As exciting as moving abroad is, finding an apartment can be a daunting task. Chances are if it’s your first time living away from home, you’ll run into at least one of the following challenges:
- You don’t speak the language or you’re missing key vocabulary.
- You’re unfamiliar with the city.
- Should you live with roommates or on your own?
- You don’t know how much your monthly expenses should be.
- You don’t know what a reasonable price for rent is.
- You’re so anxious about living abroad that you panic and settle for a less than ideal apartment.
Personally, I struggled with all of the above except for the point about roommates (I went with a friend). Even though I spoke pretty good Spanish, I found myself scratching my head and giving roundabout explanations to landlords because I simply lacked the proper vocabulary (what the heck is a bomba de calor, anyway? I still don’t know.) I had never been to Granada so I hadn’t the faintest idea as to the layout of the city or its hotspots for students. And I didn’t find the answers to how much I would actually be paying each month until we got our first utility bills. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I feel like I settled for an apartment that wasn’t as great as it initially seemed because I was naïve and nervous.
Learn from my mistakes. Finding an apartment that meets your needs doesn’t have to be stressful as long as you do your research. While the links in this post are specific to Spain, the tips I offer are applicable to a range of locations.
The Dos and Don’ts of Apartment Hunting in Spain
- Brush up on some key vocabulary. Chances are they never taught you apartment jargon or gave you rental agreements as readings in high school Spanish class. Before you go apartment hunting, check out some ads online and look up the translation of unfamiliar words. Come up with some questions you might have for a potential landlord and practice saying them.
- Study a map of your town. If you’re a student, find out where your campus is. Decide whether you’d like to live in the centre where the action (and noise) is, or if you’d prefer something quieter and more suburban. Don’t forget to check the lay of the land; you may regret walking 20 minutes uphill every single day, multiple times a day, in forty-degree heat or pouring rain. Take a look at which areas are well-connected by public transit if you’re in a bigger city.
- Consider living with roommates to cut down on costs. If you’re a student and not working, you probably want to live with someone to save money. Living with roommates who don’t speak your native language is also one of the best ways to learn Spanish very quickly and efficiently! If you’d rather not share, you can try looking for student residences which may be cheaper than living in a one-bedroom or studio apartment.
- Research living expenses and rental costs. Anyone who knows me knows I love to plan well in advance. Months before leaving for Granada, I was looking into how much rent, utilities, and food would set me back. Sites like Idealista, Fotocasa, Milanuncios, and Enalquiler gave me a pretty good idea of rental costs. Utility prices were another story. Many listings don’t include utilities, so costs will vary greatly depending on the setup of your apartment. Electricity in Spain is very expensive compared to the rest of Europe, so try to find someplace that uses primarily gas. Our current electrical bill is 60€/month for a one-bedroom with all of our appliances being electric and without turning on the heating. Some of our friends say this is outrageous (theirs is half that) and others say it’s totally normal. Water, on the other hand, is very cheap and shouldn’t come out to more than about 30€ every two months. Food, on the whole, is cheaper than in Canada, especially produce, though prices will vary depending on location. Chelsea of Andalucía Bound has a pretty accurate post about monthly expenses in Andalucía. A quick Google search should give you an idea about the costs of living in your region.
- Take a walk around town in search of apartments. You’ll probably see lots of “SE ALQUILA” signs around town. Don’t hesitate to call, as many landlords don’t list their places online.
- Trust your instincts. Our friends found a two-bedroom, fully-furnished, renovated place in Málaga right on the beach for something like 350€. Sound too good to be true? It was. Turns out that same apartment was also listed in Barcelona, Granada, and Madrid.
- Check the apartment over thoroughly before signing anything. Once you’ve picked potential apartments, go check them out to make sure they look like the photos and that everything works as it should.
- Sign a contract without understanding it. You can’t blindly check “I have read and agree to the terms and conditions” on this one, sorry. Take your time and bring along a native speaker friend if you’re not confident in your language skills.
- Be afraid to say ask questions… even if you’re embarrassed by your Spanish level. Make a list of questions and ask every single one of them.
Does the piso have heating/ A/C? What kind? Can you please explain to me what the hell a bomba de calor is?!
Are the windows double-paned?
Is water cheaper if we use it during the evening hours, or is the price consistent throughout the day?
Are pets allowed?
Can we have people stay with us as we please? (If the answer is “no,” run.)
- Pay for ANYTHING until you’ve seen it in person. I don’t care how perfect it is. Don’t do this. Ever.
- Settle unless absolutely necessary. Let me be honest with you. If you’re on a budget, you’re probably not going to find the perfect apartment in Spain. The apartments here won’t resemble what you’re used to if you haven’t lived in Europe before. Perfection may be too much to ask, but you’re going to want a place that you’re happy to call home because, well, you’re going to be spending a lot of time there. Make a list of REQUIREMENTS and another of BONUSES. Look for a place that meets all your requirements first. If it includes a bonus and is within your price range, fantastic. One of my requirements my first time living in Granada was an apartment in the city centre. That didn’t happen. I settled on a recently renovated place in a beautiful part of town because I was nervous that we wouldn’t find a better one by the time our hotel stay was up. The apartment ended up being miles away from my friends, campus, the best tapas bars, and just about anything else going on in the city. There wasn’t even a decent grocery store within a 10-minute walk. The distance made me feel separated and lonely, and by the end of my stay I vowed that if I were ever to live in Granada again, it would be in the centre — no room for negotiation. Yes, finding a place to live is challenging and scary, but you can’t let that get in the way of your comfort.
From what relatively little I’ve seen of the world so far, I’d say Spain is among the greatest places to live, especially for a short time. Once you get past the bureaucracy and learn to live slower, you’re bound to fall in love with the country. So have patience, take a deep breath, and go find yourself a home!
Have you lived in Spain or elsewhere in Europe before? Did you have trouble finding an apartment? Are you moving abroad in the near future and totally freaking out about it? Leave me a comment below and tell me about your experience!
And if you’re Canadian and preparing to study in Spain, check out my guide to applying for a student visa!