How to find affordable accommodation as an expat?

  • housing search
Published on 2023-04-25 at 13:00
Are you moving abroad for work, studies, or any other reason requiring you to start looking for accommodation? Finding an affordable house or apartment can be stressful and more time-consuming than you think. Here is how to get your hand on genuine good deals overseas. 

Insight into the global real estate bubble

The UBS Real Estate Index annual report 2022 analyzed the different property prices in the world's 25 biggest cities after covid-19, which pinpointed an overall 10% rise in those regions. It is the highest rise since 2007. While where accommodation prices accommodation escalated in Paris, Hong Kong and Stockholm, other cities like Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Zurich, Vancouver, Monaco, and Tel Aviv are at risk of a real-estate bubble—no exception for London, where the prices rose by 6%. On the contrary, no price fluctuation for Milan or Dubai was noted. According to UBS, the real estate prices run-up is on the finish line this year. Mexico, Canada, Portugal, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates are currently among the favorite expat destinations. Cities like Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur have lost their attractiveness due to health restrictions related to the Covid pandemic.

Where and how to look for affordable accommodation?

The best strategy is to start looking for a home sometime before departure. This will give you enough hindsight to compare the different options, see the different types of accommodation and choose the most suitable for you. Try to set up a budget for rent, bearing in mind all your other new-life expenses. Note everything down. This will help refine your search, be more efficient in what you are looking for, and determine your budget from the very beginning. Spot the various property websites and create an account to receive relevant and latest deals by mail. Don't forget to personalize your search, including price, location, etc. Try to get in touch with the expat's groups and associations in your host country; they often provide information support like accommodation, administration, etc., to expats. They can also help you reach out to other expats looking for a co-tenant. These groups can be easily found on social media. 

Get a home close to your workplace

If you have just landed a job, get to know your office location and its surroundings. Can you find nearby accommodation that is not too expensive? Make sure that you have access to public transport in your area. Otherwise, you can consider carpooling with your new colleagues. 

However, you will likely have access to bus lines, metros, or railways if you move to a big city. If you want to save money, the best is to live outside city centers, which are generally more expensive than suburban regions, which are also very accessible through public transport. Ask for help from your employer; they may know property owners willing to rent a studio/an apartment, real estate agencies, or even workers looking for a co-tenant.

You can also consider renting a room in someone's house. This solution is very popular amongst Britons. Even if it's the most inexpensive accommodation, we advise that you discuss all the lease agreement conditions with the owner. Does it include access to all the house's facilities, like the kitchen or the bathroom? Maybe you have your own kitchen and bathroom for your privacy? Consider these aspects to refine your search. Websites like Housing Anywhere and Home To Go list such rental offers.

Finding student accommodation 

Moving abroad as an international student offers a wide range of options. There are international student housing platforms and networks like HousingAnywhere, Spot a Home, Uniplaces, Erasmus Play or HostelWorld. Uniplaces and Spot a Home are partners with the Erasmus student network, which allows you to get discounts. Hostelworld is a real estate agency specializing in short-term rent at competitive prices. 

Your institution or university can also help you if you are moving for a student exchange program like Erasmus. Generally, school services in the country of origin and host country share a network of owners willing to rent their studio, apartment, or a room in a house with other co-tenants. They can also give you other contacts of students who are looking to share accommodation. This is a great option to save money. You can check out student housing groups and your university's social media page. 

Another solution is the university residence, which is a favorite in Europe, especially in Belgium, England, France, and Spain, but also in the US and Canada. However, just like the off-campus accommodations, you should book early if you expect low prices. Start to look for a place to stay 6 months before at least. You can also consider renting a room in a house. It is the most preferred accommodation solution for students taking part in an exchange program and their parents. Staying with a local family may be more reassuring for you. 

Types of accommodation and lease agreements

There are more lease agreements than accommodation types. There are various solutions if you are chasing good housing deals as an expat. Consider sharing a house rent and charges with one or several flatmates. You can also stay at someone's house; this practice is known as “couch surfing,” and it's perfect for short-term stays. There are a lot of popular websites like You can also rent a studio or sub-rent a room to save money. This is a popular practice in Canada that allows you to stay in a city without long-term commitments or buying furniture. Nevertheless, you will have to sign an agreement with the owner. Another popular type of accommodation in Canada is the “basement” or “semi-basement”; these are basement accommodations that may be dark even with windows, especially during winter. 

Other types of accommodation are emerging recently, particularly in the USA or Canada, like pet sitting or house sitting. Websites advertise these offers as short-term (days) or long-term (months). Owners often leave their house to someone who will keep it safe or watch over their pets for a limited period. You may find more about this on Housesitters Canada, Trusted Housesitters, or Nomador.  

However, if you are looking for a studio or an apartment, they are usually advertised by real estate agencies, intermediates between the owner and you. It may be simpler and time-saving, but more expensive. In some countries, agency fees are payable by the tenant. Hence, if your goal is to save money, you can deal directly with the owner. You can ask for a local's or translator's support if you don't speak the host country's language well. 

In general, long-term lease offers lower rent costs compared to short-term ones. In big touristic cities, it is not rare that owners rent their accommodation at higher prices during peak seasons. You can favor lease agreements of 2 to 3 years at least, which can be renewed afterwards. If you leave before the termination of the contract, you should inform the owner and observe a prior notice period. If you are a student ot intern, there are various less expensive accommodation options, like in universities' residences or off-campus rooms on the Erasmus network. For shorter stays, you can consider rooms in a guest house or a hostel. 

You may also be asked to pay a security deposit, so include this in your rent budget when signing the lease with the owner; this may also apply to a shared apartment. In addition, pay attention to hidden fees like co-tenancy charges which can rapidly increase the rent. Finally, only sign a lease agreement with a prior visit to the studio or room. If the owner is friendly, meeting him in real life can be an occasion to negotiate a discount on your monthly rent.