Our friend Alissa recalls her rental experiences in Europe.
“There are so many unique and inspired reasons to move abroad. From studying to teaching English to gaining some work experience, I don’t know anyone who regretted their decision to leave American soil for a time. As for me? I’ve lived abroad twice for a combined total of 13 months, once while studying in Ireland and the other while teaching English in a small pueblito in Andalucia, Spain. However, while the lessons I learned during my time abroad overlap, one stay was executed under the guise of an organized program and the other under the expectation that all responsibility rested on me. How much you prepare beforehand vs. how much you can wing should vary accordingly.
If you’re studying abroad through a university program, you’ll likely have two housing options; either you’ll be placed in a residence with fellow Americans or you’ll be placed with local students. Opt for the latter, if you can. They’ll be forced to interact with you, will probably be your best source of insider info, and might even turn into lifetime friends; I know mine did.
In terms of where to live if you’re moving to work, make sure that you’re near public transportation and, if possible, a decent sized airport. This tip will prove quite handy, if you plan on taking weekend trips (and who doesn’t?). Not to dissuade you from living in a smaller town, but do know that it will make spontaneously jetting away for the weekend much harder as you will live and die by the bus schedules.
As for how to find your future abode/flatmates, not to worry. In addition to ads in local newspapers, handmade info-slips advertising rooms for rent litter most internet cafes, bars, and even the occasional street corner.
Another cultural difference to be aware of is that you likely won’t have to sign any sort of written leasing agreement. Rather, it’s customary to give the security deposit to the roommate whose spot you’re taking, which you will then get back when you find someone to replace you when your time to leave comes. What’s also nice for those on-the-go, is that rents are often paid weekly.
What about furniture, you ask? Know that many European rentals, whether student residences of no, come furnished, so there’s no need to concern yourself about where you’ll sleep. Don’t ask how many people have slept in that twin bed before you; instead, find relief in that you won’t have to fork out major funds for temporary digs.
However, before you totally jump for joy at the wonders of the Old World, make sure that you know what energy source your apartment run on. Many Spanish apartments, for instance, especially those in more remote areas, still use gas as their primary form of heating. Ask your landlord if this is the case as well the phone number of the gas company to contact when running low. It’s always a good idea to have an extra barrel handy as, invariably, the gas will run out while you are in the shower, and that is a cold, cold hell to go through.
Especially if you can’t find your slippers and don’t enjoy ice-skating on Spanish tile.
***If you need a place to crash before you find a place, the traditional hostel route works well, but I’d probably recommend trying one of the global hospitality networks. Hospitality Club and Couchsurfing have both worked out for me and my friends and have websites filled to the brim with good Samaritans wanting you to stay with them for free. While you should always be aware of the inherant risks when staying with strangers, if you’re careful and use common sense, they can be a great way to meet new people in a new city and avoid breaking your bank.”