One of the most daunting things about international relocation is choosing an expat home and neighborhood. You may know very little about the place you’re moving to and have very few people to ask for advice. At the same time, you don’t want to get it wrong. You know you’ll likely be locked into a contract for two years.
It’s even more important to get it right when you have kids. Moving to a new place is tough enough. You want to minimise disruption and find a place that feels like home.
It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and pressurized into making a decision quickly. Before you do – stop! Breathe… Here are the steps to finding the perfect expat home.
Make a decision NOT to make a decision
Let’s take the pressure off straight away by saying, you do not need to have chosen your house before you move.
You might not like the idea of putting your belongings in storage. It might be nice to move straight into your new home so you don’t have to move again.
True and true.
But living out of a suitcase for a short time is better than locking yourself into a 2-year contract in the wrong house.
Moving into temporary accommodation on arrival will enable you to look around your new expat home properly, find out which area you would like to live in and work out where work colleagues and your kids’ school friends live.
So when you do your initial search, take the pressure off by telling yourself you are on a fact-finding mission. This is the start of your house-hunting journey and finding the right place would be a bonus but is not necessary.
Research and plan
It’s very important to prepare thoroughly for your search. And that doesn’t mean scrolling through online real estate sites imagining where your sofa will go.
This is one occasion when local knowledge is key. So if you have a relocation expert, let them earn their money as they will know the landlords and the system. If you don’t, get as much advice from people on the ground as you can, either from work colleagues or from local expat forums. Rest assured, expats will remember being new and will be happy to help.
Read as much as you can about different neighborhoods so you are armed with knowledge before you start your search.
Keep an open mind. Don’t just try to recreate what you have at home. Life might be different in your new country. You might have more help at home. Maybe you’ll choose to live in a condo rather than a house. Perhaps you’ll be reliant on public transport rather than driving everywhere.
You might find that some of the things you would consider to be home-hunting deal-breakers in your current country are different in your new home.
Before you start looking at areas, think through with your family exactly what is important to you. If you are using a Relocation Specialist, give them a detailed brief before you meet them.
Here are some things to consider when writing your brief.
Consider your commute
If you know where you and/or your partner will be working, this is a good place to begin. How will you get to work? Will you have a car, or will you be dependent on public transport?
If you are planning to rely on public transport, consider how far you are willing to walk to the station and how hot it will be. A 15-minute walk to the train might be pleasant in Europe, but maybe not in a hot country. You don’t want to arrive at work looking like you just had a shower.
If you know where your kids will go to school, their journey is also an important consideration. Many schools offer a door-to-door bus service. As you might not know how heavy the traffic is in your new location, check with the school’s transport office how long the journey will take from different areas, and what time pickups are.
Also, check if the school offer later bus services for sports and after-school clubs. It’s also a good idea to check if you have to pay extra for this service and if it’s door-to-door. Some schools offer limited bus services after clubs and they might not drop off near your home.
If you’d like your children to live near their new friends, ask the school admissions staff if there are any key locations. At some schools, families tend to live near each other and your kids might feel like they’re missing out if they can’t meet their friends easily.
What sort of environment suits you?
One of the tricky things about home-hunting is keeping in mind the things you know to be important to your family while keeping your mind open to new possibilities.
Before you start to look at areas, have a big think about the sort of environments that suit you best. Are there things you are not willing to compromise on?
Do you have teenagers who need to be able to come and go on the bus easily? Is it really important to you to be near shops, restaurants, open spaces? Are you willing to compromise on convenience because you’d prefer to live somewhere peaceful? Do you need to be able to walk a dog straight from home without getting in a car? Do you want a running route close to home?
If you are the sort of person who likes to be near people, live wherever those people might be (for example, if you have school-age kids, try to live near the school community) even if that means compromising on the type of accommodation you choose. The big house with the garden might look nice, but if you’re a long way from potential friends, it might be a bit lonely.
Also think about the local facilities, traffic, safety, public transport. Try to visit the area at different times of day to see how busy it is.
This might be an opportunity to try something new, especially if you’re on a rental contract which is not such a big commitment as buying. Maybe an apartment with no garden to maintain would be nice and easy for a couple of years?
Your expat home
Once you have thought about the most important things about the area you plan to live in, take some time to think about your home itself.
Landed Property or Condo?
Many expats opt to live in apartments even if they are used to having a house at home. While landed properties generally offer more space and a private garden you might be more restricted about the area you can live in, especially if you’re on a budget.
Bear in mind, you will also be responsible for the garden. If you are moving to a hot climate you will also have to take care of your own pest control. If you need aircon check the age of the house too, as older properties might have less efficient systems.
Remember, many condos often offer shared facilities such as swimming pools, gyms and tennis courts, concierge services, security and pest control. Some also offer shuttle services to local transport hubs. If you’re new to a place, it can be easier to meet people and make friends in condos too.
Finally, have a think about the space you need inside your expat home. How many bedrooms do you need? How much storage? Are you likely to have live-in help? If so, they will need space of their own. Is it really important to you not be overlooked? Do you need outside space? Will a balcony do, or do you need a garden? What sort of appliances do you need in the kitchen? Do you need ceiling fans as well as air-conditioning? (If you’re moving to a hot country, the answer is yes!)
Be wary about safety standards, as these might not be what you are used to at home. And if you’re in a warm climate, be sure to ask about pest control.
Searching for your expat home
So now you know what you are looking for in terms of area, facilities, transport links etc you can create a detailed brief for your Relocation Specialist.
When you’re on your search remember to bear in mind the things that are most important to you, that you are not willing to compromise on. At the same time keep an open mind. Your life might be different here so it might be possible to try living in a different sort of area or property.
Don’t get distracted by the emotive language used by the people showing you around. Try to ignore the “feel” of the house and the furniture. Imagine instead what your furniture would look like and how the space might work for your family.
Do not feel pressured into making a decision. Find out what Plan B is in case you can’t find a home. Many expat locations have excellent service apartments and many people start their time in a new country this way.
As daunting as this process is, choosing where to live is also an amazing opportunity. Before you know it, you’ll be settled into your expat home.
Enjoy your fresh start!