So you’re making a jump into a new country and city, where you’ll be making a new life for yourself. You’ll be experiencing vast change and a huge number of cultural differences. It’s important that you find a home that will give you a certain degree of comfort. Where you’re willing to live and how you want to go about finding a home does depend on your purpose, age, and personality of course. But here are some basic steps everyone, from someone moving halfway across the world to someone just going to the next city over, can take.
Find Something When You Get There
So this step does depend on what you’ve packed. If you’ve got manageable luggage then you can easily just wander your new city until you find suitable long term accommodation. You’ll get a bit of a rush from this spontaneity too. There’s a lot of pluses to this point, because you can check out the rooms in person and see if the ambience fits you. More importantly, you can experience different parts of town and see which one you like the most. Since this new place is going to be your home, it’d probably be better to not make a choice through pictures and impersonal emails.
Initial Short Term Accommodation
Try and book something short term somewhere near your place of arrival though. When you do, you’ll be able to put your feet up after what was likely an uncomfortable journey next to a screaming child. There’s a number of ways to go about this step: once again though, Google provides excellent service. Google Maps your area and type in “hotel” or “hostel”. Call them if they don’t list their prices (Skype is a good way to make international calls at 2 cents/minute). Then book that place at least for one night so you can drop off your bags and find more suitable long term accommodation.
For this initial short term stay, hostels are great for everyone: they’re cheap, clean, and cozy. You’ll find all sorts at hostels. If you’re not interested with all that shared space nonsense, you can still get a cheap single in a hostel. So don’t count these places out, even if you’re middle aged. On the other hand, there is a real stigma about age and hostels, so the older you are the more unfair sidelong glances.
Now Wander About
Go to your new workplace in your initial wanderings. Figure out how you will commute. Will you walk, drive, or cycle? What’s traffic like in the mornings? Wake up one weekday around traditional rush hour time and observe traffic. Even if you’ve got a car, a daily morning and afternoon commute through bumper to bumper traffic could make you reconsider how far away you’re willing to live. On the other hand, if you’re working in the city and you want to live nearby to cut out the commute, you’ll probably end up paying more.
But if you’re willing to be a bit adventurous and thrifty, and you’re on a budget, then look for a place that looks like it hasn’t been renovated since the seventies. If you don’t know what this looks like, watch The Shining and try to find something similar (on a smaller scale and hopefully without blood flowing down hallways). Some basic things to keep in mind, in case it’s your first go around: if you’re walking up a hill then expect costs to rise with the elevation. Even if it’s just a slight incline, the upper classes flock to that kind of geography, presumably to relegate the burden of looking down on others. River fronts and places with even slightly good views are also, predictably, more expensive. Pay attention to the graffiti too: the more colorful and wild, the less potential presence of authorities and The State, which can be a good or bad thing, but it will also indicate generally cheap housing. Signs on a main road pointing to a side street is a form of marketing that’ll indicate higher costs: the higher the sign up a post, the more expensive the place is going to be. Look for potholes in the roads, cracks in the sidewalk and other signs of abandonment by the local government to get an idea of prices too. The younger the people walking the streets, the cheaper it’ll be too. The more ties you see, the worse off you’ll be.
If you’re affluent, then go on your way to the swanky parts of town, which will be near the city center and extremely well developed and clean.
Find Something Before You Get There
At the same time, if you’ve got a family in tow or a small animal, you’re going to want to find a home as quick as possible and you might not have the time to look for all these things. So in this case, do use the wonders of the Internet to experience your new city vicariously. Google Maps will let you scope out the place fairly well, and street view can give you a sense of the area too. There’s a wealth of information online about every city: google the names of neighborhoods, check out city-data.com for demographic information, numbeo.com will also help you. Then haunt craigslist.com or airbnb.com for appropriate housing, check local papers classifieds, google the words “your city + houses (or apartments”, and you’ll find something quick. You might consider going in on a roommate so that you can get through living costs and get a nicer place too. Cheap places also don’t tend to have a substantial web presence either. But don’t commit to anything online. Like I said earlier, you need to experience this place in person to try and picture yourself in it.
Couchsurfing is cool and I’ve heard good things about it. If you know any friends who are part of the couch surfing community, ask them to vouch for you and clarify that you’re not a murderer. When you couch surf, note that your host is really kind to offer you their home. Don’t ignore them, and, if you can, get them a gift or do them a small kindness like cooking dinner one night. Also, you should make sure to give back at some point and let others experience your couch.
You could also find a house to housesit. In this case, you’d just go to another country and take care of someone’s home. housecarers.com lists people looking for a reliable person to look after their house, keep their lawn pretty, and maintain the appearance of “Occupied”. You may have to pay bills and have other responsibilities, like walking dogs, but other than that this move could cut down on costs and save you a lot of hassle. On the other hand, it can also be a bit volatile unless you find someone willing to let you housesit for a silly amount of time.
Have you seen that romcom The Holiday with Kate Winslet and Jack Black? Me neither. But you know how Kate switches homes with Cameron Diaz and a whole host of shenanigans take place? Well that’s what you can do! Instead of selling your home and giving up on life in your part of the world, find a way to do a home exchange. Someone in your new country is probably looking to switch homes with you, for a job or just new scenery. So switch homes and go off somewhere else as quick as you can.
Ultimately though, I think that planning these things out, beyond some immediate accommodation upon arrival to take the stress off travel, can take the fun out of experiencing a new country. Wander about those first days and make a spectacle of yourself. You’ll get something out of that you won’t forget.