Getting ripped off sucks.
Having traveled for the better part of the last four years, it’s happened plenty of times. There was the time I got pickpocketed in Thailand, or the time our taxi driver drove off with Di’s phone during a weekend in Bogota and never returned.
But the worst of them all was getting ripped off by our American landlord in Colombia (for around $700 if you’re wondering). However horrible he is, though, I still feel like this situation was essentially our fault.
If you follow some of these simple tips to rent an apartment in a foreign country, you can avoid that experience.
When You Rent an Apartment in a Foreign Country, Stay on AirBnB
You want the best deal possible when you’re traveling, and looking to rent an apartment in a foreign country is no different. I get it. Although Airbnb apartments are generally overpriced, the service provides you with a lot of protection that you don’t get if you decide to track down an apartment once you’re in the city.
For example, we had an apartment through AirBnb for our first month in Colombia. Despite the guy’s good reviews, the apartment ended up being a disappointment in several ways. The location wasn’t great, the quality of the apartment wasn’t great, and there were cockroaches.
Upon leaving, the owner of the apartment had a complete meltdown after a small dispute about how many of the Cokes we drank from his fridge. During his existential crisis, he made several outlandish claims and told us that white people weren’t welcome in his country (despite being an immigrant from Colombia to America himself).
Luckily, Airbnb helped us out with the problem. They removed his asinine review from our profile and allowed our review to remain on his profile. In short, that situation probably wouldn’t have been resolved as easily otherwise.
Which takes us to our next mistake.
When we went to rent our next apartment in the country, we decided that we were going to save some money and get a better deal on a nicer apartment. We found a fellow American, paid a hefty deposit, and moved into an apartment that wasn’t furnished nearly to what he said it would be.
Needless to say, the experience was suboptimal. We never saw that deposit money again, and we later found out that our landlord was doing this to several other people who rented from him as well.
From now on, we’ll stay on Airbnb and pay a bit more to save money in the long run.
If You Go Off of Airbnb…
With that said, I don’t expect that everyone will want to rent an apartment in a foreign country through Airbnb. Sometimes you’re short on money, staying long-term, or just want something a little bit nicer. While you can’t ever be sure of who you can trust in a foreign country, there are a few different things that you can do to minimize your risk.
1. Avoid Paying a Deposit at All Costs
Although many apartment owners will say that they require you to pay a deposit on the apartment, there are also several owners who are desperate to rent their place out. Find them, and rent from them.
Our landlord promised us several times that he was going to return our deposit to us in cash. He even set up a day and time to meet with us to review the apartment. However, when that day came, he was nowhere to be found.
When it comes down to it, and your visa is about to run out, there’s essentially nothing you can do to recover your money when you rent an apartment in a foreign country if the landlord isn’t paying it out.
2. Research, Research, Research
Going back to our Colombia example, we thought that we were renting from a legitimate company from the United States. Only later on did I find the review on the Better Business Bureau website from a guy saying that our landlord had essentially stolen $23,000 from him.
What’s more is that, when I filed my own claim with the BBB, they emailed me back saying that the company couldn’t even be located in the United States. They lied to us (and on their Facebook page) about having a company in the US. We could have avoided falling for the scam if only we had done this research before we signed the lease.
3. Join Expat Groups
One of the best resources that we’ve found while traveling in the past year is expat Facebook groups. No matter where you’re traveling in the world, there are always several Facebook groups for expats in the city. Sometimes it’s classifieds, sometimes it’s apartments, and sometimes it’s just general discussion.
Once you find a group, you can ask people anything that you need to know about renting an apartment (what it should cost, the quality of the neighborhood, etc). People are generally very helpful in the groups, and someone can likely point you to a reputable company that doesn’t rip people off. Definitely seek them out and join a few before you rent an apartment in a foreign country.
Although we’ve had a few unfortunate experiences with our apartment rentals in the past year, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is out to rip you off. However, in foreign countries, it’s more common than you may think.
Be wary of the landlords, no matter how legitimate they may seem at first. Do your research before you rent an apartment in a foreign country. As long as you do your due diligence and are as careful as possible, you’ll be fine.
This is part five in a six-part Digital Nomad Series. Read the rest below!
How to Rent an Apartment in a Foreign Country [Part 5 – you are here]
7 Harsh Truths About Long Term Travel [Part 6 – read me next!]