When I first started looking for an ideal destination for my first stop on the “slow travel” world tour, many cities popped up on the list. Ambergris Caye, Belize, was an early front-runner. English is spoken there, and the beaches are gorgeous. A perfect combo.
I’d already been to Antigua Guatemala and had fallen in love with it. I mean, look at the picture below. Wouldn’t you also?
Antigua Guatemala’s gorgeous backdrop
Fast forward to today, and I’m pretty happy with the decision. Antigua Guatemala is a great jumping off point for attractive destinations throughout Guatemala. Stick with this site long enough, and I’ll show you what I mean.
One of the first hurdles I needed to clear was finding a place to stay. I did the first thing a digital nomad would do. I googled.
Eventually, I found a place that so far I’m satisfied with. These are the lessons I learned about moving overseas as a first-time expat:
Avoid Renting in Antigua Guatemala at “Gringo” or Expat Prices
Some websites online will cater to expats and charge a premium, even when the same rental property advertises for less elsewhere. I routinely came across properties that were listed for much, MUCH more on websites aimed at English-speaking readers than what they were listed in the local classifieds.
To avoid being gouged, try two simple strategies when renting in Antigua Guatemala:
1) As I mentioned, search Guatemala online classifieds. The drawback will naturally be that they will often be in the native language, though not always. Fortunately, rental descriptions are pretty easy to figure out (number of bedrooms, bathrooms, neighborhood, and utilities –if any– included).
2) The best investment you can make, money-wise, is to learn the local language. If you or a friend (local or expat) speaks the local language, you’re less likely to be charged a premium if you let them inquire about the property first. You or they may even be able to bargain the price down if you don’t sound like a foreigner. Foreigners are usually thought to be loaded with money.
3) Not all rental agencies – or even real estate agents – are created equally. Because there’s no regulating body for rental agents in Guatemala, anyone can jump into the market and fish for tenants. Marketing agreements are nonexistent, so the same property can be advertised by multiple agencies, with often substantial differences.
Since agents draw their salary from commissions (usually the first month’s rent if a tenant signs a one-year contract), they’re likely working against your interests, looking to get you into the highest-priced property they can.
Don’t rely on their word that the rental price quoted is the lowest price possible the owner will agree to, or that there aren’t any cheaper properties on the market.
It’s Worth Paying a Little Extra if Utilities Are Already Included
Utilities may be hard to hook up if not already in place. I learned this the hard way when I moved into the property I’m at today.
I rented a property with the understanding that hooking up Internet service would not be problematic. I won’t rehash the details, you can read that here, but it wasn’t as easy as was portrayed by the people I rented from.
Keep in mind that to obtain service, you will sometimes need to show proof that you’ll be renting the property for a while. Often you won’t be able to get service at all if you’re a foreigner, for lack of a required document or local bank account.
Save yourself a headache and get as many utilities included in the rental price as possible.
Don’t Rush Into Renting Without Getting a Lay of the Land
At first, it all will seem exciting and new. You’ll want to be in the middle of everything, which is fine IF you’re on a short vacation.
Once you live in the place for an extended time, you may start gaining a new level of appreciation for peace. The crush of tourists usually gets annoying when you cease being a tourist. That cool, happening bar half-a-block away will drive you insane a month later when you need to catch up on some sleep.
Also, desirable locations tend to be much higher priced than cheaper neighborhoods a mile or two from the center of the action. But discovering those rental property gems that combine affordability with accessibility and safety will take a bit of time.
What do I recommend?
Stay for a month in a hostel or hotel that offers monthly rental rates. Not many hotels advertise monthly rates, though some do. You can also try AirBnB.
It never hurts to ask the hotel owner what sort of deal they will make with you. Sometimes you’ll even get daily breakfast thrown into the deal.
Try to bring the rate down by requesting maid service only once or twice a week instead of daily visits. They’ll be very much open to hearing your proposal, especially if it’s the off-season.
Your Rental Deposit May Not Always Be Refundable
In the US, it is often customary to get your deposit back if you leave the rental property in good shape. Understand ahead of time that depending on the country, your deposit may be as good as gone, and you may not see a dime once you move out of the property.
For that reason, be suspicious of owners asking for more than one month’s deposit, or any other exorbitant sum. Be prepared never to see your deposit again, be super grateful if you do get it all back.
Be Wary of Rental Contracts You Don’t Understand
Don’t enter solely into a verbal agreement. Obtain proof, in writing, that you are the occupant of the property, for the length and rate agreed. Having legal backing will protect you in the case the owner decides to raise the rent midway through your stay.
It will also protect you if someone else claims they want to sell the property and need you to move out. By law, they won’t be able to do anything until your lease runs out, provided that you are paying on time and have receipts showing so.
Keep in mind that the contract will likely be in the local language, so bring along someone that knows the language and can translate it for you, if necessary. Also know that in some countries, like Guatemala, a contract written in English is not valid legally, therefore unenforceable and useless.
Hopefully, these tips save you from making an expensive mistake and help you avoid an unpleasant experience overseas.
What has been your experience when renting abroad?
I’d love to hear your comments!