How to find the perfect apartment rental abroad  

Hello from our Airbnb apartment in the Algarve! At the start of 2020, we never thought we’d end up back in Portugal but this year has thrown everybody some curve balls. Right now, we’re just happy to be away from the UK Covid winter and able to afford a short-term apartment which has everything we need to work in. So, how did we find it? Here are our top tips on landing a great apartment rental abroad.

Armacao de Pera beach, Portugal

Our apartment rental abroad experiences

We’ve been travelling and living abroad on and off now since 2013 and we’ve stayed in just about all kinds of accommodation imaginable. Picture everything from luxury pool apartments and sponsored stays at lavish hotels to 12-person dorm rooms, bed-bug ridden guesthouses and $2 tea houses in the Himalayas.

Over the water villa at Diyabubula, Sri Lanka

As work has become entwined with travel, these days we usually rent apartments. We used real estate agencies to find us up to ten-month apartment contracts while teaching in Hanoi and working as digital nomads in Chiang Mai. However, it’s frequently Airbnb that we turn to for shorter visits as well as month-long stays in places like Split, Prague, and Medellin.

Living Room of our Hide Apartment in Vale do Lobo, Algarve

Where to find your apartment

All this experience means we’ve gotten pretty good at choosing the perfect apartment rental abroad, starting with where to look. Moving abroad for an extended period? Then it’s probably best to contact local estate agencies or search Facebook groups to find the best apartment deals. That’s exactly what we did in Vietnam and Thailand. If you’re staying for a few weeks, I’d recommend a holiday booking platform.

Our Medellin Apartment

Except for using a company called Latin Hosts when we were in South America, we exclusively use Airbnb when booking apartments abroad. We find it’s the cheapest option for short stays in more expensive destinations like the USA but it also gives us huge discounts on weekly or monthly bookings. We saved around £400 with a monthly discount on the apartment we’re in right now.

Our Apartment in the Trio Condominium in Chiang Mai

Yes, we’ve had good, bad and ugly experiences with Airbnb properties but most of our stays have been great. When they haven’t been, such as the time our Philadelphia room had bedbugs, Airbnb have helped us get refunds and find somewhere else to stay. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, you can get money off your first booking with our discount code.

What to look for in an apartment

I know everyone’s specific needs and budgets vary, so start by making a list of what’s important to you and look for places that tick those boxes. Here’s what we prioritise:

  • Budget – our budget varies depending on our current savings and work situation, plus where we are in the world. Generally, we’ll outline a per-night budget and set the search filter accordingly. Remember to factor in any service and cleaning fees, as these can really add up.
  • Photos – it’s easy to narrow down your search results by flipping through photos first. We know immediately whether we like the look of somewhere and shortlist apartments that look nice.
  • Reviews – we look at each property’s overall star rating and read all their reviews before booking. Red flags for us are noise issues, ropey wifi, cold rooms that don’t get any sun, poor host communication and any mention of bedbugs.
  • Location – if we’re staying somewhere for just a few days, we’ll usually pay a bit extra for a central location so we don’t waste time getting to key attractions. However, for month-long stays, we’ll often book somewhere cheaper on the outskirts of a city as we have plenty of time to travel in and out.
  • Kitchen – as vegans who try to live frugally, having a kitchen wherever we are in the world is essential. At the bare minimum we look for somewhere with a hob but prefer an oven and ample work surfaces. As we’re currently working with a company to build our UK Tiny House, we’ve been looking into new kitchen costs and installation a lot lately, it’s one of the most important aspects of our lifestyle.
  • Work space – since we work online, we need a comfortable table and chairs. If Andrew is teaching online, we’ll also look for somewhere that has separate rooms or spaces we can work in without disturbing each other.
  • Wifi – we need fast wifi for work, to stream our favourite TV shows and Skype friends and family in the UK. We’ll check property reviews to see if anyone mentions how fast and reliable the wifi is and often message hosts to ask for specific upload and download speeds.
  • Facilities – depending on the destination’s climate, we always make sure there’s appropriate heating or air conditioning in the apartment. Extra facilities we like to have (but aren’t essential) include a washing machine, Netflix and pool.
  • Transport links – if we’re renting a car, we make sure there’s safe parking and prefer somewhere with its own garage. Otherwise, we search for apartments with good transport links, located near bus stops or train stations.
  • Natural light – we go for apartments with plenty of natural light and if it’s a warm destination, a balcony or outdoor space.

Finally, allow plenty of time to search for your apartment. We often spend hours perusing Airbnb results, playing with the search functions and building wish lists before we book anything. Remember to keep a record of your conversations with the host (this is automatically done if you message through a platform like Airbnb) in case there are any problems.

Do you have any tips on booking an apartment abroad?

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2 Comments
  • Rhonda
    Posted at 20:39h, 16 December Reply

    Well, I am SO jealous you’re on the Algarve as I sit here on a rainy, dreary day on the Oregon coast. How long will you be there? Are you currently getting good writing gigs? Hope you are both well and have a very Merry holiday season!

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:52h, 24 December Reply

      Hi Rhonda, happy holidays! We’re here until the end of January at the moment, still working out plans for after that. Yes, I’m managing to get some writing gigs, just getting by at the moment really and Andrew is teaching remotely from January. Hope you guys are well over in Oregon – what are your plans for 2021? x

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