How to find your new home overseas

In Expat Life, Preparation & Planning by Carole Hallett Mobbs4 Comments

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Choosing the right neighbourhood abroad

It’s not just about choosing the right house, it’s about choosing the right area.
In your home town, it’s relatively easy to identify the areas you’d rather avoid when you’re planning to move house. You can ask people, you can drive around and look at the upkeep of properties and gardens, you can search for clues on social media and join local community groups. It’s an important decision and one we all take seriously because there are so many factors to consider – getting the right blend of neighbours, being close to the right schools and nurseries, being on a good transport route, being close to employment opportunities…

Personal motivations vary from household to household but the trend remains the same, it’s not just about choosing the right house, it’s about choosing the right area. So how on earth do you go about making that important decision when you’re moving abroad and you have limited local knowledge?

Make a list…

Yes, we do like a good list! This is always a sensible starting point for major decisions and in this list, you need to include all the factors that are important to you, in order of priority. It may for example look like this:

  1. Proximity to school
  2. Decent transport links
  3. Suburban rather than city centre
  4. Good local facilities
  5. Friendly local tone

Or it might look like this:

  1. Close to work
  2. Lots of green space
  3. Expat-inhabited area
  4. Near tennis courts…

And this illustrates just how everyone’s list of priorities will be very different. Once you have your list you can start doing some research and whilst that may feel difficult because you’re so far away, the good news is there are more sources of local information than you think.

Look-See visit

Don’t limit your search to the one area you already know of; get out there and see what’s around.
Before you go on an initial visit you will already have thought about schools, nurseries, jobs etc and your look-see visit will be mostly dedicated to making your final choices. Don’t underestimate the value of giving yourself a day to just travel around the local area though. Visit shops, libraries and leisure facilities, pop into doctor’s surgeries, talk to local people and use local transport links to get from area to area. Set aside one whole day and don’t limit your search to the one area you already know of; get out there and see what’s around.

You learn the most from first-hand experiences and if you are able to make a visit like this work the chances are you’ll get a good feel for where you’d like to live by the end of your day. For some though, it’s just not possible to accommodate this sort of visit, so what else can you do?

Google it!

Take, for example, Prague. Type in ‘neighbourhoods in Prague’ and you get ten or more hits giving you a text tour of the best, and worse, places to visit and live. Then you can choose an area close to your school, job etc. and hit up Google Earth for a more visual tour. It’s not quite the same as a personal visit but you get to see local facilities, restaurants, roads and houses and it’s a good starting point. For example, Kavalirka in Prague looked like a good choice as it has great swimming and leisure facilities for the children – but the first thing that came up on a Google Earth search was a Deluxe Sex Shop! Not quite ready for awkward questions yet? Move on and try the next area.

Ask people

The best way to get honest information is to ask direct questions.
We assume this is going to be difficult because we’re not there, but it’s easier than you think. If you’ve already chosen a school, then the administrator will be a mine of useful information and will usually be more than happy to help you with local knowledge. You can look for social media groups too – other expats, or even holiday makers may have personal experiences they’re willing to share, the local leisure facilities might have a Facebook page and there may even be home/school social media links so you can start to connect with other parents. Ask for help. The best way to get honest information is to ask direct questions; everyone likes a good gossip and if you’re willing to listen you will always find people who are willing to talk.

Travel agents

Get talking to travel agents; they always have the most up to date information on local facilities and amenities for holiday makers and this information is useful to you too. Pose as a tourist if you have to (don’t forget they want to make a sale!) and find out everything they know about the areas you’re already interested in. Pick up lots of brochures too – yes, they’re aimed at holiday makers but they’ll still have a wealth of information about the area and lots of photos.

Be flexible

Move into something temporarily and look for a better option once you arrive.
One thing that everyone discovers is that it’s almost impossible to find your perfect home in the perfect neighbourhood right away. You don’t get the feel of a place until you have lived there a while. It’s a catch 22 situation! Don’t despair if you can’t find an area that matches all your criteria straight away – or if you just can’t find out whether it’s friendly or not. If push comes to shove you can make a choice based on your first couple or priorities (schools and transport), move into something temporarily and look for a better option once you arrive. Consider something like a short term rental, AirBnB or house-sitting while you work out the lay of the land. As long as you are safe, have a roof over your head and can get to school and work, everything else can be adjusted and perfected as you go. If you’re prepared to live out of boxes for a while, then you can take your time with some detailed local research.

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  1. Hello,

    My husband and I are getting stationed at Camp Humphreys in Korea and I’m not sure how to go about finding a house close to base. We need 3 bedrooms 3 bath max. And we have 2 dogs. If you could help me that would be great. Thank you in advance.

  2. Great advice. Do watch out for advice though as some people cannot see beyond their own needs. When we moved to Borneo people were almost insulted that we chose to live in town as opposed to the ‘main’ expat compound but it suited our priorities at the time. Others do their best to give a balanced view ie location x perfect for a, b, c, y ideal for d, e, f. I try to make sure I fall in the latter.

    1. Author

      I completely agree! I always advocate being aware of other people’s opinions, everyone is so different. Just wish I had the opportunity to choose my own home. One day!

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