Internet and 3G (even 4G) cell networks. But it’s not always available in every region…and there are certainly “dead zones” where signals or cables still don’t reach. So before moving into that incredible house in the jungle—check out the connections.

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