Destinations Magazine

Rent Or Buy Abroad: What Do You Do?

By Russellvjward @russellvjward

Speaking to a number of expats on my cross-Canada trip last month, I realised that not only did they all have expat life in common but each one of them rents the houses and apartments they live in.
Not exactly the kind of news that stops you dead in your tracks but it did make me reflect on my own renting and house buying experiences while living abroad.
Why is it that I always purchase property wherever I live instead of renting and does this make me the exception rather than the norm?

Rent or Buy Abroad: What Do You Do?

To rent or to buy? That is the question.  Photo credit: Jennifer (Flickr Creative Commons)

The exception not the norm
We always knew our time in Vancouver, Canada would be short-term so we chose to rent. I was a graduate student and we were somewhat transient as a result. It therefore made sense to keep our overheads low and we never felt the need to put down firm roots.
Once we moved to Ottawa, we had steady incomes and were set to remain there for at a number of years. We purchased our first 'international' home in a downtown suburb of Ottawa and joined the vast ranks of Canadian homeowners. We were embraced by neighbours and friends, and we, in turn, embraced local life.
In Sydney, we rented for the first two years and neither of us were particularly happy. We switched from shabby house to basement apartment and mourned the loss of our downtown Ottawa home. At the first opportunity, we purchased property - a small house in a Northern Beaches suburb - and we've remained in it until the present day. We wouldn't have it any other way.
Or would we.
How the other half live
From speaking to fellow expats about their own situations, it seems that, for the most part, expats choose to rent a home when they move abroad.
The people I spoke to didn't jump into the property market and they didn't necessarily sell up their house back in the mother country prior to moving overseas. In fact, property ownership seems low on the list of priorities for many of those seeking to carve out a new life overseas.
Expats are a nomadic bunch and perhaps it's this frequent state of flux that creates less need for stability and a lack of desire to own your own house abroad. Or perhaps it goes deeper than that. Perhaps it's the thought that once you put down roots, that's it. You're fixed. Stuck. It's more difficult to return. Perhaps it's the fear of remaining abroad longer-term.
Whatever the reason, I'm wondering if I got my strategy all wrong.
Long-term commitment or short-term opportunity
We always saw ourselves as immigrants rather than traditional expats. We moved abroad in search of a new life in a new country, not a temporary one. We weren't sent overseas on business and we didn't expect to return any time soon. We followed wave after wave of permanent residents before us and jumped straight in to home ownership feet first, with no cause to stop and question what if and why.
I wonder then if the real question is not about renting versus home buying but long-term commitment to a foreign home rather than seeing a place as a pre-determined, short-term pit stop.
Those of us who envisage a long stint in a country seek out that sense of permanency. We crave it. We buy in to the dream of community and belonging and sense of place. We search for acceptance and structure. We yearn for an established home.
Purchasing property eased my transition from temporary visitor to established local so I buy houses wherever I live and whenever I can, in part to feel like I belong and to embed myself in the area I now call home.
Others choose to rent because the future's uncertain, the length of stay not always guaranteed.
In Sydney, whether renting or buying a property, I use as a source for properties. It's a leading destination in Australia for property seekers so, if you're an expat looking for rental properties, why not give them a go.
Are you a renter or home owner? As an expat or potential expat, would you look to rent or chose to buy - and why? Do you agree that when a length of stay isn't guaranteed, most people would likely rent?

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