When you move overseas, looking for housing is one of the first big decisions you have to make. Questions you may never have needed to consider in your home country can be very important. Sometimes, you are fortunate enough (or not, in some cases!) to have housing already chosen for you. But when you have to find it on your own, here are some questions to help guide you, keeping in mind that they will need to be tweaked according to your new country, your job/purpose for being there, and your personality/needs.
It is good to remember that some items will probably have to be compromised in order to satisfy issues you consider a higher priority. You may not be able to do anything about some problems endemic to a country or area, but being aware of them ahead of time can help you be proactive, and thus minimize their impact. The answers to quite a few of these questions might be negative, but you will have thought through them and won’t be walking into a situation unprepared. These are written from the perspective/experiences I had as an American to countries in South America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
- If a single-family dwelling (or some flats): Is it secure? Will you need to have a guard? (Do they usually live on the premises?) Is your entry/doorway easily accessible to the street, so that beggars, salesmen, potential thieves, etc., can ring your doorbell or case out the situation? Can people easily see when you are gone or when you are home? Can people reach in through your windows/window bars? Can a maid pass things from your home to an outside person through the windows when you are not looking? Can clothes or furniture be taken off your racks or through the bars from a roof or porch?
- What is the pollution level in the neighborhood (air and noise)? Is construction going on nearby? How will that affect the noise, dust, and ability to get around?
- Is public transportation readily available (i.e., how far are you willing to walk in pouring rain or intense heat, or holding a sleeping baby)? Your spouse may have the car, or your car may be in the shop.
- If you have children, is there a place for them to play? Are nearby parks relatively clean, and is playground equipment dangerous or in disrepair? Are diseased dogs very numerous and lying in the playground area? Is the play area in a place where your foreign presence would draw a crowd? Is there a club with facilities for children, if there are no playgrounds or play areas nearby?
- If a dog as a family pet is important to you, check out the possibilities for exercise and daily needs.
- Is the neighborhood a political hotspot where demonstrations are often carried out or where riots take place during times of political unrest or on strike days? It may be fine to live in this area, but you need to know beforehand whether you should plan to work/play indoors during these times.
- Where is the nearest grocery shop and vegetable market? (Preferably within short walking distance.) Do they have available most of the staples you need daily? Do they deliver?
- Is flooding often a problem during rainy season?
- Is this an area of frequent load shedding or water shortages?
- If possible, talk to people in the neighborhood other than the landlord or real estate agent. It is good to go to the neighborhood without the agent to walk around and get a feel for it; then you can also see exactly where things are located in relation to the rental property. If possible, visit the neighborhood at different times of the day.
While these questions may seem a bit overwhelming at first, especially if you have never had to think about these things, you will eventually take them in stride as simply part of learning to look at your new culture practically.
What have been important considerations where you have lived?
Guest author: Joan Perkins lives in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, with her husband, Bill, and two youngest sons. She spent 25 years living overseas, in Costa Rica, Argentina, Bangladesh, India, and Thailand. Joan graduated with a M.Div. degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and enjoys teaching women. She and Bill have six children, and the first grandbaby is due soon!